Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

How to Do Nothing

Tao Te Ching Chapter 3 Stephen Mitchell

I first learned the term wu wei studying philosophy and religion in college. Taoism—from whence the term comes—held immediate fascination for me.  The idea of not forcing anything in life held such an elegant sense, I could feel it down to my tiniest cells.  But that didn’t make it any easier to practice.

A few years later, I explained to my therapist my understanding of the principle of wu wei.  That it meant “do nothing”, but not really “do nothing”, just “do nothing” in the sense of, you know, not trying to make things happen in a certain way and stuff like that.  She demurred quite forcefully.  “No, wu wei, means, literally, do nothing!”  I didn’t really buy what she was selling.  Clearly, one can’t sit around “doing nothing” all the time and call it a responsible way of life.  One needs to grasp the bull by the horns, pull oneself up by the bootstraps, win one for the Gipper, and follow any number of other effort-filled adages that lead to a successful, fulfilled life.

The only problem?  I’ve tried that.  Many, many times.  And, yeah, if at first you don’t succeed, and all that, but there’s also the one about the definition of insanity being trying the same thing over and over, hoping for different results.

There is also this quote from the book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by famed Trappist monk, Thomas Merton:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork . . . The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

The problem with the wisdom of mystics like Merton and Lao Tzu (the purported author of the Taoist text Tao te Ching) is that it is almost diametrically opposed to conventional wisdom.  If you have a problem or, for some reason, don’t like your life, conventional wisdom states that you should figure out how to solve the problem, discover how to make yourself happy.  You do this by making lists, by talking it over with other people.  You make plans and plot charts, set goals and establish rewards.  It’s all quite simple, you just have to make a decision and move forward.

A mystic, on the other hand, will tell you to stop.  Right now.  No, really.  Just put your hands down, take a deep breath, and be exactly where you are.  Don’t think about where you want to go.  Don’t think about how you’re going to get there.  Let that information rise to the surface in its own time.  And the really annoying thing about this is that it feels like it’s TOTALLY the wrong thing to do.  Your mind is reeling in free fall.  “What do you mean I shouldn’t think about where I’m going?  How will I get there if I don’t?  ‘Cause I sure as hell don’t want to stay here!”  But that’s exactly where you need to stay: right here.  Wu wei.  Do nothing.

Darn mystics.

Note: The picture at the top of this post is a scan from my pocket copy of Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of Tao Te Ching.  I highly recommend it.

🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Making Lotuses

No mud, no lotus - Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been one of those weeks.  The kind where I made a hamster running to nowhere on his little wheel look good.  It’s at times like these that I have to remind myself to embrace the mud.  As the wonderful Vietnamese, Buddhist monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.”  So I will slather myself with the muddiness and muddled-ness of my actions and thoughts, and believe—know—that a lotus will grow from this mess—sooner or later.

As I was writing the last (first) paragraph, my mother came in and brought me a flawless white viola—the only plant to grow from a seed packet I bought her a year ago.  It’s not a lotus, but it’s pretty darn special—and well worth the wait.

2015-04-17 Viola

For more on exciting things coming out of decidedly grosser ones, check this post from a few years ago: An Ode to Compost.

Also, April being national poetry month and all, I encourage you to seek out some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful verse.

Thank you for reading.:)

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Learning How to Trust Myself

Trust Zentangle

One of the things I love about writing are the little gifts—the spontaneous pieces of wisdom—that sometimes arrive from seemingly nowhere.  Are they born of my (much) wiser subconscious?  Or are they endowments from some outer source that chooses (thankfully) to take over my brain once in a while?  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.

What I do know is that when I was writing my first novel, one character decided to tell another, “. . . the best life is not one in which one struggles to be good all the time.  It’s when a person believes in her own ability and desire to do good, and allows those positive actions to just happen on their own.”

This is a lesson I have been trying to learn for several years now.  After college, I spent a summer flailing at massage school.  I attempted to bolster my morale and failing health by making signs with construction paper and magic marker that said things like FAITH and TRUST in big block letters.  At the time, I think I was telling myself to trust in God, but even then, I think I knew that that meant trusting myself as well.  This was not an easy task as I knew what all I had gotten up to in my life.  I knew the stupid things I’d done and the smart ones I hadn’t.  And I didn’t feel very trustworthy.  Older now, I can recognize good reasons for my actions and inactions—many of them related to being hopelessly human—and I can also see how in trying to do the “right” thing, I was getting it all so sorrowfully wrong.  I got so constricted trying to get it right, there was no room for my creativity and love of life to breathe.  I was strangling the very parts of myself that have the most to offer.  I knew I needed to trust myself, but I couldn’t do that because I thought the only way to be trustworthy was to be infallible—something I am most certainly not.

