Monday, March 16, 2009

"Slow down, you crazy child . . . "

Several years ago I learned that tai chi Masters never use more than 75% of their energy at one time. The idea of slowing down and using the minimum required energy for any task fascinated me.

At that time, I was in the early years of daily meditation practice, and pain from my fibromyalgia was announcing itself more insistently. That sort of thing can happen as you begin to pay attention. If I sat still, my neck began to hurt in about 90 seconds, and I had to stretch it a little. Then it would begin to hurt again 90 seconds later. I had long ago been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Now I was more aware of my chronic pain, more troubled by it.

I tackled the problem with my usual vigor, began tai chi classes (adding two classes a week to my full schedule), and bought a book on fibromyalgia. There I read that it was essential to slow down. The book suggested that those of us with this pain disorder were too intense. I thought, They’re writing about me.

The authors said fibros should take a ten-minute break every hour. Stretch, relax, walk around, do something different. I found that almost inconceivable. Waste ten minutes every hour? How could I? I had so much to do! Homemaker, cook, caregiver to my mother, whose dementia was advancing, and to my husband, whose post-polio syndrome meant he couldn't do much else but work. I was learning to write poetry, and really wanted to steal hours every day for that. (I still do.) And I loved gardening and had kept adding gardens until it was all much too much for me. Then there was church work. And spending a day a week babysitting my new grandson so my daughter could have some time off.

It was all really important, and it all demanded to be done right now. I have to make a point of having compassion for that past self when I recall this crazy-busy time.

This particular period of addiction to all kinds of work crashed, as things will, when, tired and distracted, I ran a red light one day. The accident totaled my pretty little Acura and hurt my back, and the driver of the car I ran into threw a tantrum at me, so that I began crying and cried for 24 hours. Then I became afraid to drive, afraid for a while to even get in a car.

I had been running on empty. Now I had sailed off the cliff, so to speak, and mid-air I had a chance at a fresh start. Sometimes, lying on the floor with my legs on a chair to rest my back, I would listen to Billy Joel's Vienna. It is a beautiful song, and wiser than I knew.

Obviously, I recovered, with somewhat shuffled priorities, slowly overcame my driving phobia and finally bought a new car, a 2000 Honda Civic. It's not as sporty as the Acura was, but that's okay. I am a more cautious driver now.

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