I’m nearing my 200th post in my almost two years of blogging and in that time period I’ve made mention of my chronic pain condition just a few times and only in passing. Much like my insight about how I, not long ago, wasn’t able to read world news because I simply wasn’t practiced enough in being able to balance myself to not get overwhelmed and cynical by its content, I too realized that I have not been quite ready to share about my ongoing journey in living with chronic pain. But I now feel as though I can begin to embark on this big topic.
I haven’t wanted to approach my illness for a few reasons but I see that mostly it had to do with these last two years of my diligent focusing on cultivating joy. In order for me to start unfolding and walking through my health challenges and have the ability to share my story with others I needed to learn and practice joy. Otherwise my words would’ve been clouded over with confusion and mis-understanding – I wouldn’t have been able to convey the whole picture. After a long string of quiet moments amid the cycle of transformation is when I often emerge with words to express my journey. I mean, one needs to have actually been to Peru in order to write a great telling of it hadn’t they? It’s sort of like that.
Sometimes we move in a direction simply because people around us carry us there. My wanting to share about living with chronic pain as a mindfulness practitioner is an example of this. When I spent a month on retreat at Deer Park Monastery in January there was a woman there who remembered me from the 21-day retreat in Plum Village in 2012. We had crossed paths only briefly in Plum Village but she remembered me quite well apparently. Throughout the month at Deer Park she kept remarking about how different I looked from when she had seen me in 2012 and how wonderful it was to see such a transformation in my pain condition and how I was moving. She said that I looked totally different. She was amazed and curious about how, in such a relatively short amount of time, my condition had changed. One day I helped her in the kitchen clean up after making peanut brittle and she told me about how she struggles with arthritis and how being on retreat at the monastery was the only time she wasn’t in pain. She wanted to know how I dealt with my chronic pain because in her eyes, although she didn’t know me, she saw that whatever I was doing was working.
On our recent local spring retreat a few weeks ago many people, whom I only see once or twice a year on retreat, came up to me and commented on how great it was to see me moving better. They too wanted to know what I had done to improve my condition. Since our retreats are held in silence I wasn’t really able to communicate with them but it got me thinking that perhaps it’s time to put words to this journey for the simple fact that folks are interested in hearing what I have to say. Others have asked me as well what I’ve been doing to improve my health and not knowing fully how to answer that question I’ve simply said that my mindfulness practice has strengthened and that it is the best medicine I’ve encountered.
The practice of mindfulness does not have an end. There’s not a point in time you get to where there is no more practice to be had (unless you stop practicing and think you’ve got it all figured out). And not only is there no end but when we are diligent mindfulness continues to unfold in new and amazing ways. There are always more lessons to learn from mindfulness. It is a deep well.
So while I still have my illness, while I still have chronic pain and tough days where all I can do is lie in bed, while I still can’t stand for very long or walk very far or go to the movies and sit in those chairs with my feet on the floor without a lot of discomfort and elevation of pain my practice is what has changed and that continues to make all the difference.
When I first started writing earlier today I thought I needed to say everything I wanted to in this one post. Then after I stepped away and took a nap I realized how not only was that a comically ridiculous notion given how big this topic is but it would also be just a plain ol’ bad idea. How would I possibly sum up the past 9 years of my life living with chronic pain and all of the lessons I’m learning because of it in one blog post? The only reason I’d be half-tempted to do that would be because I’d want to shy away from drawing attention to myself out of fear of becoming too self-centered or full of myself. But when I look deeply I see clearly that sharing my story is not a selfish act. Many many people deal with chronic physical pain and illness around the world and if we include those dealing with chronic emotional/mental pain, which are not dis-similiar, the amount greatly increases. If in the sharing of my story one person is aided, supported, or otherwise inspired towards making a step in the direction of healing then it is well worth it.
So this will be the first post of many on the topic of living with chronic pain and how I’ve experienced the nourishing, transformative, and healing powers of practicing mindfulness along the way. I’ve created a new category (listed on the right hand side of the page) entitled: Chronic Pain where you’ll be able to easily track these posts if you’re interested, since they most likely won’t come in succession all at once.
I want to thank all of those who, in having commented on how wonderful it is to see me moving about better and asking what I’ve done to improve my health, have helped me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and embark upon the sharing of my continuing journey on the path of growth and healing. I’ll say it again (because it’s worth repeating): Sometimes we move in a direction simply because people around us carry us there.