Why I’m glad that I caught a cold the the other day

by Jack on October 2010

The past couple of days, I’ve been mostly indoors, wearing pajamas. Yep, I had a cold. When I’m first getting a cold, when I first notice the symptoms, I get a certain feeling of unease and I hope that it’s not happening. After all, I’ve got so much stuff to do – blog writing, coaching calls, networking, working on my web site, marketing, social life, Toastmasters, and a host of other activities.

I’m busy – I can’t slow down for a cold, dammit!

But I could. And I did.

I ain't got time to bleed
“I ain’t got time to bleed.”

After a bit of reflection, this pattern interrupt turned out to be a great thing. During the past couple of days, I have been able to catch up on some DVDs that I’d wanted to watch for some time, take copious notes, and learn a lot. I was able to write in bed, get some reading done, and do other non-strenuous tasks.

I’m going to go a bit spiritual for a second: it’s important to be reminded now and then of the impermanence of your physical body. It’s like I got a little note from the universe saying: I know you appreciate this body and the fact that it looks awesome and feels awesome and everything like that. But just remember, it’s a physical machine like any other and it’s going to wear out eventually. Are there things you’re waiting to do? Because your physical body obeys the laws of nature regardless of whether you take action on your dreams and goals in this world, or not. Get cracking, bitch! (But be kind to yourself – do it after you get over your cold. :))

There will be one day in the future when your to-do list goes completely undone, and will never be done again. And regardless of how essential, and how loved, we are (and we are, of course!) the physical world will continue on without us. It’s the way things go, as far as we can tell.

The body has a kind of wisdom beyond that of the mind and intellect, and it knows intuitively when it would benefit from a real break. Truth is, I’ve been cranking a bit hard lately, so rather than viewing this cold as an inconvenience, I prefer to view it as a welcome reminder to take some downtime to rest and relax, and step back from the hustling and the game for a bit.

Mental Lessons

These are some of the ideas I have been able to explore over the past couple of days.

Surrender

Reality is neither good or bad, it just is. And part of “reality” for me right now is that a bunch of virus particles have taken up residence in my physical body, and are triggering various forms of physical discomfort – sneezing, running nose, feeling tired, lack of appetite. These feelings are here and they appear to be real, according to my senses.

In this moment, I could choose to be frustrated and to wish that the world – and specifically, my physical body – were in a different state. But then I would just be adding another layer of discomfort – namely, uncomfortable thoughts – while changing nothing at all about reality. Any “problem” that you ever experience in your life situation can be reduced to a single problem – the state of the world is ‘A’ and I wish that it were ‘B’.

Imagine what would happen if you were to surrender to reality, exactly as it is, and love it unconditionally. Suppose that you had no expectation of change, no “hope” for things getting better, or “fear” of things getting worse. It is at that point that you would realize that your thoughts until now were showing you a false world full of “should” and “must” and “need” and “want”, instead of the wholeness and perfection of reality as it is. You’ve solved the only problem that has ever existed, by realizing that it’s not really a problem.

Impermanence

I know that this cold will pass on, just like every other transient illness that has happened in my life. Every feeling, sensation, thought, state of mind has a finite lifetime – it arises, persists for a time, and then passes away. Looking on a bigger picture scale, everything in the world of physical form has a finite lifetime as well – living beings, buildings, monuments, mountains, planets, and stars.

Attachment to “not having a cold” creates suffering when a cold is present. When you become attached to impermanent things, you create unnecessary suffering for yourself. Releasing attachment and loving reality for itself, loving the perpetual flow of change and transformation, is the beginning of true wisdom.

Gratitude

Sometimes it takes the loss of something to create a feeling of gratitude for its presence. In this case, a temporary loss of energy and physical health is enough to trigger a feeling of profound gratitude for my usual state of vitality and wellness. So I’m now feeling grateful for a healthy body that’s normally able to work for many hours, move around and connect with friends and associates, and participate in the abundant pleasures that accompany the profound and mysterious gift of living as a human being on planet Earth.

A strange thing that I always miss when I get a cold is my sense of smell and taste. I used to stress out about this, and cling to the sensations of tasting my food. Now I feel grateful for the temporary holiday from caring what my food tastes like – I already know it will taste like nothing! And I feel grateful when my sensory acuity returns – you may already have noticed that food tastes a lot better, and you pay closer attention, immediately after experiencing a cold.

What would it be like if we brought this level of attention and gratitude to these simple things all the time, and not just when we lost them?

Compassion

During times of physical weakness and incapacity, it’s natural for people to feel sorry for themselves. Natural, but not productive. In a situation like this, it’s more useful to extend thoughts of good will to those who are worse off than you are, and to be compassionate to people in such situations. Mettā meditation is a great way to cultivate a feeling of loving kindness and compassion to all beings.

Physical Lessons

Now it’s time to get really practical. 🙂 Having realized ultimate wisdom and inner peace through the physical body’s experience of a minor cold, it’s time to get better, back to full throttle, and start kicking ass again. So here are a few little tips that I personally use in order to recover from a cold as quickly as possible.

Liquids

This is probably the number one suggestion that people give you when you have a cold, and for good reason – it works! Staying hydrated is a good idea even when you’re not sick, but it’s an especially important reminder when you’re not feeling well, since you may not feel like eating or drinking. Drink lots of water anyway. Seriously. As my old wilderness survival teacher used to say: “Keep your water inside you – sip and pee”.

Neti pot

I got started using a neti pot a few years back when I experienced a really nasty sinus infection that laid me flat for a couple of weeks. Some people think it’s pretty weird – maybe it is – but I like scientifically-tested healing results more than I care about “not being weird”. You can think of neti pot usage as blowing your nose with warm (body temperature) salt water.

Since the water is much denser than air, it is able to quickly loosen up congestion and mucus that would otherwise stick to the inside of your nasal passages and slow down your recovery. By using warm water and the right amount of salt, the liquid in the neti pot matches the temperature and salinity of your own precious bodily fluids, and there’s no discomfort when it flows through your nasal passages.

The recipe I use is: 3 / 4 tsp sea salt, 1 / 2 tsp baking soda, in 16 oz water. I shake up the solution in a plastic bottle to make certain it’s completely mixed. You can easily buy a neti pot online here, or find one at your local pharmacy. You can buy pre-mixed salt packets as well, but they are overpriced and overpackaged compared to a box of salt and a box of baking soda.

Whole foods

During a cold, I usually lose my appetite and my sense of taste. I’m not sure if I lack appetite because I know I won’t be getting the same physical pleasure out of eating, or whether it’s something physical. Regardless, my intention and desire to eat both quickly go to zero. Because of this, I figure I might as well eat only foods that I know are really good for me.

So, the past couple of days I’ve gone on a green smoothie “fast”. The advantage of this is that the only foods I eat are raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds – easy to digest, organic, whole and natural.

Medicines

My personal recipe is antihistamines, ibuprofen, and pseudoephedrine. This helps a lot with the physical symptoms and lets me run the clock out while my immune system lands its pimp hand on the virus. Obviously, it’s important to listen to your own body and only take the medications that work with you and for you.

And so…

I love to learn whatever I can from every experience in life, good or bad. Having a cold is not necessarily fun, but when you change the questions you’re asking from “I’m so busy – why did this happen now?” and “how can I make this stop?” to “what can I learn from this?”, everything seems to change. A virus could be a personal insult from the universe to your precious little self. Or, with a broadened perspective, it could be a glorious lesson in universal wisdom.

The amazing part is, with every experience, you get to choose what it’s going to mean.

What can you learn from your next setback?

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