I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Being of the nature to change

Ripe strawberries already at the Farmers' Market
Last week I wrote about the Five Remembrances as described by Thich Naht Hahn and have spent the last week practicing them in ways I didn't quite anticipate. It has been driven home to me that the Five Remembrances can help me to deal with impermanence and change. Yesterday I was astounded to see that the first berries of the season are already (already!) showing up at the Farmers' Market, which reminds me that the first day of summer is right around the corner, even as we are still dealing with either unseasonably hot or chilly temperatures. How quickly that seasonal change seems to happen, and here it is yet another Sunday morning with me sitting in my dimly lighted room with the light of my laptop screen gently prodding me to consider what to write about today.

My routine includes every other Wednesday afternoon spending some time talking on FaceTime with my sister Norma Jean, and this week I wanted to show her my beautiful front porch garden and how well it's coming along. So I turned the iPad camera around and showed her the pretty flowers I've cultivated this spring. While holding the iPad in my left hand, I reached forward with my right hand to point out a plant, and that simple movement caused me to pinch a nerve in my lower back, in the sciatic area. When I stood up straight, the familiar spread of pain reminded me that I'd definitely done it again, performed that movement I should avoid, and that I had once again caused myself to "throw my back out."

I haven't let it keep me from my usual activities, but I have also been reminded that there are certain movements I must avoid until the back has healed. Not knowing exactly what they might be unless I test the limits, I managed to go on my Thursday hike as well as yesterday's walk with the ladies. Even now, as I sit here on Sunday morning, there are still remnants of the pain lingering, but mostly it's gradually improved. It's that pesky Second Remembrance ("I am of the nature to have ill health") that I've thought about as I rub cream into my back. When I finish writing today and get dressed, I'll find out when I try to do my exercises whether I'll still have to modify them, as I have for the past three days.

Then, just yesterday, I received a shock when I learned that one of my favorite bloggers, Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By spent three days in the hospital and returned with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Ronni usually writes about what it's like to get old, and because she's only a couple of years older than me, I can relate to everything she experiences, as it is always relevant to my own life. She has reminded me of the Fourth Remembrance ("All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change"). As I feel the sense of grief, that all too familiar friend, I realize that she will look ahead and know that her life will never be the same. Just like that, the ground has shifted under her feet. And mine as well.

Even though it seems like there is little comparison between throwing my back out and getting a diagnosis of cancer, it's really just a matter of degree. Nothing stays the same from one day to the next, and when I snuggle into my bed at night, allowing myself to relax and let sleep come over me, I don't know what the next day will bring. I think I know, because I expect everything to stay the same, and of course it doesn't. If I allow myself to  forget that, even for a moment, I experience the pain and suffering that comes from the futile effort to cling to what was. Instead, I must leap into each day with as much joy and delight as I can muster, because there really isn't any acceptable alternative.

I think that's what getting old is really about: you go through enough of these changes and just trying to find some stable ground underfoot causes you to look elsewhere for that stability. Which brings me to the Fifth Remembrance ("My actions are my only true belongings"), which reminds me that my actions are the ground on which I stand. And I've got a lifetime of actions to contemplate. The "action item" of the moment is writing this post, pondering what's on my mind as I've done now for more than eight years, every Sunday sitting here with my laptop and pouring my heart out. Well, sometimes it's just a muddle, because for whatever reason I cannot get into the flow of it, and sometimes things come out of my fingers that surprise even me. It's truly a meditation, and anyone who's ever attempted to meditate knows that one's mental processes sometimes get in the way of serenity. You just keep on keepin' on, knowing that the effort itself will cause you to change direction, following the breath in and out.

I took a quick look at the news before I began this post, but it was so distressing that I decided not to read any more about the latest terrorist attack in London; it upsets me so much and causes me to despair. So, I look away for the time being and concentrate on my post, on my garden, and the wonderful strawberries I'll be enjoying in a week or two, thinking of my many blessings instead of the tremendous upheaval surrounding us all. And in a short while, I'll get to test out my back and see how much (or how little) better it is. If every day is different from every other day, I can choose where to focus my energy and find some "action items" that will improve the world around me.

And with that, the post is written. A fair description of my past week, and I know that my dear love, who lies next to me sleeping, will add plenty of enjoyment to this fine day, and that my dear friends at the coffee shop look forward to my arrival. And you, dear reader, my friend in the ether, you add so much to my life. I look forward to your comments, to your own blog posts, and feel our connection with gratitude and love. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to look for some action items that will please you and your loved ones.


Far Side of Fifty said...

I am so sorry to hear of your blogging friends sad diagnosis. Some people have a hard row to hoe.
I hope your back gets better, you know what not to do!
One day at a time! I hope the rest of your Sunday is wonderful!
It is sunny and warm here and I am reminded I need to buy some sunscreen :)

Linda Reeder said...

