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The Meditative Principle I Use to Stomp Out Bitterness Over Lyme

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When I first got really sick with Lyme disease, my heart sat soaking in a pool of bitterness for months. I was so consumed with my own grief and loss that I began to resent everyone around me. I didn’t want to, but every time I saw someone else doing something I used to love I cried tears of anger. If I looked through the window and saw a woman jogging outside on a nice sunny day, I literally had to turn my head away and close my eyes. If I didn’t turn away, a rage hot enough to burn down a city block would smolder inside me. I would cry and scream because I seemed to have lost everything that made me “Emily.”

The pain was so raw that for almost a full year I couldn’t stand to see anyone else playing sports or being active, because I was once an athlete and I had lost everything to my disease. I even refused to watch the Summer Olympics (which I had loved since childhood) because I couldn’t bear to see the athletes move in ways I was certain would never be possible for me again.

I wanted to scream at the TV or at the jogger passing by my house: “Why do you get to run and I don’t? Why does your body work effortlessly and mine just sits here, rotting? How is this fair?” Like acid, the bitterness slowly hollowed me out, eroding any traces of happiness into oblivion.

My life changed forever when I discovered the joy in seeking the happiness of others. One dreary afternoon, I stumbled across the meditative principle called “Mudita” in a book I was reading. This principle was all about sharing the joys of other people instead of focusing on yourself. Let me tell you, when you’re bitter to the core, it takes an incredible amount of willpower to focus on anyone other than yourself. When you feel locked in a box while those around you run free, it’s almost impossible not to resist the pangs of jealousy. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. In fact, the hardest things I’ve had to struggle through were the things I needed the most.

I started slowly, first thinking nice things about the people in my life who I actually liked. I would hear a cousin gush about her newest date and instead of feeling bad about the fact I feel unable to date, I would try to think, “I’m so happy for her. She deserves a nice guy.” When a family friend told me every detail about her skiing trip in the mountains, I tried my best to focus on her happiness rather than lamenting my inability to travel.

From there, I graduated to thinking uplifting thoughts in the direction of people I didn’t even know. When that lady jogged past my house this time, I said to myself, “I’m glad she’s taking care of herself,” and left it at that. There was no need to scream profanities at a total stranger just because she has the blessing of a functioning body.

It’s amazing how quickly the bitterness melted away once I quit focusing on my own limitations. Yes, I still have a good cry every once in a while over the abilities I have lost, but I don’t let it poison my entire life anymore. Grief and self-pity took too many days I can never get back. It turns out that feeling angry and jealous towards others never did me a single favor. Instead, it only rotted me from the inside out. Now I wonder why I ever held onto it for so long when there is such freedom in letting go.

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Originally published: March 17, 2017
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