A “crisis of consciousness”

It seems to me that the experience of chronic illness is remarkably similar to the conditions for spiritual teaching developed in various traditions. In many wisdom tales, a disciple is given very specific instructions. When she completes her task, the teacher insists such a mission was never assigned or that the student completely misunderstood what she was asked to do or that she took words too literally. Whichever way she turns or however she tries to do the job rightly, the disciple is confronted with her alleged inadequacy. She inevitably misses the point. Like the fool in the tarot, she is at the edge of a cliff, the dog of desire nipping at her heels, paralyzed by her thirst for knowledge, unable to go forward, her fate forbidding her to step back.
Only when the seeker gives up her usual approach to problem solving, or recognizes the futility of reason, or gets that sometimes there is no “solution” to the most basic facts of life’s limits, can she be free of the need to search. She is shocked by the stone wall of her teacher into realizing not only her ego’s weakness faced with the unpredictable force of nature and her own pride, but the arbitrariness of conventional norms and social institutions as well. The master wants to evoke a “crisis of consciousness” in the student to disrupt the automatism of thought and feeling with which she passes through her taken-for-granted world. So it is with the inescapable facts of life and chronic illness.

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