Our day includes returning bees and returning the the soccer stadium, with some garden work in between. Unless something changes our plans. That is always possible, of course. I think about getting bad news like your blog friend has received, or about getting crashed up while out driving. I deal with daily aches and pains and hope they don't eventually defeat me. But I march on, as do you, dear friend, not dwelling on what could happen and finding the hidden treasures in the here and now. Be well.

Linda Myers said...

Sciatica is a miserable feeling. And usually goes away. So may it be with yours.

I especially enjoyed this contemplative post. Change is the only constant, it seems.

Gigi said...

My heart goes out to your friend - what a terrible thing.

Yes, change is constant and inevitable. It's how we deal with the changes that are thrown our way.

Have a beautiful week! And I hope your back feels better soon.

Marty said...

DJan, I need to remind myself to find a quiet time to read your blog because so often your words trigger a moment of contemplation.
You would think that as we grow older life would settle into constancy, but it's actually the opposite.

Arkansas Patti said...

I too was stunned to read Ronnie's blog. What a shocker but she really has an amazing attitude. That is one of the roughest cancers but they have come a long way. I had a good friend who lived for many years after her surgery. She is in my prayers.
Take care of that back lady. Try to do core exercises especially for back problems. Strong core means a strong back.

Marie Smith said...

One of the bloggers I followed had a stroke and died after six weeks or so. She was Diane at Schmidleyscribblings. I still miss her wisdom and wit. It is amazing how one can feel close to someone one has only met in the blogosphere. At the same time, Diane lives on in the memories of those who read her thoughts, besides her own friends and relatives. I have to say I was shocked at her illness though and always thought she would recover. Denial on my part I know.

Have a wonderful week, Jan. Happy gardening.

Red said...

One beauty of getting old is that we have a lifetime of experience to play with.I often say I'd like to start my teaching career over starting from now instead of fumbling through a whole career.

Glenda Beall said...

My dear friend is in hospice care due to cancer and I am very sad. I wrote about how we never know when our lives can change in a minute - with a doctor's diagnosis, with a mistake in a car, with a slip and a fall, or even making a wrong move that sends us into pain.

We can't dwell on what might happen, but what we want to do and make our plans as if we will live on and on.
I hope you back pain goes away soon. I suggest using the Egoscue method of e-cises, passive stretches. Very helpful.
Take are of youself.

The Broad said...

My dear, DJan, how frustrating for you that such a 'harmless' movement should give you such pain. And how brave you are to continue to get on with your life as you do! My dear brother-in-law has just undergone 12-hour surgery to remove his bowel due to cancer. They think the operation was successful, but he will have a colostomy bag now. I copied your post from last week and it is on my desk as a quiet reminder of a good way to respond to the changes that just being alive brings to us.

Rita said...

The only thing we can count on is change. Our paths can alter so swiftly that it takes our breath away. So, today I hope your back was better and you enjoyed all the people in your life...and your coffee. ;)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Heal quickly! Like you, I don't watch much news these days. Too depressing and sad. I

Anonymous said...

Beautiful ripen strawberries! It taste good to eat. Take care of your health!

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I am so sorry for your blogging friend. From what you say in your post and what Arkansas Patti said in her comment, I gather that Ronnie's attitude toward life is a gifted one, filled with gratitude for all that has been and even for what will be. I hope to find her blog and begin to read it so that I can accompany her on her journey with this cancer. She has, I think, much to teach me.

As to your sciatic pain--that is, as they say, a "real bummer." I hope that it continues to do better and that in any given nanosecond you will recognize any action or movement that exacerbates it and will cease moving in that way. Take care of yourself. Be especially gracious to yourself. Peace.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I went to Ronnie's blog and read several of her recent postings. She is, indeed, a wonderful person. Thank you for sharing your concern over her diagnosis and providing a link to her blog. Peace.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I appreciate the link to Time Goes By. Ronni is quite a good writer. Sad to hear about her diagnosis. I hope she gets excellent care. Lots to reflect on here. Thanks for sharing, as always.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I fell in April while buying Easter eggs and did nothing to fix my aches . A week ago my left shouder got very painful. That's when I knew I should have gone sooner to the chiropracror. Now it will take more to set the neck and spine into alignment. And massages to loosen things up.after two treatments the pain is much less.
Yes change happens. This July I'm 9 years cancer free and I now tell friends that I refused chemo . I opted a natural way to heal. ESSIAC TEA was my remedy along with a starch abd sugar free dier. Only fruits were raspberries and biueberries. Meals were mostly plant based with a bit of Budwig Diet of cottage cheese with added flax seed pil and I aoso drank carrot juice. I was strick for the first 3 years. I also tried to stay positive and never thought of cancer as a death issue but rather another hurdle. I tried to think poisitive thought s even in my crazy way of life back then with house fire issues and now with hubby stuff.
While I now enjoy a more relaxed diet Essiac tea always comes back into my diet as a great detox.
We all have to figure outba way to manage aging. You sure do perform so many activities to live your life to it's max.
I admire your way of life.