Some wit, was it Oscar Wilde?, observed that ‘nothing focuses the mind as knowing you are going to be shot in the morning.’ I would like to add that focused attention is exponentially increased when your lower back muscles go into painful spasm, without these neuro-vultures asking first!
It started off yesterday morning, which is the fourth such episode in my life. Moving from a sitting to standing position, on a cold morning, I felt the crunch of muscles, like a hot knife piercing and slashing my flesh over my lower spine. For a few moments I was paralyzed and immobilized. Then the pain subsided, and could shuffle off to the bedroom, and call for reinforcements. Fortunate to be married to a pharmacist, who keeps a stock of a wide range of medications: for coughs and flu, for pain and nausea, for sleeplessness and shortness of breath. So out popped the anti-inflammatories et al.
But these meds take time to kick in. So hobbled around most of the day, finding that warm muscles ease the contractions and pain. Also hot showers. However, with hindsight I became aware of what position or movement hurts, and which eases the discomfit. Nothing concentrates the mind as a sudden jolt of muscular spasm when arising from the bed or chair or car seat. The excruciating pain fills working memory, and cannot think of much else.
Then things changed: I began to decide a few seconds before standing, sitting, or walking, on the next move. Which position was the least likely to cause discomfit? And so on. Who said we have no free will? Baloney. I was in total control of every next move, as I struggled from bedroom to kitchen; from toilet to verandah. Who says one cannot be mindful? Baloney!
Intriguing that when lying or sitting in a comfortable position, there is no pain whatsoever, and my mind can rapidly refill with all kinds of combinations: imaginations, ideas, memories, hunger pangs, thirst, guilt, what I ought to do … But when shifting into ‘pain position’ all those fillers are wiped clean off the stage, and the pain takes full possession of current awareness, except, critically, that I am mindful of the pain. Mindfulness sensitivity helped me differentiate these two mind states, when to simply observe the language (prosody, timbre, intensity) of pain, and when to act and move on.
My empathy and thoughts are with those who suffer from long term unremitting pain – emotional, physical, loss, existential angst. These psychopaths are all incorrigible thieves of open minded and present happiness. But maybe we attach to tightly to their pathologic claws. Mindfulness, as Jon Kabat-Zinn implores, radically reduces the intensity of pain. It allows space for different choices.
That was my lesson for the day