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Chasing the pain

March 10, 2011

I haven’t written anything on here for quite a while and I was asking myself “Why?”.

Possible answers?

1. I think that much of what I might say is unoriginal

2. Much of what I could say is personal to me and thus pretty trivial in the grand scheme

3. Similarly, because it is personal it can rapidly degenerate into navel-gazing and self pity.

Of course, navel-gazing (in the sense of meditation) was one thing I was going to write about – mindfulness meditation. But any thoughts on that, if they are to be meaningful, are slow in coming – because meditation, in any form, can take a long time to produce any fruit.

But one thing about which I have come to an insight  might be worth sharing.

Mindfulness meditation, in its formal practice, asks you to “note any thoughts that cross your mind, give them a nod and say ‘OK, that’s interesting, I’ll come back to you’ and then move back kindly and gently to following the breath (or whatever the subject of your meditation is)”

That’s a hard thing to do! Once a fascinating thought or, possibly, what appears to be a brilliant insight (and turns out to be rubbish) enters your mind, off you go!

“The brain is made for thinking. Don’t be surprised, or think you have failed because this happens, time and again. Be kind to yourself, just say thanks, gently, and go back to  the breath”

I struggled (and struggle) with this.  Then I found an mp3 entitled “labelling your thoughts”.  The speaker suggests that it might help to categorise the intruders. “Call them “Distraction” or “Anxiety” or “Fantasy” – find your own names – and, when a thought comes into your mind name it. You may find that only a  few categories suffice and can give you a handle by which to catch yourself – before you’re back on the thought train””. I tried that; surprising how many got labelled “fantasy”, but that is probably too much self-disclosure!

So I poodled on, putting aside a regular time to meditate. As I think I said, I started this whole meditation lark because it is the subject of a number of courses on Pain Management. I have to say that it works but it’s a bugger to remember to use it when you are completely obsessed with the pain itself.  Finding a “meta-viewpoint” is nigh impossible as you squirm around trying to find a bodily position which will disarm the “tormenting devil”.

The guy who wrote the book which started me on this road, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has recorded a guided mindfulness meditation called “the body scan” which is a useful introduction if one is using meditation to reduce stress or pain.  After a 20 minute session, as you are coming back to earth, he says a few closing things about keeping up the practice and, ” hopefully”…. “seeing it spill over into your life outside this formal practice, as the ‘doing mode‘ gives way to the ‘being  mode‘”.  “Well” I thought, “If I can’t get the pain management right, there’s sweet Fanny Adams’ chance of my seeing this!”.  But maybe I was wrong.

I woke up, as isn’t unusual, at 3.30 that morning; a dull pain in my right thigh slowly escalating into a muscle spasm that would have me  rolling around, desperate to find some way to head it off at the pass. I ended up curled in a ball where the bedhead meets the side wall.  Slowly, I untangled my legs and arms, feeling tentatively towards a stance which would be comfortable.  The pain was too much to let me go back to sleep, but not enough to overcome the tiredness.  So I lay there, thinking.  Bloody fool!  “This is not the time to deal constructively with a problem – and problems is surely where you’se heading”.

And I was right.  I thought about how I had tackled my daughter’s partner about his angry outburst; how he had reacted by throwing something he had in his hand onto the table and storming out and whether I had done something wrongly and how I might retrieve things for her. Round and round I went.  Anger at his behaviour> self-blame for handling it wrongly> rehearsal of tomorrow’s conversation> self- contempt at not telling him how p…..d off I was with what he’d done> anger at myself for compromising> anger at his behaviour ……..  By the end of this maelstrom, I was almost shaking with emotion.

I tried breathing regularly, I tried concentrating on different parts of my body and relaxing them but, still, another and yet another angle jumped into my mind … and off I went on a train of narrative thought.  I desperatelyneeded to detach enough to look at the process.  I became aware that what was kicking it all off was not the issue itself; I was continually coming back and poking the emotion and stirring it up again. I think I was trying to relive it all in the hope that a different solution or view would present itself, miraculously. But it won’t, will it? Once the emotion engages, off you go in circles, doing it, over and over again.

