This is the first of a series of posts about Toni Berhard's book, How to be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Care givers. The book, sent to me by my friend, Meredith, is very special as it often seems Toni is writing particularly for me and my journey with pain. Although we have very different illnesses (mine is chronic, intractable migraines, hers is Chronic Fatigue and Immunodysfunction Syndrome - I try not to be jealous that hers is so much more impressive-sounding), Toni, like me, sees her illness as a spiritual matter as much as a physical one. An added benefit of her writing is that it is founded in the Buddhist practice she began a decade before becoming ill, including retreats at Spirit Rock Meditiation Center and direct contact with many of the vipassana meditation gurus in America.
My own spirituality, an odd and eclectic blend of Christian and Buddhist influences with a mix of various aspects of Shia Muslim, Hindu and Native American spirituality that attract and inspire me, is no hindrance to sinking with deep relief into Toni's book. As I have said before, it seems to me that there is more that is similar and simpatico in the world's religions than there is different and contentious. So I recommend Toni's book to anyone in chronic pain and to their caregivers and loved ones.
That leads me to another point about the book: it could just as aptly be titled, "How to be Well." There are life practices and spiritual depths in this book of the sort that began to guide me long before the migraines became so bad, and for which I am grateful to be reminded now that I am ill. The point I am making is that our spirituality, as the bedrock of every aspect of our lives, has specific application to particularities of our circumstances, yet even so is a constant presence regardless of those circumstances. So - the book can be equally inspirational to the well as to the sick. (I could also say, "to those who think they are well," but that will be my subject another time.)
In future posts, I will write about practices, Buddhist philosophies and personal anecdotes from the book. For now, I'll simply comment on the table of contents, which in itself is a map of the journey Toni has taken.
How Everything Changed ... Accepting Pain ... Finding Joy and Love ... Turnarounds and Transformations ... From Isolation to Solitude: these are the phrases she uses to name the five divisions in the book. Reminding me strongly of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief, each section links Toni's personal struggle and experience with her emotions and the journey through which she goes. Like Kubler-Ross's five stages, Toni's process is messy and so-very-human, a backward and forward progression through the strong emotions of loss and grieving that go with physical and emotional pain. Her honesty is refreshing and helpful as she tells with lucid wisdom of her struggles and how she allows them to be transformed into teachers.
Some of my favorite passages have to do with compassion, and I will write about them in my next post.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.