Postcards at Sea #6: Metamorphosis

April 21, 2017

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Growing into a mountain conveys the changes in how my body feels, where the wobbly sea-legs have been replaced by great heaviness.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.


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  1. Your post comes at a timely moment when I have been feeling sorry for myself and almost wallowing in my fibre crafts as therapy for my despondency. There has been no satisfaction or real therapeutic value in my work because now I see that my approach to it has been wrong. Firstly you have reminded me that I am so fortunate and others have greater struggles. Secondly, your choosing a positive spin to your illness is what will help carry you forward and upwards towards wellness. I shall follow your example and we shall see how that changes things. I am not unwell, my father died and I have been struggling with grief. It should be a natural process and it should pass of itself but I have suffered from depression in the past and I see the possibility of losing perspective, your post has been helpful, thank-you for your honesty and for sharing.

    1. Dearest Jane, I am so very sorry for your loss. Of course you would feel despondent, grief is the heaviest of weights to bear. I wish all the kindness and gentleness around you, finds you and holds you through this time. Kindest regards, Rebecca

  2. Now to turn that mountain into a molehill so again you can jump over it but like nature it takes time to whittle the mountain down.

    1. You made me laugh with the molehill analogy Elizabeth. I have this gut sense that the really hard yards are done now and the recovery will be more speedy. I am in a hurry to jump over the molehill!

  3. Rebecca, I am so impressed that you are able to draw strength and inspiration from poetic turns of phrase, and that meditation has been helpful as part of your recovery. You continue to amaze me! I am fully well and appreciate that every day – I quake to think how I would handle an illness like chronic fatigue. I’m pretty sure I would not be inspiring to anyone else…

    1. Dear Frith, I am totally sure you would rise to whatever life put in your way and you would do it with the elegance and intelligence that your bring to your beautiful knitting. But thanks for the vote of confidence, it is very kind.

  4. This is a beautiful metaphor – I can hear the resonance of yoga in it (I have just started) with the concept of freeing the body by pressing it into the ground. While my challenges are small and fleeting compared with the consuming experience of CFS, I also find that philosophical perspectives and metaphor give me something to latch myself onto (to moor) when I also feel myself at sea. xx

    1. Dear Heather, yes, I do think there is a yogic quality to the metaphor. Yoga was the first exercise apart from walking that I was able to return to and it has been a lifeline. I hope that it continues to nourish and strengthen you. R

    1. Dear Diana, thank you for writing. It is so lovely to know that you are out there reading. Best wishes to you, Rebecca

  5. I find this post so profound and moving. That you are able to be both inside your illness and outside it enough to find metaphor and poetics and meaning. I love to think of you as a mountain and will hold that image in my head.

  6. I am fascinated by your metaphor change, Rebecca, and the new strength it is giving you. I love particularly that you are “growing” into your mountain because we don’t usually speak of mountains growing – but of course they did, just long long ago before any of us were around. So intriguing – and so very glad it works for you.

    1. Thanks kayderouge, it is interesting reconsidering the mountain in terms of growth. My son got me thinking about it first when he did a project on the recent Nepalese earthquake. Apparently, the shifting of the plates, raised the height of some mountains nearby and lowered others. He also looked at how mountains can grow from volcanoes in the sea. He is only 10 so it’s not cutting edge geology but it certainly got me considering mountains in a very different way!

  7. What a post! So much food for thought and so well written, as usual!
    Aye, tend to those Wolves and Deer………..stay connected to the earth, one foot step at a time.

  8. Beautiful as ever Rebecca. Thank you for sharing your heart and your journey so evocatively. Your response to this cruel illness is extraordinary and deeply inspiring.

    Your mountain transformation brings this Li Po poem to mind:

    The birds have vanished into the sky,
    and now the last cloud drains away.

    We sit together, the mountain and I,
    until only the mountain remains.

    Sitting (walking, breathing, resting, working…) in that zone, dear sister. With the mountain which you will become. And also with the support of so many of us around you.

    sending love x

  9. Rebecca- it felt a privilege to be given this beautifully written and heartfelt piece to contemplate.
    Thank you for your generosity and your hard-earned wisdom.
    I am treasuring this image of mountain about which you write so evocatively- especially after just walking amongst mountains the past ten days, and testing the limits of the body.
    My inspiration also came from the two and half thousand year old Antarctic beech trees amongst which we walked- growing since the time of the Buddha and Christ. They grow not from seed but from coppicing- springing out of the old tree and suckering from roots. New growth ascending from the old. New life firmly grounded in past experience.
    Thank you for sharing your painting as well.

    1. Dear Sally, I can only imagine how being in the presence of ancient trees must inspire and humble. To think of the life that has passed during their lifetime…extraordinary. The following of new growth from old is a wonderful notion. Thank you.

  10. I really do like the mountain metaphor – sitting, grounded, earthed, and embracing all components of this environment as equally valuable and necessary.

    Best wishes to you with your progress towards health xx

    1. Thanks Kylie, it’s a metaphor with good yoga bones too with the foundational mountain pose! A solid beginning.

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