Learning from a Little Pain and Discomfort

A beautiful chime sounded four times, the last one drifting into space and then….profound silence.  Then I heard it. “Don’t move”.  It cut through the early morning air like a rifle shot in a cave.  There were a few more moments of silence.  Then again, “John…DON’T MOVE”, virtually shouting this time with a firm, “don’t mess with me” resolve. Hmm…could he mean me? I am the only John in the room so he must mean for me to stop moving…. so I remained motionless for the next 45 minutes despite the extreme discomfort I was experiencing in my arthritic left hip (soon to be replaced in a few weeks, although that is more information than you need I am sure).  It was 6:30 a.m. on a chilly dawning February morning in a simple Zen dojo temple in the Wisconsin woods.  I was one of 13 people attending a two-day Zen Leader leadership workshop led by Ginny Whitelaw, part of which required engaging in lengthy early morning meditation sessions before breakfast.   The evening before, Scott (the meditation maestro) talked about the morning meditations and explained the expected practices, but I had missed that session due to flight and travel challenges.  As I was told after the session by Scott, and had found out so abruptly, the four chimes signals the allotted time for people to adjust their bodies to assume an optimal posture for breathing and meditation for an extended period of time.  Once the fourth chime sounds, that adjustment period is over and absolute physical stillness must prevail, no matter the discomfort, save for the deep full body breathing which helps one focus.  All new to me.  While I have admired Zen from afar and have friends who embrace Zen practices, this was the first direct experience I have had personally.  With the intent of tapping into our innate personal leadership effectiveness we participated in morning meditation as well as other movement and voice exercises, all designed to “call up” a variety of expressions and energy in ourselves. Perhaps I will touch on this further in future blogs.

 Back to the “DON’T MOVE” experience. This really hit home to me.  I felt embarrassed, diminished and indignant simultaneously for several moments after I realized I was the culprit moving. There were many thoughts racing through my head. Some of which were: “How was I to know you aren’t supposed to move?” “The others must think I am disrespectful – what a klutz.” “Who does this guy, who barely knows me, think he is shouting at me in front of others?”  “There are nicer ways to correct someone.” “My hip is killing me…how does he expect me to agonize in such pain without moving to get comfortable?” 

However, there was another voice that was telling me to simply accept the discipline, take charge, breathe through the discomfort and experience the cadence of my breathing.  All of a sudden 45 minutes was up and I got through it. That was cool.  A notch in my personal mastery belt. Scott came right up to me at the end but didn’t apologize.  Rather he told me his command to “not move” had no personal intent at all.  Furthermore, pain and discomfort are actually a gift and not something to get rid of, but rather to work through with breathing and posture.  Having some pain and discomfort makes us aware of areas we need to pay attention to.  Hmmm ….I think he is right.

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