18 August 2009

Doing Nothing Is Such Hard Work

I never knew it would take such effort to do nothing!

That's one of the things I told Bruce when he asked what I've learned from my experiences surrounding my surgery.

I knew the forced inactivity would make me a little crazy. (Then again, I've been told that I'm more than a little crazy.) It's not just the time off my bike that I miss. And it's not only my inability to pick up a ten-pound bag of cat litter or to do any of the other things I normally do that I find so difficult.

Rather, it's the time I have to spend doing things to take care of myself, to the exclusion of other things, that's so disconcerting and sometimes annoying. I take that back: It's not the taking care that I mind so much. Actually, I rather like that: It's teaching me to look at myself in a way that's, paradoxically, less ego-based than the way I saw myself before.

When you take care of any living thing, whether it's your pet, your child or yourself, you provide him or her with what he or she needs. Of course, I'm not talking only about material needs: I also mean the words, the actions and the empathetic energies that your charge (whom or whatever she, he or it may be) needs for emotional as well as physical survival and spiritual growth.

Now, I've never had children, and never will, so take what I'm saying for whatever you think it's worth. What I've said about providing means, at least for me, is that when you're providing whatever you're providing, you have to be completely present in the moment, for the sake of whoever is receiving whatever you're providing, and very often for the act of providing itself.

Sometimes parents or other caretakers fall into that state naturally, unconsciously: They describe moments with their kids when there's nothing and nobody else in this world. I've given moments like that to various people in my life, and to my cats.

What I never realized, until now, is just how necessary such moments are. They are not luxuries; they are necessary for the survival of the giver as well as the receiver. I also never realized that sometimes it's necessary to be both the giver and receiver, or how much focus on living in (rather than for) the moment that would take.

As I've mentioned in previous entries, I have to dilate for fifteen minutes three times a day for the next couple of months. After that, twice a day for another few months; then once a day. So, for now, forty-five minutes of my day are taken up with the act of dilating.

In order to dilate, I have to relax. If I'm thinking about going to the store, the upcoming semester or even writing one of these entries, my body will tense up. If that doesn't make it impossible to dilate, it results in dilation taking even more time.

And what does it take to relax? Well, as I mentioned, not thinking. Sometimes I can relax to music; other times I need silence. When I do put a CD into the player, of course Led Zepplin and Rage Against The Machine are out of the question. But even some of the less intense albums aren't helpful, either. For example, when I play anything from Vivaldi's Four Seasons or even Debussy's Claire de Lune, I can't relax because I become so involved in the aesthetic pleasure of listening to them. Then, of course, if the song has lyrics I particularly like--lots of Bob Marley, Nick Drake, John Lennon and, of course, Bob Dylan songs come to mind--there's no way I'm going to leave my mind behind.

So, sometimes I play music to which I would have turned up my nose or cringed. The "light FM" station gets another listener. Or else I put on a CD of "new age" music somebody gave me. I don't even know what those pieces are called or who composed, played or recorded them: The person who gave me the CD didn't label it. So there's no satisfaction--or, more accurately, ego-gratification--in being able to tell anyone the names of the works or who did them. All I know is that sometimes they relax me. That is to say, my body, for whatever reasons, needs them at that moment.

Another thing I discovered: When dilating, I can't read a book or a magazine. For part of the time, I have one hand free. Now, I don't know whether it has to do with my coordination or lack thereof, but even when one hand is free, I have a hard time keeping a book or magazine in it, let alone concentrating on the contents of the pages, when I'm doing the other work I need.

Ditto for reading while taking a bath. I've already dropped a book and a magazine into the water, and I've been bathing for only a month! But even more important, the reason for the bath is not only to clean those new parts of my body; it's also to relax them. That's why Marci recommends the warmest water you can stand, with Epsom salt. The purpose of the bath is to give myself something I need, not to get other things done or to satisfy the ego that I've rendered socially acceptable (at least in the circles in which I travel) by calling it my intellect.

Then, of course, it doesn't help my recovery in any way to think about whatever else I'm not accomplishing, or the ways in which I'm not being "productive" right now. What does it mean to be "productive," anyway? Contributing to the GDP? Getting an article published in a professional journal? Even if those are the definitions of productivity, I'm starting to wonder how it's possible to be productive without having at least some time in which one is "doing nothing," which is how we're taught to see that time we spend providing for the real needs of children, other loved ones, or ourselves. And, of course, as trite as it sounds, we can't give to others if we don't give to ourselves.

If that's "doing nothing," I'd like to know what hard work is!

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