Michael Byrne, ND, MA
Psychotherapist, Naturopathic Physician
Seattle Healing Arts Center
9730 3rd Ave. NE, Suite 208
Seattle, WA 98115 [map]
(206) 428-2067
Illness as Initiation

Illness as Initiation

In approaching illness, and healing from illness, one of our first thoughts is often, “how can I make this go away?” Illness can motivate us to make changes to relieve the discomfort, the strain, the lack of ease (dis-ease) that we are experiencing. However, in our effort to heal, there are more powerful questions we can ask. One of them is, “what wishes to be born from this?” Another way of asking this could be, “what can I learn from this.” There is always something we can learn. It could be a simple lesson, that we need a new pair of shoes that better support us. It could be more involved, like the need for improving an important relationship in our life. Or perhaps we are being called to view ourselves with more compassion. Whatever it might be, I believe that for true healing to occur, some type of learning happens, some type of growth occurs, something is born.

Viewed this way, illness becomes not just some obstacle to overcome, but a challenge to grow, an opportunity to become stronger or wiser in some way. It is an initiation – a threshold, beyond which our lives are different. It is an invitation to step into a new view of ourselves and the world. An illness challenges our view of the world, our approach to life. It may be challenging our survival, our peace, our view of what is possible. And it is not that we have had it wrong, but that there is something new opening to us.

Of course, illness can knock us on our butt first. It can take the wind out of our sails and can seem to be anything other than an ally for our growth. None-the-less, if we can get to a place of openness, an illness is an opportunity to transform.

Einstein said that to solve a problem, we cannot use the same type of thinking that created it. Likewise, to heal from an illness, we will not be the same person we were who became ill. To heal, we will become a different person from the person who became ill. On a biochemical level, our immune system now knows how to manage yet another virus – it has evolved. On a psychological level, perhaps we have come to realize the importance of play or a new approach to a challenging relationship. We are different. Again, this is not an argument to use to prove how wrong we once were, or how weak or inadequate we are. It has nothing to do with wrong or right. A sapling is not wrong for being a sapling, and yet it continues to grow into a tree, it evolves. Growth is natural. Learning and evolving are natural and inevitable.

The truth is, you are inevitably growing and evolving into a new person all the time. It is happening whether you know it or “try” to do it. In fact, the “trying” can even get in the way. Rather, when I speak of viewing illness as an initiation, I am referring to being conscious of that growth, being open to what is happening. Stay awake to the present, to what you are feeling and seeing. Be curious. Notice what is. Be present. And then notice what is being born. Notice what wants to be born. And then see if you can welcome that next moment, that next evolution. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

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