Thoreau on Illness
So I’m walking my dogs tonight, as I often do, while listening to a podcast.
This one was by Joseph Goldstein, who is a Buddhist mindfulness meditation teacher. I do this a lot these days.
Mr. Goldstein must have been reading my mind…that’s all I can say. I was inwardly lamenting the fact that this walk was the first I had moved my butt in four days, as I had come down with some weird virus which seemed to have settled smack in the middle of my left lung. Not only did it hurt to breathe still, but my scheduled Day 1 this week of a research study where I would take an exciting new drug was definitely looking unlikely. Poor me… And the Packers lost, to boot.
Then, I heard a story about Henry David Thoreau. Why was a Buddhist teacher talking about Thoreau? Well, that is a long story, but in short, the podcast was about contemplating things that would “turn the mind toward the Dharma.” Basically, it was a very good talk on impermanence. But I digress…back to Thoreau.
It turns out that Thoreau died at 44, of tuberculosis. I’m thinking he probably had a bit of chest pain, among other things. In the podcast, Goldstein quoted Thoreau as saying something so cool that I came home and googled it immediately. Sure enough, it looks like the statement ascribed to Thoreau was written by his sister in a letter to a good friend, telling of Henry’s life, illness, and death. Thoreau was apparently a very vivacious man, as alive in illness as he was in health. As his sister writes, “he remarked to me that there was as much comfort in perfect disease as in perfect health, the mind always conforming to the condition of the body.”
Perfect disease…what a concept.
Later in the letter, Thoreau’s sister, in talking of her brother’s attitude about his illness, she says that in response to a friend who said as a way of consolation, “Well, Mr. Thoreau, we all must go!” Henry replied, “When I was a very little boy I learned that I must die, and I set that down, so of course, I am not disappointed now. Death is as near to you as it is to me.”
Now you know how this made it into a talk on impermanence.
But still I come back to idea of there being comfort in perfect disease… the secret being in the mind conforming to the condition of the body. I think that means acceptance of what is. Pretty simple…if not necessarily easy. So now I’m going to try to quit feeling so sorry for myself:-)