How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers

by Toni Bernhard

Paperback(Second Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781614294788
Publisher: Wisdom Publications MA
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 376,445
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Toni Bernhard fell ill on a trip to Paris in 2001 with what doctors initially diagnosed as an acute viral infection. She has not recovered.

In 1982, she’d received a J.D. from the School of Law at the University of California, Davis, and immediately joined the faculty where she stayed until chronic illness forced her to retire. During her twenty-two years on the faculty, she served for six years as dean of students.

In 1992, she began to study and practice Buddhism. Before becoming ill, she attended many meditation retreats and led a meditation group in Davis with her husband.

She lives in Davis with her husband, Tony, and their hound dog, Rusty.

Toni can be found online at

Table of Contents

Foreword Sylvia Boorstein xv

Preface to the Revised Edition xix

Preface to the First Edition xxiii

How Everything Changed

1 Getting Sick: A Romantic Trip to Paris 3

2 Staying Sick: This Can't Be Happening to Me 11

Pain Is Part of Life

3 The Buddha Tells It Like It Is 23

4 The Universal Law of Impermanence 29

5 Who Is Sick? Who Is in Pain? 39

Finding Peace and Joy

6 Finding Joy in the Life You Can No Longer Lead 49

7 Soothing the Body, Mind, and Heart 55

8 Using Compassion to Alleviate Your Suffering 61

9 Facing the Ups and Downs of Chronic Illness with Equanimity 79

Turnarounds and Transformations

10 Getting Off the Wheel of Suffering 99

11 Tonglen: Spinning Straw into Gold 107

12 With Our Thoughts We Make the World: An Appreciation of Byron Katie 113

13 The Present Moment as a Refuge 121

14 Wise Action: What to Do and What Not to Do 135

15 Zen Helps 147

Balancing Community and Isolation

16 Communicating with Care 159

17 Connecting with Others and Appreciating Solitude 167

18 And in the End… 181

A Guide to Using the Practices to Help with Specific Challenges 185

With Gratitude 199

Recommended Reading 205

Index 207

About the Author 219

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Full of hopefulness and promise…this book is a perfect blend of inspiration and encouragement. Toni's engaging teaching style shares traditional Buddhist wisdom in a format that is accessible to all readers.”—The Huffington Post

"Toni Bernhard's book, How To Be Sick—A Buddhist's Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, is an invitation to gently set aside the fear and the fight in order to truly live. It is based on principles of Buddhism, which she carefully applies to her own chronic and at times debilitating illness. She offers a different perspective on illness and wellness, suggesting the two need not be mutually exclusive."—Psychology Today

"A immensely wise book. Health psychology has been poisoned by the view that the best way to approach illness is through a muscular, militant resistance. This books shows otherwise. Bernhard reveals how letting go, surrendering, and putting the ego aside yield insights and fulfillment even in the presence of illness. This is a major contribution."—Larry Dossey, MD, author of Healing Words

"How does one face a chronic illness? In 2001 law professor Bernhard became sick from a virus that no doctor has been able to treat. Faced with ongoing disabling symptoms, forced to give up her profession, and unable to take part in most of the activities she loves, Bernhard has dug into the roots of the Buddhism she once studied intensively, looking for resources to cope with such devastating loss. She clearly explains how such Buddhist principles as the four noble truths, impermanence, no-self, and dependent origination help her cope with limited energy and frequent enforced solitude. No longer able to meditate formally, Bernhard describes a set of easy mental practices, drawn from her own daily experiences as well as vipassana (insight meditation), Zen koans, Tibetan Buddhist compassion exercises, and the “inquiry” technique of author Byron Katie, a practice for working with thoughts. Bernhard’s applications of Buddhism are sound and her insights gentle and honest; others may take heart from her determination to use the Buddha’s timeless wisdom to ease the mental suffering brought about by unrelieved physical illness."—Publishers Weekly

“You don’t have to be sick to benefit from the advice in this book. This is a book on how to live fully.” —Joy Selak, author of You Don’t LOOK Sick!