And that’s when I found the label.  “Chasing the pain”. That’s what I was doing, picking at the scabs of the situation, rehearsing all the possibilities. And I do it, time after time.  I have spent a great deal of my life  going round these circles of “What did I do?” ;”Was it my fault?”; “I know what I’ll say next time I see her/him”,  continually plotting strategies for potential conflicts and problems – trying always to foresee problems  – in preference to a balanced survey of things – wasting time, wasting my life. Oh, yeah, one of those strategies might pan out, but it’s more than likely that either the situation will be one I hadn’t foreseen or, if only I had confidence, I would have thought of it anyway at the time.

I went back to following the breath. Every time that situation tried to catch my attention, I said “chasing the pain”, “chasing the pain”. And eventually it became “Chasing the pain”, followed by some logical interruption “deal with it tomorrow”, ” you won’t forget it, deal with it tomorrow” and so on. I found I could stop “Chasing the pain” and just lean a little towards it and try to see it calmly; if it began to rise up,  back I went to the breathing and voicing the label I had given this mode of thinking. I fell asleep.

And the problem? He came round and apologised profusely, explaining that he was stressed over, what was it? ISO Standard 9001? OSHAAS 18001? Or whatever.  Enough to stress me out! I forgave him and calmly said what I had to say and we were over it.

Now, all I have to do is remember to do it next time I wake at 3.30 in the morning, there will surely be many more next times. Maybe I’ll remember to write  about it!


Dog Dependence Disorder

January 11, 2011

I follow the blog of a man who has been in the post therapy stage of prostate cancer, as he charts his way through this hiatus in his life. Having missed some entries of late, because I have missed a lot of my life recently for various reasons, I backtracked, and found an entry I had missed. It is about the role of his dog in his recent life. I’d like you to read it at:

Naturally it spoke to my condition. My beloved border collie, Buska, up and died on me recently after a short illness and the effect on me was, and is, a blow to my self-image as someone who was psychologically and practically independent when it came to dealing with life.
I have a very good grasp of the medicinal aspects of my disability; I design my own exercise programme (much to the delight of my physiotherapist, as it allows he and I to discuss  professional cycle races during appointments, instead of all that exercise tosh) and I have my own recorded meditation tapes to help me deal with the consequent “lows” that go with chronic pain and physical limitations. From a past incarnation, I know a lot about drugs and often influence the strategy of my keyworker in the pain clinic.

In other words, although I was not “progressing”, in terms of any sort of recovery, I was holding my own against the usually inevitable gradual worsening of the pain and the psychological implications.
But, suddenly, it’s all gone pear-shaped. I look back on a day and realise that I have not kept to my walking programme. I go upstairs to do my exercises and, as many are done on my back, I find myself taking a nap to make up for the broken sleep of last night. The medication I take late evening lies on my stomach and gives me mild nausea, in response to which I either take an anti-emetic (with its own side effects) or I don’t get to doze off until the early hours.
Of course, I should have realised. What I am missing is the appearance of the head on my right leg with those soulful brown eyes looking at me and reminding me that collie’s are creatures of very fixed habits. I used to walk whatever the weather, no choice. I wasn’t allowed to take a nap because I would have my face washed as a test of whether I really meant it. And the list goes on; I no longer have anybody to tell “Well, fellah, I can’t sit here all day, I’d better go and ……” which statement had necessarily to be followed by some action, or I would have to listen to plaintive whistles and groans.
I am surprised (although I loved him dearly) how much the gap in my life is not just emotional, it’s practical; it was the planned nature of my routine, planned not by me, but by my canine boss.

So much for my ability to manage my life independently. Remind me to ring Social Services in the morning, would you?

