On Impatience, Injury, and The Practice of Presence
I used to say that the universe conspired to have me in airports constantly because I was impatient. I traveled the world at least twice a month for awhile, praying that the help I offered outweighed the harm of spewing all that jet fuel. As a consequence of work travel, I got to stand with my impatience. Breathe with my impatience. Smile with my impatience. Be with my impatience.
I got to wait in long, endless lines. I got to deal with people who annoyed me. A lot.
Showing up for the practice of being with myself, I took on the teaching, and deepened my relationship with impatience. We even became allies, if not exactly friends.
These past couple of years, I’m doing it again.
I had plans. I always have plans. I’m an opinionated instigator with thousands of ideas and visions. There are thousands of ways I want to show up in this world. Thousands upon thousands of words I want to speak and write. Thousands upon thousands of situations I wish I could help. Thousands upon thousands of injustices to face.
But in late August, 2020, I crashed my bicycle, hard, while going twenty miles an hour. I adjusted my plans. In December, I got worse. My remaining plans were wrenched from my grasping fingers.
Right now, I can barely think. After walking for ten minutes, I stumble, stagger, and sway. My synapses are scrambled. My right ear rings. My brain wipes itself clean between one thought and the next. Standing still, I can feel as if I’ve just been shoved, hard, by unseen hands.
At times, if feels as if I can do nothing. Sometimes, all I can do is lie in bed, eyes closed, and count my breaths. Other times? All I can do is sleep. Meditation—a longtime companion—became difficult because my center of gravity was awry.
For awhile, I railed against this. Then my training kicked in: what did I need to do to shift my relationship to my current condition? Could I speak with and listen to my impatience once again? Could I trust my body in its healing process and learn to better assist it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’d tried this for months before. I’d rested. I’d slowed down. I’d whittled my workload down to what I thought was almost nothing. I’d asked for help. Then, an illness in December made things worse. Finally, after a trip to the emergency room when there was no other recourse, I’ve found—and insisted upon—the help I needed from the start. °
But the thing that has changed, besides finally getting real assistance? I’ve released attachment to my plans. I’ve stopped flailing against my poor, beleaguered, jostled brain and it’s faulty connection to my vestibular nervous system.
And when I still had trouble meditating? I started using the Breathe app on my watch. The haptic tapping at my wrist helps me with timing my breaths, the way my brain used to.
I just re-watched the documentary about teacher Ram Dass. Fierce Grace is not only about his life, but about how he dealt with the aftermath of a major stroke. I’d seen it years ago, but realized that watching someone else shift relationship with their body and spiritual practice might help me.
Now, I don’t wholeheartedly agree with all of his philosophy/theology, but what a powerful teacher, nonetheless. What Ram Dass does is remain present to his body. To his emotions. To the people and world around him.
He did this before the stroke debilitated and altered so much of what I assume he used to take for granted. But what is important to me now? He found a way to move into his disability and be in new relationship.
That’s what I want: to be in relationship with myself and the world, not only with how I wish these things to be, but also with how they currently are. I want to live in past, present, and future, all at once. But right now? That’s a bit too much for me. The present must suffice.
Near the end of the documentary, Ram Dass said: “This moment is all right.”
It struck me. What is required to expand into that thought? What is required to open, soften, and feel that this moment—no matter what is occurring—is all right?
That’s the teaching. That’s the breath I need to take. And, after the past few years, and moving into the next, I think that’s a breath we all need to take.
I used to tell my students and clients: Practice your magic from where you are, not from where you think you ought to be. How can we find a place in the present moment—right now—where this moment is all right? And how can we—and I—move and live from there?
So, even as the world seems to churn and crumble around us, even as storms rage and seas rise, as guns and bombs and diseases deal out death, what is all right? What does that even mean?
For me, right now, it means that this moment just is. I can’t fight it. I need to be present with it. In relationship. Yes, I practice toward healing. Yes, I work toward greater justice. Yes, there is a future, and a past.
But there is also right now, and I want to be here for it. Because the more present I am, the more present I am. I had to force myself to write that. What I wanted to write was “The more present I am, the better able I am to work toward a kinder, healthier, more just future.”
I believe that latter statement with all of my being. But right now? That’s not the teaching I’m taking on.
Right now, I’m breathing, and allowing myself to just be present. As much as I can. I still make plans for the future. I’m just doing it from within the embrace of my current condition.
Thank you, Ram Dass. Thank you, body. Thank you, brain. And thank you, friends.
I hope you, no matter what your current struggles, find space within a moment today in order to simply be.
° Those of you who’ve read my other essays may recall that I also live with a chronic auto-immune disorder that went undiagnosed for decades, causing catastrophic harm to my body. And yes, I fought for a diagnosis, gave up, and got treatment with alternative and holistic medicine, plus exercise and meditation. That kept me going for years, until it didn’t anymore, and I fought once again and was finally diagnosed.
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