Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011 Streak Day 279 (Sunday Oct 9th): Teach us to sit still

2011 Streak Day 279 (Sunday Oct 9th): Walk 3 miles, Time 1hr, Weather overcast (probably the most common description I have used this year)
It is Sunday morning and a time for lots of team games, except this fellow seems to have lost everyone. Sitting on a rugby ball, all by himself, he his probably texting to see where his team are. 
If you were to ask me what floats across my mind when I am out running, walking, cycling, whimsy would rank fairly high. I often see things and make these sorts of inconsequential association. It is far from profound and certainly doesn't add anything to the sum of human knowledge but for a few fleeting seconds it amuses me.
Being aware of one's thoughts is at the centre of the mindfulness. The exercises I am doing at the moment are based on the book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (I have written about it here). It is very much like a running schedule as it gives you a programme to follow and is practical, in that choppy way of modern instruction manuals. it probably needs to be like that to help you establish a routine.
I read it in that broken way, on a need to know basis. At the beginning of each week I read the appropriate chapter and then put the book aside.
There is however a book, related in subject matter, which I have found enthralling and would thoroughly recommend. 'Teach us to sit still' by Tim Parks describes how for years he struggled with prostrate pain, which inhibited what he could do, and infected his outlook. For all that time he had to cope with and adjust to chronic pain, whilst undergoing a series of medical procedures and investigations. Nothing seemed to work until the only medical option left was surgery, which after all the negative tests seemed more a final throw than a guaranteed cure. He declined had to look at other ways of managing his situation.
The first chink of light came through following a method of relaxation aimed at releasing tension in his body. The theory was that the at heart his problem was the result of a build up of tension over many years. He recognised this as a probability and realised he had never been at ease, always been striving, always been at war. With the hour long relaxations he discovered there were times when the pain went.
The relaxation got him but did not provide sustained relief. The next stage was hard-core meditation and the book describes two retreats. They were tough and he is very clear about all the problems he had, the changes that happened and the affect on some of his core beliefs (like should he carry on writing). In the end though he had moments of release and breakthrough. His pain went
The book is the story of triumph but told in a quizzical, questioning, hesitant way - not at all triumphalist, not at all like a self-help manual that wants to sell a blueprint.

There is nothing New Age about Tim Parks. Nothing mushy headed about his account. He just wants to record what happened with as clear an eye as possible.  He is a rationalist, a believer in evidence based medicine who had a problem as yet unexplained by the mechanical model of the body
There is a good review of the book by Nicholas Lezard which ends:
"This is one of the most interesting and revealing testaments you will ever get from a writer. From one of Parks's calibre, it is remarkable, and I sometimes found myself wondering if he had given too much of himself away. But if he has, then we should just be grateful for his generosity."

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