Illness and Tai Chi Challenges
28 Jul 2009
As some of you have heard, I had an unexpected health problem last week: I had a kidney stone attack.
While lying in the Emergency Room, before being medicated or assigned a doctor, I found myself
dealing with attacks that struck for about five minutes every thiry minutes: stabbing pains
into my right kidney that are reputedly worse than childbirth. It was indeed terrible, but
fleeting enough that I was able to maintain a lucid state of awareness.
While I waited, I used deep breathing to deal with the pain. A big problem with pain is that
it makes your body tense. A big problem with tension is that it makes pain worse. The cycle is vicious.
When it worsened, I caught myself breathing shallowly and quickly. I took control of it and
began low, slow, deep breaths. I will not kid you: it was very difficult.
But the pain stayed at bay. I was neither shocked nor fearful. My Tai Chi awareness of my body
made it obvious that the problem was in my kidney. My concern - not fear, but distinct concern - was kidney
failure. Kidney function is essential to basic health, and to muscle strength. Once I knew I was
dealing with a kidney stone, I knew I was dealing with a routine and non-chronic malady.
My situation just reinforced a lesson learned long ago: sickness and weakness is not a time for
succumbing. Sometimes we have no choice; sometimes we do. We often have a choice when our
situation seems bleakest. At that point courage must assert itself.
Sickness and weakness are an opportunity to observe our Tai Chi at work. When does it work? When
does it not? What adjustments do I have to make to make up for my weakness?
Dirty little Tai Chi secret: make no adjustments. Whatever works when you are weakest, is what
works when you are not.