I’ve been sick for the last week, which is tough for someone who identifies with being a hot and healthy dude. No, I don’t make a lot of money (or almost any). I live in a dump. I lack accomplishments, awards, degrees beyond a bachelor’s (and it took me a while to get that), but gosh-darnit, I’m healthy. I get sick maybe once every 3 years (and it’s usually mild). My bowels move freely. My nasal passages blow like wind over a Himalayan ridge. My skin is clear. My midsection is taut. My limbs are long and strong. My fingernails are hard and free from bites or dents. Random people frequently tell me things like, “You look like you take good care of your body.” So when that body shuts down—even partially—it fucks with my identity.
The first thing I do is go into diagnostic mode. What caused this? Was it hanging out with all those kids? Was it mold in my apartment? Was it my recent penchant for eating loaves of white bread (this is my #1 theory)? Was it negative thoughts and fear?
While I don’t think it’s a bad idea to examine why I got sick (especially when it happens so rarely, making it easier to discern the cause), once sick, the cause becomes less urgent than recourse. With sickness, as in all things, there are 2 ways of dealing:
- Resist it. I can get pissed off at all the things I can’t do. Maybe I try to labor through these things, pretending as if everything is cool, meanwhile protracting my recovery.
- Surrender to it. I can accept that my body is still vulnerable to sickness. I can accept that all of my plans and designs for taking over the world are subject to the vagaries of nature.
While I don’t want to overstate the significance of my sniffles, my health can be likened a bit to the Japanese tsunami. Both illustrate how the best plans and precautions can be unexpectedly and completely undermined by forces of nature. After all, I’m not some sedentary layabout. I ride my bike everywhere. I do pilates. I make sure to eat raw vegetables every day. I get adequate sleep. I freaking meditate. And I still got sick.
Japan wasn’t Haiti. It had a modern infrastructure. I’m sure it was as prepared as any highly-populated, seismically-active, island nation could be in dealing with an 8.9 submarine earthquake. And it still got its shit rocked.
I believe that what is good for now is good for later. This principle holds true for every system. Taking care of my body has immediate and longterm benefits. Cleaning my house provides a nice place to live now and keeps it from deteriorating later. But at some point and time even the best systems fail, whether that system is respiratory or solar. It’s what the Buddhists call impermanence. All phenomena arises and disappears (and I dare any reader to provide an exception). Rather than trying to ensure that our various systems never fail and getting pissed off when they do (i.e. resisting), wouldn’t it make more sense to learn how to handle this essential failure? This is not giving up, it’s surrendering.
Giving up is when you stop washing the dishes in your sink because you think, “Why bother? Everything is going to shit anyway.” Surrendering to their impermanence is happily washing those dishes, knowing they will one day break, but content with the brief satisfaction they bring you now (and you’d just assume have a clean eating surface).