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‘En un clin d'oeil'
‘En un clin d''oeil'' — ‘in the blink of an eye'' — was the name of my intramural basketball team in high school. Needless to say, we emphasized quickness over strength and, frankly, talent. The term came back to mind a few months ago when I was injured — suddenly and unexpectedly — while cutting limbs off an old tree.
We had just returned from a vacation trip, and I was in great shape from running, climbing, kayaking and hiking. Literally ‘in the blink of an eye,'' a large limb, whose trajectory I had miscalculated while cutting, hit my lower right leg on the way down and tore a tendon just above the ankle. All of a sudden, my own trajectory was radically altered.
After a medical consult, X-ray, and MRI scan, it was determined that I would be sidelined for two months to allow things to heal, and it would be several additional months before I would get back to my accustomed level of physical activity. It drove home in some small way the reality of many similar stories I''ve heard about people whose lives have been altered in an instant by accidents and injuries — often catastrophic, sometimes permanent — to which they have been forced to adapt.
I had plenty of time to reflect on the circumstances of soldiers in the present and previous wars whose sudden and traumatic injuries fundamentally alter their lives. Of people like Christopher Reeves, or the physician who trained for several years for his first triathalon, only to be knocked off his bike and nearly killed by an errant driver, or the Olympic-caliber skier who fell off the end of a ski jump instead of launching into the sky*.
Ironically, not long before my accident, I had been listening to a meditation talk by Joseph Goldstein about the fragile nature of things, about how we take many things for granted and act as though we have control over our individual worlds. During a retreat, he had fallen during a walking meditation (!) and had to be carried back to the center. The event had major consequences that affected his life for several months afterward.
Such events, however unwelcome, can be powerful teachers if we are open to the message. During several subsequent weeks spent mostly sitting in a recliner, I began to appreciate how strong an investment I have in physical health and well-being. I quickly became restless, bored, impatient, and fearful about the implications of my injuries.
It was hard to get into the spirit of the holidays, and even more difficult to accept the fact that, for this year anyway, I would not have the pleasure of welcoming spring by taking advantage of those wonderful, unseasonably warm days in February and March to get outside for a run.
I came to realize how significant a role being physically active played in regulating my emotional state, especially stress reactivity. I also came to realize, however, that the more I dwelled on what I had lost and was unable to do, the more I was missing on a day-to-day basis. This was a perfect opportunity to ‘practice what I preach'' about being mindful, about living in the moment on a day-to-day basis.
The injury still lingers, but no longer seems to dominate my time and attention as it did a few weeks ago. My work and home life continue as before, though I feel more appreciative on a daily basis for things as they are, however seemingly ordinary. Every step, every breath, every moment is precious: take nothing for granted.
Paul Salmon, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the psychology department at U of L, an ACSM-certified Health Fitness Instructor, an RYT/200 Yoga instructor, and a member of KHFM''s Advisory Board. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.