Census 2011

January 6, 2011

This is just a “note” rather than a blog entry (I’ll come to that later.)
I decided some time ago that I was so unorthodox in my theology (In fact I checked and found I suffer from at least 32 recognised heresies) that it was deceitful to call myself a christian any more. I wavered about whether to just disappear into the murky fogs inhabited by atheists and agnostics and other varieties of “non-religious” or whether to adopt some sort of formal label, I didn’t want to be classified as a New Age fluffy either as it has been hard work thinking through what I could and couldn’t accept, as well as what I had, through careful consideration, decided I would not step back from.
But today I was reminded that we have a 2011 census with a question regarding “faith”. Among those is one for Pagan. And one can put “Pagan – and I feel I can now say that I am one of them “Pagan dashes”. If what this means interests you well have a look at the website


November 15, 2010

Just thought I’d post that Viv Tough-as-old-boots, the writer and Blogmeisterin, was in hospital, apparently with dramatic pain, and I was thinking of her. I thought she had been quiet, which is a great act of self-sacrifice on her part. Hope all is sorted soon Viv.

In the Dock – Betrayed by Me

November 10, 2010

I recently wrote as a comment on another blog

“I am sensitive to others’ comments, particularly critical ones – and especially those I think I either didn’t deserve or that had been written/spoken in haste when the speaker was just plain wrong and so angry that trying to continue the conversation and unravel it all was not worth the personal hassle. But lately – and at my age, very late – I am starting to realise that it is Me who is so judgemental of me. I tried an on-line “self-compassion” quiz and came out way on the wing. Maybe I don’t like some comments because they somehow feed into what Me is already saying to me?”

Then into my consciousness popped a memory. I recalled my resistance to team sports at school,, or even in the local darts’ team later! I was good at both physical and mental pursuits and games (although that was more likely my circle than any absolute measure) and when people asked me why I had dropped out of something in which I had begun to make a mark, I used to come back with something like “I can’t stand all the whingeing when we are losing, or the post-mortem afterwards. I know when I’ve got it wrong or made a mistake and I feel bad enough anyway, without others telling me the obvious”.
Forty years later, I look back at how I have been so supportive to others, professionally, picking colleagues and subordinates up when things had gone wrong; making huge efforts to get service users back on the road and pushing myself to walk another mile. But I agonised over my mistakes; I brushed off supportive comments or even hugs because the person was “just saying that to make me feel better”. Where does this lead? Or can I find some other clues? I am in the process of self-reflection on this, so will stop – mainly because I don’t want to waste another blog in which I flagellate myself in public for going up the wrong path! More Later, I hope.

A Walk on the Wild Side

October 26, 2010

Gosh! Wow! It’s over a month since I posted! OK, a lot of that was trying to deal with a spinal implant that ran out of bionicity (is that a neologism?). Well the batteries went flat and the charger didn’t work. But, after a week in the care of DHL, it was replaced and I am now ticking over smoothly.
What a time to overlook blogging? Government cuts lashed out at all and sundry and me quiet as a mouse! What happened to the guy who supported the miners? I now know three people who have been served their notice as a result of the cutbacks and I wonder where it will end in my little community.

When I am feeling fed up, which includes straying too near to the borders of the land of Dark Despair, I usually withdraw and I think maybe the extra pain and my following closely all the news about the economics in blogs and newspapers led me to my other strategy. This used to be one of getting out my equipment for some high risk pastime and pushing myself to the limit and over. Basically frightening myself out of depression by overdosing on adrenalin!

Nowadays the most I can do is go for a walk, haltingly, with the dog. Last week I still tried the old game; walked the dog at night and managed to push it too far and ended up in a situation which could have been very tricky if it hadn’t been for the dog. But that’s another story for another time.

The other thing that happened was, having got myself (and, through the dog, having been got) together, I reached the edge of the wood and stopped. The adrenalin was still running and I sat down to fuss the dog and enjoy the buzz. I had only ventured in because it was nearly a full moon and here, close to the edge the moon was piercing through the sparser branches overhead. And a thought came to me as I admired the large silvery halo round the moon, that I had been spending a lot of the time I had been seated, peering fruitlessly into the undergrowth. For what, I am unsure, small mammals? The Horned God? The ghost of the guy or gal buried in the nearby barrow?

