What does diabetes do to us, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well? How can we turn this inner experience into a positive force in our lives, transforming our relationship to diabetes so that it contains to positive attributes we can be grateful for? And what are some practical things we can do take make that transformation real in our lives?
What does it really mean to live with diabetes?
Those of us with diabetes all know the physical demands and impacts the condition can have. But the emotional impact can feel even more significant sometimes. Living with diabetes 24 hours a day is tiring, and when our blood sugar feels out of control, it can be maddening, leading to feelings of shame and helplessness. But there are steps we can take to change our relationship to diabetes.
Turning diabetes into something broader
What I described above is the negative impact of diabetes. But we want to take this diabetes “monster” and turn it into something that is multi-dimensional, so that we can see that along with the negative qualities, there are some deeply positive ones. Doing so will require a shift in our perspective.
The shift we need to make is a necessarily contemplative one; perhaps even spiritual. This is deeply personal territory, but there are some overarching, universal themes that apply here. We need to see our lives, and the world around us, from a broad and deep perspective. If all we’re worried about is comfort, convenience, and physical trappings, diabetes will always be a monster.
But if we see our lives on a deeper level, placing value on things such as cultivating wisdom, creating meaningful lives, and cultivating inner peace and tranquility, diabetes becomes something altogether different. It becomes a teacher. Diabetes can teach you about balance, creating a deep sense of patience and an ability to let go when things don’t go your way. These are all deeply spiritual values that diabetes reinforces every day.
Daily practices to help us shift our perspective
What can we do on a practical level to cultivate this shift? First off, we can meditate. There was a study that showed engaging in 15 minutes a day of meditation (and using contemplative calming techniques) helped people lower their A1C values when compared to a control group who did not use mediation. And even if it didn’t affect any physical outcomes, it’s undeniable that it helps shift our perspective into a more contemplative mindset.
Meditation isn’t he only game in town, though. Service work — that is volunteering, mentoring, and so forth — has the same kind of effect. Working for the good of others forces us to look outside of our own experience; outside of our own likes and dislikes; outside of the irritations of our own diabetes. Even everyday activities such as exercising or taking a walk can be contemplative outlets if we do them with the right intent. As many Zen teachers have pointed out, doing the dishes is no less contemplative than meditating on a mountaintop — we just treat them differently.
Diabetes will always be a source of pain and frustration. And no change in perspective takes that pain away. But it doesn’t have to be ONLY pain. Diabetes can be a great teacher and a source of wisdom, a force that propels our lives forward in deeply fulfilling ways. We just have to listen.
Want to learn more about maintaining emotional health with diabetes? Read “Reducing Diabetes Stress: Alternative Treatments,” “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times,” and “Spiritual Self-Care and the Use of Prayer.”