Learning to be Guided

by Simon Goland, September 21, 2016

tobi-simon-sleeping-1It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon. Sunny, yet fresh, with all the beauty of a Fall that is beginning to announce its upcoming arrival to Vancouver. People are walking, and many are cycling (we live on a bicycle route), and the world outside beckons to go out and play. It is tempting, especially since I don’t have any immediate work that needs to be addressed, and no appointments to speak of. Tobi is hanging out with our dog walker this afternoon, and I am being completely free to do whatever I want.

My choice is different this time. I am staying in, wrapping myself in a blanket, taking a little snack, and planning to spend the next couple of hours in the company of Netflix. This is what my body is telling me that I need right now, and I am choosing to listen.

A person’s state has to do mainly with the degree to which a person is there, present in the moment. To be present in the moment is to be in an intentionally open relationship to the body. The mind alone is never really here, never really now. It is only mind and body together that, in any significant sense, can exist in the present moment and be free.

Why would that be? Well…

I just came back home yesterday, after a 5-hour surgery and 4 days in a hospital. This is a “first” for me, like no other. I had a day surgery once, when I was 12 years of age. 42 years ago. No hospitals, no doctors, no broken bones, no issues to speak of. I haven’t even had a family doctor in Canada, since I arrived here in 1992 (I do now). This surgery, and the recovery process I am starting, is a whole new journey and experience. Walking home and being greeted by Tobi was a precious welcome moment. Normally, he runs towards me with a wildly exuberant body wagging dance, then runs to get a ball or his favorite moose toy, and comes back. Not this time. He just came in, stuck his head into my lower belly (I am able to kneel down), and pretty much froze (OK, the tail moved) for what felt like a very long time. Presence.

I am home now, learning to embrace life at a very different pace. Slow. My stomach has a bunch of staples in it, which will be removed in about a week. Showering felt amazingly good. I can walk, slowly, and going for a walk with Tobi and Alison this morning felt amazingly beautiful, in this fresh and sunny beginning of a Vancouver Fall. I think I walked about 10 blocks or so. Everything I do is slow, with a lot of presence to my body and the impact of the little actions and movements. No wonder stomach is the “core” – I am beginning to see and appreciate its play in my day-to-day living, in a whole new way (even after many years of yoga, martial arts, and many other movement and mindfulness practices). Coughing or laughing is painful. Different movements that I used to take for granted, I don’t any more. Something as simple as sleeping is hard, because my preference for the last many years has been on my side or 3/4 side/stomach. Well, no more. I can’t. Only on my back. It is also hard, because of the prolonged pressure on some back points (“pain in the… anyone?”). For the next 25 days, I have to inject myself daily with a blood thinner, to minimize the risk of blood clots.

The only thing that is truly ours is the life that’s in our body that wants to unfold. Everything that we think, all our plans and all our values, all our projects, our self-image, our sense of personal identity—all of that is beside the point of what needs to happen right now. – Reggie Ray

I have so much learning to absorb and integrate through this experience so far. It is happening, and I know it will continue to do so for a long time. The themes, so far, have to do with what feels like a rebirth, with seeing what this was really about, trusting the world, vulnerability, mindfulness, open hearted way of living, and I am sure there is more.

One of the more immediate and moment-to-moment learning is to remain connected to my body and what it needs. Funny how I used to object the expression many people have been using for a long time, talking about the “mind body connection,” because to me it implied that there is separateness to begin with. I didn’t agree.

I am beginning to think differently about it now. Whether there is a separation or not, is not really the issue. It is more about who’s in command. A lot of the times, my head used to be. I could will many things into existence, whether they were physical challenges, or others. So what? Being present to what my body needs, right now, is a whole different level of presence, and I am literally forced into it. Can I take Tobi for a walk and bend down to pick up after him? How much do I really want to eat? What is my body asking of me now? And now? And now?

When I am present with my body, I can see and sense an incredibly rich spectrum of experiences, and allow myself to be guided. There is spaciousness. Presence. Peace. Knowing that I am exactly where I need to be (OK, there was a moment I was wishing I could self-heal as Hugh Jackman in “The Wolverine”). There is a part of me that wants the healing to be fast. Another part is whispering, “Yes, but will you really learn the lesson of this different way of being if it happens too fast? Make sure to not ignore THIS magnitude of a wake-up call.”

All of the past is but a beginning of a beginning; all that the human mind has accomplished is but the dream before the awakening. – H.G. Wells

Just one breath. One feeling of pain, or discomfort. One sense of ease. One step. Together, they make our rich tapestry of life. And when I am guided in such a way, an afternoon couch and a movie on a sunny Tuesday afternoon is apparently what needs to happen.