Illness and the River of Life

The Mississippi River, one of the great world rivers, starts as a small stream in Northern Minnesota, where it flows from one of the thousands of Minnesota lakes. As the river travels south it gathers speed and size before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.

The river of life is like this mighty river. A similar process guiding Jungian psychotherapy is termed individuation. This process is a lot like the journey of the Mississippi river.

A human life starts out small and insignificant in a way, just like the Mississippi. But, the powerful life force builds momentum like a river through childbirth and until death.

There are times when the river runs slow and meandering. Other times, it rages and churns like a bucking bronco. The peaceful and the raging are two parts of a continuum on the trajectory of our lives.

Sooner or later, almost all of us will need to navigate Illness and disease as part of the river—as a part of the individuation process. Illness is a part of the mighty river of our lives in a way like a waterfall can be a natural part of the course of a river’s way. Sometimes we need to fall into an illness.

Disease and illness can paralyze, disable and terrify us (and of course sometimes kill us), but when illness can be viewed as part of the mighty river, it can decrease the fear and prepare us psychologically to navigate the illness in a more conscious way versus navigating an illness from a foundation of great fear.

I am not saying that we can do away with fear altogether, or that we would even want to. But rather that we don’t make fear the guiding force in our approach to our illness and in our decisions around the illness and disease.

Just like good health and good times are a part of the river of life, so are illness, disease and suffering. A good friend of mine, a pathobiologist who has spent years working with  coronaviruses said, “We need to calm down,” and approach our illness in a more conscious manner.

The mighty river
Fills the sea with laughs and tears
Beginnings in ends

© 2020, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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