This is my personal field I can come home to, unload my day, smile about little anecdotes, tell trivial and life-changing stories, share lessons learned, and just fire away my random thoughts as a teacher, a mother, a woman, and a breather of life.
I call it my WorkLovePlayground, the space that holds the interwoven details about my passion at work, the many loves I cherish, and finding time for play. As I’m writing this, I realize how seamlessly my commitment as an early childhood educator, my devotion as a mother and family person, and my journey as a mindful human being naturally flow into each other. It is true, everything is connected to everything else. Like how the river meets the sea, or how the road always takes you back home.
I have an injury on my right hand. Doctor says there’s nothing wrong with the bones, so it’s either a sprain or a strain on my hand muscles, ligaments or tendon. I don’t know exactly how I incurred it but it’s been there for half a year. I have been reading up on it and I learned that a strain or sprain happens when the body is forced out of its normal position. That plainly means that I must have injured it while opening a bottle cap, squeezing a plastic toothpaste tube (which, if you haven’t tried, requires much force when supply runs out), or tearing open a sachet. I was surprised at the prospect of possessing that much strength, but I digress.
Back to the injury, it started causing pain again last November, so much so that daily chores became huge tasks–opening door knobs, brushing my teeth, shampooing, turning the car ignition, and writing. As it is imperative to go on with life despite the inconvenience, I would accidentally hit it while moving around, forgetfully bend it too much, or have others who are unaware of my predicament trample on it.
So I went back to my doctor, asking him for another steroid shot (first one was in July), a quick relief to get rid of the pain and move on. He was hesitant at first and tried again to convince me to nurse it and go into physical therapy. I politely said it was out of the question because resting it would mean my world had to stop when so many depended on its revolution — my children had to be nourished and nurtured, students needed their lessons taught, the community waited for me to drop by, and my self thirsty for its own life. I won, the steroid shot was given. The doctor warned that my hand will be sore for a while because it got a good beating from the injection.
Hurt it did, that even the anti-inflammatory painkiller surrendered to its power. A friend of mine suggested to “sit with the pain,” I remembering from a book I had read to “befriend your pain.” So I sat with it, hot compress and all, trying to put mindfulness into all my movements, something I continue to learn from my yoga practice. Because there is no manual on how to operationally do it, I came up with my own. I sought what was causing the pain, what angles effected the least and the most hurts, when to weep in silence, when to wail in company, when to seek help, how to forget about the past and not worry about the future, and to just be present with the pain. Be conscious of my in-breath, accepting all that is given to me, and be aware of my out-breath, freeing myself of my attachments.
The true test came when I decided to practice yoga despite the pain. I can do this. It’s easier to deal with the pain on the yoga mat when you are almost 100% focused on the task before you, than on the mat of life where you move without attention. And so I danced with the pain, recognizing which poses I could do for the moment, and which to sit out. I was doing well with all this sitting with the pain, albeit standing, lying, kneeling.
We got to the peak posture, the challenge for the session — crow pose, a balancing act wherein the weight of the body rests on the hands.
With faith in what I know about making friends with pain, I got into the pose, conquering the fear of falling on my face, or worse, inflicting more injury on my hand. And I did it, for five breaths. I sat with my pain.
As a bonus for myself, I went the extra mile of jumping back from crow pose to low push-up, something I have always resisted doing because I felt I wasn’t strong enough. But jump back I did, bravely, uncomfortably and imperfectly. I knew then that I was ready to jump back home, in spite of not knowing when the pain would last, or if it will ever go away. I knew then that I had to sit with my pain, perhaps for as long as I live, and embrace it the same way I would joy.
There’s a child in school who is in awe of landforms. From day one, she could identify all the landforms based on pictures or words (“That’s an island”), describe each one (“A plateau is a flat land between mountains”), make hand gestures to depict every one of them (“Round the top and make it smaller to make it a hill”), and illustrate them on paper (“I’m going to put lava on my volcano.”). She would join physical games like teacher’s made-up “Touch the Plain,” embark on experiments to witness their volcano erupt, immerse herself with books during silent reading time, and marvel at the God-given beauty before her. The six-year-old has a doctorate degree in landforms!
As per usual, the child gets pumped up easily with the lessons, talks incessantly about it, and is challenged with having to relax and settle down. In school, children are taught the important lesson that there is a time for everything. During work periods, they are encouraged to get their hands dirty and make noise, the productive kind, that is. But in the real world, there is day and night, one and many, wet and dry, bright and dark, play and rest, active and quiet. So must their class life be a reflection of what is truly out there, beyond the school gates.
The sensitive teacher knows what the child needs and has the class seated on the classroom mat, legs criss-crossed, and arms resting on the knees. She lets them close their eyes and invites them to imagine themselves being on a mountain-top. What do you see above you, in front of you, and below you? What is the air like? How do you feel? When they open their eyes, they talk about their imagined experience.
On another day, still during relaxation time, the teacher has the children on mountain pose, a standing position. Steady as the landform, they lightly ground their feet on the floor, stand in all majesty, feel their inhales and exhales, and try to keep still, mind, body and heart. Like this isn’t difficult enough, teacher offers a challenge for the willing: mountain pose with their eyes closed. For less than a minute, there is pure silence in the room.
In hushed tones, teacher announces that it is time to break free from the pose, and instantly, everyone pleads, Again! Smiles and laughter fill the room.
There is happiness in stillness, even for the very young and super active expert on landforms.
Without saying a word, he props a chair beside me and I instantly know of the need to hold hands. Amidst the noise around the classroom, I reach out to him and take his. His gestures speak of what cannot be said out loud. The compulsion to feel safe, to connect, to hold on.
I carefully stroke his hands, his back, and his head, massaging and messaging him a sense of calm.
In a few, he returns to me the same gift of comfort as he squeezes my hand. Teacher, I can see your bones (veins, actually). You’re getting old. You’re dying. He says it with subtle humor and straightforward surrender. It has no makings of a question but rather a definitive statement.
In defence, I quickly attempt to retract my hand, self-conscious, shy, open. But he insists on holding it.
Today, of all days, I have to be brave about sharing my story, this blog, to the world, even if I am a bit shaken and vulnerable. I’m not sure, I don’t know. But I’ve got support. I have a little voice beside me saying It’s alright, you’ll be fine, I got you.
For someone who is deemed old and dying, why do I feel so alive?