Spiritual Lessons from the Flu

It’s Day Fourteen, and the coughing has nearly stopped, the weak feeling in my legs is almost gone, and my brain fog has finally given way to some clearer thinking.

+Woman with cold 16311394_sLike many people, I’ve been knocked down by the flu this winter – and it hasn’t been pretty. Though I knew the illness would be finite, it felt at moments like it would go on forever. A combination of things has helped bring the cure: acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, massage, tea made of honey, ginger, and lemon, tuning forks, energy work, and more. But, it has also just taken good old time to let the bug run its course.

Time is a precious commodity these days, and though I railed against spending time in illness, I decided to use some of it to listen to what this experience might have to teach me. Frankly, I didn’t have too much else to do, in between blowing my nose and napping! So, I listened, and noticed…

What struck me was how the flu completely disrupted my usual body, mind, spirit equilibrium. Within the course of a few hours after it hit, all the focus was on the body. Mind and spirit definitely took a back seat. My body, which generally takes pretty good care of itself and doesn’t ask too much of me, suddenly claimed center stage, calling attention to itself with an intense level of discomfort that was startling. My, how I hurt and ached!

I suddenly had a great appreciation for what a well-run machine my body usually is, and for the fairly balanced body-mind-spirit paradigm I normally experience. With my body in such distress, and needing so much of my energy to work through the illness, the emotional/mental and spiritual parts of me really had to recede. They were almost numbed. I realized that all my energy was being marshaled to help my body heal. Everything else was a lower priority.

So, the body’s needs prevailed. And, though I missed my customary mental capacity to engage, my brain’s fogginess and inability to focus meant I really had to rest my mind as well as my body.

During this time of forced mental rest, it was interesting to kind of “space out,” to realize I just couldn’t think or offer very much. I found that I preferred quiet, or sitting with my head back and my eyes closed, even when not asleep, that I didn’t want the stimulation of TV or the computer. This silence provided a real opportunity to listen, to hear my preferences. What would nourish me now? Is it time to sleep again? Do I want more tea? Am I warm enough? Would talking to a friend be comforting or too tiring? Whereas in health, we often override what we need and push ourselves too hard, in illness we have to listen more carefully.

One advantage of my mind’s compromised ability to focus was that I had some space for my spirit to explore, unencumbered by the mind’s usual patterns of thinking and analyzing. At a friend’s suggestion, one day I sat quietly and asked Spirit if there was some wisdom for me to hear during this time I had “off” from regular life. I used my Runes and some other means of inquiry and received both insight and inspiration. One Rune, Flow, spoke quite deeply to me for my life in general, as well as in sickness: “Immerse yourself in the experience of living without having to evaluate or understand.” In other words, don’t over-think everything, Janet! Let your mind rest more often. Be in flow, in the experience of the moment.

Slowly, over the days of this illness, my body’s distress has calmed and my usual equilibrium is gradually being re-established. I have renewed gratitude for my customary balance of body, mind, and spirit, and the experience has given me some good reminders, for which I am grateful:

• I have with a deeper appreciation for my usual physical health.

• I realize I need to develop a more finely tuned capacity to listen – and respond – to myself.

• I intend to follow the Rune’s advice to be in the flow and lighten up on my habit of over-evaluating.

I’d like to incorporate these lessons without needing another bout with the flu to remind me of them! But, if illness comes along, I’ll do the same thing again: ask what I should notice, how I might grow. The opportunities to learn and discover are always present, in illness and in health, in our every breath and moment.


  1. Hi Janet.
    I liked this piece. It reminded me of a lecture I heard by Thich Nhat Hanh , the Vietnamese monk, who talked about the blessing of the non-toothache. When you have a tooth ache or the flu, it takes up so much psychic space that there is little room for anything else. We so often take our state of non-toothache for granted.
    I liked what you wrote about feeling like you had little to offer so instead you listened. It would be great if we could give ourselves a break from constant offering/contributing and instead were more frequently in an allowing/receptive mode. In our culture, activity is so much valued over passivity. I think we are afraid of it. Its inspiring to me how you discerned the gifts in this period of enforced quiet. We are all so busy. That’s where the idea of a day of rest in the traditional notion of the Sabbath has real value.

    • Spiral Energies says

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Judy. The blessing of the non-toothache really hit home when the flu was at its most intense — what a contrast to my normal state of (blessed!) good health. And, yes, I know I need a lot more of the allowing/receptive/listening mode. I’d like to cultivate a true rest and personal Sabbath day to bring more of that into my life.

  2. Excellent piece. I should have read it when I first got it. I started with runny nose and sneezing and couldn’t stop. That was Wednesday (storm) and Thursday I said, no, I can’t be sick. I remembered someone saying to drink baking soda in water every hour or so; I did that and my symptoms didn’t develop into my pattern of throaty-voice-change-and-miserable-cough-for-weeks. I’d rather learn to listen without being sick too. However, it did remind me I really do need to sit and listen.

    • Spiral Energies says

      Sounds like you did some good listening to your self, Luci — your symptoms, the advice you remembered, your desire not to get sick in your usual pattern-way. Super!

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