A Reflection on Feeling Fragile
By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.
When I was diagnosed with a neurological auto-immune disease the first time, I immediately wouldn’t accept that what the doctors were saying about the prognosis of the disease was my present or my near future. And you know what? It wasn’t.
Recently, I have faced more health challenges and the primary treating physician literally said to me last month, “You are a ticking time bomb, your body is going to crash one of these days and when it does, it will crash hard.” Yup, that is what he said. However, as opposed to 14 years ago when I gave the physician who pronounced something like that my middle finger and a few choice words; this time, those words really hit me. They landed like a hard blow to my gut and then radiated up toward my chest, stealing away my breath and making me feel like I was going to pass out.
What I mean is, that I immediately believed those words to be true; not just for the present and the near future – but for all of my future. As I left the doctor’s office, everything I looked at was as if I saw it through those words. It was as if they were a lens that over laid everything I experienced. It took me a full week to gain the courage to pull that lens away from how I was viewing the world and to lay it in front of me, observing it as it was. And when I did, I immediately laughed.
Think of it… those words are true for all of us…. Every single one of us in wearing a body suit that is going to “crash” one day. It is inevitable. As Jim Morrison says, “no one here [earth] gets out alive.”
What perplexed me however, was why did it take a full week for me to find my way back to my sense of humor in the midst of this adversity when 14 years earlier, I looked at a different physician with equally grim news and gave her the finger?
Pema Chodron explains that as we grow older and are faced with health issues, (as opposed to being younger and being faced with health issues) we feel more fragile, we see the body failing us and we know it is a part of the aging process, even if it really isn’t. We know that at some point, the body failing is not reversible. And as we grow older, we are never really sure when that might be. As a result, as we age, we become more rigid in our ways. We don’t want, for instance, the lamp moved 2 inches to the right because it makes us feel safer and more secure to have the lamp right there where it has been serving us well the years prior. We make it about the lamp but it isn’t about the lamp. It’s about feeling fragile that we are now even more aware that this body will one day “crash” and while some of us have prognosis from doctors with estimated times of the great bodily collapse; others of us don’t.
In that week of feeling incredibly fragile, instead of being rigid about the lamp (which gets moved regularly), I became rigid about how I had to approach my work schedule – you know, the work that I love to do and that which inspires me. I thought that if I couldn’t make myself productive within a certain time frame, I surely was “crashing” and it was irreversible. I also made those doctor’s words about my finances and as such, I couldn’t see any way to carve out of the budget for the additional money needed for alternative treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover. I became so rigid, I wouldn’t even answer a question my husband asked me upon waking in the morning, if simply looking for the information to answer the question felt like it was a diversion from my typical morning routine.
I felt so fragile, so vulnerable, so afraid all because I believed those doctor’s words as true NOW. As a result, those words fueled a feeling of losing my fierce independence, and all the while not wanting to feel alone to figure it all out inside my head.
And then Pema Chodron’s wisdom came. She invites us to lean into the fear and just name it “fear,” breathe into it and settle, observing it as fear taking hold of the body. So, I practiced that.
And as I practiced, I noticed an intense yearning to fix the fear. I wanted the fear to go away. I wanted to find the “solution” to all that which the rigidity that fear created would not let me observe. [All because I chose to believe some human being’s words as true for my immediate present and near future.]
And then I laughed again, realizing that likely what my fear/my rigidity is making it about today (a work schedule, finances) will change tomorrow. And it did; the next day was about cheese and toilet paper. (I’ll spare you the details.) And at the end of that day of leaning into the fear, naming it, and breathing into it, settling and observing, I wondered, what I would make it about tomorrow. Will I make it about the lamp being moved 2 inches? Or about where I place my walking shoes and socks?
It doesn’t seem logical… It doesn’t seem logical that when I notice feeling so fragile because of some truth I am experiencing or the experience of fear being fueled by the sharp edge of someone else’s words landing in my body… that when I notice that, I must lean into it, name it, breathing and settling into it so that I can observe it. But if I don’t, the rigidity that arises is so intense, I don’t even know where I am directing that fear. I don’t even know that my thoughts, words, and actions which emerge from that rigidity are making me feel even more fragile. I don’t know that I can’t discover any solutions to the underlying cause because my rigidity is freezing me into a pattern of behavior that may need to change for my own and others’ benefit.
So, when I notice feeling fragile, this is step one in the work I know I must do so that I can flourish in the reality of this present moment and see all the possibilities for flourishing in the future.
In closing, from my heart, I wish for you freedom from physical and emotional suffering, regardless of whether the source of that pain is from something you chose, something you didn’t choose, or some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) person’s words,