The 'Other Place' We Inhabit When We Become Ill


“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” – Susan Sontag

Once the chronicity of a condition has been established, it is likely that we will reside in this other place for the rest of our days. Maybe those are many, maybe only a few. During those days we will travel the woods, the rivers and the mountains, burdened by anger, fear, grief and shame. In time though, our burden will be lifted, not because our condition would cease to exist, but because its hold on us will.

This other place where we are now is the land “one door away from heaven.” In this life, which is our passage between two Oceans of Light, this is the last and most arduous realm. It is the realm of the brave. It is the realm of dragons, of the frightening abyss, where darkness can cut us off from all existence.

In this other place we have no previous biography. Here, our loved ones cannot follow. They may witness our journey, but forever remain on the other side.

It is the realm reserved for only those who have it within them to bear the highest task a human being can possibly bear: to create meaning and purpose and light when they appear to be most missing.

Although our body, that transient cloak, may not survive this passage, healing can be found, because healing means becoming whole.

Healing can be found in lovingly embracing ourselves and our fate. Before this is over, we will learn that love is not a feeling in the first place, but a force that is accessible any time. The highest embrace of love we can make is to embrace ourselves completely. In so doing, we embrace the entire universe and everybody and everything in it.

But more than this, our healing not only lies in what we do for ourselves, but in what we do for others. To be of service, no matter how small, is the key that opens that last door. On our journey we will encounter many just like us: the abandoned, the castaways and the scatterlings of the universe. The manner in which we help carry our fellow’s burden will push our own boat across. Remember: “In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes, for they in thee a thousand errors note; But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise.” (William Shakespeare – Sonnet 141) And so our heart will discover that the abandoned, the castaways and the scatterlings are really the warriors and the mighty, as are we.

During our passage we will encounter numerous events and situations which each in their own way contain within them a message of wisdom, of opportunity and understanding. But this understanding will be dependent on our inner attunement. So, in closure, please allow me to present some words inscribed in the Oracle of Delphi, many a year ago by one of the world’s great initiates:

“What is brought to you depends on the reception you give to it. It is either everything or nothing. It will mean nothing, if you meet it in the frame of mind with which you confront everyday matters. Everything, if you are prepared, and attuned to the meeting.

The strong man dies when he becomes old, the youth when he becomes a man, the boy on becoming a youth, and the child on becoming a boy. What existed yesterday dies today, what is here today will die tomorrow. Nothing endures or is a unity, but we become many things, whilst matter wanders around one image, one common form.

No one can rightly come into a different state without change, and one who is changed is no longer the same; but if he is not the same, he no longer exists and is changed from what he was, becoming something else.” (Plutarch’s Moral Works – On the Inscription EJ at Delphi)

And so we now go forth into the one place we never thought would be ours. Here it is for us to be our worst self or our best self. At some time, the car broke down or the plane crashed. Emerging from the wreckage, we found ourselves in a place we didn’t even know exists. Each one of us, we can think of another place we would rather be. But this is where we are and it is for us to make the best of it and in so doing, give meaning to our sojourn.

Image Credits: Arjan Bogaers

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