February 10, 2018

Dealing with Sickness like a Buddha.


The 2018 flu epidemic in the United States has been reported to be one of the worst in history.

As I write this, there have been over 20 deaths reported and numerous hospitalizations. Personally, I was able to avoid the influenza, but I did wind up with a pretty serious strain of bronchitis that took two weeks and three trips to the doctor to get under control.

What I found most disheartening about this was the inability to be creative. My unshakeable characteristic of being a workaholic is how I generally stave off worry and the emotional instabilities I encounter in my life.

As long as I am working on a couple of articles and my book proposal, I seem to weather the storm of bills, rocky love affairs, and heartbreak with aplomb. Once the cogs came to a screeching halt and I was stuck in front of the Netflix screen without a single pithy thing to say, the darkest sadness I ever remember experiencing began to creep in.

The bills seemed to get bigger, the heartbreaks were more dramatic, and I really just wanted to lay there and cry. I had just spent all this money I didn’t have to hire an editor for my book proposal, and once I began to get her edits, they made no sense to me at all. My brain was just not working.

On Thursday, I had a phone appointment with my life coach and that is the one constant I have in my life where I am able to truly check in with reality and get a clear idea of where I am standing.

So, when she asked me what she could do to help me get refocused, I spilled it all out to her. I explained how I felt brain- dead and I felt like the entire world was running right over me and I was just a hapless victim watching it happen.

She listened and then suggested I do what felt most unnatural to me. “Stop trying to fight against what is happening and just be sick.” The thought of that, as scary as it initially seemed, felt like a huge relief. So I called in sick to work for the next day and I just stayed in and watched movies.

Every time my brain tried to think about the time that was passing without my artistic contribution, I chased the thoughts out. I remembered this great important book I read late last year by Toni Bernhard called “How To Wake Up.” In it she talks about her struggle with chronic illness and her challenge she faced when all of her best-laid plans came crashing down around her.

We can become more mindful even when we are sick, and this inevitably will help us accept life for what it is, no matter how disappointing it may feel.

Mindful breathing.

Take three or four conscious breaths and focus in on the inner workings of your own body. Are you feeling achy? What kind of ache is it? Is it a tightening? A burning? Breathe into it and notice the intricacies of the gift that is your human body. You might notice as you attempt this practice that, instead of just feeling like you have a headache, it is a series of different feelings all happening at once. Lean into this discomfort and you may find a peacefulness that has eluded you in the past. I tried this and it really seemed to refocus my attention on the present.

Monitor self-talk.

In descriptive writing we tend to embellish our feelings with adjectives and adverbs that exaggerate how we are perceiving what is happening around us. When I was speaking to my life coach, I noticed that my view of being sick included all of these unhelpful analogies that made me feel plain hopeless. Once I stripped away all of the embellishment and realized that I was just “not well” and it was going to take a little time to get back to feeling well again, it definitely took on a whole new meaning. I stopped saying “I feel like the world is just running right over me,” and I started to focus on the fact that I was in need of recuperation. It made quite a difference.

Recite gathas.

Gathas are short poems from the zen tradition that help us stay focused in the moment and appreciative of everything around us. Some examples of this might be while you are dressing:

Putting on these clothes,
I am grateful to those who made them
And the materials from which they were made.
I wish everyone could have enough to wear.

I made one up for when I was sick that helped me put it all in perspective:

When I feel this illness
I vow to lay down and get better
To restore my energy
And treat my self with loving care.

Try writing and reciting your own gathas to help keep you mindful and in the moment.

As luck would have it, I did wind up healing from that terrible bout of winter illness and get back on my feet again and resolved to work harder and better than I did before. I noticed when I brought mindfulness even into my aversion with being ill, it made everything seem a lot more manageable.

It is a great lesson for all of life, both pleasant and unpleasant. We will fall upon chapters we are not happy with, but it is all a part of the book. It is what we bring to it that makes all of the difference.


Author: Billy Manas
Image: Benjamin Combs/Unsplash
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen



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