Ow–I Mean, Ohm

Ow–I Mean, Ohm

I’m reading a book by the venerable Buddhist monk and sage Thich Nhat Hanh called “Peace Is Every Step.” I discovered it way back in the late 1980s, a year or so after my diagnosis with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and it started my long—and admittedly stuttering—journey into the practice of everyday mindfulness. I pick it up and read it again every few years. It always re-opens my eyes and my mind.

In “Peace Is Every Step,” Thich teaches, with sweetness and gentle humor, that we can find inner peace in everything we do, from walking to washing dishes. Being mindful doesn’t require actual meditation. We don’t need to sit in the lotus position with our palms up, eyes closed, attempting to levitate. Instead, we can use frequent moments during each day to find our peace, our inner calm, and ourselves.

Mindfulness, of course, is currently getting a lot of attention as a way to manage chronic pain.

Having re-read the first short chapter or two of Peace Is Every Step before I slept last night, I woke with mindfulness on my mind this morning. I pushed the covers off. Ow! The tender joints of my right hand yelled at me. Grimacing, I sat up. Ow! My right shoulder sang out. I stood. OW! Both hips were stiff and ow! so were both knees as I straightened them. I took a step. OW ow ow! My feet joined the chorus.

As I stumped down the hall to the bathroom, I thought wryly, “Ow Is Every Step.”

And that made me smile in spite of myself. “No “ohms” for me, I thought. Mine are “ows.” I imagined myself meditating, chanting “owww…  owww… owww…” slowly, over and over, and I actually laughed out loud at myself.

Hah! In an earlier post here at RheumatoidArthritis.net, I talked about how the physical act of smiling releases endorphins, our brain’s feel-good chemicals. And here I was, thinking about mindfulness, grumping because I was stiff and achy—and then laughing at the sheer silliness of it all. And it was only 6 a.m.!

Did my pain go away? Did laughing, smiling, and actively trying to keep my mind here and now, in the present moment, magically erase it?

No. Let’s be real: my early morning, just-out-of-bed achiness and Tin-Man creakiness continued for some time. As it does. But there was a difference. Instead of looking ahead at the oncoming day and anticipating, with some dread, continuing pain, I was consciously not worrying about it.

I thought about the moment at hand instead. I wanted to make coffee. My wee cat-friends were rubbing against my ankles, telling me in contact-rich cat-language that they were hungry and would really appreciate breakfast. And so, like Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in “Peace is Every Step,” that’s what I did.

I made the coffee mindfully, paying attention to each movement, each action, each sensation. It hurt some to pour water into the coffeemaker, but I used both my hands to spread out the joint-strain and said, smiling to myself, “Ow…ow…ow…” as I poured. I cleaned out the coffee filter under warm running water, and took an extra moment or two to enjoy how soothing it felt on my hands. I opened the coffee can—this hurt—but then smiled again as the aroma from the rich grounds rose to my nostrils. How I love that first cup of coffee in the morning!

While the coffee brewed, I cleaned the cats’ bowls—again under warm running water, which felt sublime—and fed the cats, enjoying their antics and their increasingly insistent meows. I love their faces, their soft fur and paws, and their overall friendliness. Yes, to them I’m mostly the Chubby Food, Treat, and Pets Woman, but still. Loving and caring for my wee beasties gives me joy. It always has, from the time I was a little girl. And taking my time doing this, on yet another painful morning, helped take my mind off my hands and put it on something better and far more useful.

Here’s the truth: finding peace in every step—the everyday practice of mindfulness-takes effort and a conscious desire to change a lifetime of fruitless thinking. Living in the future, a time that hasn’t even happened yet offers no benefits. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make plans. But the moment-by-moment anticipation of pain, the constant worry about what will become of us, and the outright fear of the future consequences of having rheumatoid disease really achieves nothing but more pain, more worry, and more fear. It’s a never-ending downward spiral.

By practicing my “ows”—smiling about them—and keeping my thoughts in the right here, right now, I choose to make my life happier and more positive. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • Kelly Mack moderator
    2 years ago

    Love this article Wren! Think I read an essay by Thich Nhat Hanh that praised everyday meditation moments and remember him describing meditating while washing a bowl. Really stuck with me and your article totally resonates in the same way. 🙂 Ow-Om! -Kelly

  • Su Regonini
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the gentle reminder that even though we can’t eliminate our pain, we can choose not to make it the center of our lives.

