Understanding the phenomenon of illness in the human being requires a willingness to view the human being as more than only a biological (mammal) entity. In fact, it can be said that where his biology stops, the human being begins.
In addition, we need to consider carefully man’s spiritual nature and the workings of his spirit in biographical events if we wish to accept illness as being a biographical event. In the context of his spiritual reality, we may furthermore reflect upon the succession of earthly lives (incarnations) and hence, the relationship between an individual’s attitudes and actions insofar as possible previous lives are concerned, and the present occurrence of a disposition and/or an illness, either of a physical nature or a mental nature.
WORKINGS FROM THE PAST
The somewhat popular premise with regard to the workings of karma postulates that a current disposition, illness or handicap is a ‘punishment’ for earlier attitudes and behaviour. This view is at times even projected onto certain sections of humanity (think of AIDS and the gay community) or onto humanity as a whole.
However, karma does not punish. Life will look for renewal, evolution and balance. It is in the knowledge of this wisdom that Dr. L.F.C. Mees writes: ‘It is through illness in this earthly life that we are able to eliminate that which otherwise would hold us back in the whole of our development.’1
Illness therefore can be seen as an opportunity for us to transform that which would keep us trapped, stuck and unable to evolve. And yes, that which would hold us back could very well have its origins in a past we are now not aware of. This consideration is becoming increasingly relevant in a time when multiple tests, scans, blood analyses and other examinations repeatedly fail to show demonstrable physical causes for many resent conditions.
But there are other dynamics at play also.
VITALITY’S ENTRY AND EXIT
We know for example, about the necessity of what we call ‘children’s illnesses: these conditions are instrumental in helping the incarnating spirit to become ‘at home’ in his physical body, so to speak. Physical pain and conflict ‘draw’ the individual’s soul fully into the physical confines of an organic body, giving it the strength of presence in this earthly life.
At the other end of life, we can observe the occurrence of illness as the result of the soul of the person withdrawing from this earthly realm at old age. After all, our physical body thrives to the degree we are present in it – being its inhabitant.
As far as karmic relations are concerned, it is also interesting to consider for example the following:
‘ …our involvement in the script-writing (reference here is made to the fact that before we are born we write the ‘script’ of our life) may have even presented a further possibility: we may have offered to take on some part of the karmic debt of another person if we have not had too many karmic obligations of our own; even to take on something of the karma of the world. To take on karma that is not one’s own is a deed of love. Those who are born with a mental or physical handicap may not be having to work out their own karma, but may be carrying the karma of others.'2
Illness as a result of bringing balance in what lies in the past; illness as a means of sharing a burden – these two views leave one very important aspect unattended, one that would deserve more attention than it is currently receiving – namely the future potential associated with living with the illness or handicap.
Life is a process of becoming and in that process, we sometimes need to engage in transformation as the result of restraints, loss or disability. In a process of transformation there is no return to the previous state of affairs, as if something is being rectified. In the process of transformation there is an ascension – an ‘upgrade’ if you want – the development of a higher quality.
To begin with, the karma we bring into this life can be seen as a given, whereas our destiny is determined by our creative response to what is given.
For example, I can be born with or, later in life, develop a particular serious affliction, which would be a factual reality. But the degree to which that reality (the given) defines the course of my life is largely determined by how I decide to live with that affliction.
But that destiny is a potential, insofar that it hides our life’s mission, or purpose, which can only manifest when we take it on. In this, we can find multiple inspiring biographical examples of people who have transformed their ‘given’ – their illness or handicap – into a higher expression and in so doing have given wisdom, hope and encouragement to many others – think of Helen Keller or William Ernest Henley.
Even an illness that proves to be terminal still holds the potential for inner transformation. In fact, it has been found that often a terminal illness holds the greatest potential for inner renewal, even if that illness is not physically survived.
Reflecting on the role of illness in the manner we have done, we may be clear that illness is seldom only a matter of the physical body. In fact, the physical body is a material manifestation of many underlying forces.
RESPONSIBILITY IN CARE
When in the beautiful mystic story ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the little boy finds himself on the earth, he laments having had to abandon his rose on his planet and says ‘I am responsible for my rose'. For him, being responsible means to take care of, or caring for.3
Maybe we too, need to be willing to be humble and, at times, become a ‘little prince’. Then, instead of seeing illness only as something that ‘should not be’, we can ask: ‘What needs to caring?’, or ‘What do I need to take care of?’
Plato called man’s body the tomb of the soul. Therefore, he says, when we awaken the life of the soul, we cause something divine to rise out of the grave of our body.4
Here it is for you to be your worst self or your best self. Please do not ever doubt your strength and abilities. This may not be the life you expected, certainly not the life you would have chosen, and yet it is yours.4
Shadows are caused by the light behind them. And so, your capacity for suffering intensely reflects also your capacity to love intensely. Would you be the same if all your sorrow had never come to pass? Or did your sorrow, in some mysterious manner, refine and strengthen everything that is best in you?4
- Dr. L.F.C. Mees. Blessed by Illness
- Julian Sleigh. Thirteen to Nineteen – Discovering the Light
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Little Prince
- From the facilitated program: Mental and Emotional Renewal in Chronic Illness