“A must-read—and a solid dose of hope.” —Lori Hartwell, author of Chronically Happy

“An inspiring work” —Joseph Goldstein, author of A Heart Full of Peace

“Beautiful, heartfelt, and immensely courageous. Truly worth reading.” —Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

“Everyone should read this book—and I plan to buy a copy for everyone I love.” —Lizabeth Roemer, co-author of The Mindful Way Through Anxiety

"Don’t pass up this book – it is a gift to all of us who are unwell and for those who love us." —Alida Brill, Author of Dancing at The River’s Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness

"An inspiring and instructive guide for coping with a chronic condition or life-threatening illness but it is much more than that. Each chapter is about unpacking the highest truth in the lowest places of our lives. The book is entitled How To Be Sick but I found that it's really about how to live." —Jim Palmer, Author of Divine Nobodies, and Wide Open Spaces

"This is an intimate, gripping, profound, and eminently useful book about being joyfully and wisely alive no matter what happens to you - including serious illness." —Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

"I highly recommend her book as a must-read for anyone who is ill or caring for someone ill. Her gifts will transform you." —Lewis Richmond, author of Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist’s Journey from Near Death to New Life

"What a beautiful book!...This is a book in which to find honesty, compassion, and a means to reduce suffering for the ill person and caregiver alike." —Lynn Royster, Director of the Chronic Illness Initiative at DePaul University

"How to Be Sick brilliantly answers one of the most important challenges anyone can face: How to transform suffering into a vehicle for great consciousness and compassion. Toni Bernhard has written an important book that is practical, wise and full of heart. I recommend it to anyone working with chronic pain and illness." —James Baraz, co-author of Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness

“Each of finds our way to live with the challenges and uncertainty of illness. Toni Bernhard found a path that lead to balance, wisdom and love. She caringly points us to the possibility of finding happiness even in the midst difficult conditions. That is a true gift.” —Frank Ostaseski, Founder Metta Institute

"A warm and compassionate guide for navigating illness on a personal and practical level." —Alex Lickerman, blogger of Happiness In This World

“A profound, compassionate, and intimate guide for living wisely.” —Gil Fronsdal, author of The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic

“This encouraging book is full of compassion about how to sit sweetly with your difficulties.”—John Tarrant, author of Bring Me The Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life

"This book could easily be called “How to Be Well.” Toni Bernhard’s hard-won wisdom dealing with chronic illness teaches us how to be kind to ourselves, to counter negative thoughts about our life and our health, and to live fully in the present—neither regretting the past nor fearing the future. Who among us couldn’t use these life-affirming skills? Bravo!" —Susan Milstrey Wells, author of A Delicate Balance: Living Successfully with Chronic Illness

"People who yearn to live with purpose rather than simply succumb to the pain and uncertainty of chronic illness will find a shining example in Toni Bernhard's life and words. Readers need not be Buddhist or even practiced meditators to benefit from the nuggets of wisdom she offers to sustain mind and spirit when matter seems especially vicious." —Cheri Register, author of Living with Chronic Illness: Days of Patience and Passion and The Chronic Illness Experience: Embracing the Imperfect Life

"A compassionate and insightful road map to finding grace and balance amidst affliction that will be of great benefit to the many people and their loved ones who find themselves being asked to meet affliction that is painful to bear."—Christina Feldman, author of Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World

"Bernhard comes across like a thoughtful and sympathetic friend." —Persephone Magazine

"If you want to better understand how to deal with a chronic illness, or you are the caregiver for someone who is chronically ill, read How to be Sick." —The Caregiver's Voice

"When you read her book, you cannot help but come away with a new perspective and awareness of life’s beauty to enjoy despite chronic bodily pain. The choice of inner peace and compassion is available to all of us. I found a lot to embrace in this lovely work of art." —Chronicle: The Journal of the American Chronic Pain Association

