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A Sick Day’s Lessons in Letting Go

When you’re sick, you are so not in control

There’s nothing like an illness to convince you that control is, indeed, an illusion. One day you’re bopping along, doing your thing with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, and the next – KABLAM! – you can hardly get out of bed. Your body has taken over. It’s going to be in charge for a little while.

I don’t know about you, but that can be really, really hard for the rest of me – my mind in particular – to accept. I resist, I push, I chafe in mostly futile efforts to keep going, to stick to the plan, to stay on schedule. Which only makes me feel worse – physically and mentally.

What makes me feel better – perhaps the only thing that makes me feel better – is letting go and surrendering to reality: I’m sick and I need to act like it. I need to let my body lead the way, even if where it is leading me is straight back to bed on a blue-sky day.

Letting go of your reaction to what is happening

There are two types of letting go at work here. Neither is easy, but both are worth the effort as they allow us to live life with less struggle. In the first type we are working with a reaction. We could either be clinging to something we really want or resisting something we really don’t want. In either case, by letting go, we choose to stop reacting and accept what is happening.

When I’m sick, even though I know better, I fight tooth and nail not to let it mess up my well-laid plans. My struggle to have a “normal” day is an act of clinging and it does not feel good. When I finally manage to convince myself to surrender, letting go of my precious plans feels like a relief. This relief is a sign that I’m on the right track.

Letting go of any illusion that you can control what is happening

The second kind of letting go is more “big picture” and is an even more powerful antidote to self-induced struggle. Rather than a way of responding to reactive clinging or resistance, this one is more of a mindset. It is a lasting acknowledgement that I am not, nor have I ever been, in control. It is a calm certainty life is going to be what life is going to be and my job is to respond to it with as much grace and poise as I can muster up in each moment.

This type of letting go sets the stage for my ability to acknowledge that my body has the proverbial wheel when I’m sick. It makes it possible for me to accept a reality that I would never choose – I am sick rather than well. It allows me to gently navigate my illness rather than adding to my suffering by resisting and struggling against what is happening.

Letting go can be a multi-step process

I’d love to be able to tell you that once we’ve mastered the “stance” of letting go we will be able to skip the struggle, chaos, and exhaustion of the first type for the rest of our lives. Nope. They’re kind of a team.

When I’m sick, I am rarely very clear-headed or even reasonable. Even when I’m not sick, I can be quite upset, tired, or distracted. All of which is to say, more often than I’d like, I need to start small by recognizing that I’m in the middle of a big, fat reaction. I need to sort out what I’m fighting to hold onto or what I’m fighting to push away.

Even on one of “those days,” once I remember that the only thing I can control in life is the way that I respond to it, the way forward is clear and any urge to struggle evaporates. From that point on, even though I might feel sick (or heartbroken, or challenged, or flummoxed, or …) for a few days, I will still feel at ease.

Repeat after me: let go, let go, let go.

You’re not alone if it’s hard for you to sort out what’s got you so worked up. Regular spiritual direction is a great partner practice to yoga and mindfulness as you work to develop a deeper understanding of yourself.