Sunday, July 17, 2016

“What can I use this for?” Finding opportunities for value-creation through overcoming illness

A few years ago while experiencing an acute illness, I decided my motto for this sort of suffering would be, “What can I use this for?” I asked myself what I could learn, or change, as a result of going through the experience, instead of just seeing it as a huge and traumatizing waste of time that I was flat on my back for three days and couldn’t be of any use to myself or anyone else at that time.

I couldn’t change the fact that I was already having the experience, so I wanted to be compensated in some way for having to go through it: If something is taken away, we need something in return. So, when it comes to finding the value in some threat to our good health we’ve been taking for granted, the two biggest opportunities are 1) to educate ourselves about how to be more healthy and then make the necessary changes to become healthier than we were before, and 2) to develop an understanding of this particular health challenge that will enable us to develop compassion for and be helpful to others who are going through the same challenge—be it a substance addiction, chronic pain, mental illness, or whatever.

I wrote in my previous blog post about seeing my current digestive-system health challenge as a journey to wellness rather than a struggle with illness. This week was particularly rough—rough enough that I couldn’t even muster the energy or focus to write my Friday night post. I’m rolling with the ups and downs, taking it day by day, and holding the vision that I keep my overall life-condition (as Buddhists call it) high, independent of if physically I “feel like I’ve been hit by a truck” as I’ve been describing it.

Since holistic health has four levels—mind, body, spirit, emotion—this for me represents making the decision between letting one of those levels bring the other three down, or using the other three to raise the struggling level up.

Thus, I found July 17’s words of wisdom from Daisaku Ikeda, in the SGI Buddhism daily inspiration book For Today and Tomorrow, particularly apropos:

“Life isn’t always smooth. If it were, we would never grow and develop as human beings. . . . Unexpected grief and suffering may lie ahead of you. But it is precisely when you encounter such trying times that you must not be defeated. Never give up. Never retreat.” (Daisaku Ikeda, For Today & Tomorrow: Daily Encouragement; World Tribune Press, 2012)

Daisaku Ikeda himself overcame life-threatening health challenges, including tuberculosis, in his youth—Early in his life he was told by a doctor that he would not live to be 30. Today he is 88 years old, and still active as the international leader of the Nichiren Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai International. So, as a spiritual mentor, he has really walked the walk when it comes to giving guidance for daily living pertaining to health.

As I mentioned above, health challenges present two obvious opportunities for benefit we can gain from overcoming our suffering: The first being acknowledging and using the “wake-up call” to improve our own health, and the second to use what we learn on our journey to wellness to help others. Writing a few posts here about my experience and what I’m learning, as well as pulling out some older insights I never yet shared that are apropos for myself and some other folks I know right now, is my way of fulfilling my duty to the second opportunity.

I’ll write again in a few days, and go even deeper into food-for-thought about health karma.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have some “a-ha” moments regarding your own health as a result of what you learn here. Namaste.

Image: Feather Sketch, by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; ball point pen

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