In 2001, during my recovery from back surgery, the physiotherapist explained, ‘You will have good days and you will have bad days. On your good days, don’t overdo it!’ There is so much wisdom in that advice because, indeed, there are days when things work, and there are days when they don’t. Equally, just as it is important not to get too excited and carried away on the good days, it is also wise not to allow yourself to get too down on the difficult days.
There is even more wisdom to discover if we look beyond the physio’s comment because every day is actually neutral until we pass judgment on it. There is no good or bad until we decide. We are the ones who determine whether something is positive or negative; we are the ones who establish our very own perspective on events; and in doing so we are the ones who create the corresponding feelings and emotions. And it all happens so quickly and automatically that we barely notice we’re doing it.
It would serve us well, therefore, to remember that whether it’s a brief experience, a whole day, or the entirety of life itself, the same maxim applies: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.
Whatever happens, it is what it is, and just because we think we know what’s good and what’s bad, does not mean we’re right. Last week, for example, I woke up with a pain in my foot – the latest of a number of echoes from the original back problem which led to that operation 16 years ago. Last week’s pain wasn’t too bad even though it restricted my movement, but it brought memories of past pain. From there, my mind took over and led me effortlessly towards a familiar concern for my future: more pain… more nerve damage… another operation… or worse…
But here’s what’s important about the mind. It can do anything. Our imagination is limitless, and given the infinite number of parallel realities, whatever we can imagine already exists. Therefore, if my mind can convince me that this latest pain means inevitable incapacity, then surely it can create the opposite. The pain is a neutral event, so I can take my mind in any direction (rather than it taking me where it wants). As the wise ones say, the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.
I began to consider how I could be more at ease with the situation. I used the pain as a prompt to remind me to relax, and the doomsday thoughts became a signal for me to let go. Further, I actively sought to lift my mood in the same way my mind seeks to dampen it. (I’ll write more about that in the next post.) And I continued with my exercises (1,356 days). After all, it’s just mild nerve pain and muscle weakness. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s a chance to practise; a precious reminder to do what I know is good for me: relax, let go, and remind myself that it is what it is.