It's that time of year again. The cold and flu season is in full swing. It is amazing that we can put a remote controlled vehicle on Mars and probe the bottom of the deepest seas and still can't cure the common cold.
We're told that a cold is due to a tricky virus that likes to leap from one person to another by air, by doorknobs, by subway railings, you name it. We can take preventative measures like washing our hands constantly or wearing a mask when we're on an airplane or in a crowded place. We can try to lessen the odds that we'll get really sick by using all kinds of remedies, from homeopathic tablets, to a combination of Vitamin C, Echinacea, and Zinc, to big helpings of chicken soup.
There's no shame in catching a cold. We have periods of health and periods of sickness. This cycle is inescapable; a natural part of life. But there is a problem when we refuse to stay at home when we come down with a bad cold. In our 24/7 work culture, too many people continue working when they are sick and contagious. A spiritual explanation of this is that this behavior is the ego in action being selfish and harming others in the process.
The Zen master Seung Sahn puts it correctly when he says "Sick time, only sick." When you have a cold, stay at home, go to bed, slow down, and drink plenty of fluids. One thing at a time.
Although we are used to thinking about sickness as something that takes us down, throws us off-balance, and disrupts our regular routines, it is helpful to reframe and see the positive sides of having a cold. It can be a mini retreat, a time to be in silence. If you are not too sick, you can do some spiritual reading or write some letters.
You can also use a time of illness to practice kindness, generosity, and gratitude. Say prayers for all the other people who are suffering with colds and the flu. When you take an aspirin or a medicine to reduce your symptoms, be grateful to the scientists and drug companies that have brought you this relief. Get out your checkbook and send a donation to a favorite medical charity so that others with far worse diseases than a cold can also have relief.
Finally, when you are sick in bed, survey your body and see what it has to tell you. Have a conversation not just with your aching head, runny nose, and scratchy throat, but also with your toes, feet, legs, abdomen, lungs, hands, and other body parts. What can you learn about your body by giving it this extra attention? Remember that as the temple of God it is filled with wisdom.