Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

In my latest book, How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness, I describe several techniques for helping with pain and other physical discomfort. One practice I suggest is using imagery to transport yourself to a pleasant place. This relaxes your body and that can ease uncomfortable symptoms.

In describing this practice, I use my own special place as an example: Maké Horse Beach on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. My husband and I used to go to Molokai almost every summer. Maké Horse Beach was a short walk from the condo we rented. I’d spend hours there every day. My husband stayed at our place and read—he’s not the ocean lover that I am. I didn’t mind going on my own. I was happy and content just to be there.

Because I’ve been chronically ill since 2001, I’ve not been to Maké Horse for over fifteen years. Instead, it’s been my “go to” place when I want to use imagery to mentally transport myself to a pleasant environment.

One day about two months ago, I was lying on my bed in considerable physical discomfort, so I thought I’d try this practice. I brought Maké Horse to mind. I went through my usual “drill”: I pictured myself floating in its turquoise water; I imagined myself lying on my back, running my fingers through the warm sand. A peaceful feeling of well-being arose.

I’ve done this hundreds of times since becoming chronically ill but for some reason, this time, something different happened. I suddenly realized that it didn’t matter where I was physically for me to experience the type of pleasantness I associate with Maké Horse. I was feeling it right at that very moment—lying on my bed!

And this is not just any bed; it’s the bed I often think of as my sick bed. Despite this, I felt a joy that was suffused with a feeling of peace and contentment. I found myself thinking: “Being on the bed is okay with me.” Then to my surprise, I said to myself, “and there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Whoa! No place I’d rather be than on this bed? What about Maké Horse? What about the beautiful beaches of Northern California that are only a couple of hours from where I live? At that moment, they didn’t matter. It’s important to note that I knew I was on my bed and not at Maké Horse. In fact, that’s what made it such a powerful experience: I was content to be where I was, as I was, meaning that it was okay that I was on my bed and it was okay that I was chronically ill.

The only way I can describe this experience is to say it was a moment of wishlessness.

My “take away” from this experience is that what matters to our well-being is our state of mind not the conditions around us, including where we are physically. It may be an obvious lesson, but it’s not easy to feel this way all the time. I’ve spent hours on this bed (from which I’m writing this piece) wanting to be anywhere but on this bed. This is why what happened was life-changing. We can know things intellectually, such as “Happiness and contentment aren’t dependent on where I am physically.” But it’s only when an experience breathes life into an idea that it’s internalized. Then profound change is possible. Such was the experience I had on my bed that day.

Do I always experience the peaceful contentment of “no place I’d rather be” when I’m on my bed now? No. But I feel as if I’m on my way toward being able to get back to that place of wishlessness. Sometimes all it takes is for me to recall the experience I had that day. Other times it takes a bit more: I have to consciously do the imagery practice—not forcing that “mental switch” to come, but allowing it to arise naturally as I imagine myself at Maké Horse and then realize that the sense of well-being and contentment I’m feeling is actually taking place on my bed.

I’m deeply grateful for this experience. I hope it’s been helpful to you to read about it.

© 2016 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I’m the author of three books:

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010) 

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes.

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.

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