One night while I was teaching my Dhammapada class for the Rime Center, I noticed a sore throat was manifesting. I was cautiously optimistic, believing it was just one of those 24 hour things that would go away. The next day more symptoms appeared. Runny nose, low energy, and loss of appetite.
The first time I took an at home covid test it was negative. I didn’t believe the test so I stayed home sick from work and didn’t go anywhere. Two days later I tested again and I was positive. I think false negatives have probably been a big thing in the spread of this illness.
I had Covid 19 so suddenly I had to slow down. My first thought was “why did I stop wearing a mask all the time?” and my second thought was “Why would society bring back handshakes? Handshakes should have stayed gone.”
We spend a lot of time planning our lives and sometimes life has a way of reminding us that we aren’t in control.
It was pretty tough for about a day and half. But now I just have lingering congestion. Lingering symptoms are annoying. I’m not really sick. Sometimes suffering in life is severe. I laid in bed for a few hours one night wondering if I’d have to go to the hospital. That was some pretty big suffering. Uncertainty is scary. But the annoyance of lingering symptoms is suffering too. Annoyances aren’t the same as tragedies, but they are still forms of suffering that we can get caught up in. The Buddha described sickness as one of the most prevalent forms of suffering and it is. it’s a part of life that none of us can escape and susceptibility to illness is something we share with every living thing on this planet. An illness can throw a wrench into any of our plans. I had to reschedule some important meetings at work and I had to take a whole lot of days off. Today I am grateful for paid time off because I know many people do not have access to that.
Today I am suffering because I’m letting the lingering symptoms bother me. I want to just wallow in this suffering “Oh woe is me, I am suffering from Covid 19” just like millions of other people. The truth is that many people have gotten way sicker than me, in fact some have died. The pandemic is something we’re all facing together. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves that things could be worse. I’m trying to engage the practice of putting down thoughts of “Woe is me” and instead thinking “Right now it’s like this, what can I do?”
My irritation at these lingering symptoms is making me unhappy, even more unhappy than the symptoms themselves. Why is this? Because I’m really attached to the idea of them going away and getting on my with my normal healthy life again. In Buddhism we sometimes talk about a teaching called “The Second Arrow.” The idea behind this is that the first arrow is whatever is making us suffer. The second arrow is what we do to make it worse. By stressing out about my symptoms and wishing very hard that they will go away, I am making it worse. I am stealing my own joy.
The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Longchenpa said:
“Illness can bring an end to the negative karma that perpetuates samsara
Illness can cleanse you of your sullying effect of negative emotions
Illness can heighten your yearning and devotion
Illness can motivate you to pursue your spiritual practice diligently
Illness can introduce you to the path of liberation
Illness can intensive and enrich your training…
Therefore the wise carry illness onto the path”
And this can be helpful to us when we’re sick. Reflecting on my irritation and reminding myself that I’m not in control is helpful.
Also, I’m resolving to come back better when I recover. I’ve been given the space and time to quit my caffeine addiction (I love energy drinks) and slowing down has really given me the chance to appreciate my health. It’s one of those things we don’t appreciate until it’s gone. I want to appreciate it. I want to take joy in just ordinary, everyday health. And reflecting on that is helping me.
I can admit it’s getting better.