Zen and the Art of Having the Flu

Moments of inner peace come at unexpected times.

I’ve had the flu since Monday night. Today is the worst of it and it’s difficult to sit upright and finish this post. But I want to keep to my blog publication streak of every posting Wednesday, since November 5th, 2013.

Yesterday morning I had a 9am personal appointment, which I felt well enough to go to. Sitting on the subway platform I experienced a moment of ‘no-thought’. The definition of ‘no-thought’ in meditation is “the “pure and unattached mind” which “comes and goes freely and functions fluently without any hindrance”. [Source]

TTC College Station

Here is what I wrote in my journal:

Sitting on a cold red bench at the College TTC Station staring across the tracks to the other side and disappearing into the tiles on the wall, I left everything around me, including my thoughts, and slipped into the void without intention.

Outside it’s -20 with a windchill of -35. No wind in the station but it would never offer permanent refuge from the cold, unheated and impersonal.

I’m sick. Fighting the flu. Last night I was cold, shivering, nestled under the covers, pillows tucked around my body to keep me warm. But my body was giving off heat that I couldn’t feel — the contradiction of the flu.

In that moment of sitting, which I rarely do on the subway platform but my body was aching and I was physically tired, I had nothing else to do but wait for the train to arrive. Not moving in an effort to contain warmth. I had no desire to think of anything specific and so I stopped thinking and worrying. This wasn’t even a conscious decision, it was the result the flu and how it was affecting me.

Sitting on that red bench in the cold for a brief moment I felt the bliss of ‘no-thought,’ of leaving my surroundings and becoming completely present. The Buddhists might call that moment Nirvana.

For what was probably three to five seconds, no more, I felt nothing. I felt no pain, no aches, no headache, none of the tiredness in my joints and muscles. My mind was blank — no concerns, no thoughts, no awareness of what I had to do or what I was concerned about in my life.

It was beautiful and it was perfect.

I’ve experienced that space of ‘no-thought’ a few times before.

The first time was when I sat a 10-day Vipassana meditation and it was like being suddenly transported into outer space. Think of some science-fiction movie you’ve seen because that’s the only way I could describe the experience. It’s like being in an infinite void and you are minuscule with respect to the vastness of the space that surrounds you. It almost feels like you’re falling backwards but there’s no sensation of movement — rather it’s the perception of the infinite expanse.

The feeling is as comfortable as being embraced and cuddled with the warmth of your lover’s naked body as he nestles his nose into your neck and whispers, ‘I love you.’

Pure love is a Zen moment. When you’re completely present in that experience and when you truly experience that depth of emotion you are aware of nothing else but being in that moment and experiencing the expression and reception of love. That space of ‘no-thought’ is full of self-love.

Sitting on that cold red bench in the subway starring across the expense of the train tracks to the tiles on the wall opposite me I felt love. I felt peace and silence, of which I only became aware after I had left the moment of going into the void.

Why did this wonderful moment happen?

The flu, which I haven’t had in many years, offered me the chance to stop — to stop worrying about my forthcoming website, my concerns, and my joys. Being sick can give you this perspective if you let it, consciously going into surrender, not fighting how your body and mind is reacting to the virus, or by simple chance.

Having the flu and feeling run-down, my cold surroundings, having to wait for the subway, and sitting down to rest all worked together to create the space for me to let go of the reality of my mind.

Sickness and injury can offer lessons if we are open to learning what that unique lesson is at that moment in time.

As sick, achy, and tired as I felt that morning, those few seconds of ‘no-though’t recharged my spirit.

The chance inwardness reminded me that I need to take the time to stop and practice mindfulness — to let go without expectation or intention. To simply be in the moment and to observe what comes to me without judgement.

Just Be.


© 2014 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved

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