Sickness

As Buddhists, how do we work with illness and what do we learn from it?
  • Tricycle Community 20 comments

    Just Shut Up Paid Member

    Robert Campbell Chodo began using amphetamines and alcohol at age 16. He continued using amphetamines until age 24, before moving on to cocaine for the next 10 years. In 1988, Campbell got sober after seeing a psychotherapist and joining Alcoholics Anonymous, where he attended meetings 3 times a week. While Campbell says that “AA unquestionably gave me the tools to make the life changes,” it wasn’t until he began his Zen practice in 1993 that he began to get “really, really sober.” Today Campbell is one of the Executive Directors for New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, an organization that provides direct care to the sick, dying, and suffering. More »
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    On Lending Our Bodies Paid Member

    When we are caring for someone who is sick, we lend them our body. We use the strength of our arms to move them from the bed to the commode, and we can also lend them the strength of our mind. We can help to create a calm and accepting environment. We can be a reminder of stability and concentration. We can expand our heart in such a way that it can inspire the individual who is dying to do likewise. More »
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    On Beginning at the Beginning Paid Member

    In working with someone who is dying, there is a tremendous temptation to ignore our own relationship to death and immediately assume the role of the helper. But when we do so, we are losing our common ground with that person. Entering a dying person's world takes courage and empathy. Only by accepting our own vulnerability to death do we overcome the divided perspective of "I (over here) am helping you (over there)." Only then are we in the same boat. So in a sense, we need to be willing to die with that person. Usually we do not want to be in the same boat at all. Although it is embarrassing to admit, we are secretly glad that it is someone else who has cancer and we are the one looking after him rather than the other way around. We find security in the fact that we are not the one who is sick right now. It is hard not to feel that way, even when we are sincerely and earnestly trying to help. More »
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    A Caregiver's Story: Kaz Suzuki Paid Member

    Around 1989, my partner Raymond, with whom I ended up living for eleven years, began to show some symptoms of HIV-related illness. Considering we were a Japanese and American couple, everyone thinks that I was the one who brought him to Buddhist practice, but actually it was the opposite. He had gotten hold of a couple of books—Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Katagiri Roshi’s Returning to Silence. He was already sick, and not able to work anymore, but he wanted to go visit Green Gulch Farm. I took him to San Francisco. I didn’t want to go to the Zen Center, so I sent him off by himself and I stayed in the city for seven days doing what every young gay man should do in San Francisco. But I got a little antsy and I decided to visit him, just for a day, and I ended up staying. When I arrived at the center it was toward the end of their work-practice period. Raymond came out completely soiled. He looked brilliant, with this glow in his eyes. He said, “Guess what? More »
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    A Caregiver's Story: Deborah Jaymati Levy Paid Member

    At one point when I was sitting with my father, I said, “Dad, are you afraid of dying?” And he said, “I was, but not now.” He didn’t speak of death a lot. There wasn’t a lot to say, really, it was so in your face, so obvious. And he wanted to live up until the moment of death. He didn’t dwell on the fact that he was dying and he didn’t deny it. More »
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    On What to Do When the Going Gets Rough Paid Member

    Caregiving from a Buddhist perspective is a recognition that this person’s suffering is also my suffering. When I see this, whether I’m the person in the bed or the person making the bed, I have to confront this precariousness. Buddhist practice can help us enormously in continuing to give our attention to what’s actually appearing, as opposed to being swept away by the drama of the process. What are the basic attitudes that might be helpful in being with someone who is dying? One of those that comes to mind is to be completely ourselves. That means to bring our strength and vulnerability to the bedside. And to recognize that people who are dying continue to need very intimate and natural and honest relationships. We can’t serve from a distance, this is intimate work and we have to be part of the equation so it is absolutely essential that we bring our entire selves to the experience. More »