How To Be Sick: Discussion 3

“Our life is always all right. There’s nothing wrong with it. Even if we have horrendous problems, it’s just our life.”
-Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck

As we begin reading the section of the book titled Accepting Pain, we are introduced to The Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths explain the nature of dukkha (often translated as ‘suffering’), its causes, and how it can be overcome. “To capture the essence of what the Buddha meant by the presence in our lives, it’s helpful to keep other possible translations of this key word in mind: unsatisfactoriness (that is, dissatisfaction with the circumstances in our life), anguish, stress, discomfort, dis-ease, to name just a few. Dukkha is a term worth becoming familiar with, especially when exploring how to be sick.”

We then move on to read about the universal law if impermanence, which is recognized by many spiritual traditions and science as common factor to the life of every living being. “Anything can happen at any time.” “Everything is impermanent.” “Life is impermanent, uncertain, unpredictable, ever-changing.”

Sentences which bought a big smile to my face: “…when I needed to go somewhere off the bed, I crawled. Our dog, Rusty, was delighted to see this. He acted like I’d finally seen the light and was going his species. This appeared to be a cause for great celebration on his part, so my challenge became to make sure that is his exuberance he didn’t step on my right foot.”

Discussion Questions

  • Have you been able to trace a feeling of dukkha back to the fact that you’re not getting what you want, or that you’re getting something you don’t want? If you have been able to map this connection, have you been able to let go of the “want/don’t want,” even if just for a moment? How did this make you feel?
  • Through the universal law of impermanence, have you been able to turn something that your previously considered to be a negative aspect of living with chronic illness into something that you now consider to be a positive part of your life?

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.

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How To Be Sick: Discussion 2

“You can argue with the way things are. You’ll lose, but only 100% of the time.”
-Byron Katie

As we finish reading the section of the book titled How Everything Changed, we learn about some of Toni’s secret coping mechanisms for making it through the her part-time workday, including–but not limited to–peeing in a thermos. We’re also treated to an alphabet soup of acronyms (CFS, PVS, VICD, OI, POTS), as we read about the laundry list of conditions and diseases that Toni was diagnosed with.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you have any secret coping mechanisms that you use regularly, in order to make it through your day?
  • If you have received a diagnosis for your chronic illness, what were your thoughts, feelings and emotions, immediately upon and in the few days after receiving your diagnosis? If you have not yet received a diagnosis, how does this make you feel?
  • We have finished reading the biographical section of this book, and are moving into the ‘guide’ part of the book, which details various ideas and practices. What do you hope to achieve by reading this book?

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.

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How To Be Sick: Discussion 1

This is a book for people who will not be their old self again and for all those for whom, at least now, getting better isn’t possible. This is a book that most reassuringly says even to those people, “You too are going to be okay–even if you never recover your health!” -Sylvia Boorstein

Author Toni Bernhard (who is participating in this book club!) tells us, in the preface of “How To Be Sick,” that she wrote this book “to help and inspire the chronically ill and their caregivers as they meet the challenges posed by any chronic illness or condition, including: coping with symptoms that just won’t go away, coming to terms with a more isolated life, weathering fear about the future, facing the misunderstanding of others, dealing with the health care system, and for spouses, partners, and other caregivers, adapting to so many unexpected and sometimes sudden life changes.”

In the section of the book titled How Everything Changed, we first read about how Toni got sick, and then how–to her surprise and bewilderment–she stayed sick.

Discussion Questions

  • How long did it take you to realize that you had a chronic illness, and that life just wasn’t going to go back to the way it ‘used to be’?
  • Once it became clear that you were living with chronic illness, did you or anyone else in your life experience feelings of denial?
  • Did you ever refuse to make certain changes, even though you could see that participating in some of your usual activities/routines was doing more harm than good?

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.

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