Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sick Thoughts

I've been sick for the past week, finally well enough today that I can organize my thoughts for a blog post. I haven't been this sick in years: coughing like crazy, random fever, headache, sore throat, stuffed ears. A few observations:
  • I normally have a harmonious relationship with my body. But when sick, I was dismayed to see how quickly my mind turned against my body: "Why can't you just get better! Just stop coughing!" The body starts to feel like a burden, a malfunctioning machine, with the mind as the distressed driver. Why is this car overheating? Who is in control? The body becomes something "other".
  • All the lovely holistic ideas about sickness being a "state of mind", that the mind can visualize its way to health, are quickly challenged by the blunt somatic reality of being sick. It's hard to believe that something as weightless as a thought could affect the heavy, material body. The mind seems helpless, it's voice muffled by the thick sensory experience of discomfort.
  • Being sick forces mind into the body. It makes the body the center of attention. No matter how hard I try to distract myself with movies and video games, the sore throat will assert its presence over and over again. Living more as a body, my personality changes. I'm less interested in ideas, in reading blogs, in joking with my wife. I'm less mindful of my actions. It's good evidence for the impermanence of self.
  • Being incapacitated by illness reveals my usually-unconscious need to always be Doing Something Useful. Feelings of guilt arise that I'm just "wasting my time" as I play a game on my iPhone. Of course, I don't have the energy or focus to do anything else. But my Overachiever still can't stop cracking the whip. So I industriously consume different herbal teas and elixirs, so at least I feel like I'm Doing Something.
  • I think of the story of the Buddha, whose quest for enlightenment began when he snuck out of his palace and saw a sick man. But it could just as well be that he himself became sick. There is something about illness that inspires contemplation. How much control do I really have over my life, if I can just be struck down by illness at any time? If a young yoga teacher can get sick for a week... there's no magic posture/formula/diet that will keep us healthy forever. Illness is a glimpse of mortality, the vulnerability of the body, and it is sobering. Safety is an illusion. What can we do? The Buddha's basic answer: surrender. Stop resisting the impermanence of things. Paradoxically, when we open to things as they are, in each moment, we are totally safe.
But now, how beautiful it is to walk by the lake in the warm air!


  1. Thanks Mick, this actually made me laugh. And I think (and hope you would understand) that I laughed because I am just coming off a "lost month" of dealing with pain and that sense of being consumed by my own physical awareness of my body. I got so sick of being sick! And, while several aspects of having been practicing yoga and zen philosophy have been quite helpful (especially breathing practices for me), overall I was struck by several of the same observations you made here about feeling like my good work had gone to waste, and like I should be able to "do" something about it faster, etc. Anyhow, I do finally feel I've turned a corner, but it was funny to log on to your post and see that you've been dealing with some of the same issues! Hope you are on the med too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...Denise

  2. Feel better soon. :o)
    Lori, one of your future meditation students