But going back and reading those serendipitously generated lines reminds me that I don’t need to trust myself to be mistake-free or be ceaselessly industrious or know how to handle every problem in my life.  What I need, is to recognize that even though I am human and prone to blunders, my desire to be a positive force in this world is real and that, if I let it, is likely to yield some surprising and delightful results.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Just a Moment

Curiousity

Before I got sick in high school, I ran cross country and track.  At the end of each season, there would be an awards night, invariably during which a slide show of pictures of the student athletes would be shown and Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” would be played.  I had already sat through a lot of these presentations during my older sister’s very successful running career, and I remember yearning for the day when my picture would be up there.  More than that, I ached to fulfill the song’s message: to have that special moment “when I am more than I thought I could be”, so that I could “feel eternity” and “be free”.  It didn’t have to be in running.  It could be in whatever field I chose to pursue, but I was sure, with that silky, soaring voice egging me on, that, one day, it would happen.

I think a lot of us live this way—waiting for our lives to start.  We train ourselves to do this with the stories we tell and the ones we consume.  After all, how many movies or novels are there about someone living their lives from day to day as best they can?  A few perhaps, but most of us find them unbearably boring.  We crave adventure, love, excitement.  We meet our favorite protagonists when they have been tasked with a great struggle and we leave them when they have found love or have met some elusive goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those stories.  Heck, I’ve written those stories, but I think they, like the song, can confuse us about how we might want to live our lives.  For a long time, I thought “One Moment in Time” was such a great, inspirational song—and it is.  It tells us that through hard work and determination, we can become whatever we dream.  And, history has borne this out.  It can be true—but not for all of us.  Sometimes we fail.  Even when we try with all our wits and might and heart, sometimes we can’t capture the brass ring we believe will make our lives whole.  And, I for one, would like to believe, that’s okay.  As Mick Jagger has told us countless times: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need”.  Our job, a part from trying, is to recognize what we need when it arrives.  But here again, I’m talking about waiting.  Living for some time in the future.  For that time when I’ve lost the weight, when my body works the way I want it to, when I get this job or have that relationship.  We put our attention on hold until that magical time when we feel like all our ducks will all be in a row and the euphoria induced by this knowledge will keep us sailing through life.

I’ve been frustrated again lately about my lack of outward accomplishment in this lifetime and haunted by fears that I will never have my one moment in time.  And I realize that even though I am doing a lot of things to achieve my goals, a part of me is just waiting.  Always waiting.  And you know what?  I don’t want to wait anymore.  I don’t want to think of my life as unfulfilled because I haven’t won an Olympic gold medal or gotten a publishing contract.  And, come to think of it, I don’t want just one moment in time—hoping and believing that that instant will carry me through the rest of my life on clouds of ecstasy.  I am determined to have many moments—like when one of the little song birds comes for a visit on my window ledge, or one of my nieces gives me a hug for no reason, or noticing the crazy vivacity of acrylic paints.  Or recognizing how beautiful my harp sounds even when I am struggling to learn a hard passage.  Or feeling how just how soft my little, grey cat is when she comes to greet me in the morning.  Or sensing the subtle trickles of honeyed relaxation that seep through my muscles whenever my mother touches me.  Or remembering how grateful I am that my legs are capable of mobility, even when every step is painful.  Or, or, or.  The truth is I could go on for days.

When I was a kid and my family would eat something particularly delicious, my parents, both native German speakers (though different dialects), would instruct us, “You have to eat this mit verstand.”  I instinctively knew that this meant it was so good, it would be criminal not to savor it, but the literal translation for the German is “with understanding”.  We were supposed to eat with understanding, with gratitude, and with an attentive curiosity about what it was all about—every facet of it.  That is how I would like to experience my many one moments in time.  I don’t always do it—a lot of times I forget—but, I think for me, this is where eternity and freedom truly lie—in realizing the saturation of life in any sort of time—whether it be joyful or dull or difficult.  These are the moments I am living for and that I am resolved to live in now.  And if I get a publishing contract or somehow jump into an alternate universe and win a gold medal, I will endeavor to meet those moments with understanding, too.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Improving Work Space Happiness

