I have been an avid runner for 37 of my 53 years. Whereas I was once speedy and competitive, for many years now I have been a slow jogger without a running watch. Running has been my most constant meditation practice.That has changed in the last six weeks. As oft happens to a post-50 year old body, my knee began acting up for no apparent reason. As a young, fierce runner, I would just continue running and my body would miraculously heal. Now, 6 weeks later, even a leisurely dog walk around the block causes me pain. I hope to get it correctly diagnosed by an orthopedic doc in mid-January. Meanwhile, my frustration mounts as my body fails me. No endorphins to elevate my mood. No aerobic exercise to burn off holiday chocolate. No anchor of my most constant and calming meditation practice. I find myself snippy, this morning even telling my partner I resented her being able to go to her water aerobics class. This is not very spiritual!
When I paused to check in with myself, I was reminded of a quote from one of the books for our upcoming Wellspring session on Buddhism. In Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor asks the question: “Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?” How does this connect to my bum knee? My knee is a teeny reminder that eventually my whole self will fail. That is certain. When and how is unknown. But not the “if.” Given this truth, what shall I do? There are people I know who seem so gracious and serene at the end of their lives, let alone when they have something relatively minor like a knee problem. And there are those who seem to go kicking and screaming. I think Batchelor is suggesting that while I might not have a choice about my injured knee, I DO have a choice about my attitude. And that Buddhist ideas and practices can help me move away from snippy, a bit more towards gracious. Since I’m not getting any younger, and more ailments and injuries are certain to appear, why not cultivate a bit of graciousness today with my knee? As Batchelor says, “it requires that I examine my attachments to physical health…for they are ultimately lost.” He believes it is simply the ability to keep pondering the illusion of permanence and to stay in THIS moment that will get me through.
Maybe on this gray December day, I’ll go sit for a few minutes in front of the fire with my snoozing dog, and contemplate all that I in fact am grateful for in this very day.