While walking this morning I saw a friend that I used to see frequently on the trail but had not seen for some time. We stopped to chat. He told me he had recently had a heart attack. As followers of this blog know I have had my own health issues to deal with over the last couple of years so we found ourselves comparing notes on setbacks and recovery. He said, “I never thought I was a candidate for heart problems. I have always exercised and, in fact, used to run marathons.” Hmmm. That sounded familiar. I could certainly identify with his surprise. After all my years of yoga and Pilates it was equally mystifying to find myself with a back problem that required surgery. Still more amazing to me, and still a source of bafflement, is the fact that I’ve had cancer twice and somehow I’m still here while others with what seems like similar conditions have not been so fortunate. Stuff happens. None of us know why. The medical community can try to address these issues. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not. At times it seems that as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the human body, questions continue to outnumber answers and every answer seems to uncover more questions. What’s a person to do??
For me, it all comes back to the basics. Take one step at a time and focus on the journey, not the outcome. At this particular moment, I’m feeling better than I have for at least the last 3 years. Maybe this will last, maybe it won’t, but that makes focusing on this moment right now all the more important. It has become a practice requiring frequent reminders, but this time I’m determined to try to celebrate every moment of feeling good. During most of last year, while I was experiencing pretty constant pain, I frequently lamented the fact that I had once been pain-free but failed to appreciate it. Now that I am reasonably pain-free again I have to remember how truly fortunate I am. Not everyone can experience the results that I have and I can’t attribute these positive results to any particular talent, skill or even genetic trait of mine. I don’t have any special abilities or powers. It is tempting to try and find some rhyme or reason why I’m doing great while others aren’t, but there really is no definitive answer to that question.
So rather than spend time pondering the whys and wherefores, I would much prefer to just be grateful for right now and try to take as much pleasure from it as possible. It’s so easy to get caught up in regrets about the past or concerns about the future. Whatever was is done and gone. It can’t be changed. Whatever hasn’t happened yet is unknown. Anyone who claims to be able to see into the future is fooling themselves and probably others. They might luck out and get it right every now and then, but any prediction is still a guess. Sure, we can try and be prepared for circumstances that might arise and certainly we don’t want to throw all caution to the wind. But it’s still best not to cling too hard to any particular outcome. If things go the way we hope, that’s great. But if not, that’s just the way life is. It’s nothing personal. And we still have to deal with the reality of what is rather than wishing that things were different.
A recurring theme throughout this blog has been to focus on what you CAN do rather than being sorry for what you think you lack. Years ago I used to read mysteries by the author Sue Grafton. Her books often made reference to her daily 3-mile run. In one of those books – unfortunately, I don’t remember which one – she mentioned her run and then said something like, “If I’d known what was about to happen, I would’ve enjoyed that run more.” That probably isn’t the exact quote, but the sentiment somehow stayed with me. I thought at the time that I never wanted to have that kind of regret. Admittedly, however, the concept got away from me. I forgot to enjoy the pain-free times while they were happening and instead took them for granted. When things are going well it’s easy to develop the illusion that everything will always be like it is. But nothing ever stays the same. We can see evidence of this all around us. It might seem like the solution would be to restore the past, but it’s never possible to do that. Even attempting to make that happen always has unintended consequences.
Still there are times when illness or injury – yours or someone else’s – makes staying in this moment really challenging. In times like these we are all stronger than we think we are. As impossible as it may seem, it can be an important practice trying to find something positive to focus on. I don’t mean to make that sound easy. It’s not. And even trying to implement a practice like that seems inherently doomed to fail. But failure is temporary; there is always another opportunity to practice. If it doesn’t work today, try again tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will probably be different. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn something new – about ourselves or about life in general. That in itself is something positive. We may be handed lessons we wish we didn’t have to learn, but learning is part of the journey.