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Monday, February 2, 2009

Shelter from the storm

Foreboding. Intertia. We all feel those sensations sometimes, often together. I'd tossed and turned all night due to pain. The real problem wasn't the pain itself but rather the worry of what it might mean. I've learned that pain isn't terrible if I remember that it's simply a sensation like any other. Pain grows to unbearable proportions when we let our minds run wild. By morning, my medicine had eased the pain to manageable levels. However, I still felt a sense of foreboding, a feeling that my life had careened out of my control. So, I let my form of inertia - the inertia of following my routine of a morning mountain bike ride with my dog K - guide me.

Unlike most mornings, I didn't immediately feel light-hearted and happy when K galloped ahead of me onto the trails. To battle the foreboding feeling, I stopped and took a few light-hearted photos of me and K, and then of K doing her 'job' of picking up things that I drop. In this case, I'd dropped my chemical handwarmer (which is non-toxic), and she eagerly
picked it up for me. Somehow she picks things up so delicately that she doesn't even slobber on them.

We strayed from our recent routine and tried to traverse one of our 'connector' trails that would open up other trail networks to us. I almost flew over my handlebars when I broke through the first wind-packed snow drift. We alternately walked and rode, enjoying being on a favorite trail even if the riding was less than ideal. We stopped to check out a tree where a black bear regularly scratched his back last summer, and his fur still clung to the tree's bark.

Despite still being weighed down by a foreboding feeling, I headed out for a bit more riding on my own. The wind howled, gusting up to 65 mph according to the weather service. I stayed off the ridges and hid in the gulches. But, there's no hiding from our winds that seemed to rocket down the tunnel-like gulches. Finally, when I settled into a long climb directly into the wind, I started to feel light and easy rather than worried.

Over my years living in this wind-swept mountain community, I've learned to ride into the wind with acceptance and patience. Years ago, I'd get angry at the winds as I pedaled at full effort to maintain a crawling speed. When I heard a gust coming, I'd rev up my speed to try to rocket through it. Once the gust subsided, I'd hope that the wind had died for the day. I'd end up exhausted from the physical and mental roller coaster. Now, I know it's going to be a slow slog, and I settle into a patient sustainable effort.

As I rode into the wind today, I realized that I'd lost that patient accepting attitude about my pain in recent months. I'm still good at
maintaining an even keel when I'm feeling the worst of the pain but, at other times, I climb onto the roller coaster. If I'm feeling good, I dream that the pain is gone forever. If I feel warning twinges of pain, I worry about what it means for the coming hours, days, and years. Those twinges grow to mammoth proportions when my mind lets them.

I first learned how to develop a patient accepting attitude about pain, and life itself, from vipassana meditation. In recent months, I've let the meditation habit slip away because I hoped that I didn't 'need' it anymore. Today, I realized that it's critical for climbing off of this crazy roller coaster. It provides shelter from the storm.

For the dog guardians who are reading this, one other thing that I've noticed about meditation is that my nervous dog, K, seems calmer during our training sessions if I've recently meditated. I think that my peacefulness soothes her worries.

On the snowy connector trail today, K and I lingered at a favorite lookout point that we haven't visited in months.


  1. Must be something on the wind today. Dark internal turmoil here too. Sounds like your strategy worked better than mine.

  2. No words other than hoping that your pain gets back under control like a good little sensation should. Sounds like it has been a very long battle to keep that even keel about something that just plain hurts too much. Thank goodness for the woods in your backyard to heal your soul. And your dogs, of course :) Without them where would we be? The gang send special wiggles and slurps and snorts...

  3. Chronic pain can be exhausting - it just wears you down! One of my goals this year is to be diligent with all my physical therapy exercises so I can be as pain-free as possible. I hope that your back feels better soon!

    And I am a big sissy about the wind when I am out running, although I'm sur it isn't as bad here as where you are. I'm not above yelling a few curse words when the wind gets out of control!


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