But that’s what I and so many folk do when they are depressed isn’t it? The world of fiction and pop psychology have never really acknowledged their debt to Freud. So many of us, and I confess to being up there with the leaders, have signed up to the myth that if we poke around long enough in the unconscious, we will turn up the philosophers’ stone which will remarkably cure us of our overbearing neuroses. I am becoming less and less convinced, both about the vaunted possibilities of catharsis, and of the usefulness of poking round in the trash bin and reliving nasty and depressing incidents and atmospheres. The change in my mood as I looked from the rustling undergrowth to the moon was so marked that it crept up on me unawares like one of those times when one tingles from head to toe. And it was the moon that prompted the suggestion that I should just stop reading all this crap, smoke and mirrors and wait till it all becomes clearer and some sort of consensus of the current situation emerges.
In spite of having injured myself in the adrenaline-hunting adventure beyond my capabilities, my step was jauntier on the way back.

Bad Blogging

September 29, 2010

I knew this would happen! I got to a point at which I’d written some things and posted others and then I had to get all technical with links and so on. With a Pregabalin memory, I forgot what I had been advised by others. Thus blogging became a chore instead of a pleasure – and I had been bombarded, for a number of reasons, with lots of other topics to think about, so the priorities went away from here. I did manage to do the “about” thing, in response to a smiley from somebody who clearly couldn’t write and I chose to make it an “about me” rather than about the blog, for I still do not know what shape it will take.
It seems to me that, in order to write a blog, one needs to have an issue or a direction in life, so that at the least, one knows a little of what one is talking about and has enough grist in the mill to feed a hungry blog monster.
Apologies? No, I doubt anyone has missed my presence, and I haven’t denied anybody a nugget of knowledge which might have made a difference in their lives. I just have to have some self discipline. “I’ll be back” as some intellectual giant once said.

A Quote from an American Muslim

September 12, 2010

After I had written my last post I read a piece  by Dr Muqtedar Khan, the American Muslim intellectual and academic, in the Washington Post and I leave it unedited as wise and thought provoking (and strangely, some of the words were the same as my own — although I claim no equivalence of expertise!) :

The Quran Burning: Sign of Things to Come?

  Terry Jones Preacher of Hate
 Rev. Terry Jones at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL
 Dr. Muqtedar Khan | 09.07.2010

This article was published in  The Washington Post |09.07.2010| The Delaware News Journal and many other places.

“Where books are burned in the end people will burn.” – Heinrich Heine

On May 10th, 1933 the Nazis burned 25,000 books — including those written by Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who had predicted in 1820 that “where books are burned in the end people will burn,” – and eight years later the Holocaust began.

The connection is not too difficult to discern. Books are repositories of histories, of identities, of values. They are the soul of civilization. A society must abandon basic decencies in order to muster the immoral courage to burn books as a celebratory act. Once it starts burning the souls of civilization, human souls will not be left behind.

On September 11, 2010, some misguided Americans plan to burn the Holy Quran, the only book in the entire heritage of humanity that claims to be solely the word of God. This dastardly act is the brainchild of Terry Jones, a Christian Pastor from Florida. This act is not just some symbolic gesture of defiance. It is an act of egregious violence against the beliefs and the sacred symbols of one fourth of humanity. The act will scorch Muslim hearts everywhere. The searing pain will never be forgotten.

Along with the idea of God and prophets, the Quran is the thing that Muslims hold the dearest. My children have been listening to it since even before they were born. I use to recite it to them while they were still in the womb. Their children will be reciting it to them when they will be lowered in to their tomb. Believe me, there is nothing more precious to Muslims than the Quran, and watching people toss it into fire, will be horrifying. I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn.

I am amazed at how millions of Americans who are decent and honorable can watch this happen. No matter how ugly the act the Constitution permits this, is not an acceptable excuse. The Constitution does not permit this. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. For Muslims this is worse than torture.

