Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Long Dark Highway

Too bad I'm not a Buddhist, given all the circuitousness of my medical journeys. I might stay more centered, and I could spend my time in the MRI machine meditating myself toward nirvana. And then a myelogram would just be another chance for spiritual mastery. I did approach my second childbirth with Zen techniques, and sometimes I have to approach pain that way. I don't think that medical procedures are typically chosen as meditative practices, however. Most of the Buddhists I know take up sitting zazen, writing, dancing, running, driving, hiking, even yoga, though that's from a different tradition. Detachment from pain, both emotional and physical, is key, and that is what I have to practice during many medical procedures. But it's not the kind of detachment that reflects the typical Cartesian mind-body split. That's Western. It's the kind of detachment that can observe pain, where you can either be swept under the waters or float on the waves. Sometimes you can't float on top of the waves, the pain's too much, but when you're swept under it's a surrender without fighting. Either way, you don't drown. You are, the pain is. You're not sure if it will end, but you're there, not floundering but being. Am. I am. Each breath. Each painful breath. Each moment.

Childbirth isn't in the same category as spine pain, by the way. It ends. It has a relatively finite start followed by a relatively finite stop, with short breaks between each contraction. Epidural? Laughter. Not to belittle birth pain. It is intense, painful, exhausting, overwhelming. Spine pain can be as severe, with no baby at the end. Or it can be lower-level but by no means low, chronic, the hands of the clock beating you down, sleep coming in the same fits and starts as in labor. You labor, but for what end?

Once I was asked to demonstrate typical labor behavior during a training for birth professionals. I sat there, quietly, holding myself, making small noises under my breath. I was dismissed as inauthentic, and someone was asked to take my place. Yet this was exactly my behavior during birth, even the first. The center can be found.

I once asked a Buddhist why, if pain leads to enlightenment, I had not yet reached it. His answer was that you can't know when you're enlightened, that one who is enlightened does not know he is enlightened, but I reject that for many reasons. I know spiritual teachers who have claimed to reach a specific stage (which I would agree with, knowing the individual character well). One of them has formed a spiritual study group in which I haven't had time to participate in a year. And though I think she has reached enlightenment, right now I also don't have the spiritual energy for spiritual teaching. So here I sit in the middle of the dark highway, unsure if I care whether I have a destination or the light of spiritual communion. We are all lonely.

I do know that I am changing. For good, for bad, I don't know. I just am. I feel that I can't process the changes quickly enough. I do know that I question myself less, trust my own judgment more, though I suppose that can lead me awry. The surgery issue right now is the exception, though much of the time I'm now staying centered about it (ironically, centered in indecision, but not particularly emotional). Otherwise the "what ifs" would paralyze me, if nothing else. Pushed to a point, I just want to be, so that I can move in any direction or in all directions.

I've taken up Kerouac's On the Road, which I've been meaning to read for years and years, especially since one of my friends is such a fan of the beats. He even looks like a beat, wild-haired, sometimes wild-eyed, a friend of all. A poet, a free thinker, a world traveler. Of course I can't really identify with the "characters" in the book, but I can identify with the wanderlust, having spent some substantial time traveling and hiking in the West. I also had someone recommend a great lesbian novel today which should be lightweight enough to read while I am neckbraced, if that happens. No heavy tomes for me.

On the medical end, the radiologist at the imaging center disagrees with Wunderkind (though WK showed us exactly which images were a problem and how the signal intensity was different and too grainy). The office staff may be able to precert the MRI elsewhere since everything has been so much worse after the epidural (a good reason for reordering). Otherwise it may be the myelo.


D Phoenix said...

hey there, i found your blog through screw bronze. this post made me think a lot about my own struggle with overwhelming chronic pain. i have a friend who is a buddhist and has pain. i know she struggles a lot with her pain, but i think her experience is tempered by her notion of an afterlife. i envy her spiritual assuredness but i don't really have the energy to work on my spiritual side. it is a zen living this life with chronic pain. all this pacing and breathing and trying to let it all wash over us. i can relate to much of this post.

i look forward to reading you. good luck with your docs. i hope you can avoid the myelogram - i haven't had one, but i know they can be tough.

FridaWrites said...

I agree--not enough energy to work on my spiritual side right now. The chronic pain zaps a lot of my energy.

Thanks for the good wishes and for stopping by. I have known people who have had the myelogram and done okay after resting a day or two--it's just been a particular phobia of mine since someone told me about their post-car-crash one.

Elizabeth's blog is really great, isn't it?