When ill, we are often caught in a continually winding spiral of suffering, or samsara in Sanskrit which means circling. I am reminded of the magic circles or repetitive tasks from childhood tales in which the victim, as a result of being diverted by some enticement while upon a mission, a mundane or sacred obligation, or performing a rite, is ensnared by a witch’s curse, goblin’s trick, or day dreaming mind.
The circle is not a literal one, yet they tell us of something quite real. They speak of the contingencies of existence. The cycling of fear, denial, fear. When the black crows of anger or disbelief at my situation peck away at me or I hear of rats of fear gnawing at the heart of an ill friend, I know we are in the thrall of neurotic delusion. Neuroses are recurring thoughts and behaviors that provide short term pleasure or the avoidance of pain, but at the cost of long term negative consequences. We get endlessly that which we seek to avoid.
In my case and perhaps yours, the imprisoning circles are representative of the obsessive thoughts that surround our worsening illnesses. Is this an exacerbation? A new infection? Requiring an increase of care or a stage toward further disability?
It also symbolizes the compulsive acts we repetitively employ in our attempts to avoid the limits and inevitable fates we encounter as mortal humans. Perhaps going from doctor to doctor. Or trying alternative systems of healing. Eating differently. Loading up on this or that supplement, nutrient, or vitamin.
One way we get caught up in these mazes of doubt and confusion is when we forget about the great destroyer, Time. Any one difference or change in treatment may improve health for the short term, but eventually you, I, all of us will find no relief from our common end.
How often do we forget about the subjectivity of time and how dependent our experience is upon the way it is measured and lived. A second, minute, hour, day, month or year for us can be matched against the number of breaths of air or heartbeats before we die. Indeed if I have a pulse of 75 and live to eighty five years, my heart shall beat 3,350,700,000 times!! Is that correct? Check my math. And we worry that one day it shall, it must give out?
Yes, we may fear how short or brief our lives are. But a beat, a breath, a life for most other creatures is even shorter. What is a day to a moth, a dog, a monkey? And it is true our duration is a flicker compared to a sequoia. a planet, a star.
Our beliefs and pictures of how life ought to be are fixed upon an unconscious fantasy of an Eternity in Eden. And what kind of life would that be? As my friend Francois says, “You can replace everything, man. You can replace your car, your house, even your wife, but you cannot replace what you have now– your life. This is it, man! Live!”And let us loosen the coils of the serpent of despair with attentive presence of mind upon the path that leads us out of the circle.