According to Buddhism, our mind shapes our reality.
Whether we are happy or unhappy, healthy or unhealthy, is determined by the way we think. Buddhists also believe that sickness is the result of our psychological condition.
The interesting thing about Buddhism is that it identifies suffering. There are some things in life we can’t avoid, and sickness is one of them. Our bodies are prone to disease, and it’s something biological that we can’t keep at bay.
However, Buddhists ascertain that our psychology plays an essential role in how we perceive sickness. And, how we look at our illnesses highly dictates the possibility of healing.
To put it differently, we can’t stop the experience of illness or disease, but we can stop these conditions from disturbing our mind.
Though sickness is not favorable, we all experience it. Some people suffer from chronic diseases that constantly wear them out, and they tirelessly look for a solution that puts an end to their suffering. Several diseases are burdensome to the extent that we become the prisoners of our own bodies. Medicine is the answer, but there’s also another answer that lies within us.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche says that experiencing a disease can itself become medicine. He explains that we can transform any problem or failure into a daily spiritual practice. It’s our choice whether we turn problems into major obstacles or transform them into happiness.
This notion might be difficult to adopt, especially for the people who suffer from acute diseases. How can one transform something so vicious into something pleasant? It takes time to practice—and, most importantly, faith and willingness. We can put it to the test, and see for ourselves. Changing perceptions is arduous, but it’s also possible and beneficial.
I can relate to what Buddhism suggests whenever I fall ill. If I’m in a bad mood, my physical pain grows. However, when I’m in a good mood, my sickness feels less intense. I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the intensity of my sickness, it’s about the intensity of thoughts in my mind.
Our bodies are connected to our brains, and it has been shown that stress causes many health problems. Whatever goes on in the body is a direct reflection of what is going on in the mind.
Last year, I stayed with a relative in the hospital for a couple of days. She suffered from an intense stomachache, which developed because of stress. The woman who was in the same room with her was developing serious lung problems, and doctors feared that she might have lung cancer. Her cough was terrible, and I could tell that her case was pretty dire. What I discerned was rather interesting and proved to me that perception truly depicts everything in life.
My relative was worried and terrified, unlike the woman who shared the same room with her. This woman was one of the funniest, most alive people I’ve ever met. She smiled all the time and cracked jokes, even knowing the severity of her condition.
When her doctor told her that she must go through more tests, because she might have developed cancer, she put her hand on his shoulder and said, while smiling, “Doctor, it’s okay. Don’t be scared. It’s going to be fine, even if I have cancer.”
Staying with both my relative and this woman made me realize that everyone deals with sickness differently. Moreover, changing our perception on sickness changes the intensity of the pain.
According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the first step toward transforming our sickness into happiness is to learn not to dislike problems. Sometimes, minor things happen to us, and we see them as huge problems. We need to spot the thoughts in our minds that perceive a problem as an enemy, and we must try to eradicate them.
To do that, we need to know that there are always two ways of looking at situations in life. We either say it’s a problem, or we say it’s not a problem. When we label things in life as a “problem,” the “problem” worsens. When we label something as pleasant, we see it as desirable.
Whatever we think becomes real. We need to be careful about the thought patterns that we cultivate, because they carry a particular vibration that manifests in reality.
So, to transform sickness into happiness, we need to avoid labeling sickness as an actual “problem,” because problems are our own interpretation of situations.
The second step is to accept the situation and understand that there is no use in looking at something as “bad.” By doing so, we only cause ourselves fear and worry. Not only do we increase our physical sickness, but we also develop emotional and intellectual problems that didn’t exist in the first place. Physical sickness alone is challenging—we don’t need additional emotional issues.
Consequently, being unhappy about a situation doesn’t solve it. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says that being unhappy about a sickness only tortures us and the ones around us. It makes us miserable, so it is wrong to be pessimistic. We don’t have to be optimistic or “positive” about our illness, but we can remain neutral about it and change our perception on it.
When we stop labeling and hating our sickness, and we learn to accept it, we can then look at the benefits of being sick. Illness can offer us a chance to develop our minds and expand our mindfulness.
Sometimes, our physical pain is so great that it really keeps us in the present moment—and so, we can use pain as a stepping stone to immersing ourselves in the present. Instead of fighting pain, we can feel its presence, without labeling it or judging it—and it becomes a form of meditation in a way.
We also shouldn’t forget that the greatest benefit of illness is that it helps us appreciate health. We often forget to be grateful for the days in which we don’t experience even the slightest headache. Our illnesses should be a gentle reminder to look at our healthy days with gratitude and truly enjoy every moment that doesn’t include any physical pain.
“Bad things” happen so that we can appreciate the good (which we’re often not paying attention to).