    I’ve gone through a few rough years lately, where it seems my entire being is wrapped up in myself and my medical issues, including RA, depression & anxiety, and a heart attack a couple of years ago. My focusing on these issues and the uncertainty of my future has negatively affected not only my life, but my relationship with my husband, and our finances, as I withdrew from everything and everyone, including potential employers.

    After making a move from one state to another earlier this year so we could help take care of my husband’s elderly parents, I’m finally getting good medical and psychiatric care, and starting to realize that I DO have the power to decide to move forward instead of living in the past, even if I’m dealing with the uncertainty of where my chronic illnesses take me. Your mention of finding mindfulness even in doing dishes or making coffee or feeding the cats resonates with me, and makes me remember times in my life before I got sick where I did this — I used to work in college medical and biology laboratories as part of my work-study awards as an undergrad. I remember how much I loved the quiet stillness of the laboratory, the smells of the various media and chemicals, and by simply concentrating on the steps of the techniques I did using my (then) dextrous hands, time and stress melted away. I found those times allowed my mind to calm, and afterwards, I realized I often found new ways of looking at a problem or was able to make a difficult decision with more clarity. Unfortunately, now I find my hands and time going to my phone and stupid games, trying to accomplish the same thing. I need to pick up some old hobbies again, even if I may have to do things a bit differently due to my RA, and see if those help me in the same way my lab stints did.

    Thanks for the lovely reminder!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the input Su Regonini. I really enjoyed reading about how being in the lab served as a calming place where you could focus and find clarity. Isn’t it amazing how it can be different things and places for different people (for me it was often studying or reading physics – made me see the bigger picture). It is always great to hear that our contributor’s articles help. Good luck finding those types of influences again. Keep us posted.

    Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Su Regonini!

    I’m so pleased to be of help! Learning to be mindful and remembering to practice is often tough while living our busy lives. And pain, fatigue, feeling ill and just the sheer frustration of dealing with RD nearly every day can make it that much harder. And yet… and yet. I’ve found it so helpful over the years as it gently re-aligns my thoughts and reminds me of what’s really important in my life.

    Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to comment. Here’s wishing you the best: may your medications continue to help keep your disease under control, and may your other efforts to live well with RD continue successfully. I’d love to hear about how you’re doing in the future, so do please speak up again! 😀

  • Jeanne Webster
    2 years ago

    A bit of humor goes a long way! Smiling and grinning along with your “Ow” and “Ohm.” Thanks for sharing.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Jeanne Webster!

    I honestly don’t know how I’d have gotten through all these years with RD without a sense of humor. It is, literally, lifesaving!

    Thanks so much for commenting! I hope to hear from you again soon. 🙂

  • Pwilcox
    2 years ago

    Wren, I too practice mindfulness and I am striving to make it a minute by minute practice. My faith is Christian and I truly know the Peace that passes all understanding but some days when the pain seems to want to be in the ‘forefront’, it is harder to do. I was just diagnosed last Oct. 2015 after 18 months of looking for an answer to my pain and I am learning much from RA blogs and people that have been dealing much longer. Thanks for the Post!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Pwilcox, sorry to hear about the diagnosis, but glad to hear that you are finding useful information and some comfort here in the community. Mindfulness comes up often as a useful tool. Here is an article on mindfulness that is part four of a larger series on cognitive behavioral therapy: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/addressing-despair-through-cbt-part-4-mindfulness/.

    Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Carla Kienast
    2 years ago

    ‘Ow utterly wonderful!

  • Angela Lundberg
    2 years ago

    Wonderful article, Wren! I definitely want to check out the “Peace is Every Step” book. I’m intrigued! I agree with you about living too much in the future, worrying about what RA will do to us down the road. I admit I do too much of this kind of thinking and worrying, rather than living in the present. I feel like most of the time, I’m either mournful and regretful of the past and/or anxious about the future. Neither is helpful! So, I’m very interested to check out the book; thank you for writing about it! 🙂

    Hope you have a wonderful day, enjoying cats and coffee and other good things.

    Angela

  • Poll