“What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to something that already is?”~Eckhart Tolle
If you read my last blog you’ll know that I’ve had a bout of back pain that’s been going on for a few months. It tightens progressively through the night, often requiring me to wake and use ice or heat. Movement helps loosen it throughout the day to different degrees but the cycle starts all over again the next night. And the next. Based on past experience with the same pain for which there was no Western medical diagnosis, I came to realize that it is a manifestation of what is happening spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
Even more profound is that I have come to realize that it is a barometer of how present or not present I am as I move through my days. It was Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, that I serendipitously came across in my library after having read it years ago. When we are not in a state of presence, we are living in the past or the future and thus resisting what is. I’ve run some experiments to test this theory and the effects my activity – physical and mental – have on my back pain. Several “medications” have proven my theory:
- Swimming: the lack of visual and audible stimulation other than the view of the pool beneath me or the ceiling above me and the sound of the water in my partially covered ears helps me stay present. It greatly relieves the pain and helps me find pratyahara, a Sanskrit term that means gaining mastery over external influences.
- Bring attention to the sensations in the body. I wake up almost every night thanks to a full bladder. I came to realize that upon waking up, I would immediately start to think about what it was I could start worrying/ruminating about! It seems I’ve developed a habit loop. Cue: waking up. Routine: start worrying/ruminating. “Reward:” my brain has something to do! (1) Recognizing this tension-causing habit loop, I am trying to break it by immediately bringing my attention to the sensations I am feeling in my body. Besides bringing me out the past or the future, other benefits of inner body awareness according to Tolle include the “significant slowing down of the aging process” and a “great strengthening of the immune system.” Sign me up! This has been extremely helpful in allowing me to release tension, fall back to sleep and wake with far less back pain. It’s taking patience, however, to break this long-ingrained habit.
- Stop complaining. I complain. Admittedly, a lot. Ask my partner. Eckhart: “to complain is always non-acceptance of what is.” Not surrendering says Tolle hardens not only your psychological form “but also your physical form – your body- becomes hard and rigid through resistance. Tension arises in different parts of the body…“
- Meditate – I know, I know, everyone says to meditate. Tolle boils meditation down to one thing: opening to the depth of this moment. What depth indeed. My meditation practice has taken on a much different quality, not to mention importance. I spoke to this in a Facebook post. It’s the new year. Resolutions to get back in the gym usually top the list. We train our bodies. What about our minds? I meditate almost every day for about 20 minutes. But if 2 minutes is all you have, don’t make that an excuse. And endeavor to do it every day otherwise you’ll be coming up with excuses. Use the breath to help anchor you to the body and the present moment.
- Get off the treadmill. Walk outside. Look around rather than down whenever you can. Really notice the beauty. Really hear the ducks and last night, I heard the warning call of the elk! One key point is to make whatever you do not a means to an end. If you make your activity a means to an end which I am absolutely guilty of (I’ve always loved doing, planning, knocking things off my list), then you are living in the future. Future = tension. Past = tension. Present = peace.
- A good massage therapist to help you release tension.
- Practice, practice, practice. And commitment.
I’ve spoken in past blogs about self-medicating. Whether it is with the tools and philosophy of yoga as some of my “meds” are above or something else, know that you can influence your condition. Your peace, immune system, aging process and so much more depend on it!
(1) For more on the cue, routine, reward habit loop, check out Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit.