“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison…When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.” — Nelson Mandela
Last week, I said that “until we have granted ourselves permission to actually acknowledge our illness, to be sick, we can’t heal.” When we don’t acknowledge our illness, two things happen: 1, we don’t heal — denial is not a healing state of mind; 2, we create internal conflict — our resistance actually prevents us from deeply committing ourselves to healing.
It may feel off the subject, but last week’s passing of Nelson Mandela caused me to reflect on the parallels between his journey to personal and national healing and my own chronic illness healing journey.
Something that has always struck me was Mandela’s practice of reaching out to people who had injured him. This not only included opposition political leaders, but the very guards who had physically and psychologically abused him during his years in prison.
His supporters and the world at large were astonished by these efforts, but Mandela knew that peace could not be attained without forgiveness.
And it’s not that Mandela wasn’t angry. He said that he could never forget the past and what had been done to him and his people. But instead of identifying with the wounds, he channeled the energy of his anger into healing.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” — Nelson Mandela
This is the nugget I’m trying to get at. When we go to war with our illness, we create internal conflict that impedes healing. Instead, when we acknowledge our illness, then we can ask those more difficult questions: “What is my illness asking of me?” “What do I need to ask of myself?” “What do I need to ask of others?”
One of my mentors encourages me to look into my shadows; at the fear, the anger, the resentment. When I acknowledge that these darker feelings are there, I can invite them to come sit with me, as if we were sharing a camp fire, and I can listen to what they want to tell me, and so I learn from them, integrate them. As long as I try to keep my darkness at bay, out in the shadows, it has power over me. So I must listen to my illness, have those conversations with it, share my needs and make it my healing partner.
When we begin to identify those needs, we might be surprised to find that they extend beyond the limits that we normally associate with illness to encompass the totality of our lives. So healing, real healing, must also look at that totality — not just at our symptoms.
The core healing concept that I base everything else upon is represented by something I call a Wellness Wheel. Because what I’ve learned is that, to really heal, we can’t just address our symptoms. It’s not enough to reduce our symptoms — for many, this isn’t even a realistic goal. To truly heal, we have to look at our whole selves, and work for balance.
Imagine yourself represented as a circle. (This is a common exercise that has its roots in traditional cultures and is now widely implemented in psychology and coaching programs everywhere.) Now draw lines from the center out, like spokes of a wheel, one for each aspect of your life: for example love, work, health, soul, home, creativity, etc. When you’re done, you’ve made your self a life-wheel. (By-the-by, we’re making this into an App, can’t wait to show you!)
Now, looking at those “spokes,” rate yourself on each. Give it a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being highest. How are you doing in each category? Place a mark at that spot. Then connect the marks. What does your “life-circle” look like? Would it roll?
The first goal in healing is to get that “life-circle” as round as possible. Get it in balance. My mission is to bring you (and me) practical, valuable advice and information from leaders throughout the wellness world so we can help ourselves get into balance…and then start expanding our circles’ radii.
What happens through this practice is to some extent unexplainable, and at the same time, totally expected. We begin to heal.
Journalist: “How did prison change you?”
Mandela: “I came out mature.”