I live in an apartment, so my office is also my bedroom, music room, and art studio.  I am lucky that it’s a decent sized space into which I’ve been able to fit two desks, two large bookcases, a filing cabinet, my harp, music stand, and chair, as well as my bed.  It’s not ideal, but it works—sort of.  Lately, I’ve noticed that my body mechanics at my writing desk—a lovely, old, hinged slant top—have left something to be desired.  I didn’t have enough leg room and, because of the height of the desk, I was continually leaning forward—good for my abs, but terrible for my neck and shoulders—and made even more crippling when my little, furry writing assistant demands to lend her brilliance by sitting in my lap.

One of the problems with being sick with CFS (or as the Institute of Medicine has now termed it, SEID), is that time becomes even more precious.  On a typical day, I usually have 2-4 hours during which I feel somewhat normal.  Even though I do tend to have pain, my brain and body still function with reasonable ability.  Anything that requires any kind of physical or mental stamina must be done during this window.  It’s hard not to feel like shopping for a new desk is a lousy use of that time, but given the amount of time I spend (and hope to spend) at my computer, and the amount of pain I already feel due to my ill health, I decided that a new desk would be a good investment in my future wellbeing and productivity.

So, after a lot of online research, a lot of measuring, and a lot of miming my typing habits at various work surfaces, I picked my desk.  But just as I was ready to inform the lovely people at my local office supply store, I realized that there was no way my laptop was going to fit on its pull out typing surface.  What to do?  Give up?  This was the desk—the one that was going to fit in the space allotted, the one that coincided with my price point, the one that seemed to meet my needs in the best way possible.  I thought about it for a minute and decided to go look at the wireless keyboards.  What if I bought one of these as well and basically just used my laptop as a monitor?  It seemed like a good solution, but the thing about me (one of the many, many things) is that I tend to be scared to spend money.  I don’t have a lot of it (who does?), and I am just about always nervous that I am spending it wantonly.  I was already a little trepidatious about the desk, was I now just overcomplicating the situation to the nth degree?  Was I trying to force something that didn’t fit?  I wasn’t sure.  But when I sat with it for a moment, it kinda seemed like the right thing to do.  So I took a deep breath and handed over my credit card.

When I got home and put the desk together, I was relieved to be delighted with how it fit into my space.  I also noticed that when I pulled out my new keyboard, I discovered that having the screen farther away from me was much more comfortable to my neck.  I found a workspace body mechanics illustration online that confirmed that one’s screen should be 18 inches or about arm’s length away.  So, by making the uncertain purchase of the wireless keyboard, I had actually solved another problem of which I hadn’t yet been aware.  Looking more closely at the ergonomics diagram, I also realized that my computer was sitting too low on the desk.  My natural gaze fell higher, so I was having to make continual micro-corrections that was tiring to both my eyes and my neck.  I solved this by placing a favorite book of fairy tales and an air mat (for keeping the machine cool) underneath my computer. Fairy Tale Support I love seeing the book there as I type away.  It reminds me of my deep love of stories—one of the main reasons I started to write.  And now, as I am slowly arranging my workspace, I find it becoming more and more inviting.  Even as I enter the room and glance over, I find myself thinking, “Oooh, I like that spot.  I can’t wait to get over there.”  This was a another goal I had aspired to some years ago—reasoning, that if I wanted to get myself to spend long hours writing, I better make the area in which I am doing it a place I really want to be.

Work Space

I am sure there will be more adjustments to make as I go forward.  For one thing, I still have to train myself to keep sitting properly—keeping my feet flat on the floor, leaning back into my lumbar support (a small, lavender-filled pillow given to me by my mom) and reminding myself that my shoulders aren’t actually meant to be next door neighbors with my ears.  For another, I have to keep my resolve to get up, stretch, and get a drink at least once a hour (even if it means offending my writing assistant), but I am excited to have a more comfortable and pleasant space from which to tackle some of my goals.

