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Of hierarchies, attitudes and spiritual potential of our illnesses

Ashok Kumar Bhatia


Illnesses and ailments can form an essential part of our lives. Like other fields of human thought, these are also saddled with our egos. Besides food, medicines and exercise, our mental make-up and our attitudes play an important role in achieving and maintaining good health. The article also endeavours to explore the positive features of our ailments. It attempts to bring out the spiritual potential of certain lifestyle diseases by considering the trials and tribulations of those who happen to be afflicted with diabetes.

Life is replete with hierarchies of all sizes and shapes. Those who happen to be rich look at their less fortunate cousins with some derision. Those who happen to be highly educated view the uneducated with some scorn. Those who have a great job with a famous blue-chip company, when introduced to someone who has to be asked ”Oh, which company did you say you are working with?” treat the party of the other part with marked contempt.  

All of us appear to be on a ladder of sorts — some perched above and others struggling to catch up from below. The ladder could be either materialistic or spiritual in nature.  

The hierarchy of wellness 

Some of the sick and the infirm also suffer from this ‘ladder syndrome’. Many might be secretly delighted upon realising that the best of physicians have no clue as to what precisely the nature of their affliction is. Those having AIDS and cancer could look deprecatingly at someone having, say, a viral infection. Those suffering from a heart ailment could gloat over the fact that they are consulting a world-renowned cardiac expert, whereas the other person, given his limited means or his station in life, has to remain content with a mere local doctor.  

To a person diagnosed with a pancreatic cyst, someone suffering from acidity could appear to be a being which has yet to transcend several stages of evolution. Someone who has had to undergo an orthopaedic surgery might treat another complaining of knee pain with a dash of scorn. A diabetic whose daily dose of insulin is in the range of, say, 50 units, could treat the other one surviving on 15 units as merely the dust beneath his chariot wheels.  

The difference in the realm of wellness is that the ladder works both ways. An insulin-dependent diabetic could also feel a gnawing dissatisfaction within that life has been patently unfair only to him. A person having a heart ailment may consider others around him luckier, living a fuller and happier life. It is felt that when life dishes out such harsh sentences, without the option of an anticipatory bail, our Guardian Angels are busy elsewhere, not bothering to protect us from the perils of life.  

Listen to a conversation between two patients, or their attendants, in a hospital ward and both trends become discernible. Some would be happy; others would be complaining. This unique facet of wellness shows us the importance of our attitudes. When we are afflicted with an irreversible condition, how do we look at it? As a bane, or as a boon?  

The perks of ill-health  

If we think of ill-health as a bane, we enter into a vicious cycle which keeps depleting us of our positive energies. The mind absorbs negativity. The body responds by a further decline in its immunity levels. It is like a downward spiral which does not allow us to look at the sunnier side of life.  

How could one treat a long-term health challenge as a boon, you might well ask? Well, barring accidents and cases of a special medical nature, this does sound like a workable proposition. Especially in cases of what are known as lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart ailments and the like.   

Better preparation 
One, it helps us to check the healthcare system around us. Efficacy of doctors gets assessed. Clinics and hospitals get evaluated for the kind of care they provide. In case a further challenge comes up, we are better prepared to handle it. 

Better habits 
Two, we realise that the body revolts only when it is pressed beyond a point of its tolerance. Abuse of a particular organ over a period of time comes into sharp focus. Corrective steps get taken. Introspection follows. Better habits ensue. Better health comes about.  

Fulfilling virtuous intentions 
Three, a critical intervention, say, like a coronary arterial by-pass graft, gives the patient a good time to relax, recuperate and introspect. For that matter, any surgery affords us the luxury of listening to good music, catching up with books on our to-be-read list or with movies on our to-be-watched list. In other words, several of our virtuous intentions get worked upon. 

Acquiring a specialisation 
Four, we end up becoming a subject expert on the affliction concerned. Now, what could be more gratifying than people coming up to us to either confide their health problems with us or seeking our advice?  

