Carrying this shoulder
No Buddhist lists today. No ACA program talk. Just pain in my left shoulder. Please do not consider this blog a complaint. I am trying to write with as much dis-passion as I can muster; or, better put, with as little attachment to the pain as I can manage.
First of all, pain. The pain I am dealing with pales in comparison with so much physical and emotional pain I have seen and heard of in my life. If a 10 is the worst I can imagine a human suffering mine at this moment is barely a 2. I may have moments of feeling sorry for myself, but am profoundly aware that what I deal with right now is relatively minor.
Secondly, My Pain. A major part of what I am doing in this blog is to take the MY out of this pain. I don’t own it. It does not define me. It is neither a reflection of me nor a judgment on me. It has nothing to do with whatever ME is. This shoulder is experiencing that which we call pain. The left shoulder on this particular body, to be precise. That’s all. To call the pain MINE would be to give it power I don’t need to give it; would be to create a narrative of MY LIFE that includes MY PAINS, past, present and future with all sorts of plots, subplots, suppositions, speculations and moral judgments. I don’t know what people whose pain level is above a 5 do with this. For what I am dealing with I can legitimately say, “Nope. It’s not mine”.
Technically, what I am dealing with is called, Impingement. It is a syndrome involving inflammation of the tendons of the shoulder as they interact with the shoulder bones. Movement of the arms above the shoulder, as in reaching or working with high stuff exacerbates this. I dealt with this eighteen months ago, and went to PT for a while until it subsided. Now it has flared up again.
That’s the medical side of it, now to the experiential side.
I am right-handed. You might assume that the left shoulder would not really matter much to someone who carries, moves, manipulates, writes and eats with the right hand and arm. Not so. When I get up from a chair, roll over in bed, put on clothes, scratch my left ear (which I just did involuntarily), try to move a chair, carry tree limbs I have cut, turn the steering wheel in the car, or reach to grab a pot in the kitchen cupboard, this left shoulder of mine is fully involved. It follows me through much of the day, and night. And when the pain is chronic, as it is right now, I am aware of it all the time. (Reminder…just barely a 2 on an overall scale of pain, maybe not even that!)
The other night I had a dream; and the truth is that I have vivid dreams most every night. In this particular dream I was defending myself from an unknown, and at the same time frighteningly familiar, assailant using a ball I picked up with MY LEFT HAND. I was using my weak side to defend myself from a strong enemy. Guess what? I felt pretty darned powerless and vulnerable.
It so happened that I saw my therapist a day or so later and we talked about connecting this left-handed dream with this left shoulder pain. I am writing this blog expressly to underline and reinforce what she encouraged me to do.
Recognize the Pain.
Welcome it. (Accept)
Be curious about it, with compassion. (Investigate)
Don’t attach a story to it. (Non-attachment) Some Dharma teachers use Nurture for the N.
You may see that she was setting me up for a classical RAIN approach to the pain. I had learned this both from the therapist who worked with me eight years ago at a major life turning, and from a Buddhist teacher (Michelle McDonald) at a retreat five years ago (who actually coined the RAIN acronym). And here it is again. And I am writing this to underline and reinforce what I have been encouraged to do.
Last night, as I was feeling this pain despite the Aleve ⓣ, I did not remember RAIN. I did remember to bring some compassion and a hint of curiosity to the pain. Good. That’s moving in the right direction. Not me. Not mine. Not a problem. Just pain in the shoulder. (You get it, don’t you, that to call it MY Shoulder would be to personalize the pain, and maybe lead me to assume that there is, in fact, a fated narrative about this pain and this shoulder, all of it involving ME. This is not a comment about Karma, which is another discussion. This is just not personal. My shoulder is not out to get Me!)
Welcome the pain. (Remember, just barely a 2!) I can manage this.
“Here you are shoulder pain. I see you, feel you and want to learn from you. I would bring compassion and love to the impinged, complicated and inflamed parts of you. I would understand your waves, your captured tensions, your long carried wounds. I care about it all. As best as I can I am wrapping arms of love around you; holding, resting and open.”
As I began this blog I did a quick Google search of poems about shoulders. The first hit is a lovely piece by Naomi Shihab Nye, from her 1994 collection entitled Red Suitcase. The name of the poem is Shoulders and it portrays a father crossing a busy street in the rain with a sleeping infant held on his shoulder. The poet asserts that living “in the world” demands that we hold one another similarly.
What a powerful image! And, if the shoulder carries such weight is there any wonder that from time to time it will hurt?