Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I remember what my mother used to say: "These things are sent to try us."  I think it was my mother.  I think that was what she used to say...  Anyway, a Christian sentiment.  I have been spared this peculiar--yet familiar!--agony for quite some time.  I attribute the respite to a friend's suggestion, years ago, to sleep with a pillow between my legs.  Whether it's that now nightly habit or not, I have no way of knowing.  But I do know that, aside from the occasional twinge, soon passed, my back has held up remarkably well.

Until now.  This present pain was heralded several days ago by warning signs--an unease in the lower back, a quick signal to the brain.  When it came, it was not sudden as it sometimes is: I've put my back out.  No, this time it was slow in its arrival, taking its good time to blossom into its full, unquestionable presence. As always, the dilemma is this one: whether it's better to exercise the back gently, to "warm it up" and trust that movement will keep it lubricated; or whether to lie flat and remove the pressure entirely--and for how long!

My mother's wisdom is not out of line with Buddhist teaching.  It's just that the lesson is different.  The back pain is not some kind of punishment sent to test our faith, but rather a simple fact of life to which it's better not to get attached.  I try to remind myself of the old saw, that pain is inevitable, but suffering optional.  Just notice that it's there and let it slip away.  As with all teachings of the dharma, it's easier said than done.  Simple, as I often tell myself, but usually very hard to do.

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