Thank goodness nothing lasts forever. After seven months of intensive chiropractic, yoga therapy, and meditation, my shoulder is no longer suffering. More importantly– I am no longer suffering. I took this picture not as a humble brag, but as a reminder that everything is impermanent; that nothing lasts forever.
Last December I spent three days on the couch suffering a horrible cold. I was miserable. (And also a bit dramatic; I actually tried to ‘cancel Christmas.’ Good thing no one took me seriously.) When I finally got off the couch, I could no longer lift my left arm above shoulder level without experiencing excruciating pain. My shoulder had been bothering me for over a year, but I kept pushing my yoga asana practice to the next level and ignoring the pain in my shoulder, ribs, and back. It was initially exhilarating to ‘achieve’ my ‘dream poses,’ but then I’d spend the rest of the day recovering in order to teach my yoga classes.
I (eventually) decided that ignoring my injury wasn’t going to heal it. I started an intense treatment of bi-weekly chiropractic adjustments, weekly yoga therapy, daily physical therapy, and meditation.
I would find respite from the pain after a chiropractic adjustment and then over-do it on the mat —so excited that I could backbend again! My excitement was usually fleeting: the next day I’d be back at square one, moping around my house like a sad puppy. My Ironman (who earned the World’s Greatest Fiancée award for listening to me whine for months) would gently remind me that nothing is forever: everything is impermanent.
In other words: suffering can be transformed. I love reading books by Tich Nhat Hanh, the foremost leader in happiness and the art of transforming suffering into joy. My guiding light through the process of healing over the past year has been his book, No Mud, No Lotus. In it he writes:
“The art of happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well.”
When I was exhausted and my stores of internal optimism waned, I needed reminders that suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive. I needed to embrace my injury with tenderness, not live in futile frustration. And I really needed reminders that nothing lasts forever: pain does not last forever just as non-pain does not last forever. As simple as this ‘impermanence- business’ sounds, it’s extremely difficult to embrace in times of suffering.
I definitely haven’t learned my lesson. My hip is hurting like crazy and I’m being very impatient in the healing process. There are times when I’m being dramatic: ‘This injury is never going away. I’ll probably never progress in my asana practice. I’m not even 30 years old and I’ve hit my peak.’ And then I have take a big breath. And remember my shoulder. And the work I put in to embracing the suffering. And the patience I cultivated through hours of meditation. And the suffering that was eventually, slowly, faithfully transformed into something beautiful again.
When have you witnessed your suffering being transformed? When have you needed reminders that ‘nothing lasts forever’? When have you learned to embrace happiness as it comes—even when the conditions weren’t perfect?
Tell me your story.