Over the last several months, I’ve been dealing with persistent illness. What started as a bad cold in early March evolved into bronchitis and then a severe sinus infection. Finally, after two rounds of antibiotics along with a consistent regiment of medication to manage post-nasal drip, I’m starting to feel more like myself. I have my energy back and it feels great.
What I’m reflecting on now is how difficult it is to cope with illness. I can handle being sick a day or two here and there. I don’t like it, but I can usually recognize my need to rest and follow suit. However, anything longer than that and I start to go nuts. I feel guilty for being sick (I should have taken better care of myself). I feel anxious (I’m not going to be able to bill the number of hours I wanted to this month). I feel lousy (because my body is fighting an infection and/or virus). I feel scared (what if I never get better and it’s like this all the time?). In fact, I’m feeling a bit anxious just writing about this.
Lately I’ve found some relief from these anxieties by reflecting upon the Five Remembrances, which are written about in the Upajjhatthana Sutra. The Five Remembrances are:
I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature of change; there is no way to escape being separated from them.
My deeds are my closest companions; I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.
Buddha said that we should reflect upon these facts regularly. It may seem depressing to remind yourself that you are of the nature to “grow old,” “have ill health,” and “die,” let alone that you’ll inevitably be separated from all that you love. However, I find great freedom in these words. It’s true — I can’t escape growing old, becoming ill, dying and loosing all that I care about. Reminding myself that these things are inescapable is normalizing. It removes some of the guilt, attachment and anxiety I feel around them. Decay is just as much as part of the universe as is growth and it’s progress continues regardless of my involvement.
Moreover, the Five Remembrances reinforce the importance of living an ethical life by reminding me that “my deeds are the ground on which I stand.”