It has been a year since a bout of pneumonia triggered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and my body stopped working the way it used to. At such a milestone, it seems timely to check in with a postcard. I am so much better than I was last year, I am no longer floating in the ocean. Instead, I feel like I am slowly growing myself into a mountain.
Yes, there has been a metaphor change! I love a good metaphor and in the face of the bleakness of a western medical model that still doesn’t understand with any significant evidence base why this illness occurs, how it can be treated or how long it will last, my metaphors give me poetic optimism and a larger context than my own personal illness.
At the beginning, the all-at-sea metaphor seemed to convey all the strangeness and weakness in my changed body and certainly soothed my panic at that new strangeness, but it doesn’t reflect the hard work of recovery or the agency required to get there. All-at-sea is about being lost, floating, drifting and the hope of returning to safe harbour. In reality, there is daily exercise with incremental increases in heart rate, yoga, meditation, medical check ups, healthy eating, resting, pacing exertion and the continuous restrained challenging of energetic limitations.
So it’s not really floating, is it? High time for a transformation from a metaphor of illness to a metaphor of recovery… a metamorphosis, if you will excuse the pun.
Growing into a mountain conveys the changes in how my body feels, where the wobbly sea-legs have been replaced by great heaviness. Instead of floating, I feel weighed down and and every step can feel like wading through mud. By thinking of this change as becoming a mountain, this heaviness is cast as something grounding and strong, the beginnings of a firm anchoring into the earth from which to grow tall.
In Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English (2006), Bob Sharples encourages the practitioner to sit cross legged on the ground and think “I am going to sit strong like a mountain so that my mind can be open like the sky”. p 26. The image is a lovely one and embodies both resilience and insight and the possibility that the very heaviness of illness can become transcendence.
The idea of my body as a mountain also invites me to think like a mountain. Thinking like a mountain was a phrase coined by Aldo Leopold in A Sand Country Almanac (1949) to capture the inter-relatedness and inter-dependence of all life within a landscape. At a time when all wolves were shot on site in the belief that this made for good hunting conditions for deer, Leopold saw that the health of the deer population were dependent on predation by wolves.
I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death…In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers … So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the change. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
If I think like a mountain about my own body, I am better able to understand and tend to the inter relations between fatigue and both physical and cognitive exertion and the physiological/neurological feedback loop that is triggered. With the ripples of consequence echoing through my body for days after certain events, I must tend to the wolves and the deer or risk the dustbowl of ongoing illness and exhaustion. Everything in balance. Mindful, curious attention.
Growing into a mountain offers me a fruitful path towards recovery. It gets my head ready for a long time scale. It is of the earth and yet touches the sky. It has permanence and solidity. It brings forth and nourishes life. Now that, is a model for wellness.
Best wishes to all the other mountains growing into wellness who have been so kind to this one.