I first became interested in the teachings of the Buddha during a trip to India in my late twenties. However they only came alive for me when my husband suddenly fell ill and spent 5 weeks in a life-threatening coma. Here are 10 pieces of Buddhist wisdom that guided and supported me through the toughest of times.
EXPLORE YOUR PRIORITIES
When the person you love most is close to death, all the small stuff drops away. “Don’t be distracted” said the Buddha. I discovered that happiness is far more important to me than money, designer goods or career success.
NURTURE A WARM HEART
Listening and responding to the stories of other patients and families gave me strength and put my own problems in perspective. The Dalai Lama describes kindness as ‘wise selfishness.’
BE A FREE THINKER
When the doctors warned me that Simon would probably be brain-damaged, I took courage from my inner belief that he would come back to me. The Buddha said we should develop confidence in our inner wisdom, and always check up.
LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR MIND
The ups and downs of hospital life showed me how easily we get carried away by our thoughts and emotions. When my mood was down I saw everything as negative, which was neither true nor helpful. Practicing meditation each day helped me manage my mind and maintain perspective.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Even on the worst days I enjoyed cycling to and from the hospital. At lunchtimes I met up with all my favourite people. The Buddha advises us to show ourselves exactly the same love and care that we’d offer to anyone else.
CHERISH YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
I’ll always treasure the friends and family who supported us through our ordeal. As the Buddha said, we are all interconnected and none of us can survive on our own.
TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Each day I arrived at the hospital not knowing whether I would find Simon dead or alive. I was surprised to discover that an awareness of impermanence and death makes every day more precious. My Tibetan Buddhist teachers say that remembering our mortality is the key to a meaningful life.
ANGER DOESN’T HELP
When Simon came out of hospital he had to learn to eat, drink and walk again. Every time he messed up, it was me who picked up the pieces. It was very helpful to remember the Buddha’s teaching that irritation and anger are pointless – they simply take away our peace of mind.
FIND THE SILVER LINING
Simon’s life and death struggle in the hospital, and the convalescence that followed, were the toughest times of my life. However our love is now stronger and deeper than ever before. As the Buddha said, every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Buddhism defines love as simply wanting another person to be happy. As I made the transition from independent career woman to full-time wife and carer, I discovered that loving another person is also the key to my own happiness.
Alison Murdoch’s memoir Bed 12 about her husband’s illness was published in May 2017 and is available from www.hikaripress.co.uk. She is also the co-author, with Dekyi-Lee Oldershaw, of the book and app 16 Guidelines for a Happy Life. www.16guidelines.org.