Six years ago, during a 4-month of period of undiagnosed illness that was accompanied by physical pain and the stress associated with not knowing what was causing it, I turned to the internet. Googling symptoms only caused confusion and more angst over what could be ailing me, leading me to everything from cancer and multiple sclerosis to Lyme and the mysterious “fibromyalgia”. Sick of negative test results and being treated like a hypochondriac, I eventually succumbed to the not knowing.
Feeling acceptance that my life as I knew it could be over, a feat in itself, I turned to the internet yet again for ways to cope with the chronic muscle and joint pain. Unable to exercise, or even sequester enough energy to leave the house, I sought out an affordable masseuse who could come to my apartment. Patricia Wilcox was the only masseuse that returned my phone call which was surprising in a money-driven city like Manhattan; I suspect that I was meant to meet Patricia. She came with her own table, sheets, lotions, a strong set of hands, and the wisdom that our outlook and positive thinking carries us through difficult times. I was incredibly impressed and grateful to find such a skilled masseuse at an affordable price with the added bonus of calming energy and a warm spirit.
I later received a diagnosis and did in fact heal, and regrettably during the “good years” I tend to lose touch with Patricia. In recent weeks I called her upon another health setback involving symptoms that were potentially serious. Once again her words and energy brought me peace during a time of stress and worry. A funny thing happened during my massage this time. While I was lying on the table, midway through, I suddenly had the urge to change the song that was playing in my iTunes. “I don’t want to hear this song right now,” I thought… “I wish I could get up and change it. Why did I even include it in my playlist anyways?” Suddenly, the name of Patricia’s practice interrupted my thoughts: peace begins with you.
As I lay on the massage table I reminded myself that just a decade prior even the concept of a “playlist” was foreign. When I was a child we had to “rewind” and “fast forward” our cassette tapes to skip tracks. And in the days of record players people – god forbid – played an entire album without changing a song! Who did I think I was trying to control my environment down to the minute? I decided to change my thoughts to gratitude for my surroundings, including the advancements in technology that allowed me to make a playlist and the ability to get a massage in my own home. I then made a conscious effort to focus on the pleasant aspects of the song instead of the reason why I wanted to change it.
This experience reflects how modern conveniences balance a fine line between enhancing our quality of life and destroying our peace of mind. While it’s wonderful to source an in-home massage within a few hours notice, in this information age are we becoming too accustomed to instant gratification? We have the ability to talk to anyone in the world at any time. We can know exactly where we are on a map, and navigate around what might lie ahead blocking our path. We provide ourselves with a constant stream of personalized attention and stimulation on our handheld devices, anytime, anywhere. The dangers of this gratification are the stress and anger that arise when things are suddenly thrown out of our hands. Out of our control. Children screaming, the dog barking, and something as simple as a lost connection to the internet – a virtual tool that was only introduced into our daily lives a decade ago – can result in anger and set off our body’s “fight or flight” stress response, falsely alerting our stress responses to physical danger and spiking adrenaline and cortisol as a result.
Even more problematic is chronic daily stress over things we can not control. These are things that happened in the past or events that have not yet happened or might happen (the future) that we carry around in our minds, often as constant background noise full of worry and anger. These might cause us to complain, rant angrily, or form unconscious habits of escapism into alcohol, drugs and sex. Regardless of whether it is the sudden onset of an illness, the loss of a loved one, or a traffic jam, it is an insane practice to try to deny or change something that already exists. Instead of trying to control our surroundings, we are far better off controlling the dialogue in our head, and the resulting negative energy we might be projecting.
If there was something positive that came out of my illness six years ago, it was the practice of surrender and relinquishing attachment to the outcome of my life. We all have the choice and the ability to incorporate this outlook into our daily thought patterns. Simple awareness of negative thoughts is certainly a great first step. Yoga guru Sangeeta Vallabhan teaches that when you are disturbed by a negative thought, think of the opposite. This is often a challenge when we feel emotions such as anger. But where there is anger, Sangeeta says, there is hurt; and where there is hurt, there is love.
The practice of conscious thinking is perhaps best taught by the philosopher and author Eckhart Tolle who claims that focusing on the present moment is the key to ending all suffering. Tolle says that all problems are illusions of the mind and all it takes is a simple choice to end our pain. Whether your thoughts or emotions about a situation are justified or not, if you are resisting what is, you are making the present moment into an enemy. He says “all you ever have to deal with, cope with, in real life, is this moment.”
As it turns out, I continued enjoying my massage that day. A few weeks later my physical ailment resolved itself. In the meantime, worrying about it did not bring me any comfort or relief. This served as an important reminder that when faced with adversity, our only choice is to surrender and accept the Now. Eckhart Tolle says then and only then will we feel at peace. Patricia Wilcox could not have picked a better name for her practice: Peace Begins With You.
Patricia Wilcox at Peace Begins With You can be reached at 917.971.7564