There is a way of relating to illness that takes us directly to the experience of freedom. It is a way of peace, of awakening, and of deep self-kindness. It invites us to become our own best friend and to enquire into the nature of the present moment with freshness, curiosity, and courage.
With those words mindfulness and meditation teacher Peter Fernando opens his book Finding Freedom in Illness
Whilst Fernando is closely connected to the Thai Forest tradition having operated as a monk at the Abhayagiri Monastry in Redwood Valley California he is also equally acquainted with poor health and the challenges of illness.
A Deepening Longing for Freedom
Fernando explains how ten years spent as a Buddhist monk taught him “…the wisdom of self-compassion, embodied awareness, and a heartfelt acceptance of the present moment.”
All of these approaches to life as a less than perfect physical example of a human being helped him cope with the bouts of chronic illness from which he suffers.
It was the approach to self-acceptance in particular that helped him understand that ill-health is not something that we should blame ourselves for. Indeed dealing with feelings of self-recrimination are important elements to becoming unchained by its effects.
Fernando examines the mind-body connection further in his book and even goes so far as to suggest that one of the redeeming benefits of coping with daily illness is that it does force the sufferer into a deeper awareness of the body and ifs mechanisms – a condition that can be strengthened through meditation and mindfulness work.
The author includes advice on how these can be done and how they pertain to that desired of state of awareness. From this also evolves a recognition of the stories – both positive and negative, that our ego-mind tells us about ourselves. Dealing with them and their effect calls upon a radical re-examination of these internal attitudes and the cultivation of kindness.
Fernando’s approach to health and healing is centered upon the personal journey into the heart of one’s inner self. This is a path that we can choose or force ourselves to follow but more importantly is one that illness imposes upon us The inference is that not only can illness give rise to dark emotions but also that our response to them can exacerbate their effect.
Two of the darkest emotions that Fernando examines are those of fear and despair and in ‘Finding Freedom in Illness’ the book’s author offers help and support to those readers brave enough to challenge these feelings. Other emotions that he covers include those of anger and frustration.
Later on in the book Fernando reflects upon some practical approaches to self-healing. One of these he refers to as Deep Rest – a way of stopping and allowing the body to regenerate itself through reduced activity. In a world that conditions us to believe that busyness is an optimum state to be in this can be a difficult condition to attain without inducing the mistaken belief that we are in fact simply just being lazy.
In the closing of his book Fernando emphasizes the over-arching process of simply letting-go as a way of coping with illness and its debilitating effects. As he states in his concluding remarks “Letting go is letting life be.”
Our Review of Finding Freedom in Illness by Peter Fernando
Sometimes in the struggle to self-heal it is all too easy to lose sight on the broader context that illness invites our awareness. ‘Finding Freedom in Illness’ is a book that reminds us of this fact and offers us the opportunity to face health issues with a greater sense of self-compassion.
To a degree this is not a book that advises its reader on how to heal – though in parts it does offer its reader some practical help. Instead it is a publication that investigates the philosophy of illness. This might seem like an odd approach to take but as you read the book it becomes increasingly aware that it is our attitude to ill-health and not the illness itself that is our greatest teacher.
The pace of the writing in Finding Freedom in Illness is just right – neither instilling a sense of panic regarding the problem at hand nor slowing its reader into a sense of helplessness. It is also non-judgmental and its references to Buddhist principles add greatly to the overall sense of compassion.
Those who might otherwise be put off by the somewhat simplistic and patronizing approaches to the subject of healing by other writers will find in this superbly presented commentary a writer of genuine insight and compassion.