Writing Assistant

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

I Shall Not Live in Vain

  Some days, being part of the solution does not come easily.  I am tired.  I am scared.  I am in pain  Or, I’m just grumpy.  It’s on these days that I contract my expectations down to a single goal: to not be a part of the problem.  On those days, I am not going to be doing any mind-blowing activism.  Heck, I may not even be smiling at people.  In fact, I probably will be in my bed, under the blankets, hiding—even from my cat.  So yeah, no making the world a better place—and that’s okay, so long as I realize, that if I’m not careful, I might be making it a worse one.  How?  By telling myself—for whatever insidious reason—that I am a loser, a failure, a waste of space.  By becoming a black hole of negativity that is just yearning to suck the light out of the rest of the existence.

  On those days, I do my best to be kind to myself—if not for my own good, then for everyone else’s.  I think it’s hard to argue with the notion that we are all connected.  We may not understand the nuanced workings of those connections—if they are physical or psychic, or both, but whether we like it or not, we affect each other and all the other life on this planet as well.  According to Chaos Theory, a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the earth can cause a hurricane in another part.  So, if I, if any of us, abuse ourselves with nasty thoughts, even for one day, how much damage does it cause?  And not just to those around us, but to the world at large?  There are a great many sources of malice in this world and I don’t want to work against the good people who are making inroads against these ills.  I hate the idea of adding—no matter how faintly—to the darkness.

In one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson writes:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain,

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

 Which is great.  A worthy way to live.  But if I can’t do any of these things, then let me start my charity not just at home, but in my own heart.  If I can’t be part of the solution, please, at least, let me not be part of the problem.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Real Work

Being Here

“This is the real work.”—my words to my mother as we sat the dining room table a few nights ago.  I felt like I was about to spin out.  I’ve been more tired this week and my tasks have become overwhelming.  I was getting scared—and when I get scared, my body freezes in place, and my mind tries to run away.  But this time, I didn’t want to do either if those things.  I’ve been down those roads.  I know where they lead.

Some years ago I had a dream in which I was walking in the woods near the house where I grew up.  Traveling uphill on an autumn day, I enjoyed the colorful leaves decorating the trees.  After a while a car drove slowly past, and it occurred to me to become nervous.  Some yards ahead of me, the car stopped, and a man got out and hid behind a tree as if waiting for me.  My inner alarm blaring, I turned on my heels intending to flee down the hill.  But as I did, I saw a second man step out from behind the first, pointing a gun at him.  Already in flight and frightened by what might be done to me, I didn’t stop to examine the scene any further.  I fled down the hill and formulated a plan of where I might go to hide.  Suddenly, I found myself swamped in cold water and snow.  It came up to my waste or higher as I struggled to make my way through and escape the torture that seemed to pursue me.

When I related the dream to my mother at the time, she replied, “Well, you won’t like what I have to say about it.”  “What’s that?” I asked, steeling myself for her answer.  “What came to me is that you were supposed to witness, and instead, you ran away.”  It’s taken me 10 years to figure out how she was right.  Of course in a physical showdown, the most preservative thing to do is fight or flee, but this was my subconscious—no physical danger, just the warring of inner demons and gremlins.  When you run from those guys, there is no escape.  And going hand-to-hand with them is less effective than one might think.

Psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Daniel Siegel tells a story in his lectures about what happens when a person is bitten by a dog.  Say the dog has its teeth clasped around your hand, your innate response is to pull away from the pain and danger.  And the dog’s response is to strengthen its hold on you, clenching its teeth and digging them deeper into your flesh, thereby causing more pain, more danger.  But, if you were to relax, and allow your hand to move further into the dog’s mouth—in effect giving your hand to the animal, its gag reflex will kick in and expel your hand from its mouth.

I don’t know if this is true in practice, but the idea, on an emotional level, is sound.  That is why, as I stated here last week, I want to embrace my illness—as well as whatever part of me is healthy—and let it all just be as it is.  Not that I don’t try to feel good, but that I don’t consume the moments of my life with conspiring or running away.  I want to come home to my body, come what may, and know that I am safe here—even if it is painful and scary.

One of the many health practitioners I’ve consulted over the years once told me, “Be in your body.  You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  It has taken me at least 10 years to understand what that meant (Apparently my learning curve is a nice and gentle decade-long slope!).  Now, even when I don’t feel all that good about myself, I remember that the organism that is my body is still beautiful and amazing—like a tree or a flower or so many of the other living things that I respect and cherish just because they are alive.  I have spent so long running away from pain, but now I am leaning into it, paying attention, allowing whenever I can, for as long as I can.

