A guest post by Toni Bernhard
If someone told me ten years ago that I’d be having a book published in 2010, it wouldn’t have surprised me. I’d been a law professor for almost 20 years. I could have written a book in one of my areas of expertise — a hot topic, like clergy malpractice or celebrity pre-nups.
But if I’d been told “and that book will be about chronic illness,” I would have said, “Sorry, not my area of expertise.” Such is the lesson of impermanence. As Joseph Goldstein likes to say: “Anything can happen at any time.”
In 2001, my husband and I took a much-anticipated trip to Paris. On the second day there, I got sick with what the doctors initially diagnosed as an acute viral infection. But as the months wore on and the symptoms persisted, I became part of the world of chronic illness. And thus, a new area of expertise was involuntarily thrust upon me.
Before I got sick, I was an active member of the Buddhist community in Northern California. I had a twice-a-day sitting practice, and my husband and I co-led a vipassana sitting group in Davis. I also regularly attended meditation retreats.
One of those retreats was led by the late Ayya Khema. She told us that thoughts arise but were arbitrary and not reliable. “Most of them are just rubbish,” she said, “but we believe them anyway.” I took her words to heart and, before getting sick, had become quite adept at watching thoughts arise and pass without believing them. But put me in the sick bed all day and suddenly my thoughts seemed anything but rubbish, and I believed every one of them: “I’ll never get out of this bedroom.” “I’ll never feel joy again.” “I’ve ruined Tony’s ( my husband ) life.”