Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A new meaning of mindfulness

There’s nothing like having a stroke to change the way you think about mindfulness. Sure, I had a conception of what it meant, what being mindful was all about. And in that notion was a root connected to raw awareness. But it seems I've been looking beyond that raw awareness and seeking something else that I thought was mindfulness.

That is, until I had a stroke.

It was a minor stroke, one cause by a clot in the vision center of my brain. It’s affected my peripheral vision on my left side in both eyes. Everything else – motor skills, speech, cognitive abilities, taste, smell – remain unaffected. To give you an idea, when I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car, I can see just fine straight ahead. And I have normal peripheral vision to the right. But my vision ends at the center console. I can’t see the driver at all unless I turn my head.

Needless to say, I bump into doorways on the left side frequently because I can’t see the left side of the door jam. People or other moving objects coming up from behind me and passing on the left startle me because I don’t see them until they’ve already past and are almost in front of me. And unless I look directly at what I am reaching for, I may misjudge and fail to grasp it if it’s on my left.

There is a possibility that my field of vision may return to normal. Since my stroke, which was this past Friday, the blind spot has shrunk a bit. But it’s still there. It’s still significant.

In the meantime, I am learning some rather harsh and immediate lessons about mindfulness. And it’s changing the way I think about mindfulness. It’s not this overall gestalt that I used to think it as; rather it’s very specific. Mindfulness doesn’t just mean being aware of the world around me any longer. It means being aware of what I am doing right now in this world around me, and that means just a small part of this world around me, not this big expansive world that I had been thinking about.

My moment of realization was when I was being discharged from the hospital. I was elated I was finally getting out. I’d spent four days there waiting for tests to be completed. As I was gathering my belongings, I reached to my left for a Styrofoam cup of ice water I knew was there. But instead of grasping the cup, I closed my hand too soon, puncturing my thumb through the side of the Styrofoam and spilling water onto the table.

It was then I realized what being mindful really meant, what was really required of me. And it also made me aware of how I had taken for granted my awareness and my ‘mindfulness.’ No longer could I be casual about even the simplest thing like reaching for a cup of water. No longer could I be automatic while doing something as simple as walking through a doorway. When dining out, I must be extra sensitive to a server coming in from my left, or a glass or utensil on my left. And when I cross the street from now on, my life depends on my mindfulness more than it ever has before.

I’m actually finding all this quite thrilling. Believe me, if given a choice I would not want to reach such understanding by having a stroke. But I did have one. That can’t be changed. And now I’m ready for a new day.

13 comments:

  1. You'll do fine, once they break up the clot with thinners. If they can't .... we'll just amputate your head. Then you can really get to know your body. This is a clue to lighten up. You are damn lucky to have gone to the hospital. I used to do post stroke visits, the best patients are those that are relaxed, and don't take everything seriously.
    PS. No more sweetbreads in butter and wine for you.

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  2. Now now, they made no mention of giving up wine, and I was never a fan of sweetbreads in butter ;)

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  3. My friend, you are truly an inspiration. Precious few people would have the strength to turn something as traumatic as a stroke into a lesson about mindfulness. I hope you can take comfort in your new state of mindfulness brought on by your stroke, and obviously I hope that your vision returns to normal very soon. The people who are in your life are very fortunate that they have you to show them such a valuable and difficult lesson.

    Peace,
    circlelovely

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments. It is a learning experience moment by moment.

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  4. Puuuurfect time to meditate...you can't go anywhere! If they just turn off the beeping machines!

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  5. I have an ex that is an occupational therapist. I think what you are experiencing is called "left neglect" which is terminology I have always been fascinated by. mindful. neglect. It is a curious thing.

    I wish you well and suspect you have exactly the kind of perspective that it takes to weather these sorts of storms. Approaching life with curiosity is so much easier than the alternative.

    Ann

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  6. Wow. I'm glad to hear that you're okay and share in Albert's optimism that your vision will improve. You're young ;). And I would imagine wine should still be on the menu, perhaps even prescribed as a helpful blood thinner?

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    1. Thanks Justin :-) And yes, wine remains on the menu, although I'm in no particular hurry to reintroduce it ;-)

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  7. With my very serious bi-lateral strokes, it became so much easier when I took it a science experiment(took 2 months to get to this), and let go of my image of my self in the past, and started with square one...much like a child learning. When you find yourself angry at what you can't do(like you used to, at this time), it is signal to breathe and laugh at yourself. Just like all normal lay people.

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    1. Yes, thank you for this. I've been accepting my situation generally well, but I must admit I'm feeling some sadness over the prospect I may not be able to drive any more.

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  8. Wow, I just had a chance to read this.

    This sounds like a very challenging but also potentially exciting time for you! I certainly hope your health gets better sooner rather than later, and that you can continue to deepen your insights!!! :)

    Thank you for sharing your story through such a vulnerable time.

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