This post is an experiment. In the past I’ve tended to stay away from things I’ve deemed too personal, preferring to share The Good in public and deal with The Hard in private. In this case, even tho I felt there may be value for others in the sharing of this experience I found myself reluctant to do so because I felt it would expose vulnerability. Fear is one of the worst reasons to keep quiet about anything. So here it is – Let me know what you think.
About 8 weeks ago:
I am walking back to my flat from a hard training session carrying a heavy pack. It is dark and I am spent. Suddenly I feel a sharp pain in three different places on my right leg. Not good.
I limp the rest of the way home. I know I’ve damaged myself, but not yet how badly.
Turns out, quite badly. The first three weeks I couldn’t walk. Doctors say that tendon damage is the likely culprit. There are X-rays, then physiotherapists, then different doctors who inform me that rehab may be a lengthy process.
Now, bypassing the fact that I had since birth assumed myself indestructible, I should mention that: I meditate daily, am in fairly good shape, and have studied philosophy for most of my adult life. So the story I’d been telling myself was that I was more than prepared for any and all calamities life could send my way. I mean, I had read and studied the Stoics the Buddha and the Tao Te Ching. When the shit went down others may go to pieces but I would be ready. Yes Sir. I would deal well. Maybe even with an enviable ease and an understated yet enlightened flair.
Turns out this story was a crock of horseshit.
Because in reality I reacted to the injury as I think pretty much anyone else would; by cycling between periods of: acceptance, hope, denial, fear, anger, frustration, depression and back again. Somedays I would think I was healing well, others I’d be convinced that I would never walk again. My mind would compile unasked-for lists of all the things I had definitely lost forever. Long walks with my beloved, gone. Mountains, gone. Trail runs, gone. Mountains….Jesus! I’d catch myself quasi-obsessing about ultra-helpful questions like: would I be able to stand onstage or would I have to sit from now on? Would I be able to walk without limping or would I have to use a cane? If I had kids, would I be able to play ball with them, or was I just ‘broken guy’? And on, and on.
At this point you may be thinking: ‘Really? Come on dude, it just sounds like you have a hurty leg. Suck it up! There are people with waaay bigger problems in the world.
And you would not be wrong. But even so, there were times when it got real dark for me. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth.
…I also found that it wasn’t all bad.
As time inched inexorably on I couldn’t help but notice that there were some unexpected positives arising from the situation. For starters, not being able to train, go to the mountains, or even really leave my flat freed up an awful lot of time. Time I was to pour into my work – one of the main sources of joy. My body started responding well to the rehab movements and I realized I was shoring up some holes in my training I’d been previously unaware of. I started getting up earlier, and found that I very much liked working in the predawn hours. So I got up even earlier. Until I settled on waking up somewhere around 4:00 A.M. I found I had a lot more time for reading, for listening, and for conversation. Friends I hadn’t spoken with regularly for years, I was suddenly speaking to daily.
But by far the most important thing was the greater sense of empathy I began to feel for those who found themselves injured or broken in some fashion. I was at first surprised, and then ashamed to realize that before my own injury I had been more apt to judge than to sympathize. This stark realization about the shortcomings of my character was painful, and it was humbling, but not in a bad way.
It is in the times when we have experienced some kind of significant failure or loss that we are most open to change and growth. We become much less picky about where we find our advice because we just want something that works. Personally, the thing that has helped me most was a throwaway comment from Sharon Salzberg (a Buddhist teacher) during a recent interview.
In response to a question about meditation practice she said:
The practice was not at all about what was happening, but was only about how you were relating to it. About how much compassion you were able to bring to the process.
She was talking about Buddhist meditation practice, but I took it as relevant to my whole life experience.
Now, maybe you’re the sort of person who, when they read the words ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Meditation’ thinks: ‘New Age Purple Crystal Woo Woo Alert!’ I hear you. I sometimes think that too. But even so, these two lines genuinely helped me. They gave me a filter through which things have been made easier during the darker times.
And I think this is probably because:
When a man is drowning he doesn’t care what the float looks like.
I hope you got something from this post, and I wish you well,
This post was an experiment and I’d really love to know what you thought of it.
If you have any thoughts, comments, questions (or just want to say hi) please use the comments box just below, I’d love to talk with you.
So let’s do that.
One Last Thing:
One of the things I am doing with my abundant free time is resurrecting the monthly letter to my mailing list.
This is a short letter containing the very best of what I’ve: read, listened to, seen, and made in the month gone past. I work hard to make each one a little piece of art and they are quite beautiful. The next one is due to be sent out very soon. If you’d like to try it you can sign up here. It is (and always will be) free, and there is zero spam.
Big hug ((()))