The Companionship of Illness

We never value or even see some things in our lives until we are just about to lose them. This is particularly true of health. When we are in good health, we are so busy in the world that we never even notice how well we are.

Illness comes and challenges everything about us. It unmasks all pretension. When you are really ill, you cannot mask it. Illness also tests the inner fiber and luminosity of your soul. It is very difficult to take illness well. Yet it seems that if we treat our illness as something external that has singled us out, and we battle and resist it, the illness will refuse to leave.

On the other hand, we must not identify ourselves with our illness. A visit to a hospital often shows that very ill people are more alive to life’s possibilities than the medical verdict would ever allow or imagine. . When we learn to see our illness as a companion or friend, it really does change the way the illness is present. The illness changes from a horrible intruder to a companion who has something to teach us. When we see what we have to learn from an illness, then often the illness can gather itself and begin to depart…

Sometimes, when you see a thing as the enemy, you only reinforce its presence and power over you… Held openly, as a friend, this bit of unknown aliveness may take you on an amazing journey to places you may have never anticipated. Such attention enriches and deepens gentleness and presence.

—John O’Donohue from Eternal Echoes.

Parabola Magazine


  1. This puts beautifully what I’ve been trying to express to friends and family. I’ve been ill for a long time and at the start i was terrified and felt I had to fight it, but that only made me worse as the struggle and stress was exhausting. Mindfulness has taught me to be with my illness and not be afraid of it any more. It’s done me more good than all the medications and procedures!

  2. Thank you for your practice! It is such a challenge to express these experiences especially to those who care about our well being. And, it is so counter-intuitive to stop struggling. Take good care!

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