Dealing with setbacks
Robert the Bruce kills Sir Henry de Bohun on the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My sprained ankle has naturally led me to reflect upon setbacks in our pursuit of health and fitness. The moment I decided to increase my exercise (which, incidentally, already exceeds the generally suggested guidelines), I immediately sprained my ankle. And I can think of so many similar incidents. I get really fit and vigorous, doing a lot of sprinting, and then break my arm. I get fit again, start running, and there's a heat wave and I can barely move. I pick up from the heat wave and get h1n1 and have to build back up again. Once I get over the sprained ankle I'll have to deal with getting fit again after surgery.
I'm sure each reader can tell a similar story. Fortunately, I won't be competing in the Olympics, so fitness setbacks are not catastrophic. Setbacks invite a philosophical view. According to madhyamika Buddhist philosophy, we need to have a union of the relative and absolute view. From the relative perspective, I'm responsible for this body and the precious opportunities embodied life offers me to practice the dharma and benefit beings. So following guidelines of self-care is inherent in the dharma. But from the absolute point of view, this body is impermanent, inevitably painful and void of any real essence. It arose and it will pass away. Whether I' m a junk food eating couch potato or an Olympic athlete, the only thing certain in life is death. Life's setbacks and ups and downs are determined by karma, not by my wishes or efforts.
There are two curves in effect in my life and they move in opposite directions. One is the curve of constant efforts to enhance wellness through Ayurvedic self-care, leading to increasing general wellbeing. The other curve is the ageing process leading to degeneration decay and death. And as part of the ageing process, various genetic time bombs go off despite our efforts to defuse them. It's a matter of having
"the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."
To put it another way, choiceless awareness, no preferences. Staying present with what is helps us not to get discouraged by setbacks.
My father used to tell a story of Robert the Bruce of Scotland and the spider. After six defeats by the English army, Robert retreated to a cave, utterly discouraged. As he lay in the cave he watched a spider spin her web. Time and again she tried to throw her thread across the cave, only to fail. Yet she just kept trying until at last she was able to bridge the cave with her thread. The spider inspired Robert Bruces' eventual defeat of England at the Battle of Bannockburn. May she inspire us to face our setbacks and continue the path of wellness!