Dealing With Chronic Illness: A Spiritual Practice Phoenix Rising 2



My favorite version of the legend of the Phoenix has it resurrecting from the marrow of its own bones…again and again and again.  That is what it is like living with a serious illness that has no cure in sight.  It’s always there.  Like the Phoenix rising from its own bone marrow, those with disease have to invent creative ways to deal with it.  I offer the following spiritual practice.

We cannot displace the physical disease, so this is a way to spiritually displace the dis-ease it causes for a time so that we can change our focus to life-giving activity:

Begin by placing a vessel on an altar with a candle beside it.  This vessel will hold your dis-ease for as long as you intend.  Calm yourself with music, breathing, or whatever way helps you.  Say:


I accept that this dis-ease is within me.
(Pause and let the feelings catch up with your mind.)


I acknowledge that I cannot displace it physically.  It is here for the duration.


I promise to make every possible effort to aid my body in coping with this dis-ease.


Acknowledging that the ego-presence of this dis-ease is not the same as the disease itself, I put it in this vessel and place it on my altar.  May my mind be free of its hold on me for ________ (for however long you need.)  May I receive the grace to create ease in my body and soul for this time.


I place my dis-ease in my nautilus shell each morning and I find that it does help me to shift my focus for a time.  If I am finding it hard to cope during the day I will revisit the meditation.  It really does feel like I am reaching into the marrow of my bones and pulling myself up again.  I hope that this is helpful.  Peace to you.

nautilaus shell on altar



Photo Credit: “Phoenix Rising”

NOTE: 9-8-17. Upon reading this brilliant passage I offer it as another but similar way of dealing with chronic illness:

“Maisie knew that each day had to be taken as it came, and to do her work she must be flexible, to move the fabric of time as one might if sewing a difficult seam, perhaps stretching the linen to accommodate a stitch.  If consideration of what the next hour might hold had been too difficult, then she thought only of another half an hour. She had explained this to Priscilla, once, and her friend had asked, “What’s the longest time you could bear, Maisie?” And she had whispered, “Two minutes.” But at some point the two minutes became five, andthe five became ten, and as time marched on she was able to imagine a day ahead and then a week, until one day, almost without realizing it, she could plan her life, could look forward to time laying out the tablecloth as if to say “Come, take what you will, be nourished and know that you can bear what might be on your horizon, the good and the ill.”

from In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear


12 thoughts on “Dealing With Chronic Illness: A Spiritual Practice

  1. There are many rich and thoughtful posts to explore on your blog. Thank you.

    How do you think the spiritual practice described above applies to chronic mental illness? I have lived with bipolar disorder for many years and I most recently I worked with brain injury survivors. The spiritual stigma that faces those for whom the organ that is “dis-eased” is the brain and yet in objectively viewed and lived experience, the conditions that impact behaviour are seen in spiritual terms. As I have seen the situation is especially serious with psychiatric disorders and the mild brain injuries. I have witnessed the exclusion of deeply spiritual laypeople and pastors from their church homes following a mental breakdown.

    A post Catholic myself I am, in recovering from a most traumatic manic episode, I am curious to know what readings or resources, if any, address the spiritual sense of dislocation for those of us who live with mental illness?


    • Dear Roughghost,

      I am grateful for your comment, and have taken some time to reflect on it. This is what I come up with.

      You (your deepest self) are not the behavior caused by the imbalance in your brain. When having an episode it may be helpful to look at the behavior as a person out of balance with your true, highest self, and imagine placing her/him in a vessel. Perhaps a mantra that you can say when you feel out of control would help, like:

      Breathing in I am in balance with my deepest self. Breathing out I release dis-ease.

      Working in tandem with your medications, this practice may at least bring you some peace. I recommend exploring the works of Thicht Nhat Hanh. He offers a variety of solid spiritual practices. One of them my speak to you.

      Blessings on your journey, Rita

      (My personal e-mail is if you should want to reach me privately)

      On Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 5:03 PM, Spirituality Without Borders: Reflections


      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply Rita. I have had a long history in and out of some formal church practice, a degree in philosophy and most recently, work within community and clinical neurosciences. For the past 10 years or more of mental wellness I have held my personal sense of faith at arms length. At this point I find myself longing for some ability to articulate what I am able to believe and find community. I know I still have a lot of baggage to unpack and probably always will. 🙂


  2. Rita, this is *hugely* helpful. It prompts me to think about my Franciscan rule of life, and how I might build in spiritual practices that connect to my own chronic conditions. I know plenty of people who’d benefit from this, so…sharing!


    • It is good that it helps, Susan. I’m glad. So many people are affected by chronic illness and we need a variety of tools to help us manage it. Thank you. Keep on writing. Your Blog is a bright light.

      Sent from my Kindle Fire



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