Health, Illness, & Impermanence

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

Achaan Chaa

If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.

Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.

I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.

Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.

I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.

When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.

How Meditation Can Help Manage Illness | Everyday Health

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