Yesterday, checking my email and finding the Chronic Babe newsletter. I happened upon an interesting book title. If you are not aware of it, Chronic Babe is a site ran by a chronically ill gal named Jenni Prokopy (sp??) who has started a site for chronically ill babes as a great internet support system, information site, and now also a forum. She has created some pretty awesome stuff, and also brought a lot of attention to women with chronic illness.
Anyway, the book I found and looked up is titled How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide For The Chronically Ill And Their Caregivers. The author, Toni Bernhard, uses her experiences with her own chronic illness, CFIDS among other things, and her study of Buddhism to bring together a mode of living well for the chronically ill. My description is surely lacking, but I plan on going into the details of what she talks about as I read the book.
So I did go out and purchase it almost immediately. Somehow I KNEW that it was a book I would love, and only a few chapters in I am having all these exciting “Ahh ha’s” and taking notes (?) on what I read so I can remember to think about these ideas.
Right now, I am in this place of chronic pain limbo that I am sure most people go through…my issue is that I am not going through it, I am stuck in it. It is a place where a part of me is mentally exhausted with dealing with pain, a place where I have no hope of really making it past this day of pain, and I go about not knowing how I will survive the next five minutes. Then the other part of me, which is starting to fade (finally) has this insane hope that some POOF will come along and I will be magically healed! I am stuck on this seesaw of near despair on one end, and Pollyanna thinking on the other. As I am not so crazy optimistic anymore, the despair is starting to win out, and I really need to keep that from happening. It would be so easy to give in. I have started calling myself an optimistic cynic (my friend B coined the term)
So I picked up How To Be Sick, and now I feel like I have been struck by an amazing bolt of lightning. I have read the first few chapters, and I have some new tools to work with. She starts with the basic idea within Buddhism of Dukkha, which loosely translates to “Life is suffering.” Now Toni Bernhard wants the reader to know that this translation is a little too narrow, and stark for the true nuance that lies within the word Dukkha. She explains it like this: other possible translations of dukkha could be unsatisfactoriness, anguish, stress, discomfort, disease (for a few options). The whole point is that every human can expect “suffering” out life, along with happiness. These two things are just part of existence.
Now, have I heard this before? Absolutely, the Catholic girl that I am suffering is a huge part of that thinking. However, the Buddhist perspective is so simple. Bernhard goes on to break down how she uses this idea daily, and this is where the sense of it all came for me. She talks about a method of coping called “Weather Practice.” The basic idea is that the wind will always blow, and the weather will always change. So any stress or anguish we might be experiencing will blow over eventually, and the opposite, of course, is true for happiness as well. We can count on the weather changing. And if you live in Colorado, you know this to be entirely true. 4″ of snow on the ground in the morning, and 65 and sunny by 2pm, and everyone is out at the park. Basically, change is the only constant.
How I find it easier to deal with the idea of the constant fluctuations of life, I am not sure, but it just makes so much sense. If I can find a way to get through the present moment, whatever stresses it may bring, the wind will always change.