Using Meditation to Heal When Faced with Chronic Illness
Instead of viewing your chronic illness as a disease in your body, choose to view it as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and learn to love yourself through meditation
Instead of viewing your chronic illness as a disease in your body, choose to view it as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and learn to love yourself through meditation.
In my senior year at college I was involved in a school tradition called “Marathon,” where every freshman was assigned to a senior, and that freshman makes fun of you in a series of theater skits. My freshman’s performance was eye-opening. She whined, “I can’t do this, and I can’t do that. My neck hurts, my back hurts, my shoulders ache.” Everyone in the audience was laughing, but I was hurt and surprised. That’s how my classmates saw me? As a whiner and a complainer—a joke? A hypochondriac? Everyone else’s skit portrayed something truly funny, but I had a real health problem. And I was being laughed at for it.
There’s a reason why chronic illnesses are considered the “invisible diseases” and sometimes perceived as hypochondria: if others actually can’t see the pain you’re in, they think you’re a faker. The truth is, I actually did think of myself as a “sick chick” for a long time, so I bear responsibility for transmitting that message out to the masses. Until we stop defining ourselves as sick, other people will continue to see us that way too.
Do Nothing—with Purpose
First of all, don’t just sit there. Sit there and get comfortable in the present moment. The first step to truly healing is to fully surrender to where you are in this moment. And to let it be. When you allow yourself to be truly present in your body, your heart will soften and open, and you can begin to use that feeling as your guide. This is how you will begin to heal yourself. Focusing on your breath is what will bring you back to the present at any moment you choose. Your breath is your life force and your anchor, and unfortunately it is something that, for a lot of us, tends to get lost in the shuffle when we are dealing with severe stress in the body. The first place to start getting reconnected to yourself is through your breath.
Focus on breathing in through your nose, lowering your breath all the way down into your tummy, and expanding your ribcage out to the sides. Then slowly exhale out through your mouth. The first time I sat and did nothing but breathe, I thought I was going to scream hard enough to ace the part of the hysterical heroine in the next zombie apocalypse movie. After a few tries I started looking forward to it because doing nothing with purpose really does put you in touch with your higher self, your inner guide, the present moment, and the spiritual forces that are all on your side. It’s called meditating, which is a practice that helps us build and maintain our internal energy and develop patience, forgiveness, and compassion.
If you have a chronic condition or are physically struggling, you have to make a clear intention to sit in the initial discomfort and distractions beginning meditation often brings. There you are, sitting cross-legged, replaying a particularly annoying conversation at work, or thinking about the laundry you need to pick up (or dry cleaning you need to drop off), and all of a sudden you’re not meditating anymore. Eventually, you re-center yourself and let those random thoughts float by, and you do begin to see yourself differently. You begin to feel more loving and more forgiving, less critical of yourself. You get yourself out of the “what ifs” of the future or “coulda shouldas” from the past and get comfortable in the present moment.
Don’t stop even if you feel very uncomfortable and strange in the beginning. Be persistent. Give time and space for your inner voice to make itself heard. That will happen either right in the moment or sometime later during the day. Doing nothing is so powerful it has an amazing residual effect—sort of like taking a time-release capsule of inner peace and wisdom. Some synchronistic event will occur; someone will tell you exactly what you need to hear; you will get a sudden flash of insight. Along with that, you’ll realize you are so much more than your tingling legs, irritable bowel, or migraine headache.
Connecting with my soul has been one of the best things I have ever done for my physical condition and my mind. Finding my soul was like finding my home, and when I found it, everything else started to flow, and my body started to heal.
A simple meditative breathing practice to connect to your soul:
Sit still and tall somewhere comfortable; a chair with good back support works well. Close your eyes and begin breathing through your nose. Inhale for a count of two, and exhale gently for a count of four. Keep breathing evenly and smoothly. Set a timer and breathe this way for at least five minutes.
One nice element you can add to this exercise is a mantra. On the inhale say to yourself, “I am,” and on the exhale, say to yourself, “perfectly well.” In doing so, you’re tuning into the idea that you’re not just your physical ailments, and you’re making room for your true self to breathe. Afterward you will notice a positive difference in your mood.