CF and Time
As a fellow anatomic pathologist, I fully respect Dr. Dorothy Anderson’s description and naming of the constellation of signs and symptoms that we now call Cystic Fibrosis back in 1938. Her observations marked the beginning of several decades of medical research, the outcome of which allows me to sit at my computer at age 45 and write this. But for now, I would like to think way, way outside the box, and ask a question posed by one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle. Does chronic disease really exist? Does CF really exist?
In “The Power of Now”, Tolle differentiates your “life” from your “life situation”. He speaks of your “life” as this very ”moment”, as opposed to your “life situation”, which is comprised of the circumstances or conditions of your life. As such, your life situation is your “story”, which has a beginning, middle, and eventually, an end. It exists on the horizontal axis of time. However, there is a part of each of us that is unchanged over time and exists outside of time. Think back to that day you learned to ride a bicycle. Or think of throwing that high school graduation hat into the air with a big cheer. Or perhaps, think to the moment when you said, “I do”…. In each of these situations, there was an awareness of what was happening, and that same awareness, unchanged, is aware that you are reading this page now. That awareness is what Tolle would call “life”, and it does not exist in time. It is NOW. It does not change, because it lies on a “vertical” axis, with no past and no future.
Try not be offended by this (many of us are very attached to our CF), but imagine for a moment the possibility that CF is part of your “story”, existing on the horizontal axis of time. At some point you were diagnosed. In other words, a combination of sounds emitted from your doctor’s mouth (copied from the sounds Dr. Anderson decided best described this disease) was suddenly ascribed to YOU. Those sounds became part of “who you were”. The beginning of your CF story may have been when you were a baby, or later, but part of your identity was now as a “sufferer of” CF. The story then continued, with a different trajectory for each of us. For some of us, the story has already ended.
Your story isn’t just CF, of course. There is the story of what you do for a living, how your body has grown and changed, what you have learned over time, who you know, who is in your family, how many dogs you have loved and lost….If you think about it honestly, whenever you ask yourself the question “Who am I?”, the answer is usually just more of the story. “I am a lawyer”, you say. Then who were you before you got your JD? “I am a father and husband”. Who were you before you were married? “I am sick” really means the physical part of “you” is not completely healthy at this point on the horizontal axis of time. Yes, your body has weird and unusual chloride channels lining its epithelium. But is your brain “sick”? Is your heart “sick”? Are your bones intact? Can you see? Are you breathing? Can you love?
“I” (the author) am a 45-year-old female “sufferer” of CF, retired physician, mother of two, partner, wellness coach, friend, daughter, sister… Yeeeees, but other than being “female”, all of that has been variable throughout my life (and as I understand it, even being female could be changed, if I wished…). Who was I when I was 9 months old, and had no language yet?
But, you argue, my brain is the same…! No it isn’t. Neuronal pathways are always changing; cells are dying; plaques and tangles are forming (at least, in our “old survivor” brains). I’m sure you’ve heard that all of your cells are dying off and regenerating constantly. Nothing is constant on the horizontal axis of time. The “life story” is ongoing, and ever changing, just as the body is.
Do you see the point of this tirade? A part of you, and I would argue, the ”real” you, is the observer of your story, or as Tolle would say, “the awareness” within which your story unfolds. Does that “awareness” have CF? NO! The body in which the “awareness” resides has CF! So does CF really exist? Only in time! Only in the content of your life, the content that always changes and that describes you, but is NOT you. The content is your life story, but is not your LIFE. The real you is life itself, and that life is now, this moment. “CF,” then, in this moment, is really reduced to what you are actually experiencing now. Maybe that is a cough. Maybe it is rapid breathing. Perhaps it is pain in your joints as you walk. Or, possibly, in THIS MOMENT, it is nothing at all.
“Wow,” you say, “Julie has completely lost it!” But if it sounds kind of interesting to explore the idea of “this moment” where CF possibly doesn’t even exist, maybe you are asking, “How do I get there?”
I’m glad you asked. This is the cool part. Tolle describes “portals” into the NOW. Entering these portals is sort of like a meditation, yet it is not meditation in the way we usually think of it. I don’t know about you, but when I focus on my breath, I do NOT enter a state of bliss! These portals are much easier to use.
One portal, my personal favorite, is to become aware of the “inner body”. Another way to describe the inner body is your “life force”, or “life energy”. To do this, you simple sit or lie in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and ask yourself without moving it or looking at it, “Is there life in my left hand?” This may take a few moments. You probably will be tempted to move your hand, but don’t. Just sit or lie in stillness and find out, “How do I know that my left hand is there…without looking at it or moving it?” After awhile you become aware of the energy of your hand. That is your “inner body”. When you become aware of it in one hand, you then move your attention to the other hand. Then, when you can feel it there, you try to feel it in both hands at once. After that, you get adventurous, and move to your feet, and up your legs, to your torso, then arms, then neck and head. With some practice, you can soon, at will, become aware of the “inner body” within your entire “outer body” (the one you can see and move).
Here’s the catch: the only way to feel this “inner body” is in the NOW. You can’t do it if you are remembering the past, or worrying about or anticipating something in the future. You can only feel your inner body in THIS MOMENT. This technique essentially forces you into the “NOW,” the vertical, timeless dimension called awareness. In this space, I would argue that there IS NO CF. There may be a cough (see if you can maintain awareness of this life energy while you cough), but the energy is separate from the cough… from the body… from your thinking mind. It’s wild.
If you get really into it, you can practice this awareness throughout the day. You can do it during a treatment. You can practice while folding clothes, or while walking, or while in a particularly unpleasant conversation with an ex-partner. The more you practice, of course, the easier it becomes.
There are other portals, of course. But this is getting way too long. I would be happy to share my experiences with them (all very legal!). Just give me a call or email. Until next time: BE FIT…BE STRONG…BE WELL!