Dr. AGB Goes to Back Rehab

Not back to rehab

Day 6: Mindfulness: What you Resist Persists

My schedule today consists of 2 hours of tolerance group, weekend review, psychology group, PT individual, OT individual, and psychology individual.  Only 4 hours of physical conditioning today but the theme is on being, not doing.

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention, being present in the moment with compassion (understanding, kindness, empathy), with acceptance (not denial—see previous post), and without judgment.

Many of us live life not paying attention but we cannot be fully successful in that because our attention is drawn to things—unfortunately if we do not train ourselves to pay attention we will have really good, complete experiences of the really bad times.

Our brains are good at being on auto-pilot, thinking of the past or the future. For example, as soon as an exercise is assigned my brain goes to the past and memories emerge.  I think about when I have done it in the past and what happened as a result—pain—and I don’t want that to happen again.  I resist doing the exercise; the brain living in the past keeps me safe.  If you think about it, the brain evolved for survival, not happiness.  The person who survived to procreate was the one who had memories of bad things warn off repeating them, not the happy-go-lucky person hanging out under the tree.  But the person living in the past is different from the person living in the present.

If I am not drawn to the past, I am projecting the future.  Take that exercise again: as soon as it is assigned my mind runs off and thinks, “Hmmm, I’m not sure if I should do that exercise. What if I flare?”  I start to worry about what will happen and anticipate a bad outcome.  I am paralyzed from my fear and find it hard to engage in the good stuff for my recovery.

I can live in the past problems or future fears but the only thing that is truly certain is RIGHT NOW.  The past is gone; the future uncertain; so the only thing that I realy have is being squarely focused on paying attention to the current moment.  What a luxury.  So, mindfulness is a practice to engage in for mind-body health, a way of life.

The brain also evolved to be JUDGMENTAL.  We are constantly making judgments, often without much thought and certainly without conscious awareness.  Danger, flee.  Threatened, fight!  Not safe, stay back, keep your distance.  Yummy, lean in.

Mindfulness enlarges the mind and moves us beyond tunnel vision.  Stress and pain give us tunnel vision.  What we focus on continues to grow.  When we feel pain, we want to fight it.  But, with pain, ground zero is in my body and if I fight it, I lose.  If I fight my own mind, I lose.  Both of these increase the stress response.  Stress increases my pain and starts the vicious cycle all over again.

MINDFULNESS EXPLAINED:  This mindfulness process is a four-piece process: 1. Concentration; 2. open monitoring/mindfulness; 3. Compassion; and 4. equanimity.  Concentration is a skill by which I gain a piece of peace of mind.  It is the foundation for the house.  Mindfulness is the wall or scaffolding.  Compassion is the fireplace or heating system of the house; it adds cozy warmth to the house.  Equanimity is the capacity for a person to not be flat in terms of responding to life, but also not reactive.  It keeps us on an even keel.

This is what I have learned.  The first insult is the pain. I have no control over it.  God, grant me the serenity to accept the pain (the thing I cannot change).  The second insult is my toxic reaction to the pain and I re-injure.  This is one that I have control over.   God, grant me the courage to change my reaction to the pain and what I can do to reduce it (the thing I can change), and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

If I develop a formal practice for a set amount of time a couple times a day I can develop my concentration and mindfulness.  I can also practice informally by paying attention to what I am doing and using my senses at the same time.  For example, I can wash my dishes mindfully and pay attention to the smell of the soap, the feel of the dried debris on the plate, the odor of the stale food, the warmth of the water, the clinking sounds of the plates being piled in the drying rack, etc.

We practice an exercise in the group.  We are asked to be mindful of sound.  The clock, which I have never noticed before is banging out each second!  Murmurs of office conversation in the next room increase in volume.  My mind focuses on the sound and the volume of the pain decreases  for a moment, for as long as I am engaged in mindfulness.  I am aware that I need to be mindful of what I am attending to (read—do not pay attention to the pain).  Certainly I learned last week that the pain is not supposed to warn off activity.

I get in a terrible spin in my head.  My confidence is not increasing and I start beating myself up.  In addition to judgmentalism, the brain is also trained to a negativity bias. It looks for problems and sets us about trying to fix things.  When I should be celebrating that the exercise has enlarged the container so that I am less aware of the pain—not denying it but less aware—I am beating myself up about wasting my life by being limited by the pain.  It’s so unfair to judge myself harshly; I was doing what I thought was right to defend against hurting myself.  I let others take care of things that I could do had I known that lifting a clothes basket would not send me back to the hospital.  Of course, without good posture it might have.  I start to feel a bit of compassion.  I am not denying the pain but mindfulness has enlarged the container.  I have experienced putting pain on the back burner.  Can I hope to put life on the other burners?   Do I dare hope to develop this skill so that I can approach my pain with compassion for me, rather than shame, disappointment in myself, and fear of rejection?  I guess I will have to wait to find out.  And, practice.

Many people have long recognized the need to be present.  Which is your favorite quote?

Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.  —Babatunde Olatunji, a similar version is also attributed to Alice Morse Earle


    The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.  —Buddha

Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.  —Euripides, Alexander

We crucify ourselves between two thieves:  regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.  —Fulton Oursler

Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace.  —Author Unknown

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?   —David Bader

If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.  If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.    —Senegalese Proverb

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.  —Abraham Lincoln

The future is an opaque mirror.  Anyone who tries to look into it sees nothing but the dim outlines of an old and worried face.  —Jim Bishop

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. —Abraham Maslow

When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past.  —Author Unknown

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One thought on “Day 6: Mindfulness: What you Resist Persists

  1. Elizabeth on said:

    What courage Dr. B! Thank you for your Honesty, Openness, and Willingness to share your journey. I’m thinking of you and sending you warmth and compassion

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