In mid-August, while using a table saw in our backyard that he’s used a million times in the past 20 years, my husband Peter had an accident. While he doesn’t know exactly what happened, his left hand either slipped or somehow got caught. The result is he lost his ring finger, middle finger, 1/2 his index finger and 2/3 of his thumb.
He’s required two surgeries since that day, and it’s has been a series of emotional highs and lows over the past 6+ weeks. Ironically, I was in the middle of taking an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class when this accident occurred. Who knew how incredibly helpful that would be in coping with this event.
There’s a saying, “The only way out is through.” I feel like Peter and I have been living that since his accident. It is amazing how a second can have such a major impact, positive or negative. Understandably, there have been several times when Peter has questioned exactly what happened that day. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter, as it doesn’t change the outcome (and we threw out that table saw last week …).
This has likely been my biggest life experience to date in making a conscious effort to be mindful and present. It ranks up there with the last 6 weeks of my father’s life, when he was living between a hospital and rehabilitation hospital due to complications from cancer 2+ years ago.
Before this accident happened, my intent was to write a newsletter summarizing the main points from this MBSR program I attended. I will still do that here, but in the context of my experience since the accident.
– Going toward pain instead of moving away from or ignoring it, helps in dealing with the pain. There have been several examples of this over the past few weeks, like in the first days following the accident, looking at his hand when they changed the dressing, listening intently to surgeons when they tell you the risk factors with his surgery, allowing myself to cry when I learn they could not save his thumb. Flowing with the waves of pain, while uncomfortable at the time, does help in moving through it.
– Keeping two feet planted firmly on the ground and sitting with a dignified posture to stay grounded. I mean this literally. Instead of crossing my legs when seated, putting both feet flat on the ground when someone was explaining something, or while observing an occupational therapy (OT) session helps to connect and focus on what’s in front of you. While standing, be aware of my feet in my shoes.
– Thoughts can keep me from my experience. My experience is what is happening right now. Not thinking about the past, putting a judgment or label on what is now happening, or worrying about what might or might not happen in the future. This is a biggie. Recognizing thoughts are just concepts that pop up in your head – not reality. Your life doesn’t exist in your head: it exists in being alive. Being here and alive is what connects us to others.
– Your breath is an anchor. When you get caught up in a thought, or wrapped up in a reaction, refocus on your in breath and out breath to anchor you back to the present. There have been countless “what if’s” since the accident, but now I’m at the point where I chuckle or smile when they come up. Some may lead to actions to take: a question for Peter’s HR rep, a point to make to his OT. It’s then a conscious choice to let it go and re-focus on breathing in and out.
– Every breath is a new beginning. Inhaling in new life, exhaling old stuff. An opportunity for a new start. This is major. Pete’s accident forced him into multiple new beginnings. While progress has been incremental, it’s moving in the right direction. The left hand he now has is new to him, and it takes a while for the brain to catch up to what is currently there and how to optimally use it.
Taking on a new perspective comes into play here too. We both realize Pete could have bled to death, if our next-door neighbor hadn’t heard his calls for help and ran over with a tourniquet. We’ll take him alive with fewer fingers, versus not being here at all.
Even though I’m using an accident to illustrate these tenets, you don’t need to wait for an accident to put these concepts into place. You can change your life in a second by applying these principles. You can cultivate awareness to make a new choice in how you respond to life’s events. I will add that maintaining a 45-minute-a-day home mindfulness practice (homework during this 8 week class), directly contributed to my cultivating this level of awareness and inner peace during this time.