Everyone knows the old ubiquitous phrase “to be or not to be: that is the question”, but has it’s familiarity washed over us and made us forget the real power here, again proving that Shakespeare was more than just a little ahead of his time. What the great Hamlet alludes to seems simple; is it better to live, or die? What is not so simple perhaps is how we answer this question when faced with the unthinkable.
I am a great book-lover but by no means an expert in literature especially the profundities of Shakespeare but it does seem fitting to borrow Hamlets’ analogy when it comes to looking at our relationship to our bodies in sickness. Living in the unknown of life can be straining, when we can’t be sure of what will come we inadvertently feel dissatisfied with life and the way it is treating us, We start to grumble, start to push against life and our bodies. For example If we don’t work like we think we should; sleeping 7 hours a night, having abundant energy, being flexible, having adequate muscle strength, clear vision, good memory, perfectly functioning organs and a tip-top neurological, immune and cardiovascular system, we push or collapse. If at any point that we fail to function to the maximum what is the likelihood of turning to ourselves and saying ‘” what’s wrong, are you ok?”In essence ‘‘to be with’, and listen to the answer? Sadly it is more likely that we run from the pain of life by avoiding and coercing the truth that our bodies are expressing though a variety of illnesses. We prefer ‘not to be with’, and choose instead to chastise ourselves shouting ‘you should be stronger, why are you sick again”, and demanding instantaneous healing. All in a bid to stay in the frying pain and not jump into the fire and look at the real problem.
Consider the difference between pushing against and leaning into for a minute. One creates physical tension in the body, while the other suggests a sense of softness. Both are relational concepts that need another component in order to be active. We both push against and lean into something or someone yet each has very opposite movement qualities although at first glance it might be hard to differentiate..
Are these people leaning into or pushing against? How can you tell?
We may believe we know when we are with (leaning into), or not with (pushing against), our disease. Admittedly the presence of a diagnosis of any kind can send our every sense into turmoil however in many cases the way in which we create this relational dynamic with our disease/body is often echoed in other areas of our lives, most commonly in our relationships. I am by no means lumping people together and labeling certain diseases that reflect a particular way of being, no, this has been done countless times before. What I am suggesting is that the missing link between illness, disease and healing could lay in the intention with which we make contact to our whole selves in this moment.
In essence the how is not; how do I get better, or how do I heal although this is the ultimate goal, the how is; how do I make contact. What is the way in which I create relationships with myself, others and the environment, and does it serve me well. So when Hamlet utters those fateful words ‘to be or not to be that is the question’, I hear the very real question ‘how am I being or not being in connection to my world”. Hamlets dilemma is that although he is dissatisfied with life he can’t be sure how to be with life in another way other than death. But surely it is not about an all or nothing approach but an acknowledgment of our disease and leaning into our sick body rather than speculating on the disease and pushing against our sick parts.