And this is the real work I was talking about a few nights ago—being there at the dining room table and saying to myself, “I feel like I’m about to spin out,” and letting that be, without judgment and without trying to change it.  These moments of sitting with difficult emotions or thoughts and not acting on them is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It feels so much easier to start howling, or throwing dishes, or binging on donuts or TV.  But I know that if I do any of those things, the second I’m done, those thoughts and feelings will still be there—all the moldier and nastier for my having tried to ignore them.  But if I stay with them, or as the Buddhists would have it, offer them a cup of tea, it gets better—maybe not right away and maybe not exactly in the way I think I want it to—but it does get better.

Sickness & Health

Definitely Not Just a River in Egypt

Denial 02

A few months ago, I went to a new dentist.  During the intake, the hygienist asked me if I had any health problems.  I thought about this for a split second longer than probably seemed necessary before answering, as casually as possible, “No.”

No.  A simple, one word answer that couldn’t have been more ridiculous if my nose had grown ten inches while I was uttering it.  After more than 20 years, you’d think I would have gotten the hang of this by now, but the truth is I don’t know how to tell people the truth about my health.  I have pain and tiredness that interfere with every aspect of my life and yet, because I often feel the person I am speaking to will not understand, will not believe me, will blow off the statement, “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” as something unimportant, if not deceitful or indicative of a weak will and/or laziness, I avoid talking about it.  Until recently, I have felt that many people in my life look at me and think, as Cher so eloquently put it in the movie Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”  And the bigger problem is that, a lot of times, I have felt the same way.

It’s amazing to realize, after all these years, I am still in a denial.  To quote a wonderful sketch written by Garrison Keillor, “This is not happening.  I am not here and this is not happening to me.”  Crazy.  Unbelievable.  But because my super-duper logic-loaded brain can’t come to terms with an effect that has no apparent cause, I have spent most of my moments—even those substantially painful ones—believing that this is all a mistake.

Said mistake is two-pronged.  One: because no one has ever been able to find a whole heck of a lot wrong with me diagnostically, I tend to believe more in the tests than in my own experience.  And two: yeah, I really don’t want this to be my life and, maybe, if I don’t accept it, it will go away.

But I couldn’t help realizing the ludicrousness of my behavior at the dentist.  I desire authenticity from others and myself.  I hate lies and fakeness above just about everything else.  And here I was lying and being fake.

I did it because it is so scary to be honest and vulnerable, to allow others to have their own thoughts and feelings about me that I can’t control (as if I could do that anyway!)  I think most of us have the illusion that if we act a certain way, achieve certain things, we can get people to view us in a positive light.  We can get the smiles and kudos we all crave.  While this is true to some degree, we can’t actually control how others feel about us and we risk a lot by attempting to win approval through less than authentic means.  For one thing, the chance to connect with others on a deeper, more enriching level.  What if the hygienist had all the compassion in the world for me?  What if she did understand?  What if someone important to her has CFS and my revealing that I was sick somehow helped her cope with that?  Recently, someone close to me brought me to tears by telling me that she had never thought I had been lazy or malingering, that she felt sadness at my struggles and defensiveness toward those who thought the worst.  I shudder to think how much I have let my fear of her disapproval come between us.

Yes, there have been and will continue to be people who don’t get it and are hurtful as a result, but the bigger problem with denying my situation is this: what does it do to my relationship with myself?  What else in me—how much of the good—have I denied in the process of pushing this “other” away?

So lately, I’ve been working on embracing CFS.  What does that look like?  Not being ashamed.  Not hiding.  Not lying to people just to save my ego some cringes.  It means, instead of thinking things should be different and figuring out whose fault this all is (usually mine), believing in my experience from moment to moment, staying present with it, and no longer defending myself from reality.

Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

Unpublished

Oh, you’re finally hitting your teenagehood!

My mother has said this to me about a million times.

And I hate it . . .

Mostly because it feels so true.

I am in the throes of passion, rebellion,

frustration at the world at large,

irritation with several specific people in the world at large.

And reliving all this—again—is no more fun

than it was the first time.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky—

Some people don’t seem to make it past the age of 2.

But I’d really like to be an adult someday.

Trust myself.  Be comfortable with the body that sometimes seems well past its 31 years and the emotions that are perennially stuck at 14.

I’d like to be responsible.  No waffling.  No squirming.

