Vulnerability and the Illusion of Control

Below I’ve shared a brief excerpt from a longer article on Larry Berkelhammer’s blog: Mind Training to Improve Health. I saw his article right after I noticed a post on twitter saying cancer and illness in general was a lifestyle choice! They used a damning and judgmental tone too. What is wrong with people?? We can do a lot to mitigate our risks of ill-health, but as long as we are alive we are never entirely free of risk and we will all die! More than anything a denial of the fact of illness is a denial, too, of death.

No one should be blamed for their illness ever. We do not know what brought them to that place, regardless of the illness and again, we are not in control. Much less than most people are willing to acknowledge. Assumptions of blame are devoid of compassion and empathy as well as simply not understanding of the nature of reality.

Larry Berkelhammer’s blog is a lovely collection of articles and videos about how to live better when we are already sick…whether we recover or not. This sort of process allows us to live in the moment as we are now. Sick or not. This moment is all we have. It’s well worth learning to appreciate it.

Vulnerability and the Illusion of Control

It is very frightening to think that no matter what we do to take care of ourselves, we are still vulnerable to serious medical problems. One time when I was trying on a new pair of shoes I got talking to a young woman who looked like a world-class athlete. I asked her what sport she competed in and that discussion led to my sharing about having been involved in ski racing in my teens and twenties, and the fact that I hadn’t skied since age thirty. She asked why I had quit skiing at such a young age, and I decided to tell her about the very debilitating connective tissue problems that had led to my giving it up, among other things. Whenever I get into a conversation like this with athletes, at some point they invariably want to know what caused all my health problems. I can tell by the way they ask that their concern relates to their belief that such things will never happen to them because they eat the perfect diet, exercise properly, get enough sleep, and manage their stress. The conversation always takes a negative turn when I explain that I was already doing everything right prior to developing serious health problems; they begin to look worried and the conversation ends abruptly.

Even if we do everything right, we cannot control our health, but we can learn how to de-fuse or disentangle from the types of thoughts that otherwise lead to fear of illness and death.

As my first Buddhist meditation teacher once said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” (continue reading)

I have the quote about waves on my blog…Jack Kornfield was a teacher of mine too, although I suppose he may have borrowed it from someone as well.

I wrote a piece about coming to terms with my illness a couple of years ago: Living well while being sick. It speaks to how being sick is a practice. A deep spiritual practice. Understanding that this moment, now, is all we have is enough motivation for me to start learning to appreciate my life, this precious life, even while I’m still ill. This has nothing to do with resignation and everything to do with learning to celebrate life in every moment. I have grown a lot since I wrote that piece and I often hear from people who find it helpful. Writing it and living it both has helped me heal.

See also: Encouraging people to make healthy life supporting choices is not the same as blaming them for illness

and: Karma and chronic illness: What Is Karma and Why Should it Matter to You?

A collection of links:  Information and inspiration for the chronically ill

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters