“We are allergic to ourselves; therefore, we create all kinds of sicknesses and pains.
And even when we take our medicine, unless the doctor is completely wise and understanding, the medicine doesn’t have any affect on us, because we are allergic to ourselves.
People may ask if you are allergic to penicillin or aspirin, but no one asks, “Are you allergic to yourself?”…You might think about that question for awhile.
Then you will begin to see what the problem is in experiencing direct communication from what exists in the world.
You will begin to see why certain messages don’t click and other messages do click; certain things work and certain things don’t work.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa, True Perception (Chapter: Coloring Our World)
For awhile after I graduated from college, I had this skin condition called dermographism. It literally means, “skin writing disease.” When my skin got irritated—scratched or even bumped too hard—the affected spot swelled up in response.
When it was really bad, if, for instance, I scratched my name on my arm, it would eventually rise in up a welt and burn and itch even more. It took awhile to find a dermatologist who could diagnose it.
“What causes it?” I asked him.
“We don’t know,” he answered. Don’t know?!
“How long does it last?”
“We don’t know that either. A year? 20 years?”
He intimated that it might be related to stress and told me to take it easy.
I related to him that I’d just spent a very stressful month in Europe with an ex, fighting, not talking and thinking I had a yeast infection or an STD from aforementioned ex the whole time. He nodded.
“Yup. Stress’ll do it. However, just because the stress goes away doesn’t mean it will.”
While the condition faded, what’s never gone away is this understanding I was just beginning to have: that of self-allergy. In this case, it was physical—I could see how my histamines over-reacted to touch.
I was, quite literally, touchy.
As I got further into my 20s, and began to study Buddhist teachings, I could begin to see where I flared up, got irritated by my own self, not just my body.
The marks of my own thoughts on my mind gave me rashes. When I thought of shameful or embarrassing moments, I felt my cheeks swell and turn red. When I got obsessed, I felt the fog in my head pull a scratchy layer over my awareness.
When I first encountered the above quote by Trungpa Rinpoche, I thought—yes. This man has it. He knows. How it feels to be shut inside our bodies and minds, as if in a cocoon (a common—but profound—metaphor he uses in his teachings). How it is our choice to open the walls, which feels scary, to let air in.
Just this morning in a sensitive and irritable state, I snapped at my wife twice. Both times, she reacted in an irritated way, and the irritation/counter-irritation went on way too long. However, before we scratched open our skins and bled on one another, we did stop. Deep breaths, space. A big hug, gentle and knowing.
This happens. It’s ok. We spend so much time in our bodies, so much time in our minds, it’s bound to happen—we wish to disconnect, or blame it on someone else, or fix it, change it forever. It’s just us. Good old us, making the same mistakes as we always have. We can accommodate that. It doesn’t need to poison us.
Of course, to come full circle, body and mind are not separate. That condition I had in my early 20s was certainly a message I was not yet ready to hear: I was expressing my own fears and anxieties, writ on my skin, where everyone but me could see them.
That doctor was a wise one—he took one look at a very freaked out recent college graduate and told me to just accept what was going on and try to be attentive to anything that made it worse—drinking milk, too much time in the sun, etc. I think he did understand that I was allergic to myself—and that is something that only time, and a lot of compassion, can begin to alleviate.
There is no cure. Only patience and space. A sense of humor. And lots of practice.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise