Physical suffering does not have to be mental suffering
Two days ago I began having severe pains in my right arm. The pain seemed to originate for my shoulder and shoot downward to my wrist and fingers. As the day progressed, my fingers began feeling tingly and numb. Tylenol seemed to finally offer a small amount of relief, and I managed to sleep a little that evening. But the next day the pains were worse, and my mobility with that arm became nonexistent. Additional doses of Tylenol seemed to offer no relief at all now. By bed time, the pain and inflammation was reaching new highs. I could no longer even lay down in bed, so I got up to take more Tylenol. I had taken 2 of them an hour ago, and now I was taking 2 1/2 more pills.
Sitting on the couch in excruciating pain, I felt as though I would black-out because the pain was so intense. The only thing I felt I could do was to focus on my breath to remain calm. But this pain was not going to allow me to feel relaxed or peaceful, that was for sure. So I then asked the question, “where am I?”. Bringing my mind back to the present moment and observing exactly the reality of this moment and my thoughts and feelings. And then it occurred to me. My physical body is not my mind.
As I continued to sit and attempt to be present, and observe my breath with acceptance, the words of Bhante Sujatha came to mind. “Smile to the pain”. This caused the recollection of me personally seeing him in tremendous physical pain yet still having a big smile on his face. Not because he has some magical powers, simply because he understands the nature of the physical body and how is mind can still be peaceful and happy regardless of this physical suffering.
So I thought to myself, if my teacher can do it, then so can I. And I smiled. At first it was only a small forced smile, but as I smiled it became bigger and more genuine. I was allowing my mind to be free, and not suffer because of my physical state. Yet I was fully aware that the physical pain was still present in a very elevated state.
The smile faded, and I returned to my excruciating pain and sat there feeling so bad for myself. The mindfulness had escaped me, and I just wanted the suffering to subside. Desire had once again taken-over, the desire to be free of this pain.
I instantly became aware that smiling to the pain that most of us have while sitting in meditation is rather easy. But now that I was being put to the test with some genuine intense pain, it was not so easy to do. And I see that I am truly still such a beginner at this practice, with so much yet to learn.
Increasingly, the pain intensified to the point where I knew that I must got to the Emergency Room.
As I drove myself there, I thought about how odd it would be if this were in fact a heart attack, and I drove myself to the hospital for help. I laughed a little to myself, but also realized that if this was the case then I needed to accept that as well. Perhaps this night was my last night to be alive, and questioned if I were truly ready for that. The answer came back immediately as a resounding yes. Not because I do not appreciate this life or love my Family so much, but because I truly understand that this is the nature of our existence. And with that in mind, I drove mindfully while sending all of my loving thoughts and blessings toward my whole Family. That they may each be safe and happy, may they accept things as they are, and may the live with ease and peace.
And as I got closer to the hospital I began to feel a little better. This was likely due to the large quantity of Tylenol finally reaching my bloodstream, but perhaps it was also in part due to my practice.
Ultimately the Doctor mostly concluded that my problem was bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid that allows mobility in my shoulder. She sent me home with a narcotic pain prescription that I was unable to fill. So instead I stopped at Walgreen and purchased some Motrin for its anti-inflammatory effects. The downside being that I have a small peptic ulcer, and I should not take those!
I popped two of them on the way home, came in the house and went to bed carefully. Hoping not to wake-up in sever stomach pain from the Motrin. I found a mostly comfortable position, and off I went to my much-needed sleep.
The lessons here being many, but mostly this was a great reminder of impermanence. There is no way for us to control our bodies, and the suffering is only increased if we do not have the skill to be mindful. But more importantly, we should each be prepared for these situations, and even for the end of our lives. Practice, practice, practice. And in this way, our understanding and acceptance can allow us to just be fully present at all times. There is really no bad moment or good moment, but only this moment.