I have been agonizing over this since I heard about it. My feelings are mixed. Sometimes I feel dismayed at having to suffer this. At other times I feel betrayed, for I think Muslims may have invited this through their own hateful zealotry. In the past few years alone so many churches have been desecrated in the Muslim World, many missionaries were murdered, nuns stabbed to death and the worst of all, the 1500 year old Buddhas of Bamiyan were intentionally dynamited. It was an ugly blow against not just religion, but also a major landmark of human history. I can now begin to imagine how millions of devout Buddhists must have suffered.

The Quran explicitly forbids all such acts. They merely chronicle the savagery and meanness that Muslims these days display towards others and now it is unfortunately our turn to get a taste of our own medicine.

As a reminder to those Muslims who still appreciate what the Taliban did, let me quote the relevant Quranic source: “Do not insult their Gods, lest out of ignorance they insult Allah” (6:108).

Those determined to burn the Quran are doing so as a way to either hurt or get even with Muslims. They however are laboring under the illusion that Quran belongs to Muslims. Yes, Muslims attach unimaginable value to it, but the Quran belongs to all people, it is part of the human treasury and the Quran attests that it was sent, not to Muslims, but to the entire humanity: “It is nothing less than a message to all nations” (Quran 68:52). It belongs as much to Terry Jones as it does to Muslims. The only difference being, some have built great civilizations on its basis others may burn their own values along with it.

When images of Quran burning will be flashed around the globe, it will excite Muslim anger. I want Muslim leaders everywhere to council their communities. Recognize this provocation for what it is and ignore it. And remember do not let this become a source for anger and hatred towards Christians. Remind your congregations what the Quran tells Muslims about Christians:

“…Forgive them and overlook their misdeeds, for Allah loves those who are kind (Quran 5:13).

If Muslims react with anger and indiscriminate violence then one of Terry Jones’ goals will be fulfilled. He would have shown the world that some Muslims are more barbaric than even he is. Be patient, encourage everyone to be patient, let Terry Jones enjoy the monopoly on barbarity for a while.

“True believers are those who show patience, firmness and self-control (Quran 3:17) and indeed God is with those who are patient (Quran 2:153).”

Copyright Washington Post 2010

Religion (or not)

September 12, 2010

I, like others I guess, have been concerned about the book burning threat in the US. I gather Terry Jones has withdrawn his threat to burn the Koran/Qur’an, but why did he feel driven to even contemplate it?  Why does religion drive some folk to act in such an uncharitable way?  I suppose I am, at bottom, asking how anybody can be so certain about such an intangible matter?

And why is there such a trend to fundamentalism? I heard recently that some followers of Hinduism (a religion I have always admired for its diversity of expression) are beginning to form fundamentalist movements.

Some have hypothesised that it is a psychological reaction against all the uncertainty in the world. Faced with so many confusing and contradictory claims and events, so many options, some people cannot cope with/tolerate the uncertainty of modern life and, consciously or unconsciously, are attracted to something offering certainty. Maybe, but I would hazard that they would be up in arms if it were suggested that they were not somehow up to the demands of life.  This is interesting in itself. Why are we driven to claim universal competence? Is it about having some control?

I have an odd relationship with religion. I became a christian initially by default. My mother was one and my father, although turned from all belief by his experiences in WWII, still put CofE on the census form! So I assumed, as a child, that I was the same and, when I joined a church youth club, I went through the whole process of confirmation and so on. 

I was aware that I felt that the spiritual side of my personality was “real” in terms of its influencing my thoughts and decisions but I was open to all the usual influences that a person of my time met. I flirted with Vedantic Hinduism, thanks to the Beatles; I read up on Buddhism, thanks to a number of TV programmes; I had a fair number of atheistic/agnostic phases and, generally, I began to take philosophy into account and look for some degree of consistency in any system of thought or belief I might consider.  I even got as far as embarking on the process of becoming a minister. This was when I realised that my beliefs were too radical for the Anglican church.  

