Life is ever changing, constantly evolving into new phenomena. In life we go through a chain of momentarily events. Though we like to think otherwise, yet nothing in life can remain the same forever. First we grow up, then we grow old, and eventually we all have to die at some point. But rather than seeing this as a gloomy way for looking at the world, it can actually contribute to a very liberating understanding of life itself.
Instinctively we identity ourselves with the person we see in the mirror, but what happens when you store that reflection into an image (by taking a photo of it)? When looking at an old picture of ourselves, we can see the obvious physical change in our appearance, but we’re also likely to remember some of the things that defined our worldview at the time. Oftentimes you’ll realize a lot of it has changed since then, both physically and mentally.
However, we still think the person in the photo is “us”. But how can that person in the picture be us if it’s so different from the person we are today? Likewise, our current health condition is also impermanent, as the body can’t maintain the state it’s in, not even for a single moment. And so we literally change with each breath we take.
As a result of impermanence things become inherently unsatisfactory. No matter how hard you try, your body will always have imperfections. Though surgery can help improve your medical condition, it can’t prevent the body from dying. That doesn’t mean one should be pessimistic about surgery; on the contrary, it provides an opportunity to enhance the quality of life. This is important to remember, because then we can change our expectations in order to avoid disappointment if things turn out differently.
Diseases are completely natural and can happen to anybody. In this dualistic world we live in, we tend to think of diseases as something bad, whereas being free from illness is considered to be something good. However, in this way we can easily fail to recognize the potential causes for disease, because after all, being free from illness doesn’t necessarily mean that your health is automatically safeguarded.
For instance, in an attempt to alleviate the immediate suffering (i.e., unsatisfactoriness), we take painkillers to suppress the undesirable symptoms of the disease. Thereby we essentially create a division within ourselves. Although we say “I’m sick”, in reality we regard the illness as an unwelcome guest, who upon entering our body has become part of us. This is because we discriminate between the good versus the bad cells in our body. Consequently, we decide to utilize our weakened energy resources to banish the evil invaders, so that good health may be restored.
But instead of trying to forcefully alienate or even exterminate the affected cells in our body, we could also transcend our dualistic experience of health versus illness, pain versus pleasure, life versus death, etc. Indeed, when viewing the body and all its constituents – both good and bad – as non-self (meaning “without an unchanging identity”), there is no longer anything to be removed from the body, because we realize that it is not even “our” body to begin with. Nor is there anyone left in the body to experience either suffering or pleasure due to the lack of a permanent Self.
Of course, this doesn’t stop the disease, as we don’t have any control over the body, but we do have a choice to control our mind. In this way, then, we can alter the way we experience physical suffering, thereby transcending the duality of illness and health altogether.