Turning Straw Into Gold

Life through a Buddhist lens

“Make Good Medicine From the Suffering of Illness”

Quotations on living with chronic pain and illness.

The quotation in the title is from Korean Zen master Kyong Ho (1849-1912). I was so inspired by his gem of wisdom that I decided to look for what others have said about health. To my great disappointment, all I found were quotations that fell into two categories, both of which were decidedly uninspiring!

First, there were the many quotations we’ve heard over and over that tell us that if we’ll just do this or do that, good health will be ours. “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” With all due respect, Mr. Franklin, I believe you were mistaken. And, this famous proverb: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I don’t think so.

In the second category were all the quotations telling us that if we had our good health, we’d have everything. Well, that won’t do. Since I’m saddled with poor health, I want poor health and everything! “The first wealth is health,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. That would make me a pauper indeed. And then there was, “Health is worth more than learning,” from Thomas Jefferson no less. Good grief!

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I was so discouraged by the many quotations in this vein that I put away my search for a while. But, still inspired by Kyong Ho’s 100-year-old “Make good medicine from the suffering of illness,” I went looking again for quotations about health and found a few–just a few—that I thought were well worth sharing:

Franz Schubert 1797-1828
“’My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it never and nevermore.’ I may well sing every day now.” —Franz Schubert

Schubert made this statement upon learning that he was gravely ill. In the first sentence, he quotes from a song. In the second sentence, he turns straw into gold.

“Be not slow to visit the sick.” —Ecclesiastes

Thank you.

"Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and Spring. " —Henry David Thoreau

What a relief it was to find Thoreau’s words after reading dozens of quotations telling me to measure my health by what I eat or drink, or what time I go to bed at night and get up in the morning. I take chronic illness and pain as my starting points and, from there, try to make the best life I can for myself. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking for treatments that might help (and, hey, if that apple a day is helping you, keep eating it). But I can do both—simultaneously look to improve my health and measure it by my sympathy with morning and Spring.

Susan Sontag 1933-2004
“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”  —Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 1977

This is Ms. Sontag telling it like it is.

“There is something in sickness that breaks down the pride of manhood.”  —Charles Dickens

It certainly has been a humbling experience for me.

May all of you make good medicine from the suffering of illness.

© 2012 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. You can also subscribe to my blog (see the choices below my picture). I’m active on FacebookPinterest, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.

And, if you’d like to see a set of quotations about health that are on the humorous side, see my piece “Humor as Medicine: 20 Quotations About Health.”

Toni Bernhard, J.D., is a former law professor at University of California at Davis. She wrote the award-winning How to Be Sick and, recently, How to Wake Up.

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