How To Be Sick?

I continue to read Toni Bernhard’s new book, which I talked about a couple days ago.  I am learning a lot for sure, but I am overwhelmed with it all today.  So many good practices, but on a day when I feel sicker, I am not really sure how to be sick.

I worked 6 days straight..again…I am not supposed to be working that many days, but I did, 2 weeks in a row. But today I am off, and being off means my body decides to crash completely.  I always have big plans for my days off. More often than I wish to admit a day off ends up being time for recovery.  Today I feel like I have the flu, body-wise, achy and weird eye feeling like I have a fever, but I probably don’t.  And my headache is incredible and engulfing.  And lets not even talk about energy…or complete lack thereof.  My body feels like a noodle.

So how do I begin using the practices from How To Be Sick?  I keep taking little notes as I read the book; it’s like I think I will forget the good things I read, and I will never be able to go back and remember again. My fast evaporating memory is frightening.  So without looking at my notes, all I remember is that I should be compassionate with myself.

Have compassion for my sick little body.  This is what I am supposed to try to do  with this body that has turned on me?  I hate that I have gained, weight, I hate that I can’t go running across a parking lot just for the fun of it, I hate that I cannot come home from work and cook a lovely dinner for my husband every night, I hate that I feel like time is slipping away.

According to Buddhist thinking, the mental/emotional suffering I experience is rooted in my desires. And the mental suffering truly exacerbates the physical pain.  The word desire makes me think of something elicit, but in my case, the desires are pretty mundane.  I want my size 2 pants to fit, I want to hop on my bike or run a bit without considering the ramifications for my body, I want to care for my Love, recklessly and lavishly everyday.

Letting go of these desires is supposed to help me be better at living well with the way my life is…the way it has change to fit my pain.  So this is my work, and I must work hard at this. In my notes I wrote, open your heart to suffering, open yourself to the intense emotions that this illness brings.  So all these desires and hatreds, and despares I will try to just be with them.

Bernhard wrote this compassion verse from Tibetan Buddhist Master, Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche at the end of chapter 8:

Rest in natural great peace,
this exhausted mind.
beaten helpless by karma (causes and conditions) and neurotic thought
like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
in the infinite ocean of samsara (suffering filled life).

I will continue to contemplate these lines today, and I rest my body and mind in peace…I hope.

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And The Wind Will Blow

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.