Handling planned obsolescence 
Five, a realisation dawns that, much like modern automobiles and white goods, our bodies also come with an inbuilt feature of planned obsolescence. Cars and washing machines have a definite lifespan. Warranties are limited. Once the warranty period is over, an annual maintenance contract kicks in.  Likewise, human bodies have an upper-limit to their time spans. To keep them going longer, regular maintenance is necessary. Healthy nourishment, regular exercises and a positive attitude alone help. Howsoever hard we may work upon ourselves, we realise that our physical bodies come with a date of expiry. The date, of course, remains a mystery of sorts. 

An opportunity for spiritual uplift 

If we look a little deeper, we are apt to find that illnesses not only represent crises in our lives. These also provide an opportunity for a spiritual uplift of sorts.  

Take the case of a patient suffering from diabetes. The manner in which this affliction leads one to progress on the path of spirituality can be readily appreciated by considering what a hapless patient has to go through.  

Surely, no one aspires to have a silent killer like diabetes as a part of the package of challenges that life offers. But once known to be afflicted by it, it takes courage to accept the fact — internally as well as socially. One’s propensity to accept things in a courageous manner goes up. 

Willingly having to forsake the pleasures of the palate, the patient learns the art of humility. Delectable sweets get banned from one’s dining table. When attending a social function, nerves of chilled steel need to be deployed, so as to be able to refuse some juicy items which one sees being gobbled up with much relish by those around. One develops sincerity of purpose.  

Our scriptures postulate that of the five senses which help us to get connected to the world around us, the most difficult one to rein in is that of taste. This self-control is precisely what a diabetic sets out to achieve. One learns to persevere. 

With advice coming in from diverse sources about management of diabetes, the patient becomes more receptive. One is willing, even desperate, to try any cure that would rid one of this affliction. One ends up becoming more receptive and open-minded. 

Running into a fellow diabetic, the milk of human kindness starts sloshing about within oneself. Goodness demands that while serving food or snacks to the hapless soul, principles of equality, fair-play and natural justice get adhered to. To be really benevolent and generous to the other, a singular lack of generosity has to be demonstrated.  

Gradually, one imbibes all these qualities in oneself — courage, humility, sincerity, perseverance, receptivity, goodness and generosity. Inner peace prevails. Progress comes about. One’s capacity to look at the broader picture and to empathise with fellow beings improves. One’s ego gets flattened. 

All diabetics need to manage their lives by remaining confined within a triangle of three lakshmanrekhas – diet, exercise and medication. One ends up living like an ascetic. Spiritual advancement follows. Life is served with its sunny side up. 

A sunny disposition 

As life advances, we realise that each stage of life offers its unique mix of advantages and disadvantages.  

When we enter a phase of our lives which offers us relative peace and an opportunity of fulfilling some of the virtuous intentions we have secretly harboured all through our lives, we could instead fall into the trap of complaining about the health challenges we face, thereby robbing us of the exquisite joy of this part of the journey. 

A sunny disposition, acquired early in life, can work wonders in keeping illnesses at bay. Ageing gracefully is an art as well as a habit which can be consciously cultivated to fend off the W-shaped depressions we could face when the yoke of family and career responsibilities falls off our no-longer-sturdy shoulders.  

It helps to have a small circle of close friends. Pursuing a hobby we are passionate about keeps our neurons in good shape. Being in touch with the younger lot keeps our system running on all six cylinders. Simply looking back at the high points of our life keeps our spirits buoyed up.    

The silver lining 

Setbacks in health occasionally hover over us, much like ominous clouds, which cut off the sunlight of the simple joys of life. But, like all clouds, these have a silver lining which one can focus on. Armed with a chin-up attitude, one can face the harsh slings and arrows of life better.  

Through such trials and tribulations, the Divine may seem to test us but aids our transformation. Much like a piece of iron, which gets transformed into a useful object in the hands of a proficient ironsmith, we become well-rounded. We get shaped into something more useful for society. Unbeknownst to us, our craving for perfection gets fulfilled. 

Ashok Kumar Bhatia is a management advisor and writer who lives in Pondicherry, India. He blogs at

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