Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pain and Suffering


"Pain is Inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami


Last week I had the flu.  High fever, body chills, sweats, coughing, congestion, body aches…  You get the picture.  It is amazing to me how each time I am in pain, I have to learn again that feeling miserable is a choice.   It is easy for me to be impatient, to want to be better now, and want doctors to fix me yesterday.  If you know me, you know I don’t like to sit around and do nothing.  Yet my mind is clouded and my body and head ache terribly if I move around too much. 
I self-identify as a Buddhist.  I don’t feel much like a Buddhist when I am sick.  I am attached to the pain.  I pay too much attention to each supple change in my sweating, my temperature, my coughing.  They become too important to me.  The doctor says, “A virus just takes time to get over; drink fluids, and eat enough so your body can heal.”  She gave me Theraflu for the flu and a Tylenol for the fever and sent me home.
After I got home, I expected to feel better after one dose of the medicine.  When I didn’t, I began practicing my meditation while in bed or in the recliner (my two go-to places while I was sick).   I wasn’t able to sleep, but I meditated so my body and mind could rest.  Hours passed, and the anxiety abated.  My mind could let the pain and other discomfort come and go without dwelling on it.
However, in my sicken state I was still vulnerable.  I returned to obsessing about the object of my attachment, how I should feel.  I was actually feeling a little better.  Yet, my monkey mind whispered, “On my first visit, hadn’t the doctor said that my temperature concerned her.”   I started obsessing about my temperature again; I felt overly hot, maybe my temperature was at a dangerous level again.  I called the doctor and fortunately I was able to get a call back; she reassured me that the temperature would ease in time, and not to worry. 
Irrational thoughts can easily exacerbate feelings of anxiety, fear, making the pain seem worse.  Suffering ensues.  I had to return to my practice of meditation and mindfulness again and again and again and again and again.  That is not nearly enough “agains.”
I approach life as a series of opportunities to learn lessons, to embrace life, to let go of attachments, to choose contentment.   I choose to be happy even when I am sick.  I don’t always achieve that, but I am committed to keep coming back to happiness rather than misery.  So, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, I’m grateful for having the flu.  It gave me the opportunity to “walk the walk” I so often talk about.  Namaste.

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