I could easily fill my entire day with activities aimed at benefiting my health: meditation for peace of mind, dance workouts for my balance and coordination, stretching to combat rigidity, riding my bike to keep my aerobic exercise up, writing exercises to keep my handwriting somewhat legible, vocal exercises to try to keep my voice strong, and on and on. I sometimes wonder why I’m doing this. If I’m going to lose function eventually, why am I so obsessed with keeping what I have? If we’re all going to die eventually, not matter what we do, why are we so worried about healing ourselves? Why not just relax and go with it?
I’ve heard the assertion that suffering is a gift, but I think a better way to say it is that suffering can be a gift, depending on what you do with it. But at the same time, alleviation of suffering must also be a gift (as long as you don’t just go back to sleep). Attachment to suffering doesn’t seem any better than any other kind of attachment.
Still, my motivation for working on my health seems complex and murky. Some of my motivation is clearly based in fear: fear of pain, fear of disability, fear of death. Some is also based in the feeling that my self-worth is related to how much I can do, and that becoming more disabled will reduce my worth as a person. There is also an economic motive: disability which makes it impossible to work can be financially disastrous, both for me and potentially for anyone who was dependent on me. On the other hand, some motivation is based on enjoyment: I enjoy being able to talk, to dance, to write with a pencil, to bend over and tie my shoes, and it seems worth it to try to keep those abilities as long as I reasonably can.
All of these various motivations change the way I approach my therapeutic activities. I can do them compulsively, with gritted teeth and an attitude of desperation, or I can do them (sometimes) with an attitude of interest and mindfulness. I have to think that the second way is better, if only as a contradiction to my life-long patterns of overwork, over-achievement and being driven.
For the moment I have quite a few ideas I want to try to improve my health, and I feel good about them. Certainly I have a lot to live for. Nevertheless there has to come a time when I quit trying, and I think that will come some time before I actually die. I really have no idea where that point is, and how it might be different for each of my different symptoms. I’d be happy to hear your stories or ideas on this. What does the phrase “as long as I reasonably can” mean, and how have you or people you know decided?
Photo by Dale Bennett