Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pain in the Butt - Insight

My previous post explains how I pulled or tore my gluteal muscle and now have a pain in the butt. In that post, I also explore some of the effects this pain in the butt is having on my life.

In this post, I will take one of those effects and explore it for further insight, namely the effect that I've called A Gray Pall. I find that the pain in my butt casts a gray pall over my life and detracts from my enjoyment of normally enjoyable activities.

It is said that the way one does anything is the way one does everything. If you want to know how a person lives his or her life, look at the way he or she does any one activity. In other words, the way I am responding to this pain says a lot about my approach to life.

One way I am responding to this pain is to enjoy life less, largely because of anticipated pain. In my previous post, I described how I find a movie less enjoyable because of the anticipated pain of standing up from my seat and starting to walk after the movie.

It strikes me that this is a question of focus, and focus is a question of choice - as well as of habit formed from many past choices. Essentially, I am choosing where to focus my attention - on future pain rather than on the present movie. Of course, because I have a habit of thinking like this, it seems inevitable to me that anticipated pain would spoil enjoyment of a movie. I don't seem to have any choice about it. But the fact is that anticipated pain spoils the movie because I have chosen many times in the past to let anticipated disaster spoil otherwise pleasurable events, and I have made this a habit. Habits are repeated choices that have become automatic. The automatic quality makes the thought pattern feel inevitable rather than chosen. It is certainly possible to enjoy the movie and to deal with the pain later. It is also possible not to awfulize the pain.

In approaching life, I have often wondered, How on earth is it possible to enjoy life when something horrible can happen at any moment? There was Christopher Reeves, for instance, enjoying a horseback ride - and suddenly he takes a tumble and finds himself completely paralyzed for life. There was my sister Janet preparing for an early morning nurses' meeting - and suddenly she has an excruciating headache that turns out to be an aneurysm that has left her brain-damaged for life. There was Peggy K. taking her twenty-year-old daughter, her only child, Wendy, to have a cast removed from her leg with plans for a celebratory lunch afterwards - and suddenly the doctor emerges from the procedure room to inform Peggy that Wendy has DIED during the cast removal. There am I engaged in a childhood game - and suddenly my father descends upon me in a terrifying rage.

Okay, so I can see where my tendency to anticipate disaster comes from. And I have continued to anticipate disaster to such an extent that it interrupts my enjoyment of life. I have continued to accumulate "proofs" that life cannot be enjoyed because of impending doom - Christopher Reeves, my sister Janet, Peggy K. - and countless others.

Again, it is a question of choosing my focus. Will I focus on an enjoyable airplane ride or on an imagined possible plane crash? Will I focus on the many enjoyable aspects of my teaching position or on an imagined possible job loss? Will I focus on the joys of daily life or on an imagined possible illness or injury or financial disaster?

The plane might crash, so how can I possibly enjoy the plane ride? I might lose my job, so how can I possibly enjoy my work? I might become severely ill, or become paralyzed for life, or become brain damaged, or be sued for something, or be arrested falsely and put in prison, or lose all my money, or become homeless - so how can I possibly enjoy my life?

Because disaster COULD happen, I seem to really believe that enjoyment of life is not possible. What is interesting is that there are people who do enjoy life in the midst of each of the disasters I've mentioned. Christopher Reeves continued his acting profession while completely paralyzed. My sister Janet truly does enjoy life with her family and friends and simply works around her limitations. Peggy K. grieved for her daughter and eventually went on with her life. Roma G., whose fifteen-year-old son committed suicide, has many interests, enjoys life, and has been active in suicide prevention and in support for those whose loved ones have committed suicide.

SO I have a habit of not enjoying life because I focus on an imagined anticipated disaster that can descend at any time. And this is what I'm doing with the pain in my butt - I am not enjoying normally enjoyable activities quite so much because I am focusing on the anticipated pain in my butt.


  1. Great insight on how what we focus on can paralyze us from being in the moment and from enjoying the gifts of life. My tendency to anticipate disaster comes from the belief that I can somehow be more prepared for it, if I fascinate over possibilities. The problem is, there are an infinite number of possible scenarios, and rather than "preparing myself" I'm tormenting myself. As I was reading to the kids this evening, the Living Bible translation says, "Don't worry about anything. Instead pray about everything, and remember to give thanks to God for all things." I can spend the rest of my life learning to live this out - and I plan to.