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Illness and the Middle Way

by Meri Everitt
UK

Meri Everitt Meri Everitt

In 2004, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain and fatigue.

I had always had a very active life--I worked long hours in tough jobs and had a very active social life. When I became ill, it was almost impossible to change the way I lived. I was in complete denial and therefore could not seek appropriate help. I lost friends, jobs and money.

I had started practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism two years earlier, and through all of this, I continued to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to receive the best health care. I saw many different doctors and tried nearly all the alternative therapies available. As a result of my prayer and action, I have now found the right specialists. I had been referred to similar specialists previously yet had not been ready to face my illness. Chanting is crucial for me to be able to bring forth and use wisdom, courage and compassion for the sake of improving my health every day.

As with many other medically unexplained syndromes, there is no universally accepted cure or treatment. Although I never give up hope that I will recover, I have also learned how important it is to face my daily reality. The Buddhist concept of "the fusion of reality and wisdom" enables me to accept and respect my body while maintaining a spirit of never giving up hope and effort toward making my dreams a reality. In my experience, the most crucial (and most difficult) things to hold onto during any illness--especially a long-term one--are determination and hope. My Buddhist practice is second to none in terms of honing my interests and enabling a hopeful future.

Being ill has taught me to create balance in my life. This is of utmost importance in maintaining my health and reducing the length and depth of my flare-ups. The Buddhist concept of "the Middle Way" is brought to life when I chant; I naturally find myself taking more positive, balanced actions over time. I eat healthily most of the time and cannot go a day without green vegetables or an apple! I try to sleep when my body tells me it is tired and have begun to make that more of a priority. I see clearly how common sense and balance in life are a precursor to good health. I have also realized how important relaxation is. I used to be so driven that I never stopped, but now I accept that relaxation is a crucial factor in leading a creative life.

It is hard for close friends and family to understand and accept my illness. It takes time for understanding to grow, and I sometimes meet people who judge and comment and do not refrain from giving me inappropriate advice.

However, my illness has taught me to become stronger because it leads to a deeper understanding of life that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Certainly at times, I have been in despair because of this illness. At other times, however, I see it as something positive that has enhanced my life and that my experience can help others who have become ill. Illness leads to a deep compassion and understanding of others. Many people who become ill are not easily understood by those around them, so a level of understanding from another person with health struggles is beyond valuable.

My Buddhist practice has enabled me to see illness in a more positive light, and my definition of good health is never losing one's determination in life and hope for the future. It is possible to be happy despite illness and to lead a life of value creation. 

[Courtesy April 2013 SGI Quarterly]


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