Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gracelessness

I am annoyed with myself.

I like to think of myself as a warm and compassionate person; I like to have a sense of my own concern and tenderness for the people around me, and especially in my meeting.

At times I live up to that sense of myself. But among the many things that I dislike about physical pain is the discovery that I'm a lot more self-absorbed than I liked to think. My world has narrowed to be like a radio station in a very small town. There's nothing much else on the dial: it's all me, all the time. How's my pain level today? Is the new physical therapy exercise working? How will I feel after I drive my car/work all day/grade these papers/sit through this meeting?

The members of my Quaker meeting have been terrific in supporting me. They've recently taken on making the whole meeting room more accessible, not just for me, but for anyone else with a disability. I've gotten supportive phone calls, emails, cards, and even a visit--from a member of my meeting who was actually recovering from surgery of her own. But nothing seems to break through the crust of my self-involvement for long...

Today, on my way into meeting, many people said how glad they were to see me back after my absences the last two weeks. They commented on how well I was walking, and congratulated me on being stronger and healthier. And they're right; I'm definitely on the mend.

But like a kid halfway through their recovery from chicken pox, I'm cranky and whiney and restless--in my head, if not out loud.

Walking has not been the problem. Walking has been the comfort and the oasis. It is sitting that is torture, whether in a car or in a chair. Even my Lafuma chair is painful after a half hour or so.

Can you believe I'm whining about this? There are people whose pain comes from arthritis, that will only worsen, or is part of a disease process that has no cure, or even is part of a far more serious back problem that might require surgery--with or without the certainty of relief at the end of it. I know all this.

And yet, in my head, as people were cheerily welcoming me to meeting, letting me know I had a spring in my step and they saw it and they were glad about it, because they were concerned for me and they cared about me, the spoiled child in my head was snarling, "Walking isn't the problem, you jerk! I still can't sit down, you maroon!"

Nice! Very nice.

I knew I was being irrational. People go out of their way to be kind, and I'm sarcastic toward them in my head because they aren't up on the details of my petty health problems? These are people who have busy lives and worries of their own, who are offering me kindness, and it took work to remember that, in another life, I love them, too?

It seems I am more human, and less saintly, than my fantasies make me out to be. Dammit.

I had such a hard time sensing God today. I know She's there, like a blue sky above me. Something inside me is just having a really hard time accepting that it is my job to raise my own head, to look up, and see the stars.

I know She's there. I know my friends love me, and that, when I am less crabby and self-pitying, I'll remember how to love them back, and that tenderness will restore itself to my world-view, like a missing color from my palette. (I can feel it, even now, that River of Kindness and Life, roaring invisibly beneath all things, making them tremble with its power and strength.)

But I know, too, that sometimes loving-kindness, or even simple reasonableness, is a grace I do not have. Like all grace, it's not mine of my own creation--it's only ever just loaned to me, from time to time. I don't get to own it, or command it, or take it for granted.

It's a bit humbling to discover how much that grace is not me. I'm really not happy to find myself so very small.

10 comments:

cubbie said...

i read this and it resonated so much, and i'm not even going through pain. i'm in a totally selfish period right now and i'm not happy with it. but reading your writing and seeing your awareness and... actual nonselfishness, really... come through... was so good.

anj said...

Illness and pain are so difficult. I know my reaction to them exposes the bits of me that I would rather hide and deny, than bring into the Light, accept and embrace. Pain is really difficult, and as I have read your own experience with it, it has helped me to feel not so alone. So thank you for your honesty in writing.

Diandra said...

It's a good discovery for everyone to see that they are only human. And selfish, nasty little humans at that. (^v^) Once you get used to it and accept who (and what) you are, it becomes a lot more easy to be nice and relaxed about people around you, even if they may be stupid.

(Believe me, I am the nicest bitch you ever met.)

Linda (haven) said...

Cat, I had about two years of feeling like this. I was barely able to contribute to my spiritual community, so centered on my pain had I become. The good news is, like everything else in life it did pass, and is reduced now to an annoying little pain that I can put aside most of the time. Now it is only a reminder to be grateful for what hand I have been dealt.

I relate so much to this part of your journey, I guess I just wanted to write and say, "have faith, this too shall pass."

Blessings,
Linda

fiddler said...

I come to your blog through my son "thurman". I have also dealt with some pain, although not as bad as some.

I had a hip replacement in mid-2007, after about 10 years of gradually worsening pain (doctors call it arthritis, but I don't know what that really means). Anyway, right after the surgery I started going to an alternative medicine physician, who helped me a lot. In December I had a doctor visit and (unplanned by me) I got on a rant about when was I going to be better and back to normal. Dr. looked me in the eye and said--I can't tell you that, but just consider how far you have come. That hit me hard. Then he suggested that, when I went to bed each night, I repeat "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better." That also hit me as an excellent idea and I have done it ever since. Maybe I'm just very suggestible, but it really seems to help. My body will never be perfect again, if it ever was, but I can do what I want and need to do.

Sorry about going on so long; hope my experience will be helful to you and anyone else who reads it. Positive thinking really works!

Brenda (fiddler)

Rick Loftus, M.D. said...

Cat, this was such a great post for reminding all of us that no matter how "enlightened" or in touch with the Divine we try to be, we're all human, which means we come custom-made with a whiney little mental voice that is alternately complaining about life or making excuses for why we are as we are. And it's like an ugly lamp from a beloved relative that we can't get rid of--it's there, it's always part of the scene, we just have to acknowledge it and work around it.

PBS just did a series "This Emotional Life" and the segment on happiness had a portion about an elderly lady who discussed staying happy in the face of losses, including in her case the death of her husband of 60+ years. I had just commented to my partner that the one challenge I consistently see in even my most gracious elderly patients is physical pain, and then the lady referred to it herself.

I was at a lecture of Zen teacher Cheri Huber recently and a woman in the audience challenged Cheri's assertion that in the present moment everything is perfect by saying, "I have an earache at the moment and that is NOT perfect, it is wrong!" To which Cheri said, "How do you know that's wrong?" Meaning, it's often not the pain, per se, that is the problem--it's the scary, frightening internal dialog by our whiney/defending voice that really messes us up ("I will never get better"; "This pain means my leg will fall off"; "Maybe I have an infection and am going to die!" etc.) I think that's probably right, but have to admit that the times in my life when I was REALLY frightened or overwhelmed was when I had an illness of some sort and felt out of control of my body.

Hystery said...

Cat, I so know what you feel. I think my curmudgeon button has been jammed for some twenty odd years. In fact, even as a child, when people say encouraging and helpful things to me, my gut reaction has been a great desire to hit them in the face. Still, even depressives like me realize that we are surrounded by love. It manifests itself in a thousand undeniable ways (although some of them are annoying). For me, it humor that keeps me going in the face of my own crappiness. You have a generous sense of humor which is why even grumps like me are fond of you.

Mary Ellen said...

Cat, thanks for the honesty - and for continuing to be part of your community, even when feeling it hard to take. I find times of grumpiness (and the self-dislike that can come with it) to be good lesson times, if I can detach a bit from the situation. It's helpful when I know others face the same kinds of struggles. (Physical suffering that isn't obvious to others is certainly one of the hardest conditions to detach from!)

Yewtree said...

I think you should give yourself a pat on the back for being aware of your crankiness - it shows mindfulness.

It also reminds me of the concept of First Thoughts, Second Thoughts and Third Thoughts in Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky - thus showing that you're a proper witch ;)

Riverwolf, said...

Ditto what everyone else said--and you'll probably want to reach out and hit me in my virtual face for saying it--but, you're way cool for injuring yourself while wielding a sword!

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