This will be a brief post because, well, I’m tired and outpatient chemo isn’t the cakewalk I was hoping it would be (although I’ll take it over being admitted to the hospital every 5 seconds any day!).
Today I had the 4th of what will likely be a dozen or so lumbar punctures to inject chemotherapy into my cerebral spinal fluid. The type of tumor I have (had!) has a tendency to go to the central nervous system, so this intrathecal chemotherapy is done prophylactically to prevent me from getting a relapse in my brain down the road.
Anyway, while getting a lumbar puncture isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s certainly not pleasant. Imagine lying on your stomach, unable to see what’s going on, while needles are jabbed into your lower back at unexpected intervals over the course of 15-20 minutes.
I’m on the table, and having meditated a few hours earlier and being in a slightly more mindful state, I notice how my entire body is clenched with anticipatory anxiety. My hands are gripping the pillow in front of me, and when the needle goes in, I feel myself fighting against it.
So I ask myself, can I soften to this? Even just a little? I take a deep breath and notice how anxious I feel, how fearful, even though it seems like just a small thing. I try to experience the pain for what it is, without getting caught up in my fear and aversion to it. I relax a little.
A few seconds later my whole body has tensed back up. I notice what I’m feeling, what is happening in my body, and then I ask, again, Can I soften to this?
In Eastern philosophy there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable. If you think you can make it through your life without feeling any pain, good luck. Pain is the needle.
Suffering, though, is everything we add to pain that makes it so much worse. Suffering is clenching around pain, tightening to it, fighting it. We can’t eliminate pain, but we can learn to reduce suffering.
So next time you are feeling pain, the next time you are hurting, ask yourself—Can I notice what is happening in my body? Can I notice what is happening in my mind?
Then, ask yourself, Can I soften to this?
Photo by Bandita