I’ve been sick for a while. How can we use what we’ve learnt in meditation to cure illness? Or should we be so content that we don’t try to recover and just let it be?

Ajahn Brahm Answers

Just let it be, and you’ll recover. If you try to get better, you’ll get worse. A lot of sickness is due to stress, working too hard, tiring yourself out. If you want to overcome sickness, you first have to accept it, to stop fighting it. If you just relax and let it be, it usually doesn’t last very long. If you fight, you create stress, and then the illness gets worse. Just follow the instructions on this retreat and you’ll get much healthier. Here are two stories about how meditation saves lives—literally.

A few years ago at a retreat in Sydney, there was a man who made loud breathing noises during meditation. A couple of days into the retreat I received several notes in the question box complaining about this and asking me to tell people to breathe quietly. I told them that this man was dying of nose cancer. The doctors had given up on him, and this was his last throw of the dice, as they say, to see if meditation could keep him alive. As soon as I told people this, there were no more complaints, just a lot of compassion: what a wonderful thing it was that he was giving meditation a try. He was making the noise because he had a big tumour in his nose.

On the last day of the retreat, he wanted an emergency interview. He told me that during the last couple of hours an amazing thing had happened. He said he was meditating in the usual way, breathing through his mouth, when he heard a ‘pop’. He could breathe through his nose! It only lasted about a minute before the tumour closed it up again. I thought to myself that he’d left it too late. Had he started meditating earlier, he might have got the tumour into remission. Anyway, he just carried on meditating.

A few years later, a man came up to me in Sydney and said, “Do you remember me?” He was that man. He said he had carried on meditating. The tumour had shrunk away completely—full remission—and now he was spending the rest of his life teaching meditation to others.

The other great story is from a retreat I gave at our previous meditation venue in north Perth.

A guy came to the retreat wearing a rubber face mask. He told me at the beginning that he wasn’t sure if he would last the full nine days, because he had a very severe case of eczema. He said the rash was all over his body, and it itched like hell. He had the face mask on to stop him from scratching the skin off his face. He was in constant torture. He lifted up his trousers and pulled up his shirt to show me—it was all over his body.

I was really impressed that he was able to stay the whole nine days. When he came to see me at the end, he wasn’t wearing his face mask. He lifted up his shirt and pulled up his trousers. The rash had completely gone except for a small band around his ankles, one or two inches wide. It was wonderful to see the relief on his face. He was free from constant torture.

So yes, meditation does work. You just have to relax, let go, be still, and stop trying to control things. If you meditate to get rid of the illness, it won’t happen. If you meditate just to make peace, be still, and be kind, then it goes. That’s why many doctors recommend meditation to their patients.