I live up the road from FDR’s house, and almost every day for several weeks now I’ve had to drive by one of Eleanor’s quotes they’ve got posted out front: “Determine one’s position, state it bravely, and then act boldly.”

To which my response is usually: “Grrrrrrrrr.”

But that just reminds me of my cat Golda growling as she looks out the window, and my mother going outside to chase away the cat that’s causing Golda’s anxiety.  My mother can’t find the cat, so she comes back inside only to realize that, in the dim light, Golda is, in fact, growling at her own reflection.

Sickness & Health

A Chat with Retrovirus Rosy

Is it weird that I think a picture of a retrovirus is beautiful?  Especially when it’s one that might just possibly be the cause of my 16-year illness?  I’ve just read a report at npr.org that says that XMRV is present in two-thirds of CFS sufferers, compared to only 4 percent of the general population.  Now, as my psychology professors were very insistent on drumming into my head in college: Correlation does not prove causality!  And, even if XMRV does cause CFS, it will take some time before the appropriate treatment is available to the general public.

But I have to say that simply the notion that people are working on this, that they haven’t given up on folks like me, is almost too hopeful for words.  I’ve never imagined this moment would come—when scientists would be this close to identifying a causal agent for my illness.  It has seemed altogether too farfetched.  And I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is that I still am haunted consciously or unconsciously by the notion that my sickness is not real, that really, I am just a slacker.

Or maybe it’s just that I gave up on allopathic medicine a long time ago.  Or perhaps, more accurately, 16 years ago, it seemed to give up on me.  Over the intervening years, I have gotten used to conventional medicine being unhelpful to me.  There is no bitterness in that statement.  In fact, I have often felt that there must be something wrong with my chemistry or my way of being that has caused me to be incurable in so many different ways.  My expectations of doctors have become so measly that when, in the past few years, a medication has proven effective (for non-CFS ailments), I have been genuinely surprised.

And now I look at this magnificent picture of a remarkable organism that may even now be coding and recoding itself into my DNA—making itself one with me.  I should feel violated, but strangely, I don’t.  It looks like roses to me and again, I can’t help it, it is beautiful to me.  Not that beautiful things can’t be deadly or, at the very least, extremely annoying.  Beautiful does not equal good.  Truth maybe, but not good.

I have long thought of my body as a fluid community of cells, rather than a solid, individual being.  Consequently, I have tried to coax my cells to health—with words, with imagined light beamed into uncooperative places, with a sense of love that I hoped would penetrate to the heart of even the most stubborn malady.  I have reasoned with them: “Hey guys we’re all in this together.”  Apologized to them:  “I am so sorry about putting us all through that experience, but please don’t punish me for it now.”  And I know that with this idea of a retrovirus fresh in my mind, I am bound to start talking to it as well—whether or not it is actually there.  “Hello, Rosy the Retrovirus, would you mind taking up a little less room?  It’s getting a little crowded in here.”  Perhaps I should be more forceful: “Get the hell out, and take your new DNA code with you!”

Aye, there’s the rub.  Once a retrovirus has gotten its little claws in you, there isn’t any going back.  I remember the sadistic little grin my Neuropsych prof donned as she explained to us that curing HIV (also a retrovirus) was impossible because it infiltrates one’s genome so completely that the host cells don’t even realize that they are replicating anything but their own original code.

As I understand it, current HIV treatments work by inhibiting the retrovirus’ progression.  But, as my professor pointed out, this is only a stopgap measure.  The virus is still present and, in fact, becomes a part of the host’s self on a very basic level.  So if I do have XMRV, it is, right now, a genuine part of me.  Of course, there are a lot of individuals inside of me right now that I would classify as not me—a plethora of helper and hurter microorganisms simply doing what I myself am: trying to live as well as possible.  I don’t think this is what religious people mean when they say, “You are never alone,” but it’s so true.  Forget about God, I carry a whole population of me-s and not me-s around with me wherever I go. (Come to think of it, where is the “I” in all of this?—Best leave that one for another day.)

Can we live in peace?  I don’t know.  I’m guessing not, though—since the prosperity of many of these organisms means illness or even death for me.  Whether or not I am aware of it, I am probably, as I write this, making war inside my body.

And this is all natural—which, if you believe those labels on cereal boxes, means it must be good.  You know, like hemlock and black holes.  And like that picture of XMRV—natural, beautiful—and, if those scientists are right, one major pain in the ass.

To read more about XMRV and see its picture go here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113613955