I became a quaker, for any number of reasons which are too numerous to recount here – and their lack of need to  challenge me on my theology made me feel at home – and probably kept me thinking I was christian.  It is only recently that I took stock and realised that I was so far away from mainline christianity in my views that I should resign the status. 

So what do I believe? That’s worth a whole new post but I  can say what I don’t believe, [I think 🙂 ].

I don’t believe Richard Dawkins is right. And I don’t believe his certainty is any better than that of fundamentalist christians.

I don’t believe in the god of the monotheistic religions. They have never adequately dealt with the question of theodicy,

I don’t believe, given the nature of the subject and our human frailty, that any religion has  “the truth”, all neatly packaged up, correct and infallible.

I don’t believe any label, belief or dogma makes me superior, saved, or otherwise apart from my fellow human beings.

This world is a mess, we humans made it so, some may be more to blame than others but that solves nothing. We could spend eternity in the playground tactics of “She started it”, “They did this or that a century ago” and so on. That sort of game is endless, and fruitless. We do not really have time to get into all that, We need to put our differences aside and work together – and if religion  gets in the way, it is religion, in my view, that has to give ground.  That is idealistic; that is a romantic notion, that may never work. But I’d rather be that than burn books, just to get at or hurt others. That way lies the end of civilisation.

I died 10 years ago, but the press didn’t get the story.

September 10, 2010

I read today a piece of research in Denmark in which they followed a group of folk who, previously healthy, started to takes NSAIDs like ibuprofen.  Seems that straight ibuprofen increases your risk of stroke by 30%, while diclofenac (voltarol) comes in at an 86% increase!  I used to chew these like sweeties and it seems I should have died some time ago. 

I really worry about:

1. The effects of the different medications and their interactions on folks’ health, particularly those children who are still in their developmental stage.

2. The wish of everybody to live in a total risk-free society; stuff like kids mustn’t go on school trips, they can’t use a lathe in schools.

.. but how to reconcile these two contradictory positions is the problem.

Frankly, I was subjected to some really high risk activities in my schooling, but I knew of nobody killed or even injured.

Is this just the effect of the media on peoples’perception of risk? One child in 10 million at school is killed and it’s all over the press. It’s a tragedy for the family and those who knew and loved the child, but the other 9,999,999 now cannot go on a skiing trip or a canoeing expedition. Cumulatively we are producing a generation who have not been stretched or given the chance of broadening experiences that all preceeding generations have had, what might be the effect of that?

I can recall many elderly folk  on my patch, when I worked, who lived in fear because somebody had broken into an old person’s flat. They had read it in the papers (Quote “We didn’t read this in the papers when I was younger” – which can be read two ways!) and were now frightened to answer the door. The incident having occurred 300 miles away did nothing to calm their fears. Was this incident an example of our society crumbling as a result of the rising lack of respect for elderly people, as seemed to be their interpretation, or was it that communication now is so fast and so omnipresent that this story made it to the dailies, when it wouldn’t have done 20 or 30 years ago – when it may be that the prevalence of this sort of crime was higher? I don’t know the answer, do you?

Yes, I want medications to be there when my granddaughter is ill. I want it to work wonders and to have no side effects. But I also want her to climb trees and take a  gap year working with the less privileged. But I know there would be risks both ways. Nothing is perfect. If I die on an operating table at some time in the future, I hope that my family will not institute a claim against the surgeon. I’m sure she will have done her best; and the fact that the knife found a blood vessel not normally where one would run and I died is no measure of negligence, it’s just “one of those things”.  Life is risky and folk are human and make mistakes. There is no point hounding that surgeon so that she declines to do that operation ever again and thus 2o people die when that operation could have saved them.

And I reckon a teacher who loses a child on a school trip feels bad enough anyway so doesn’t need pillorying and chasing out of a job. Keep him or her, I say! You’ll never have a better leader for groups after they have had that experience.

Well, I have ranted on enough. Any chance of an audition for Grumpy Old Men?