During the last 24 hours I’ve been in pain, have slept fitfully in tiny intervals, shifted this way and that hoping to find a position that might offer a modicum of comfort, taken two hot baths, swallowed anti-inflammatory and pain meds, screamed obscenities — and getting only momentary relief for my troubles. It’s called a sciatica flare up: “When the low lumbar and the higher sacral roots that form the sciatic nerve are involved, the back, buttocks and the outer border of the thigh and the calf will be extremely painful.”
At some time around 3 am, lying on the floor with the right leg propped up on the edge of the bed (for minor relief as long as I didn’t move even a millimetre one way or the other), I found myself hugging a portable radio, dialing up and down its limited range for the nth time, looking for distraction. And there it came, from the most unexpected source: Let it be, let it be, sang the Beatles on their final release, whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
Their refrain took me to “practicing with pain.” Might as well. But how? By turning into the pain, perhaps? (No way, too pain-full.) By listening to the whining voice wishing for mummy to come and make it better? (No chance of that, alas.) By making friends with pain? (Getting closer!)
Yes to the latter. By welcoming it for what it was. An excruciating pain that, for the time being, was not going away, like it or not. Welcoming would mean facing the immediate reality of severe discomfort. It did not mean worrying whether the pain might go away, whether this meant the end to good health as I’d known it, nor how soon I could get an MRI and spinal surgery, etc etc. In short, it meant lying still and shifting attention from “me” to the next breath. And the next, and the one after that, and, each time the scared self wanted to run and complain about the unfairness of it all, sink into the marvel of yet another breath. Right there, at the centre of breathing, in the pure sensation of the fresh and unknown inhale/exhale, I found the absence of pain.