I learned how to not fear illness at a very young age. It all began when I was seven years old. That’s when I first became aware that I was going to die. The awareness came after my best friend at the hospital passed away from hemophilia. My response to her death was an obsession with my own mortality; I constantly thought about what it would be like to die.
Thinking this way shifted my perception of myself. I began to view myself in the third person. Yes, it’s completely bizarre, but it’s true. I began to look at myself as if I was a strange body with a thought processing system; as if the two were not one in the same. Of course, I didn’t think about it in those terms back then. Instead, I just looked out of my eyes, down at my body, and out into the world as if I was an alien living in a strange land.
My spleen was enlarged, so it needed to be removed when I was nine years old. The procedure kept me bedridden in the hospital for several days. On the first day that I was able to get up and walk around, I went to use the bathroom and had a Mexican cleaning lady barge in to scrub the sink. I felt so embarrassed. I asked her to leave, but she replied to me in Spanish and kept working. For some reason, that traumatic incident heightened the mind/body disconnect that I had been experiencing. I asked myself, “What is this weird thing I call a body and why does it cause me so much pain?”
The question, “What is this weird thing I call a body?” has stuck with me ever since and it’s something I ask myself to this day. What’s amazing is that I taught myself to use the question to heal my mind and become less afraid of my illness.
Each time I look down at my hands, arms, torso, legs, etc., I realize that my mind has created all that I see. Of course, I exist in the physical world, but who I am in the physical world is purely a matter of my own perception. My perception is a combination of what I see in the mirror and what others tell me about myself.
I can believe that I am unattractive or attractive, tall or short, healthy or unhealthy; beliefs that exist only when I compare myself to other people. My mind can choose to cling on to perceived positive or negative attributes of my physicality or release itself from all beliefs of who I am or should be.
Most people who get sick later in life are completely at odds with their physical being. They think, “How could I have gotten sick? These things don’t happen to perfectly healthy people.” This train of thought makes them cling even tighter to their physical body… and this is where the suffering comes in.
Anyone who believes she has control over the inner workings of her body (in terms of genetics) is fooling herself. As the body slows down with age, the immune system weakens and illnesses that were once dormant express themselves. I am very much a proponent of slowing down the speed of aging through proper diet, exercise, positive social networks, hydration and good sleep. But when something happens to my body that is beyond my control I give up. Not in the sense that I give up on life, but in the sense that I do my best to accept it and not stress about it. In my mind, I am not my body. I am something beyond my physical presence, and in that place there is no suffering.
We have to remember that the physical body is constantly changing. We grow from babies to adults, we learn and experience, but something deep within us never changes. The part of us that doesn’t change is what needs greater attention and focus. The only way to not fear illness is to first concentrate on that part of the mind that is aware of itself. Second, release your mind from believing it has any control over its own mortality. It doesn’t, we don’t… plain and simple. So, give up.
If you can begin to recognize the way that your mind generates thoughts, you can begin to understand how it generates thoughts about the body. Letting go of the need to control what happens when the body is sick allows for a much more peaceful existence. Releasing your desire to control releases you from fear. Fear of one’s own illness (in present day or the future) is an unconscious byproduct of a desire/need to control an outcome.
Be conscious of your thoughts. Release your physical self by relinquishing control of your mind’s perception of who you believe you are or should be. Let go and give up by accepting what is.
Does your illness ever make you feel out of control? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll help you work through it.
Please share this post with anyone who is afraid of getting sick or lives in fear of their own illness.
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