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Keeping a Balance
There is a balance that has to be kept in illness. We should be sincere, not pretending just to get some attention. But there is such a thing as hypochondria, and so we may ask ourselves, "How do I know that I am not babying myself?" One answer to this is to follow a health regimen to the best of your ability. In most cases, allopathic treatment with its reliance on drugs is not very good for a devotee. But we should follow some regimen and try to put our faith in it. It is a way of showing Krsna that we are really trying to get better. We are not babying ourselves, but we are following a strict diet and being a good patient. Our regimen may include physical therapy and patience, and so we take it on as our service. By obedience to a regimen, we avoid falling into a pit of helpless illness. We do what we can in a cheerful mood and wait to see what Krsna desires. If our doctors and advisers suggest that we try to be more active, we should not prefer to remain in bed. By making little attempts to recover whenever possible, we will prove that we are not hypochondriacs. If we try to act as if we were well but find that we are still ill, then we should also accept that as Krsna's mercy.
When illness is prolonged or painful, we have to restrict ourselves from becoming depressed. Depression is another of maya's tricks. Srila Prabhu-pada has described how a devotee should not indulge in depression.
Instead of enthusiasm being employed for material achievement, one should be enthusiastic about achievement of the mission and purpose for which Krsna descends to this world. If one however becomes disappointed in his enthusiasm for serving the Supreme Lord, that disappointment must also be restricted. The devotee should patiently follow the rules and regulations of devotional service so that the day will come when he will achieve, all of a sudden, all the perfection of devotional service.
—Narada-bhakti Sutra, Code 5, purport
When we are young and enjoying with our senses, eating and tasting and running about, we are actually more in illusion than we are when we are sick in bed. When we are faced with the painful situation of the body—"this material body is a lump of ignorance"—we do not like it, and we want to get well as soon as possible. Yet illness does teach us that the material body is inherently "a network of paths unto death." So illness can teach us dependence on Krsna.
All things considered, illness is misery. Lord Krsna says that we should tolerate bodily miseries which come and go like summer and winter seasons. We should maintain stability and go on with our duty to become Krsna conscious. We should not become critical of those who find fault with us, and neither should we fall in lethargy. Even if our duties are simply those of the sickbed, we can keep the bed clean, and go through the routine activities of illness in a way that is conducive to the modes of goodness. Although we cannot cure our physical illness, we can remain cheerful as we follow our very limited program. If our duty is to tolerate miseries and to chant a little bit each day—and to accept the fact that we are each a tiny devotee—then this is the challenge we have to meet. This is how we can cope with the misery of physical disease.