A Mindful Pity Party: Meditating While Sick

When we're sick and sulky, the last thing we want is to do a mindfulness practice. Comedian and mindfulness practitioner Elaine Smookler describes this dilemma as only she can.

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It’s a beautiful weekend. Probably the first beautiful weekend we’ve had in a while and…I’m sick!

A kindly friend gently reminds me it’s only a throat virus, and I internally combust: NO, it’s not ONLY a throat virus, pal, it’s MY throat virus…it’s happening to me…which makes it the most horrible, insufferable thing, ever. Idiot.

Anyone’s suffering can be hard to bear, but when that anyone is me it can feel apocalyptic. “Alas,” I cry out, “It’s ME everyone! I’m sick!”

After so many years of practicing mindfulness, what I notice is that YOUR suffering sucks and I really feel for you, while MY suffering blots you out entirely.

When I’m sick and sulky, the last thing I want is to do a mindfulness practice. Sometimes, choosing to sit on the cushion and follow my breath can feel like I’m being eaten by army ants. During those times, a very sensible-sounding inner voice is shrieking at me to bypass mindfulness altogether and go directly to “how unfair it is to be me!”

I sit and practice anyway.

Meditating While Sick

Soon my miserable inner voice begins to “chillax.” I gently open to whatever I’m feeling. I get in touch with the soothing quality of just noticing the expansion and contraction of my ribcage as I breathe in and out. As I stay with what I’m experiencing, my sore throat starts to become just another sensation moving through. As I let go of it being my pain, it doesn’t feel quite so solid and personal, and somehow that makes it easier to be with.

When I choose to stay with what I’m feeling, it’s almost as if a voice is telling me to “get lost!”—nothing to see here, move along. But I hang in there anyway: curious, gently investigating tightness, prickliness, buzzing, throbbing.

Taken on its own, each sensation is quite manageable, even interesting, especially when I stop calling it “my pain” and stay with noticing how it’s all just swirling energies. The more I let myself feel and notice, calm arises and soon the intensity diminishes. Not only does this help me unhook from a painful physical experience but by not taking being sick so personally, I feel lighter about everything and I even start to get my sense of humor back.  Knock, knock….

Taken on its own, each sensation is quite manageable, even interesting, especially when I stop calling it “my pain” and stay with noticing how it’s all just swirling energies.

So, I survived the “not just a throat virus.” I’m still a high-risk sufferer and the human experience can be very painful, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the end of the world, and by that, I really just mean the end of me.

Being sick was no fun, but it did allow me time in front of the TV to buy quite a few things from the shopping channel I previously had no idea existed, or would have imagined I, or any other human could ever want. Goodbye suffering, hello Ronco’s platinum Knit-O-Matic Rotisserie.

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