Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Response: How to be Sick

I recently finished reading How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Barnhard.

Barnhard has been living with CFID since 2001. She deals with significant fatigue and "flulike symptoms" daily. While I cling to twelve-step philosophy that says "We have not found it helpful to place labels on any degree of illness or health," it is easier for me to listen to her because her illness has required her to change her lifestyle. Her descriptions ring true for me as words from someone living "inside" chronic illness.
She writes of missing family events and trips, facing the ups and downs of illness and transforming isolation into solitude.

A serious Buddhist practitioner and student before her illness, Barnhard uses her knowledge and experience to respond to the challenge. I'm not a Buddhist, but I have found Buddhist philosophy helpful when coping with the changes brought by multiple sclerosis. Sometimes I found Barnhard's use of Sanskrit words made me work harder than I wanted to work, but the message was always worth the effort.

Barnhard deals with the everyday concerns of illness and offers "practices" (one of my favorite words) with which to engage them. At the end of the book, she includes a guide to using the practices to help with specific challenges.

I read the Kindle version of the book, which allows me to see what other readers chose to highlight. Some popular selections:
  • '' Our life is always all right,"says Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck. 'There's nothing wrong with it. Even if we have a horrendous problem, it's just our life."
  • Buddhism defines an emotion as a thought plus a physical reaction to that thought.
  • The essence of equanimity is accepting life as it comes to us without blaming anything or anyone-- including ourselves.
  • Quoting Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah: "if you let go of a little you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end."
It's interesting that the popular highlights are often quotes from other teachers. The value of this book for me is the way Barnhard introduces a Buddhist concept and then tells the story of how she practices with it in her life.

How to Be Sick is an authentic story that includes gentle stories and practical tools with which to respond to chronic illness.

No comments: