If chicken soup doesn’t work, try some perspective
“In themselves external conditions are neither good nor bad.”
~ Geshe Kelsan Gyatso (Eight Steps to Happiness, p. 93)
Is it still the cold and flu season? I’m starting to think that it never ends — the year is just one long cold and flu season. You have the flu season before Christmas and after. In the summer, people tend to catch ‘one of those awful summer colds.’ People are forever saying that it’s ‘just that time of year.’ I know getting sick is just one example of suffering, but it’s the example I’m going to stick with.
The last time I had a cold, it was awful (sinuses on fire, throat too sore to swallow, headache, chills… you get the picture). But then, it’s always awful, isn’t it? Fortunately, there are lots of tools to help us cope with being sick: chicken soup, decongestants, warm blankets, plenty of rest, etc. and if you’re studying Dharma then you’ve got additional tools to use too (lucky you!).
Being sick is no fun, and the more I thought about it the worse it was. The more I focused on my sore throat the sorer it seemed to become. If I thought the pressure building in my head was bad, it was nothing compared to when I really started to think about it. Fortunately, unlike the myriad other times I have been sick, this time round I caught myself at what I was doing — I was focusing very intensely on the negative. When I managed to stop myself, I thought, if external conditions are neither good nor bad in themselves, than what does that mean? Sick is sick, right? But the more I thought about it — and lets be honest, laying sick in bed you have a lot of time for thinking — the more I realized that being sick sucked, but what was really causing my suffering was my reaction to being sick. I needed to change my perspective. I had to stop focussing on how badly I was feeling and start focusing on something else.
Watching TV and trying to read a book can only distract you from your symptoms for so long, so I decided to try something new. Instead of telling myself over and over again how sore my throat was, I decided to tell myself that it might be sore, but that it was only a symptom of the cold and it would soon pass. This worked pretty well; instead of feeling distressed that I had been pulled down with the cold, I felt optimistic that my body was fighting the invasion and that I would soon (relatively speaking) be well again. Once I had managed to reach that point of semi- calm I started to notice all the things that didn’t hurt, and I felt better for it. By changing my focus I was able to fix the tunnel vision that I had developed and consequently I felt a bit better. I mean, I was still sick, but I wasn’t suffering as much over it.
Geshe Kelsang Gayatso says, “If we can remember all the teachings we have received we shall have at our disposal a huge range of instructions that we can apply at the appropriate time.” (Eight Steps to Happiness, p. 106) It’s a really good point. If we can remember the Dharma teachings that we are learning then when we are suffering we can use them to help us alleviate our suffering.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to the doctor if you’re sick. And chicken soup, warm blankets, decongestants, and rest are all very good things too. You have to look after yourself. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to be sick then it’s worth trying to suffer a little less.
This post was written by Allison