What can be learned from being sick?
Having spent much of the month of December with some type of cold, which turned into a terrible sinus infection, I returned to good health for a couple of weeks. But just as I was getting comfortable in this condition, the whole Family came down with some strain of Flu bug. Coughing, headache, fever, chills and sweats, found all of us quite miserable. Food did not taste good, our appetites were almost non-existent, and we just wanted to sleep.
And while I am not back to 100% yet, this has been a good training exercise for me to see how the mind is so powerfully affected by the body. Easily the mind becomes weak and lethargic, lacking the focus and determination to even meditate for 15 minutes. But being aware of this influence, I made myself continue my practice and sat all but one day. This was not the easiest or most pleasant meditation I have done, that’s for sure. But I found it to be comforting in a very positive way. My awareness that this body is not mine to control, and is truly subject to sickness and death, allowed me to appreciate the benefit – especially in these times of illness.
None of us like being sick, in fact most would say that they hate being sick. But I am beginning to see that this is not only unskillful of us, but highly delusional. The truth is that we are always sick to one degree or another. And it is only the purified mind that can be free of sickness. But what does that mean, to have a purified mind?
I believe it is when we fully understand the Three Marks of Existence. These are Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction), and Anatta (no-self).
Our sickness that we may have right now is temporary, as is this life we enjoy. And having a physical body means that regardless of what we do, it is subject to disease and decay. Understanding these two, one can begin to see that there is no permanent self to be held on to. And the more we desire to control this or develop aversions to these realities, the more we increase our own unhappiness.
Saying to yourself “I don’t want to be sick” or “I don’t want to get old”, will not change a thing. We are all going to be sick, get old and die. And if we understand that, we can just be happy for the present moment. Even if that moment is one filled with coughing, congestion and fever.
I think that these observations have been beneficial to me in many ways. As I am sure this will not be the last time I am sick, and likely I will have even greater physical troubles as I get older. So this is just a lesson for me in mindfulness, acceptance and gratitude. One that keeps me on a path of liberation. The liberation from the weak mind that fights to control that which is simply the nature of this existence.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.
PS I am still running a bit of a fever as I write this, so I hope this was mostly coherent for some of you. :)