When you are ill, you know you are alive. With the flu, you feel your flesh, the inside of your lungs, the space between your skull and brain. This is inaccurate, medically, but true. Your nerves can pinpoint where there is still slush in your gut. The temperature of everything you touch is extreme. It is painful to be alive.
I was ill recently. For days. Nothing concerned me except my body. It seemed I had no mind, no emotion, no care, only a body full of screaming nerve endings. As long as I slept, I was free of the illness, and free of the remaining sliver of awareness that monitored everything, and reminded me that this, too, would pass.
Just let it pass now, I begged silently to myself. Let me sleep.
So much sleeping seemed wrong. How could I want to disappear from myself. That’s like asking for death. But so be it. I slept. And I slept.
Finally, maybe a week later, and with a degree of recovery, I answered the inner call to be in the normal world, outside my home. I drove to a nearby market.
Walking across the parking lot toward the front doors of the store, I saw the many cars, pulling in, parking, leaving. They followed the arrows and lines on the asphalt. Blinkers and brake lights signaled from car to car. All was orderly.
Across the way, on the sidewalk bordering the parking lot, someone in a bright hat marshalled three small, colorful dogs on leashes. The dogs were playful with pretty collars. They seemed like four-footed ballerinas doing a ribbon dance, over there, beyond the hard, shiny, well-behaved cars.
I noticed my legs moving, right-left, right-left, a steady, quiet pulling of me closer to the store, through the traffic. I noticed other things, too – my wanting to see more of the colorful play of the trio on leashes, my bruised lungs rebelling against the cold air, my fatigue doubting my ability to carry a bag of groceries. I noticed the people moving toward and away from me, toward and away from their own shopping, each carrying their own preoccupations, their own bodies and minds, their own grocery bags. I wanted to notice it all at the same time. I couldn’t. But I did my best. It was beautiful – dogs, cars, people, all moving.
It was amazing to be moving across such a great distance as this parking lot. The world was big and it seemed good, all the shapes and activity. My body did not hurt as badly as it had. But it still had the odd warmth and ache of illness. My breath was a constant sensation. And I was glad to feel myself, my body, in this strong, direct way. It made me pay attention. It kept me here, inside my skin, while I watched the drama of motion flow around me.
I felt fragile, and that kept me practical, simple, calm. I had no extra energy for excitement. My mind was free – without clutter or demands. I didn’t feel strongly about anything. I was more like an artist seeing objectively. Moving was plenty to focus on. Witnessing absorbed my mind. Being alive, walking in the world, and being willing to be aware, that was quite a lot.