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Blog: Crunchy Knee and Mindfulness

December 9, 2013

Thanksgiving morning I went to the doctor. “It’ll probably heal without surgery,” he said cheerfully. “We can be thankful for that.” I felt sobered more than cheery or thankful: it hadn’t occurred to me the damage was that serious. “But,” he continued, “you cannot put any weight on your leg for eight weeks.” Images flickered through my mind of all the things I couldn’t do on crutches: hiking, bicycling, grocery shopping, cleaning the roof gutters, raking leaves …

The night before I had ridden my bike between two posts designed to keep cars off the bike path. My shoulder brushed against one post and pushed me off balance. All my weight landed on my right leg as it collapsed. The knee hyper-flexed and crunched.

The damage felt minor. I rode home. But the next morning, I couldn’t put any weight on it. So I went to the doctor.

Back home, the crutches prevented me from holding anything in my hands as I moved around. I had to plan what I was doing more mindfully. It took three times longer to get off the couch, hobble to the kitchen, and get a glass of water. And it took six times longer to carry the water back to the couch: I set the glass down, moved a few feet, moved the glass to a new location, moved a few more feet, moved the glass, moved me, etc. Since the distance from the last tabletop to the couch was more than an arm stretch, I was out of luck. I had to go back and get a water bottle that could roll around in a shoulder bag without spilling.

I’ve learned to be more mindful of everything I do: dressing, making lunch, getting the mail, taking something to the post office, all take more mindfulness to make sure I have a way to carry things and don’t walk back and forth as much.

Despite the use of the word “mindful,” these are not necessarily spiritual exercises. I once spent three days in a meditation retreat designing a desk lamp I planned to make. That effort did not seem to move me toward enlightenment.

Mindfulness has become the holy grail of spirituality. I typed it into Google and in a quarter second found 7.7 million pages on the web containing “mindful.” So I tried a few phrases:

Obviously, there are a lot of different understandings of what “mindful” means.

The Buddha said that wisdom comes from observing how the mind’s attention moves. It helps to be mindful of how attention shifts from object to object, and how the mind filters out most things and weaves the rest into a storyline about the world and me.

Seeing this process helps wake us up. Being more mindful of how I can fold the laundry and put it away does not.

Don’t get me wrong. Crutches have benefits. They force me to catch up on rest. Since the body and mind are connected (nama-rupa the Buddha called it), rest helps the mind see itself clearly. My meditations have been going deeper.

While I do have moments of frustration, I know my disability is small and temporary. And crutches help me do less, rest more, and be at peace with what is.

Not a bad trade off.