Phantom pain and the scent of pine

I’ve been working pretty hard and the to-do list on my desk is a bit overwhelming. Time for a run. I suit up and head out the front door. The first part of any run from home involves a bit of trail running, so I have to focus carefully on where I step. But once I get out on the road, my mind wanders and I think about other things.

I was flying up Escarpment hill, and an unbidden cacophony of scattered  “to-dos” dance around in my head – gotta finish writing up workshop results, do a briefing note – who reads them anyway? – plan for the team training initiative – who will be there? upgrade the latest strategy…OMG!

PAIN! Lightning bolts of agony below my left knee cause me to stumble and sway, like the theatrical soccer player who flings himself on the ground when he stubs his toe, as Merebeth well knows! I’m cursing out loud, angry and helpless.

I am so stupid. Yet again, I let the stress of work take over my life, and my body’s reaction is one of extreme, phantom pain. When I broke my leg years ago, I had all sorts of metal inserted and screwed into my bones. Over time, as my leg healed, most of the titanium has been removed. But I find when I am under stress, I get phantom pain in my leg where the screws used to be. Each time it happens, it is related directly to my own state of mind, and I have learned I can make it stop very quickly, if I can reduce my stress.

LIttle scars below my knee mark the history of titanium screws in my leg.

Little scars below my knee mark the history of titanium screws in my leg.

According to Mika Nagel, Studio Director at Chopra Yoga Centre (and I imagine according to most practitioners who deal with this topic), stress is a choice. Rather than value and savour the moments I was spending running, I had chosen to think about my workload. My body’s reaction was one that forced me to stop experiencing the stress and focus on something else completely…PAIN. Talk about a wake up call.

Naturally, despite the pain, I don’t stop running. I’m a runner. We don’t do that. But the pain forcibly reminded me that I need to allow myself to experience the run. I can and should be mindful of the moment and shift my perspective, bringing awareness to the here and now, and not the “what if”.

Funny, when I do that, two things happen. First, I inhale and my nose is filled with the sweet scent of pine. And second, as I push-off with my leg to run another step, the pain is not noticeable.

I realize that the pine scent comes from branches torn off tree stems during a storm last week; I see two pileated woodpeckers chasing each other into those very trees; the heat from the spring sunshine makes my hair stick to the back of my neck, when the day before, I was wearing mittens…all that I would have missed, if I had still been thinking about…what was I thinking about?

When I am mindful of the moment, I succeed. If I am working, I am productive and I don’t miss out because I am perpetually functioning with focused attention. When I am running (insert whatever you want here), I don’t miss out either because I am mindful of what I am experiencing at the time.

Try it. Let’s hope you don’t wait until your phantom pain brings you to a grinding halt. Choose mindfulness, choose to pay attention to the present.  Life can be profoundly moving and you don’t want to miss it. Enjoy the sweet scent of the pine.

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