Inside Yoga 269 (20/5/2019)
No one likes being ill? Some of us cope with it better than others, and of course, it depends on why we are sick, because the common cold is not as bad as a life threatening disease, but detachment as an approach to our health can help us cope with whatever seeks to strike us down.
The practices of yoga and Buddhism teach us detachment as a method of not just coping with everyday life and all it can throw at us, but it also is a way of understanding our life.
Using the example of the common cold, while sick it is our body which is feeling tired, aching, and generally crap, but do we need to feel miserable, bad-tempered and depressed over our sickness, which in most cases will pass within a few days or a week or two? The answer is no we do not need to react to our ill health with such negativity – and in some cases inflict our bad temper on those around us.
In meditational practices we learn to detach the mind and body from each other, so that when the body is sick, the mind is fine, albeit a bit sluggish and tired, but it doesn’t need to feel so low? In other words, “I am not my body” is one way of explaining the philosophy behind this view, nor “am I my mind” either! In fact, I am none of these, but at same time I am all of these. This philosophical approach highlights the fluidity of our existence and of who we are, we are never a fixed entity, hence the need to remain detached. We know might know who we are but is anything fixed? No, it is not, and that is why we go with flow of our fluctuating life, moment to moment, enjoying, enduring, living, but remaining at best, content and calm, able to deal with any misfortune, without being too upset, even with our horrible cold!
So if I am not the body, why get so caught up in its misfortune of sickness, my mind is still fine, and I am still able to feel contented, calm and at peace with the world. Such approach is a practical one, because what is the point in getting caught up in negative thoughts about my ill health, driving me downward and into a hole?
When we are angry about something we might declare, “I am not going to let those b*****ds get me down”… and this is seen as a good strong response by those around us, good fighting talk, yet when it is our own mind which is seeking to bring us down, we do not approach our own self with such vigour. But we can and should, we can tell our own mind and thoughts, no I am not interested in those miserable, poor me, angry upset thoughts, they are not helpful. Instead we can do all we can to detach ourselves from the sickness in terms of negative emotions and concentrate on positive and beneficial approaches.
One of the beneficial approaches is acceptance. We are often angry over feeling sick because we have not accepted that our healthy life has suddenly been derailed by feeling sickness. Acceptance is a step towards doing what we can to get better, like sleeping more, changing our diet to help recovery, and everything else needed to recover. Many of us will go into denial, forcing ourselves to carry on as if nothing is wrong at the same time getting more and more fed up and angry at this cold or sickness. And angry and irritable at those around us.
Sickness can be life threatening and that can be such a hard journey for many people, but this advice still stands because acceptance and detachment can help people cope with the misfortune of serious sickness.
In 2013, I read about guitarist Wilko Johnson who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, he responded by doing as many musical projects as possible, and importantly reported that he felt at peace … the idea that his time was up made him live every moment as full as possible… read his story in my archive blog, and then the epilogue, where we find that he recovered from his so-called terminal sickness and how he then felt was interesting… It is a fascinating story of how we see life and death, sickness and health. Read https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2013/07/15/death-can-make-us-live/ and then read https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2015/07/27/death-and-life-living-with-a-future/
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