Being sick and Impermanence

Struggling with a flu these last few days. Yesterday had a temperature most of the day, and I noticed the mind adding impatience and fear to the body’s experience of illness. Today started brightly, but the early promise faded and I find it still here, with its aches and pains  and tiredness.

A lot of things can change in a week, and this one has shown me how fragile and unpredictable this world can be. Some certainties which I felt I could rely on are not there. It reaffirms the wisdom of the First Noble Truth found in Buddhist teaching, which states that the essential reality of life is that it is challenging. Our physical bodies, our health, our relationships, all of the elements in our lives, are fragile and subject to change. However – as we were reflecting on in the MBSR class this week- these difficulties, and these changes, are inevitable, but suffering is not.

In other words, as the Second Noble Truth goes on to say, suffering is caused when we find our mind resisting or contending in response to life. We have a choice: we can struggle with life or we can accept it. Acceptance does not mean passivity, but accomodating to what is beyond our control. Being sick is useful because it means I see that there is not much I can do and am forced to let go. For someone with a character like mine that is not always easy to learn, as my preferred way of dealing with the uncertainties of this world is to do things, especially for others. Sometimes, one has to be weak, and there can learn much about the changing nature of life and of people, of care for oneself as well as insight into what really matters.

There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night.

In this way transience makes a ghost out of everything that happens to us.

John O’Donoghue

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