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.

Present time:

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, goneMountains….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.

And yet…

…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,

– J


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 ((()))

127 thoughts on “ How I Broke Myself and Where I Found Help (A Meditation on Injury and Recovery) ”

  1. I guess I’m a late bloomer, reading this some time after the post (like… WAY after the post). It was a good read with many things I can reflect on, think about. Although I understand the need to be private, sometimes writing from the core on a personal level brings deeper conversations. I hope that every now and again, you dip into that jar of personal reflection. :)

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  2. I’m glad you decided to override your aversion to vulnerability; that’s where the rest of the world can best relate to you. =) A great post! And I wish you well on your road to recovery. It truly is when we are down and/or broken, when we are forced to stop and take a closer look at ourselves and the things we take for granted, that parts of ourselves are healed that we never knew needed healing. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you fro your kind words, and sorry for the tardiness of my reply – I’ve been in the highlands, writing music in a cabin by the sea for the last while.
      Have a good one,
      -J

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  3. Hii i recently had foot surgery and have been laid up for 3 months. Its constricting and frustrating but i have reached the same impasse as you. I feel more empathy now and am looking for activist groups to be a part of when im out. I have been feeling more inclined to comment on ppls posts which i like never did. Your words really touched me because my last major post was about my surgery and pain and fear that my bone wouldnt heal right. I felt that this would be the end of my normal adult life. But alas, others feel the same way after surgery. We are sooo much the same!

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    1. We are indeed.
      It is very nice to hear from you. I am sorry you are going through a health challenge, but heartened that you are reaching out to connect with others – I feel that this indicates nothing but a positive outlook on recovery!
      Rest easy and heal well. If there’s anything I can do, or if you just need an ear, feel free to get in touch.
      Big love,
      – J

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        1. Anytime.
          I have (and am) healing very well. I’ve had a few injuries before, so am familiar with the protocol ;-)
          Mainly, I’ve been eating as cleanly as I can, moving in the right way and making sure my body gets sleep.
          Oh, and staying positive of course ;-)
          You are right, the body does have it’s own timeframe, and sometimes this can be frustrating, but hold on and keep going, all things change with time.
          Big love, big hug, more power to you,
          – J x

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanx for ur kind words…i have been looking into pre and pro biotics since my meds disrupt my flow. The doctors wont tell u but the body works best when it receives help to heal ITSELF. Certain proteins and plant qualities help. Once i post a blog about it ill link u😉

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          2. One more thing, the docs wont tell u but unhealthy people should look into pre and probiotics to handle any irregularities. For those of us that are on prescription meds, our immune and digestive systems are impacted. Natural healing from pre and probiotics will reregulate our bodily functions…..something i found out much later lol. But yeh eating healthy n cutting down on processed foods, soda, and sugar helps alot!! Also Eat Yogurt!!!

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  4. Thank you James for sharing this, I needed to hear it right at this moment as I found your post. Coincidence? I think not.
    I am on my first weekend following a cycling injury and I’m not coping at all. I too suddenly have all this time on my hands and I’m hoping it’s a blessing in disguise.
    I’m really grieving though, I related to that in your post. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, many blessings to you x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I honestly know how you feel. It will get better, I promise.
      I am about 4 months out, and healing really well.
      Rest, a lot. Sleep, a lot. Eat well. Then do your rehab. You’ll heal better than you were before.
      And, if you need an ear – email me thru the contact tab on my site, anytime.
      Be well, take strength,
      – J

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for sharing your story. I went through something similar exactly a year ago and looking back I can now say that the experience taught me so much that I’m grateful for it. And yet it was probably the lowest point in my life and there is this tiny bit of fear deep inside that if I went through it again I would not be any better at handling it :)
    Last December I ended up in the hospital with swelling in the lining of my heart. I didn’t know how long it would take to get better or if I would even get better, and I was shocked at how angry I was at myself and at my body for failing me. I remember I was in the middle of reading a great mindfulness book and had been meditating daily when it all happened. I had experienced serious health issues in the past and I thought I was a pro at it. So when this happened and all I could feel was extreme anger, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I was shocked at how badly I sucked at being sick when i had been through it before. I tried to keep meditating but I couldn’t quiet the negative voices in my head telling me I wasn’t going to get better. The idea of being present in the moment when i was in so much pain seemed ridiculous at the time.
    It took months to get back to normal and be able to workout and lift weights again, which is something that I love doing on a daily basis. And I think it took months to process it all even after I got better.
    Strangely something switched in my brain after all that happened and all the negative mental chatter that used to be there even when I was healthy, is now pretty much gone. Extreme situations sometimes lead to extreme change and give us a great deal of perspective. The self kindness I have now would not be there without those dark times. Turns out pain and time are the best teachers (even when we try to run away from them) :)
    Hope you continue to feel better!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. Yes. Yes. This is, and was, almost exactly my experience also.
      I have come to think (after receiving a bunch of stories from different people) that the ‘Dammit! I should be better at this! I suck!’ bit, is a necessary stage in the process. Personally, I find it funny how bad I was at dealing with my injury initially.
      I am glad that you have come thru it – I am very much looking forward to lifting weights again. You are a lucky person.
      Really lovely to read your words, I truly appreciate them.
      Big hug, xx

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  6. Thank you for posting this, especially since you felt a real risk in doing so. I hope the rehab continues to improve things, and the you are feeling much, much better very soon! So many lessons in circumstances like this, aren’t there? Patience and compassion top the list, as does humility. I genuinely hope you enjoy the process of healing, and all that it brings you. I realize that may sound incredibly odd – but bear with me. It’s an opportunity (as you have seen already) to re-align priorities and one’s perspective on any number of things. And to focus on the process of being-in-the-world, and setting one’s sights on what that could look like: on potential. Hugs and all best wishes to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou very much for this. I am taking your advice wholesale, and will do my absolute best to enjoy the process (which, by the way, is a very beautiful reframe of the situation).
      I found your words genuinely valuable, and for me there is no higher compliment.
      Thanks again, I wish you well,
      – J

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  7. Thank you, James, for your vulnerability. Life is messy and it is good to share the good and the ugly. Our world does not become better by show-off Facebook stuff. Your story is so recognisable, I have been alway’s quite fit and saw myself as indestructible. Then I was hit by glandular fever, a couple of years ago. I had to rebuild not only my physical but especially my mental fitness. I recognise your lessons but years later I most value the lesson that I had to take my meditation practice and apply the same mindfulness to my physical exercise and long kayak trips and treat the ageing body with more empathy. It is also good to see these values in your life, in your case the mountains and in my case the sea. It is the motivation to get back on track and do the hard work of recovery.

    Big Hug for your story

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I love this comment. Thankyou very much for it – you write beautifully.
      I have been almost overwhelmed, and incredibly heartened by all the people who have, in turn, shared their stories of illness, injury, or obstacle – and how they have engaged with it. You are incredible ;-)
      I am very glad we met, and look forward to hearing about your adventures.
      Thanks for the seaweed! ;-)
      – J x

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    1. Thankyou very much – I am really glad that you got something from it.
      Some of the stories I have received since posting have been incredible – stories like yours.
      Hope this finds you healed, thanks again for reading, and for taking the time to comment.
      Be well,
      – J

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