There is widespread belief in this culture (we might call it delusion) that one’s attitude can heal all. And while it’s true that one can ultimately live a graceful, meaningful life while having severe limitations (that to me is the only healing that really counts), it is often the case that physical damage cannot be reversed. In fact we ultimately all die when our bodies give out. It’s easy to blame oneself when things don’t improve and in fact our culture implicitly and sometimes explicitly encourages this.
Shit happens. Disability happens. Chronic illness happens. How we learn to keep going in the face of what life deals us is what counts.
Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers takes on this issue in a lovely piece that looks at what karma means. She looks back to what the Buddha actually said and comes to some clear conclusions.
It’s not just some Buddhists that think Karma means we are somehow to blame for illness, many New Age types of all stripes do too. It’s also simply part of our culture in subtle and not so subtle ways. Anyone who is ill has experienced this and knows what I mean. Somehow it’s our fault we’re sick. For this reason, what Toni Bernhard shares about Karma as interpreted from a Buddhist perspective are helpful thoughts for anyone regardless of whether one is Buddhist or not.
From Shambala SunSpace:
Because I’ve written a book on chronic illness from a Buddhist perspective, many people have written to me, saying they believe their poor health is karmic retribution for some past bad action—that they’re sick so they can work off this “bad karma.” With sincere respect for other people’s views, I don’t believe this is consistent with what the Buddha taught….
…Planting behavioral seeds that form our character. Karma is crucial to our development as wise, loving, and caring human beings because every time we act with a non-harmful intention, we predispose ourselves to act that way again. We plant a behavioral seed. Conversely, every time we act with a harmful intention, we predispose ourselves to act that way again, making it more likely that the next time our behavior will be harmful. (read the rest)
These excerpts absolutely do no justice to what Toni shares. You really must go read the article to get the teaching that Toni shares with us.
I also wrote about Living Well While Being Sick here.
A collection of links: Information and inspiration for the chronically ill