Wednesday, October 15

first do no harm

First do no harm.

This is a latin principle historically taught to physicians. In the past I have been attracted to the gentleness of this phrase, and empowered to refuse treatment which I deem more destructive than beneficial. But it was recently that I decided to adopt it as my favourite maxim.

It was a bad day, a day where the fatigue and pain were severely interrupting my usually-manageable activities. The old record began to whine in my mind, with belligerence. ‘I can’t believe I can’t get anything done, what a waste of existence.’ ‘Just make yourself. You’re lazy which is why you think you’re unwell, and you could get up if you tried harder.’ Long was the day, loud was the disappointment, strong was the discontent. To soothe the pain and the unjust reprimands, I sought comfort in the form of hair pulling. Much later, Ben walked in to a pile of hair, and a rocking, sobbing, sadness.

In the end, I wasn’t as distressed by my sickness as by the way I had handled it. I deeply regretted that I had turned on myself {and my extremely undeserving head} and multiplied my woes.

By providence, my friend sent me a long email filled with love and too much wisdom to write here.
She wrote:

Please extend to yourself the same kindness you extend to me. You will find that you are the most gracious, considerate, strong, interesting and wonderful person you could ever want to meet.

I shudder to use those adjectives for myself, but the first line was startling.

What if, when I was hurting, or disappointed, or anxious, what if I played an empathetic track? 
Opportunity for practice soon presented itself, bien sur, and I was facing a day where I would be alone and mostly couch bound. It was a little strange to extend compassion, and I felt like a positive psychology experiment.

I found myself walking up a long hill, feeling dizzy after many vials of blood had been extracted from me. I noted that it was a great feat to have gotten my blood tests done on such a challenging day, and that I could enjoy tea when I got home. I lay on the couch, and thought: I’m not lazy nor a hypochondriac. No one feeling this way could move, let alone work. I’ll know without a doubt when I’m feeling well, and I’ll do good things that day. I thought about John Milton’s poem, the line, ‘He also serves who only stands and waits.’ I acknowledged that I was doing well with no pain relief.

Late afternoon the sun eventually beat the clouds, so I went to bask in it and celebrate making it through the bulk of the day, with all hair intact, and lack of agitation. Ben walked in the door, and I was doing some plies and fondues in the sunshine. Same headache, same malaise, same lack of achievement as the other day – but this time, there was no trail of destruction. I hadn’t done what I wanted to, but first, I had done no harm. That night, I was UTTERLY content in having just lived through the day.

Why do we kick ourselves when we’re down? First, do no harm. 

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