In recovering from surgery, I instinctively decided to hone my life down to only those activities that were prescribed by the medical team: a clear regimen of rest, ice, exercise, repeat. This choice was challenging, especially since my surgery date was a cancellation with only a six day notice. I had a lot of events on my calendar to cancel, including reading my poem at a book launch of Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry in California today in Berkeley. Hard choices, but necessary.
Ten days out from the operation, doing so well, I decided to keep one thing on my calendar: getting together for a meal at a restaurant with a few old friends, one of whom is from out of town so I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. Only as I sat down at the table on the deck overlooking the Bay and the hazy twinkling lights of San Francisco in the distance, did I realize how foolish I was to stray from my initial plan for recovery. I was in pain. The chair was too low, too small, too hard, too much. As excited as I was to spend time with my friends, it became instantly clear I couldn’t stay. I wouldn’t be fit company, and I could set my recovery back or even do damage. I felt terrible to break up the little party, but had no choice. And of course they had a fine time without us (my husband had to leave as well) in spite of the awkward start.
Back home, tucked into bed with my ice pack, I was completely content. And I realized the wisdom of my original decision to do this one thing and do it well.
That is a form of concentration, isn’t it? In a life filled with so many choices, choosing to pare down to what is necessary for this moment for a certain purpose? It reminds me of why we go on meditation retreats. Theoretically, there’s no reason we couldn’t ‘retreat’ at home. How hard is it to turn off the phone, computers, television, etc., cancel all appointments, have no social interaction, go on no errands, not answer the doorbell, do no work except simple chores, etc.?
How hard? Near impossible, wouldn’t you agree? How do you switch off the patterns of your life, take complete control to filter out all extraneous distractions, and simply sit?
On retreat, everything is set up to limit external distraction. The mind may still range far and wide, but at least the environment completely supports quieting down and being fully present. Having stepped out of regular life, there are no expectations from anyone else. And everyone on retreat supports you completely in this concentration.
In my post-op phase, I am so fortunate to have a helpmate who is especially skilled at being single minded. If he is set the task of taking complete care of another person, in this case me, and he is given full instructions, he will follow them exactly. He will make sure everything is set up just so, make sure medications are taken at the right times, and make sure the space is uncluttered so I don’t trip on my walker-rounds. (No, sorry, he doesn’t rent himself out!) He has a life as an artist and enjoys gardening and other activities, but for the few weeks of my recovery, and especially the first few days when I was totally helpless, he has been amazing at nursing.
Among my family, friends and students, hip replacement surgery is all the rage. Several have had one in the past few months ago and one is scheduled in a few weeks.
Thinking about her situation, in particular, where a young child lives in the home with her, I realize that she will have a bigger challenge assuring the focus of her post-recovery period. Young children come with Legos and all manner of other detritus that gets left about, so just keeping the area clear for her to walk safely will be difficult for her designated caregivers. But there’s also the heart-tug habit of keeping a child’s needs uppermost. Suddenly grandmother can’t do all the things she’s always done? Explain that to a preschooler. It will undoubtedly be discomforting, maybe even scary, and at the very least hard to adjust to and maybe grumpy making. Oh boy!
I recognize that in my moments of sitting at that restaurant table, my thoughts were more about how to get along in the situation and not make a fuss than they were about what would be best for my healing. Even though these old friends only wanted what was best for me and implored me to make decisions based on my healing and that alone, I wanted what was best for them, for the evening to be pleasant and fun.
I bring this all up because we have been looking at the Seven Factors of Awakening, and most recently at Concentration. This was such a good example of how our desires, fears, and other Hindrances can knock us off our course. And how rewarding it is to reset our intention, to be present again for our own healing of a hip or, perhaps, awakening.