The End of the World as We Know It. March 7th 2024.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
T.S. Eliot

For the last eight months I’ve been learning to live with disability, coming to terms with the sudden and unexpected worsening of my Long-Covid which, after years of mostly high-functioning remission, relapsed this past summer worse than ever before with fresh new features of ME/CFS. 

I can’t help but see the dark irony in being the yoga therapist always harping on about how we all need to slow down and rest, only to be struck with an illness that demands relentless rest, vigilant pacing, and high stakes energy math. 

I measure how well I’m doing day to day by how my body tolerates walking up the steps in my house to the second floor. Though I’ve experienced considerable improvement in the last few months, people twice my age have far more energy and physical capacity than I do on most days.

It’s possible I may never be able to hike again. I may never have the stamina to visit my brother in Serbia. It’s possible I could end up far worse than I already am with the next Covid infection or stressful life event.

It’s possible also that I could continue to improve, learn new ways to manage my illness, find a treatment that helps, and at some point be able to live a life beyond the considerable constraints I have now. 

The future seems more uncertain and unknowable than ever before. I feel most at peace when I am able to rest in a sense of compassionate acceptance that makes room for both deep grief and open-hearted optimism.

I think many of us feel that way about the state of the world right now.

My health is fragile and tenuous, as are living conditions for a growing number of people, as is our democracy, as are international relations, as is the health of the planet. We are collectively confronted with the glaring reality of impermanence and the steep consequences of living beyond our limits.

Being a disabled person in a culture that insists on limitlessness and perpetual growth is very eye-opening. We are so deeply driven by our conditioning to perceive limitation not as something that life can and does require – something to be expected, respected, and taken care of – but as something that must be overcome, outsmarted, out-spiritualed, and defied at all costs.

We are not a culture that puts the slowest hiker first, or that cherishes the most fragile among us, or that organizes itself around the most vulnerable. The story our culture likes to tell is that there are no true setbacks, only tests of character. 

Even as the sad remains of the runaway train of human exceptionalism and exploitation is running us ragged, running people over, and driving the planet to its doom in the name of unbridled progress and life without limits, we’re all still convinced we just need to keep tweaking that special formula that proves our worthiness and our exemption from suffering. 

bell hooks wrote, “One of the mighty illusions of our culture is that all pain is a negation of worthiness. That the real chosen people, the real worthy people, are the people that are most free from pain.”

But pain is how nature communicates limits. Pain tells us we need to slow down, pay attention, and take care of something. Pain tells us it is time to stop, before we do further harm to ourselves or to others. Pain teaches us to listen.

It could be a physical pain in our body, the heaviness of grief, the frantic sizzle of overwhelm or anxiety, the emotional pain of our partner or loved one, the pain of dying creatures in a rapidly warming ocean, the pain of oppressed, exploited, ignored, and marginalized people.

Experiencing pain, our own pain and other’s pain, is how nature teaches us humility, empathy, and compassion. If we are so deeply pain-averse, so afraid to admit to ourselves and each other that we are in pain, so uncomfortable witnessing and being with pain, so convinced that pain is a signal of weakness or something that only happens to people less capable and less worthy, then what does that reveal about our deeply conditioned values as a society? How are these dysfunctional values contributing to the harmful and catastrophic events taking place in our world, in our local communities, in our families? How might changing your own personal relationship with pain and with limitation have an impact on your loved ones, on our entire society, on our entire world?

Lama Rod Owens writes, “Systems of oppression and violence will never end or be challenged until we as individuals can hold space for our own pain.”

For me, at this time of both personal and collective apocalypse, I’m keeping my eyes turned toward the jewel in the lotus – om mani padme hum – the only true riches in this world are the ones that issue forth from a heart that can bloom in the muck of suffering. 

Wisdom, humility, compassion, luminosity, and liberation are the hard-earned gifts of respecting limitation and listening to pain. We can learn to care for and respect our own pain and our own limits. We can learn to care for and respect each other’s pain and each other’s limits. We can learn to care for and respect the Earth’s limits and the Earth’s pain and that of all of its creatures.

The most consummate joy that humans can experience is the joy of connection, mutual support, cherishing, listening, learning together, and belonging. It is the only wealth you can take with you to your sick bed, to your death bed, and to the world’s end. 

Kyong Ho, a 19th century Korean Zen master, wrote, “Do not wish for perfect health. In perfect health there is arrogance and greed. So an ancient said, ‘Make good medicine from the suffering of sickness.’” 

If you’d like to read more written meditations, visit my archive by clicking here.