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The Spirituality of Pain

Can Medical Adversity Wake Us Up, Spiritually?

I am writing this blog lying flat on my back.

No, I am not lazy and no, I am not an acrobat.

My back is acting up. A sweet, little disc at L3 decided to shift a bit in the last 4 weeks. And that sweet little disc shifted in such a way that pinched my poor femoral nerve. OUCH. It hurts like the dickens, and I can’t walk; at least for now.

The Stoic philosophers say that every jar has two handles, and the experience you have with the jar all depends on which handle you choose. Life is that jar and I am faced with the challenge to pick up this experience by the right handle.

  • Handle One: Pain sucks. I am in touch with the value of a pain free life.
  • Handle Two: Immobility stops life as you know it, dead in its tracks. I am in touch with envy; the envy of people who walk, without ever thinking about it.

Yet, in a weird way, this infirmity has brought a smile to my face. How strange and scary I must look to my children, crawling everywhere and moaning more than I care to remember. Yet, I am still Daddy and Dr. Banschick. So dependent and yet still me. I am not used to this side of infirmity.

I am gaining a new perspective from this strange position. Whether it’s a relationship or a simple object, it all seems quite different from down here.

They say the most successful marriages are founded on a strong foundation of friendship. In the Book of Genesis, Eve is described as an Ezer K’negdo. This can be translated from the Hebrew as a help against yourself. A good relationship is about excitement and romance, but it's also about an interwoven life that introduces a love that is very different from what you see in the movies.

Romance counts, but in a full relationship you help each other, you cuddle, you manage a thousand details, perhaps you raise kids, and you’re there for the in-laws and the broader family. Sometimes you get under each other’s skin, and sometimes you can’t believe how lucky you are.

A long term partnership is a big mix of memory, work, happiness, worry, redemption and plain living. My friends called and visited, but it was my partner who was there when I was needy like a child. My wife tended to me without second thought and never made me feel inadequate. For when I was in pain, she was the person I counted on.

Through sickness and in health.

I crawl everywhere because it’s simply too painful to stand. This is Patron’s perspective—my big dog. He’s there when I go to sleep and when I awake; and doesn’t like my moaning. We even look at each other eye to eye like never before. Patron finds it curious. His sad expressive eyes convey worry. What’s happening?

And, then there are everyday objects. The texture of a rug, for instance, has never been of interest to me; and now it is. My knees feel everything and I look closely because there’s never a rush when you’re in pain.

The same holds true for the shower, the bathroom, or even getting in and out of bed. Taking a shower on the floor of the stall while tolerating pain and yet, experiencing the pleasure of cleanliness is so strange; and, not in a bad way.

You see, when you become less able, goals become narrower. Yet, they still count.

I crawl down the stairs to make a cup of coffee. First, I get the water boiling. Then, I get the coffee. I finally reach up for the milk (no easy task). I combine the three ingredients to create the most satisfying cup of coffee I’ve had in a long time.

Did it!

Four weeks ago, I would have never imagined that making a cup of coffee would be an ordeal, and yet, create such a sense of accomplishment.

Is this what it’s like to get old?

Through all this, I have a new relationship, my physical therapist, Peter Philip. Three weeks ago I crawled into his office and Peter laid down the law and gave me a rigid treatment plan. It’s working.

But, Peter knows his customer. “You’re the type of guy who will feel a bit better, and then go out and re-injure yourself.” He’s right. Everything must proceed slowly.

Peter’s mantra: “Think Twice, Move Once.”

My mom is in her eighties and living well. But she knows the lesson of Think Twice, Move Once. Am I getting a preview of things to come?

The back still hurts and my leg is sore, but I do feel better. But, being flat on my back and crawling from place to place has put things in perspective. I value health differently; and, sense the fragility of being.

As we all move along in life, not all activities will be possible. Pleasure must be derived from what you can do; and regretting what’s impossible won’t get you very far.

Think Twice, Move Once can be applied to almost anything because a conscious life is a good life. The silver lining of this upsetting disorder is that I rediscovered consciousness; at least for now.

  • I will not forget that cup of coffee anytime soon.
  • Nor my wife’s loving commitment; it’s a blessing.

These are two of the best lessons I could've learned while lying on my back.


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