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How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Mazzamau More than 1 year ago
I want to tell you about this wonderful book that Toni has written. I am lucky to be one of the few non-professional people to have had the privilege of reading How to be Sick. First, a little background about myself. I have stage four advanced breast cancer stemming from the genetic mutation BRCA2. I nursed my Mother when she died, have been there while my sister and nieces have undergone and are still undergoing treatment and, of course, my own. I am now on a trial drug to try and stop my cancer spreading plus monthly treatments. All this means I have many days of lying on a bed being very unwell and am also facing a very uncertain future. Toni's book came to me through a link from a friend and it has been a god send. In the past I have both bought and been given a number of books on how to deal and be with my BC. Most are along the lines of me needing to think my cancer away, to completely change my diet, to think possitively and so on - you know what I mean. There is none of that in Toni's book. It is simply the most practical and inspiring book I have read. Toni draws from not only wonderful Buddhist practices, but from movies, songs, people, wrtings, poetry, and her own experiences. She showed me how to face and be with my cancer, to feel the uncertainty, the fear, to be a woman lying on a bed so unwell, worrying... I have been around Buddhists for around 20 years (I am not a Buddhist myself) and the way Toni explains the concepts and practices of Buddhism is the best I have heard. Wow, Toni, I get it... or should I say - I'm getting it. I do not write this lightly, How to be Sick resonated with my very core. As I face all that is cancer, not only now but the future, I am so very very grateful to have Toni's book right there beside me. Thank you.
NookBuddhist More than 1 year ago
This is an easy read. Inforamal. Living with pamcreatic cancer, this book gave me coping mechanisms. Practical, informative. A bit much on the Tibetan Buiddhism, but OK.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this book because I was interested in the Buddhist theme of this book (I am Christian). I also bought several other books along this line at the same time. I'm looking for a way to cope with my "invisible disease", Grave's disease. The author suffers from severe chronic fatigue. I don't know much about the disease, and considering how I feel with Grave's, she has to be suffering. Having said that, I got a little tired of the whiny, woe-is-me tone of the book. And then she'd switch to a polly-anna frame of mind to make a point about coping. Seemed a bit bipolar. However, the basic principles she outlines for dealing with the emotional side of the invisible diseases is very helpful. She related a story about a friend of hers who was so frustrated with her illness and her inability to functions sometimes that she engaged in really abusive self-talk. This friend admitted that she would never consider talking to anyone else the way she talked to herself. That's me! So I found that section particularly helpful in dealing with my inner frustrations. Overall, I would recommend others who "don't look sick" read this because it does offer some useful coping mechanisms.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book, not just for those living with chronic illness but for anyone who might in the future become sick -- which is all of us! I am in good health, but I identified with every single page. The writing is clear and unpretentious, laced with gentle humor and illustrated with examples from Bernhard's own life. This book has become a resource that I refer to often for reminders on how to cultivate contentment and even joy even when life is handing me unpleasant circumstances . 
EPClark More than 1 year ago
The problem for most Western approaches to dealing with a serious or chronic illness is that they are based, whether they know it or not, on the concepts of objective distance and physical and rational control of the situation. But when you are ill, there are can be no objective distance, and you do not have either physical or rational control. You cannot magically make yourself better, no matter how much you might want to, nor, most of the time, can you rationally understand and justify your illness. Sometimes people just get sick. And as for why you? As Toni Bernhard says in this book, why not you? All living beings suffer; this is just how this universal truth is manifesting for you right now. The Buddhist-inspired approach that Bernhard espouses here has many things in common with the popular buzzwords of the current craze for wellbeing. There are things that are recognizably self-care, gratitude lists, and positive thinking. However, because they are based on millennia of a spiritual wisdom that espouses a non-rational, truth-centered approach to life, they strike me, at least, as much more helpful than their frivolous and shallow Western cousins, which are largely focused on instant self-gratification and selfish motives. The self-care techniques that Bernhard presents here are not about putting your needs above those of others, but about recognizing the interconnectedness between you and all other living beings. Bernhard, who at the time of writing had been largely housebound for a number of years with chronic fatigue syndrome of unknown origin, also recognizes the reality of the suffering that the seriously ill and their caregivers experience. Most of the practices she describes start with an acknowledgement of this suffering, before moving on to techniques that can alleviate it, at least in part. By facing the reality of your suffering, it actually makes it easier to deal with, and allows you to achieve some of that objective distance that the Western scientific approach is supposed to give you but can't when you yourself are the subject as well as the object of suffering. Books on Buddhism tend to be either impenetrably abstruse, or deceptively simple. "How To Be Sick" falls into the latter category. It's a very short, easy read, with concise chapters and a bullet-pointed list of practices for different situations--physical suffering, mistreatment by medical professionals, loneliness and isolation, and so on--at the end. This book will not give you an in-depth introduction to Buddhist history and theory (although Bernhard admits that when she first became drawn to Buddhism, she wrote exactly that, merely for her own pleasure and edification), but it will give you a number of hands-on, practical suggestions, and in a format that is suitable for busy caregivers or seriously ill people suffering from brain fog, head and eye pain, or debilitating fatigue. "How To Be Sick" is not a light read, but it is not weighed down by its subject matter either, providing a pithy but profound approach to dealing with one of life's most unpleasant aspects.
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CrysTX More than 1 year ago
Toni really has a way of helping you understand. She shows you the way to compassion for others and just as importantly yourself. Great Book.
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