that kind

that kind

I don’t want to be
that kind of old—
querulous, afraid,
and downed by loss
instead, I want to try
new ways,
be curious
with a rich heart
and ready smile

that’s another way
to imbibe this life,
all of it, full tilt—
make peace with pain
its knife bite,
advancing aches,
and griefs that rend

two role models,
both mid-nineties
teach me how to be—
their lifelong friends
are gone, and yet
they greet each day
with interest and relief
to find themselves alive—
I’d like to add in joy
I pray to be that way

2023 ©Amrita Skye Blaine
I’m writing a poem a day. These are drafts—not final versions.

pain as free medicine

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.

And yet!

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.

© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2017
photo credit: Emily Polis Gibson of the Barnstorming blog
credit for “free medicine

pain, a closer look

toothSince pain is the companion right now, I’ve been taking a closer look. When I focus only on it–for example, when I’m lying in bed and the room is dark–the pain breaks down into discrete sensations: pulsing that feels deep and heavy, then a split second between the pulses that might be labeled relief. There is a mild ebb and flow that mimics breathing and makes the discomfort easier to be with.

If I put attention elsewhere–perhaps a meeting, or cooking, or writing, the pain runs together in the background, and becomes a solid, tiring entity. The thought comes, “Enough, already.” So I pause in my work, stand still, put full attention on the sensations again, and they return to the ebb and flow.

Forty minutes after taking Tylenol and Advil, boom! From one moment to the next, the pain drops 80%–for three hours, I can truly focus on other activities—real estate, tending to our home, sleep. But it creeps back, and eventually, if I’m sleeping, wakes me. I be with the discomfort until the five hour mark, eat a couple of bites of yogurt, and swallow more medication.

Wednesday at noon, the endodontist. Bless him for learning this specialty.
© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2014
photo credit