How to be Sick

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

It's an inconvenient truth, but the body gets sick. If we are able to be at peace with illness or disability we can live the best life possible.

I learnt that truth firsthand when in 2018, after nearly a decade of battling a recurring bowel condition, I had surgery for a permanent colostomy. Despite the difficulties ordinary pain need not become extraordinary suffering, all you need is patience, and a willingness to bear what at first appears unbearable.

Bodies get sick: We all know this intellectually but when it happens to us we are usually surprised. In today's world, sickness is out there, we assume it can never happen to us. That we will never get ill or get a disability, if we can keep our head down we can avoid it. The truth is that sickness is already inside us. Eventually as we age, we all get sick, and the body dies.

Knowing how to handle these facts, but also deal with the physical presence of illness and disability is the key to lasting peace, and even happiness.

Why resilience coaching can help you

Resilience coaching is a means by which to get reacquainted with basic human truths: That the body is impermanent, it doesn't belong to us, furthermore it has a frightful capacity to feel pain. When you have a chronic illness you know this better than anyone, however, you also have a special opportunity to take care of yourself.

Most of us are taught to avoid death as much as possible: Knowing life will one day end can be depressing. Nevertheless if we can take care of the mind, we needn't suffer so much. In fact, if we are compassionate, non-attached, non-judgemental, patient and forbearing, we can be at peace right now.

There's a parable in Buddhism which explicitly tells us how to deal with sickness: 'When the uninstructed wordling experiences a painful feeling he sorrows, grieves and laments; he weeps beating his breast and becomes distraught. He feels two feelings — a bodily one and mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, and then strike him immediately afterward with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by two darts. So too when the uninstructed worldling experiences a painful feeling, he feels two feelings a bodily one and a mental one.' If we have a chronic illness, we have to ensure we don't get struck by the second arrow.

It's not easy of course. When we get sick, we not only deal with physical symptoms of pain and discomfort, but psychological ones as well. It's normal to experience intense bouts of anxiety and depression. We may worry and have thoughts like "what's going to happen to me?" "how can I live like this" or even "this is hopeless, it's not worth it any longer". I'm here to tell you that it is worth it. You can have a life worth living in spite of physical illness.

Taking the world's temperature

If we take the world's temperature we'd also see society is feverish. The western world tends to determine our worth on the grounds of utility. That is to say, as soon as we're not useful we appear to be expendable. No matter how much we hear the opposite - that life is sacred, a gift, we are loved for exactly who we are - we sense the opposite. If we're a young person battling sickness, it can be devastating: We have physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, but we also may question the meaning of life itself: How to survive and thrive in a fast-paced world which keeps of changing? We worry about work, money, relationships. We fear the future, regret the past, and even the present becomes intolerable. Part of getting better, is acknowledging that society may have got it wrong.

There are toxins in society. Whenever you are, whatever you are doing, look at what you hear, see, touch, taste and smell. Ask yourself, what is causing my suffering? If you find the triggers, or rather the toxins, you are learning how to be your own healer.

How much of this suffering is imposed on us by the expectations of others? When I developed my own chronic illness I suffered a lot. Sickness swallowed up my body and seemed to take over my world. In the end, it became less about creating a life of my dreams, and more about simply creating life worth living. That meant a life where I had happiness, and wellbeing, as opposed to power and status. A life where I could be myself, without feeling fear or shame.

Everything's ok even when it's not ok

Compromise is the ability to say "it may not be the life I wanted, but it can still be a life worth living." When we are able to forsake the superficial trappings of money, power, fame and fortune, in order to pursue more priceless treasures such as wellbeing and contentment we will be much happier. We will begin storing up true wealth, which will never be depleted, nor subject to the vagaries of fortune. We're all different, but if we are able to know the truth of impermanence, we can be happy wherever we find ourselves.

Resilience coaching can help with this. Thankfully acceptance and commitment are qualities which can be learnt; and by comprehensive skills training, it's possible to train the mind in order to get better. Take care of yourself, look carefully at what you want and need, and accept your mind and body as the way it is.

Buddha said, ‘suppose a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison.’ What if he then refused treatment until he knew who shot him? Well, ’all this would still not be known to that man, and meanwhile he would die.’ If you are suffering don’t look for the archer, extract the arrow and treat the wound.

Ultimately, the wounded healer, heals because they've been wounded. Resilience coaching is a way to help individuals with chronic illness, not only heal that wound, but find the meaning in it, rather than the source. If you can know this inconvenient truth: Bodies get sick, you won't suffer so much. In fact you'll be much more happier, seamlessly moving through the world, at peace with all conditions. Next time you go to the doctor don't say there's something wrong with me, say there's something right: Your body belongs to nature, but your mind can wander free.

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