Living with Disease and Living with Zen

Sometimes, it feels like the light is only shining on part of ourselves, yet we must remember that we are always fully present, even when we have craters damaging our body.

I have two chronic diseases, sarcoidosis and also CFS/ME. The first one, sarcoidosis is an auto-immune disease. No one knows how people get it, what causes it and there is no cure. It can range from being mild all the way to deadly. It can affect various organs in the body, from the lungs, the heart, brain, skin, lymphatic system, eyes… basically anything in the body. My case of the disease is a chronic form, which basically means I have it for the long haul. (Although there is no cure for it, some people have an acute form, whereby all symptoms fade away after a little bit of time). My lungs have been effected the most, though other symptoms blur into my other disease.. CFS/ME is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Basically, I constantly feel like I have just run a marathon, my body feels wiped out of energy.

These are crude simplifications, and I have a host of various symptoms, but my point is simply that I live in a constant state of discomfort. Sometimes it is quite bad, sometimes though, I feel perfectly healthy. It is a strange way to live, as I usually am feeling very run down. Sometimes, walking up some stairs is a huge effort. Even during those times when I am bad, it is strange, because, I know, if I had to, I could run/sprint in an emergency. I know I can muster up the energy to do explosive physical action… so it is a very strange feeling… It sorta feels like I am lying to myself! ‘Oh, I am not that sick if I can run and jump up and down’ ‘Oh , I am just a lazy person’.

They used to call CFS/ME ‘yuppy flu’. I totally understand this. People can (and I am sure some people probably do) make this up. So, I understand why people are skeptical…. Even I am skeptical of my own illness! Lol.

It is always very easy to make excuses for not practicing. ‘I don’t have time’ ‘I don’t have the right space’ ‘I don’t have the right cushion’ ‘I am too ill’. What happens when we have all the things we think we need to practice ‘properly’? No excuses… so if we ‘fail’, we can only blame ourselves… People don’t like this! Far better to be able to blame being ill, or blame the noisy neighbors, or to blame the uncomfortable cushion!

There is a saying about how a good craftsman never blames his tools.

The Universe has provided us with the tools. Sometimes the tools seem like the wrong ones! ‘I wanted a hammer, not a screwdriver!’ lol . However, in Buddhism, we must have deep faith and trust that the Universe knows what it is doing. It has been doing it for billions of years, so it has a good grip on how things work by now! Lol.

This also ties in with the saying about God.. How he never gives us more than we can handle and gives us what we need.

When I sit, sometimes I feel my lungs not working 100%, sometimes I feel my lymph glands screaming in pain in my armpits. Sometimes I feel my brain mis-firing, thoughts get lost being transferred around the processing centers in my head. Yeah, my diseases have made me stupider at times. So, I sit, and I feel my body not functioning properly.

In Buddhism, ‘proper function’ is a very important thing. Realizing Enlightenment is realizing our proper function as human beings.  So, is my body really not functioning properly? Do I need my brain to always fire properly to realize my inherent nature? Enlightenment can not be realized through rationalization, so my mis-fires are not a problem. In fact, I must embrace them as my teacher… Hey, they help me lose attachment to my thoughts by destroying them! Lol.

But in all seriousness, practicing the Way whilst ill presents itself with certain challenges, but also with certain opportunities.  Most of the time, I find myself not thinking of my illnesses and simply have accepted them into my life. However, there are some times when I do get fed-up with being ill. I get tired of being tired! This is because of my attachment to a life when I was healthier. This attachment then makes me suffer. But this is a great teacher. I can use this awareness of being attached to my former self to help break the attachment.

Sometimes, I ignore my illnesses, and pretend I do not have them. This is not healthy, because ultimately I will let myself and other people down… I need to accept the limitations I have placed upon myself. It is a fine balance though.. It would be unhealthy to totally ‘give in’ to my diseases, yet it would also be unhealthy to totally fight my diseases. Fighting them is different from trying to get healthy. So, a balance is required.. I must accept my situation, but also work hard to try to change the situation… So I try to exercise and eat well, I try to think and act well. I try to listen to my body and react accordingly. Sometimes I fail but sometimes I find a good balance.

All this said, I ask: Who is not in this situation? Are we all not confronted with some situation that we must find a balance? If it is not illness that affects our practice, does not something else come into play? Do we not all have multifaceted things effecting our practice?

It has been said that there has been no Enlightenment that has occurred without circumstances. I think this is a very very important thing to realize. No one becomes enlightened in a vacuum! The Buddha’s circumstance was seeing Venus…. And BAM! He realized in an instant his true nature.

The Universe has been unfolding circumstances since the beginingless beginning. It unfolds buddhas, who then unfold more buddhas… more and more circumstances unfold into more and more buddhas.  The Universe is very clever! I know it is cleverer than me and I will always trust it fully. I know I will not always understand it, but I know it has my back, even when it makes my lymph nodes stab into my lungs, when it loses my train of thought and when I am completely out of breath from walking up some stairs.

I like to sometimes think fun thoughts… like The Buddha has unfolded the Universe so that he is poking my chest via my glands via the disease.  A direct connection to me over thousands of years… Like a ‘butterfly effect’, the buddha knew what the Universe was doing and he poked the air 2500 years ago or so and he knew it would help more unfolding… and it is like a knocking from him on my chest. So, I try to take the pain as a pleasure, in a way, a teaching tool, a motivational prod! This is a fun thought, my heart-mind likes it too, and it helps me remember the Universe has got my back, is on my side, even if how I got to that conclusion is maybe flawed, yet fun.


22 thoughts on “Living with Disease and Living with Zen

  1. Pingback: Living with Disease and Living with Zen | Shobogenzo Zen Center

  2. Hello, and I understand what living with a chronic illness can mean…. and when there are no visible symptoms its hard to tell anyone how you are feeling inside when you are so full of pain, as you look normal to everyone..

    I used Qi Gong exercises and self healing to help me overcome my own health problems and now I have regular acupuncture every 3 weeks for the last 3 yrs which have helped enormously my pain levels ..

    Managing ourselves in not over straining muscles is one of the key things which helps..
    I suffer from Fybromyalgia and Myofacial Syndrome .. FMS But through mind over matter and self healing I am 100% better than years ago when I needed a walking stick when out and would be fatigued just walking up the stairs ..
    Now I go regular walks and my all time best walk in one was 8 miles.. ..

    Yes I still get pain, but I have learnt how to manage my life….
    The Universe is always on our side,, We are part of it.. We just need to learn again how to work in balance within it..

    loved reading this post and thank you for subscribing to Dreamwalker’s Sanctuary..
    Blessings Sue Dreamwalker


  3. Very insightful and inspiring. Your post reminds me that anything that happens to us – anything we experience or struggle with – can serve as a vehicle that takes us to a deeper encounter with life, with who we are, with those places where we are still clinging.


  4. a stunning and beautiful post … i love your thoughts on Buddhism and illness, the trials and tribulations, the trips of our minds down the paths we play on. thanks for visiting me today so i could find your blog! and take care, i know exactly how you feel… illness is the greatest of teachers.


  5. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award « A Western Buddhist's Travels

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