Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Bow

Spring has come. The Snowdrops, the Crocuses and the first few Daffodils are blooming. The weather is warm and gentle. And the two varieties of the flu that have afflicted me, (and most of the rest of us) seem to be on their way out.

A friend who is also a physician talked to me about Post Viral Exhaustion. Somehow it's comforting to know that it has a title and Capital Letters. She says it probably is my body's reaction to a virus that it has not encountered before. The prescription? Notice what your body can do and what it's asking for and do as much of that as you can. Keep your life a simple as you can. I feel a bit abashed to have a disease with a spiritual treatment. Shouldn't I be doing that already?

Well, it's a good reminder.

Another doctor I know of said to a friend who asked him how to deal with this virus: "All you can do is live longer than it does."

And as if the Holy Spirit was proving a point, this goes right back to my post of a couple of weeks ago about illness and the reluctance, or inability, to engage in spiritual practice while I'm sick.

So where have I gotten to? Did I learn anything as a result of my musings a couple of weeks ago?

It turns out, to my delight, that I did. This is fairly rare, in my experience. I have to agonize about some dilemma for quite a while before anything actually changes. Probably this is a self-protective mechanism, but whatever it is, change seems to usually come in slow steps.

What struck me this time is an illustration that the Buddha is said to have used himself, though it's a common enough story with a pretty evident point. It's about the skill of archery. If you're going to hit your target you have to attend to your bow. You have to stretch the string just right. If you use too much pressure, you will damage the bow or break the string. If you too little, you ruin your aim and don't have enough power to hit your target.

So because that image was in my mind I used it very deliberately. Lying on my bed at one point I thought: "Just how much effort would it take to focus just enough to turn to God within my heart? Not a big effort. Not a major labor. Just enough to bring me to center. What's the right amount of pressure on the bow?"

So I tried just a little effort. Then a little more. I did a deliberate experiment to see where the line was. How much of my precious little energy would it take to produce enough focus to be aware of the prayer that always prays itself at my center?

To my surprise and my complete delight, the answer turned out to be that it took very little. Hardly any. Just a bit of willingness did it. As it often is at this point in my life, prayer was there waiting for me to make some kind - any kind - of movement in its direction, and when I did, it came running to meet me.

What a really cool discovery. I wasn't being called to heroic self-denial. I wasn't being asked to summon up energy that wasn't there. All I needed to do - on that particular day at least - was just to want to pray enough to make a little effort, and I was welcomed. I could hardly believe it. How long have I struggled with this issue? Years and years. And there was the gift, right before me.

I won't say that this resulted in great amounts of prayer. For one thing, this particular virus had as one of its symptoms the need for nearly constant sleep. I simply wasn't awake very much for several days. So long hours of praying - or even long minutes - weren't the picture. But I could turn in the direction of prayer and know that it waited for me.

I also discovered as the week went on that the amount of energy applied to the bow differed every day, sometimes more and sometimes less. I needed to watch and see what it was like with my body, find out how much energy I had to employ and how I could summon a little of it. This time the gracious Spirit did the rest.

A fail-proof recipe for spiritual success? I think not. I expect that there will be more wrestling and more pondering as my strength returns, and more dilemmas to be sorted through. It was just the gift for this time. And it was a really nice one!

Meanwhile, the depression that is part of the after-illness stuff has partially lifted and my strength shows preliminary signs of reasserting itself. Mostly it happens in having ideas of what I'd like to do. The reality isn't there yet, but at least having some ideas about wanting to do stuff is an improvement.

So for now, watch my body, and keep my life as simple as I can. And respect the Post Viral Exhaustion.

And stop writing when I come to the end.

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