There is a superstition in the Iranian culture so integral to the belief system that you simply take it on as fact, lest you fall victim to its wrath.
It is the notion that you never, ever, talk about the good things that are happening to you such as the good health that you are enjoying or the good friendships that you are blessed with or the good boss that gave you a raise, so on and so forth, because the moment that you talk about these things, someone out there with an evil eye will inevitably jinx you and then you are doomed! Dark days and poor fortune will befall you, simply because you uttered a word about your good ones!
So we grew up believing this “bad eye” to be for real. We would listen to grown-ups teach us how to “beat” the eye and how to guard ourselves well against it. That means no getting excited and telling anyone about your accomplishments or general state of your happiness because Mom would scold you about how others will now jinx you.
For instance, a seemingly innocent statement such as “Oh look, I am so healthy I rarely get sick!” is enough to send an untold number of Iranian Moms and Aunts into a state of mad frenzy if not complete hysteria!!!
“SHHHHH!!” they would say with their index fingers up on their lips, “Don’t say anything! Don’t tell anyone!”, “But Mommy, I am just telling YOU! There’s no one else here…” We say what falls on deaf ears. “Someone will hear and then God helps us!” they would then knock on wood to keep the bad eye away, or keep the good fortune going strong – I forget which – and then send a prayer to the almighty forces that determine who befalls the “bad eye” next, asking for mercy to please spare us this one time.
Oh yeah! Talk about kill-joy!
Well, I don’t know if the “bad eye” came to visit me on the eve of my birthday, after enjoying so much good health in the last year – gasp – or if it was a message from the heavens to get so sick and so broken for 8 days that I was forced to examine my whole belief system about life, from early rising and sleeping to eating, meditating, resting and working because I could certainly not do anything terribly productive in between bouts of incessant coughing and complete loss of my voice.
Good thoughts and high spirits take leave of us when sickness hits home. It’s easy to tell ourselves to be positive and happy and grateful about life when everything is fine and rosy but what about the days when you can barely get through it all, and when you feel old and heavy and sick, rather than young and light and nimble? What do you do when all your plans are shot because an unexpected cough decides to invade your body and not leave until it has had its way with you?
Well, I’ll tell you what I did this week.
I wanted to sleep but I couldn’t so I laid down doing nothing.
I wanted to read but I couldn’t so I surrounded myself with all my books just so I could stare at them.
I wanted to meditate but I couldn’t so I stared at the ceiling instead.
I wanted to start off my birthday year with a jolt of energy and enthusiasm, and instead, I lost my voice and my spirits.
I wanted to stay strong and happy but I felt into self-pity and self-loathing.
I wanted to fight it so hard, this virus, this laryngitis, this whatever form of severe discomfort but I had no energy and no will.
So I finally gave up and I gave in. I quit fighting. I quit resisting. I completely surrendered.
I surrendered to the cough, to the headaches, to the lack of voice… I accepted the missed deadlines and the unexpected change of plans, and I did only what I could, which was not very much at all.
And then something strange started to happen.
I started to feel more gratitude, not just for my health but for my entire existence. Is it not amazing, I thought, that our bodies function the way that they do every single day for weeks and months and years? Is it not incredible that they adapt to the severe conditions and circumstances which we put them through and they still perform with beauty and grace? Is it not a gift and a miracle that we live in such a beautiful temple, such a complex and divine system that is still not completely known to man and one that still leaves us marveling at its maze every single day?
Of course the answer to those questions is a resounding yes.
And it’s all good and great to feel this way, even if we feel it during the absence of perfect health, which is life’s funny little irony, but then what, I wondered?
How do you put that wonderful sense of deep gratitude for your body and your health into practice? How do you use it to offset that frustration you feel for not being able to be productive, to do your work, to be your absolute best this Monday through Friday because of this lousy, stupid, untimely sickness?
The anger continues to linger for some of us, and no amount of acceptance seems to wash it away. It comes up over and over and try as we might to release the darn thing, we end up holding on to it longer!
“Why me? Why did I have to get sick? Why did I have to fall off all my beautiful habits and why around my birthday? Why why why?”
It’s not attractive to moan and groan, and it’s not easy to admit it either, but you and I know this happens. We do this to ourselves all the time. We are human beings. We are most of us both spoiled and too ambitious for our own good.
So yes, we do whine, mind you and we do it well, thanks to all the practice, with one beautiful exception: when we get sick of whining. What comes after that, when you get sick of being a person you always have been when life doesn’t go according to plan?
I noticed that as angry and unhappy as I was during this week, I wasn’t THAT angry and THAT unhappy. In fact, I was partly forcing myself to be angrier and unhappier because the situation SO warranted it but a part of me was content with the process of life as it was unfolding.
I call that progress, my dear friends. Progress.
Not arrival at destination.
Not completion of a journey.
Not reaching the finish line.
The energy of progress.
Being a little better than you were before.
Being a little wiser, a little more mature, a little lighter, a little happier, and a lot more grateful than you used to be.
That is progress, and that is worth a celebration.
So I want to encourage you to commit to your progress when those days are at hand, and to be gentle with yourself rather than harsh, and to allow these tough days to come, and also to not hold on to them when they are finished with their business so they can leave … because you and I will get through whatever it is that we are going through right now, as long as we get up every day and do our very best and be a little better than the day before.
That and remember not to mention anything about your blessings or the “evil eye” will find a way to come and jinx you!