The serene smile on his face softens the limp in his gait, the cane transformed from a resented crutch to welcome companion. Hiking with my own SI joints and gluteal muscles on fire, I’m curious how this fellow hiker (at least two to three decades older) can embody such joy and ease in the midst of an imperfect body.
As we approach one another, I pause to find out.
How do you make this look so easy?
His smile widens, his eyes beam against the backdrop of the sun’s radiance. Flanked on either side by guardian coast live oak and madrone trees, the scent of forest infusing the air between us, I sense that I am in the presence of a mysterious messenger.
I just keep walking till I can walk no more.
Do you have any meditation and writing classes going on? I’m really struggling with several things.
The tone of her email concerns me, as if she is barely hanging on by a thread, searching for a lifeline to strengthen her tenuous connection to what matters most.
As we begin the mindfulness consult, I can tell she is testing the waters. Will she drown in the revelation of her story, her tears, or will the exchange offer some insight to guide her back to safe harbors?
Nearing the end of our session, she is very clear about what would be helpful in a guided meditation.
In addition to recognizing, allowing, and investigating the uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations, I need to remember gratitude, joy, and trust my capacity to be with this.
I stopped the Ultram, doc. It just caused constipation, and didn’t do anything for my knee pain.
The patient proceeds to share what he is learning after a few sessions of physical therapy. And suddenly, there’s a clarity that could not have come any sooner till now, because the ignorance of separation was always clouding my perception.
Can I watch you walk from this chair to the door and back?
Like an infant curious to explore a new dimension of movement, he rises slowly from the chair without his cane. Placing the right foot forward, he leads with the trusted leg, and pauses. I sense the anticipatory anxiety, the concentration, the yearning to heal as he lifts the left leg and places the left heel on the ground, doing his best not to let the left knee buckle under him.
I feel like a proud parent watching her child take those precious, memorable first steps. As if the patient can read my mind, he grins and ambulates to the best of his ability.
Baby steps, doc. Baby steps.
The resistance and resentment I’ve carried for years against chronic pain is slowly starting to dissipate. From the hiker, I’m inspired to keep living, keep persevering till I can walk no more. From the mindfulness consult, I’m learning that this heart-mind-body can open to unpleasant circumstances with compassion, patience, and trust, balancing the scale weighed down by difficulties with appreciation and joy for what often gets overlooked. From the patient, I’m motivated to take bold baby steps in the midst of burning pain without needing to be a strenuous hiker or yoga practitioner who can perform all poses perfectly.
Be on the lookout for mysterious messengers in your life. They are what make this life worth living, and the learning never stops…