How To Be Sick: Discussion 5

“…Buddhism defines an emotion as a thought plus a physical reaction to that thought.” —Toni Bernhard

As we start reading the section of the book titled Finding Joy and Love, we are introduced to the four brahma viharas, or sublime states.

  • Metta—loving-kindness; wishing well to others and to ourselves.”
  • Karuna—compassion; reaching out to those who are suffering, including ourselves”
  • Mudita—sympathetic joy; joy in the joy of others”
  • Upekkha—equanimity; a mind that is at peace in all circumstances”

The first chapter in the section focuses on cultivating joy in the joy of others (mudita). For people who are facing new physical limitations due to their chronic illnesses, this can be a way of turning painful responses (envy) into wholesome responses (joy).

The second chapter in this section talks about the act of well-wishing toward yourself and others (metta). The essence if metta practice is settling on a set of phrases, and silently repeating them over and over. “The specific content of your chosen phrases doesn’t matter so long as their theme is well-wishing. It’s the act of listening to and contemplating the meaning of the phrases as you repeat them that, over time, softens and soothes the body, mind, and heart.”

Discussion Questions

  • Talk about a time when you really wanted to, but were unable to, participate in a certain activity or social event. When you knew that you were not going to be able to attend in the way that you had hoped, what feelings did you experience?
  • Describe a personal example of cultivating joy in the joy of others.
  • We are introduced to various metta phrases, including the following by Kamala Masters: “Whether sick or well, may your body be a vehicle for liberation.” Please share a metta phrase that you have found to be particularly helpful.

This post is part of RA Guy’s Book Club for “How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers,” by Toni Bernhard. For a complete list of discussions, please click here.

11 Comments
11 comments
  1. Deb aka abcsofra says:

    OK…I was bad and didn’t partake in this book club (wish I had) but I am taking your advice to heart. After having my car stolen recently I am thinking well wishes….I wish the thief will get a jail cell painted in a nice color, I wish the thief a long rest period…say 8 years in that cell and lastly, I hope the thief has money so when they find him/her I can sue and recoupe the money I have lost. Yes, I do feel so much better. I am repeating these phrases regularly throughout the week :-) Bless your heart RA guy for keeping me in a good mood about all of my bad luck lately. Probably best I stayed out of this book club…you know how I can get :-) But I love this idea and hope you do again in the near future so I can get the book and partake in the joy of learning new things.

  2. Michelle says:

    I wish I had noticed earlier that you had started this one! I received it as a gift at christmas… haven’t had the motivation to pick it up. I’ve wanted the book for a while I was really happy to get it. Going to make a point in trying to get up tonight… maybe I can catch up in the discussions ;) @ Deb, I hear ya and understand too well. I really hope it flips around for you.

  3. Linda P. says:

    I have had happy events and sad events that I wanted to attend and couldn’t: school-related events involving my grandchildren were happy events I most definitely would have attended in the past, for example. However, the most painful and most recent example came when my brother was hospitalized with a serious illness last month. My other two siblings rushed to his side, but after consultation with them, we all decided it was best that I not go. If I did, they would have to expend time and energy tending to me, taking away from the attention they could give our brother. Several days later, he coded. Fortunately, he survived and is back home, but that episode required serious time spent accommodating myself to this new manifestation of the way RAD has impacted my life. I’m the oldest of the four siblings, and I have always felt like half mother, half sister to my siblings. I had been spending much time talking to this brother, who lives alone, making sure he knew he was valued. Then I couldn’t go to him. First, I had to talk myself out of the thought that I was just being lazy in not making the trip halfway across the country. It was a tough time, but I finally decided that I could be helpful in providing information to the extended family and in being a calm voice for my siblings whose own strength and stamina were being tested. And I decided that I couldn’t control this, as much as I wanted. I felt isolated at times, but I sent them all healing thoughts and kindness, and in the end did deal with it. This has been one of the most difficult adjustments in this fifteen-month-long journey, however. The metta phrase that has been helpful to me is more than a single phrase, something I discovered on a YouTube video: “May I be free of enmity and danger/May I be free of mental suffering/ May I be free of physical suffering/May I take care of myself happily.” I repeat it with intentions toward a widening circle: my family, my neighbors, my worldwide neighbors, etc.

  4. RA Guy says:

    Just weeks before I was diagnosed with RA–when it was already quite obvious that I was dealing with something serious–I traveled to attend my sister’s wedding in the U.S. I remember being slightly upset that I was missing a lot of the hustle and bustle in the days (especially the mornings) leading up to the big day…but at the same time, I really didn’t allow myself to feel any guilt. I was doing my best, after all, and there was really nothing else I could do.

    On the day of the wedding I attended without any major problems…but about an hour before the end of the reception, I just couldn’t keep on anymore. I had to go home and rest. I approached my sister and her husband to say my farewells, and was happy that they both understood perfectly well why I needed to leave slightly early, and didn’t seem to be the least bit upset.

    In the end, I participated in 90% of the wedding, which covered all of the most important events and activities. Sure, I would have loved to be there 100% of the time…but I’m not going to complain about having to have had made a slight reduction.

  5. RA Guy says:

    I think the most important point of this book is reading some of the messages, taking them to heart, and engaging in the practices that seem most helpful. Whether this is done in “this” book club or elsewhere is less important, in my opinion. I agree with you, though, in regards to wishing the best to everyone. It can be particularly difficult at times, especially with those who have “wronged” us, but I personally feel it’s a much healthier approach than keeping that anger and hatred in my heart.

  6. RA Guy says:

    These discussion post will always be available both now and in the future (you can book mark the main page at the link show at the bottom of the post), so if right now is not the best time to participate please feel free to come back and use some of theses discussions as an additional resource when you get around to reading the book!

  7. Jay S says:

    I knew it would be really hard but last year my wife and I went on a camping trip with a visit to Asheville NC and Atlanta. I knew driving in Atlanta would be really hard for me but we pulled it off. And why were we in Atlanta? To see the Dalai Lama! He spoke at Emory University.

  8. Toni Bernhard says:

    It is very hard to wish well to everyone — especially to those who have hurt you (or stolen from you!). If you can’t do it for a particular person, don’t do it. It’s better to treat yourself kindly for your inability to do it than to berate yourself for it. I can help, with the “difficult person,” to reflect that he or she like you, just wants to be happy (yes, even that thief). I hope you get your car back! Warmly, Toni

  9. Toni Bernhard says:

    Linda – I love your chosen metta phrases. I’m so sorry that you couldn’t be with your brother. Illness can make our lives so hard. There’s no way around it. That’s why, for me, these practices are so important. They help ease the mental suffering that accompanies this hand we’ve been dealt.

  10. Janis says:

    Just this week, Feb. 6 in fact, I found out an opportunity that has meant a lot to me was gone. It was out of my control – the person who made the decision wouldn’t even let me try. It was very painful and still is. But I was reading this section of the book. So I started practicing sending her lovingkindness. It is helping, though I relaspe often.

    I’m not so good at sending myself and my body compassion. But I will work on this. And I’m working on equanimity.

    I still haven’t found my metta phrases.

    Thank you RA Guy for this discussion and especially to Toni for writing the book.

  11. Toni Bernhard says:

    Janis – I’m so glad that you used lovingkindness in this way! How brave of you to just go for it. I hope you can learn to send yourself compassion. I like to say that there’s so little in life we have control over but one thing we do control is how we treat ourselves. You’re worthy of your kindness, believe me!

    No rush to find your metta phrases. I’m just glad you’re trying these practices.

    Warmly,
    Toni

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