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Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Noble Truths

In Chronic Pain, Health Justice, Multiple Sclerosis, Philosophical Musings on October 28, 2012 at 12:08 AM

“We may think that our exhaustion comes from our job or our family, but in many cases, it’s not the job or family itself — it’s our mind. What’s exhausting us is how we relate to our life conceptually and emotionally. We risk becoming so stuck in the realm of concepts that nothing we do feels fresh, inspired, or natural.”
– Dzogchen Ponlop, “Rebel Buddha”

Lately it has felt as if the Universe has been unkind to me. With a sick, unhealing body, stuck in a stressful and thankless job, all the while living in emotional vacuum of my parents’ far-away home, it feels as if my years of labor, anxiety, and emotional torment were lived through in vain. I can exhaust countless words trying to bemoan my hapless situation, in which I feel as I’m whirling about in a nightmarishly interminable unmerry-go-round. The same frighteningly dark, long, and lonely nights on the A train to Ozone Park; the same mournful gaze into my mother’s anxiety-ridden eyes and aging face as we discuss one problem or another; the constant re-positioning of myself at life’s various forks-in-the-road…

Yet, while the war may seem harder than ever at times, I’ve uncovered new facets of this ephemeral space we occupy on this Earth. The world can be harsh and merciless some days; on others, it is intriguing, maybe even exciting; and yet on others, boring and unamusing. At best, it is constant in being so inconstant–a seemingly pretentious euphemism, but a veritable dialectic if I ever encountered one. (I hope what follows will shed light on this)

The brutal facts: no one seems to know what to do with me. The constant, dull throbbing at the back of my head (which I can now say, with a certain modicum of certainty, is due to at least one lesion in my brainstem) seems to be impervious to resolute treatments. The traditional painkillers, the antidepressants, the antiepileptics, the vitamins, the herbs, the acupuncture, the yoga, the meditation, the aromatherapy, the avoidance of drugs and alcohol and dairy, and… sigh… the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation…. I’ve traversed the country and back, spent countless dollars and seen various specialists, and there it still is. The ceaseless painless pain that has bound itself so inextricably that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a non-throbbing head.

It’s been nearly a year, and this headache has not stopped for a second. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?

Yet, as harrowing as it seems at particular moments, it seems like it was a much-needed gift from a tough-love mother. I’ve had to contend with bodily limits in a strange time in my life, with dietary restrictions compounded by an inability to overexert myself physically while the rest of the world sees an able-bodied young man. And what is difficult to explain is that the symptoms ebb and flow in what must make an incredibly erratic storm: some days I feel well-rested and free-flowing in my thoughts, able to run and teach and multi-task; others, I am sluggish and fried, my bones as heavy as lead. These inconstancies have made me re-appreciate the impermanence of it all.  From birth to death, the boundaries we draw (healthy/unhealthy; fast/slow; young/old) are at best our minds’ attempt to impose an order we can live by—but they are mental constructions that, while helpful at times, can be harmful if we take accept them too religiously. They can incarcerate us, circumscribing the limits of our experience and potential.

I say this because it resonates with my experience. I’ve kept feeling disappointed because a notion that I harbored around age (I am 24, and therefore I should be able to do _____, and not feeling _____) prevented me from accepting things as they were, as the Universe unraveled them to me. I kept feeling disappointed because I harbored a notion that good health was something that was indebted to me, that I’ve suffered enough already (as if that logic ever worked for anyone!). These are concepts that prevented me from seeing the world as it is, as opposed to what it ‘ought’ to be.

For me, the journey to understanding this came from exploring medical alternatives to what I finally accepted to be a long-term condition. When I came back from the West Coast and began exploring yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, I started to experience incremental improvements…but not necessarily in the limited notion of ‘fixing’ a broken piece of my body.  By concentrating heavily on the breath, and in my body’s simple movements, I experienced a newfound energy, a newfound curiosity for a world jaded by overstimulation and rigid concepts and desires.  Going back to the labor force has made the task of balancing stresses an immense challenge, but as with my political reawakening this past year, these past few weeks have opened up a spiritual horizon I had once completely shut off.

I continue to struggle with my health, circling through combinations of treatments and specialties while trying to carefully center myself—through the continuous hurdles of disappointments and hopes. But there is an invaluable insight I’ve gained through this entire experience that has made me come to an unexpected peace. I don’t claim to now live my life completely in perpetual awe and peace—I’m still a work-in-progress, but with a certain level of self-consciousness that also breeds an organic acceptance.

I’ve learned—in new, unpredictable ways—the importance of self-forgiveness and acceptance, of seeing the world through the gaze of something much smaller than ourselves. That breathing and walking and talking and laughing can be miraculous events if we allow them to be.

I can’t claim to have found that ever-evasive goal of enlightenment, inner peace, or love for humankind. In fact, any effort to force ‘peace’ and ‘loving-kindness’ is a contradiction in terms, and operates symmetrically opposite to the world of competition, greed, and power that is destroying so many of us at once. However, I’ve caught onto a new modality of thinking that deconstructs the notion of “world” and “I,” “you” and “me,” “pain” and “happiness.” For this knowledge, I am grateful. And for all this, I will continue to avidly explore those less-appreciated spaces at the interstices of mind, body, and spirit.



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