In early February, I ruptured a disk in my low back: first an ache, then a burning two-inch poker, then an angry nerve’s lightning bolt searing down my leg. For the next week, until I saw a spinal specialist who prescribed the right nerve medication, I hobbled with a cane, couldn’t sleep, was unable to sit at my desk, and had no appetite. Intractable pain is exhausting.
Sometimes, while lying awake, present to the moment which was busily announcing its presence—where else could I be?—I focused on severe pain as rich sensation. Although the aching and burning didn’t let up, the sensations did fluctuate, always subtly shifting. For brief periods, the margin between agony and ecstasy melded. Such a mystery.
Other times, I rested in and as the “field” (a simpler word for “consciousness”—more plainsong, less full orchestra). That’s the apparent choice: either be the sensations, or be the field in which sensations arise. In neither instance did the pain go away. Thisness is thisness—there is no choice but to be it all.
Apparent choice? No choice? Which is it? Once I heard Adyashanti answer a student’s question this way: “If there’s an apparent choice, make it.” I giggled with delight and slipped that expression in my pocket. Of course, both—“both” is a concession to the failure of language to express the inexpressible—are true. Neither are true. Nothing is “true.”
Because of this teaching—this ever-evolving-no-place-to land-understanding—no story formed. I had no fearful thoughts of the future, or story-building about what caused it to happen—which would have added suffering on top of acute sensation.
Gratefulness flooded for the extravagant pain, my husband’s precious care, the abrupt interruption of teaching, driving, and writing. Gratitude lit me up: this apparent paradox of field and sensation, the ever-inseparable unmanifest and manifest, never other than what it is: outrageous, unstoppable, and luscious free medicine.