Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Electric Metaphor

This summer I got hit by a car. It was a hit and run while I was on my bicycle. One of the things that was a bit unusual about it is unlike the majority of accidents involving cars and people on bicycles - the car did not strike the bicycle, it hit me full force on the hip. The rest of the damage to my right side came when I crashed down off the hood to the pavement; that took out my right shoulder, elbow, wrist, and knee; hip (again), ankle and I bounced my head three times so hard it punched a hole in the shell of the helmet. Oh yes, that is when the bike got damaged too.

To say it was a life changing event is a bit of a mild understatement. As the months go by, things heal and things reveal themselves to be damaged beyond repair. I can no longer bike, run or swim. I also cannot walk further than a ¼ mile. To go further, I need a cane, a lot of distance from people as I slowly dissolve into a cloud of pain and exhaustion and about three days to recover. I also cannot jump and kick in the myriad of ways I was in Kung Fu. Oddly enough, it is the Kung Fu that has saved the majority of my mobility.

I have developed a rare type of bursitis in all the joints on the right side of my body that is most associated with NFL players suffering repeated high impact injuries over their careers. It also makes sleeping, sitting and standing a painful affair. The constant level of pain is daunting, but it can reach heights that take my breath away. I am most fortunate I am so trained in meditation and breathing techniques because it allows me to manage the pain. The side effects of the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs are so devastating I do not use them. Plus, I have found they don’t work. They just make me not care my body is on fire.

It turns out that it is pressure and repetitive impact movements that cause the most pain – i.e. walking, running, sleeping etc. Kung Fu, with its constant motion means that my body is always shifting and changing. I can work a full range of motion for two hours with less pain than walking up to the corner store in five minutes. I have taken to certain forms in Kung Fu and the jian shu that let me best compensate with muscle development to take pressure off my hip. It also preserves a flexibility and range of motion that is preventing a further loss of mobility. After the accident, my right leg was three quarters of an inch shorter than the left because of the muscles, tendons and ligaments tightening – now they are back to normal because of the Kung Fu and Qi Gong.

Since, if you know me from the love and words blog (and I will open that site again shortly) I gave up my car years ago and switched to commuting on a bicycle, I suddenly am physically incapable of that or walking (my beloved long walks that gave me poetry and music); I was left with the bus to get around. The world got much smaller. Not to mention the bus requires a lot of walking from the stops to where you are going so it was not working out well for me.

The solution – I bought an electric scooter. No, not a mobility scooter, but it obviously came from the same species. This is an eZip 750 watt alternative vehicle. It is changing my life again. It has relieved a lot of daily excess pain and given me back independence, it has made it OK for me to use the cane when I have to and it is also proving to be one of the most powerful metaphors for healing and awareness I have ever encountered.

You see, the eZip 750 is a full alternative vehicle that is road legal and protected by the Federal government from state regulation. It also has the torque of a Dixie cup rolling up hill in a wind and can drop from its masterful 15mph to 3 on a hill. It comes with a stated range of 12 miles on one charge, which in Providence means a hill and a turn and you are pushing it.

So how do you modify it to make it viable as an alternative vehicle in this city? Everyone jumped to suggesting I get the eZip 1000. That’s a 1000watt engine. It’s can go faster, but not further. It has more torque but the torque on a hill drains the engine just as quickly as the little 750.

The problem wasn’t speed. The problem couldn’t be solved by buying something that went faster on the flats so you wouldn’t (hopefully) notice that the hills were just as hard. The problem boiled down to neither scooter can maintain speed and range. Without range, I can’t do what I used to do and go where I need to be. Without maintaining speed, I am at risk in traffic not because I can’t keep up, but because people will lose patience with me and become reactive.

The solution was to not to go for a larger watt engine, but to make a small change to the controller board to reduce the resistance. More torque. Add two batteries, more range.

The next problem was the seat. It was hideously uncomfortable after ten minutes. Again, everyone began suggesting huge comfort seats, but those comfort seats are very uncomfortable after a while because they don’t allow your body to naturally support itself. The problem turned out not to be the seat, but where I put my feet on the scooter. I welded on two foot pegs to change their location and suddenly, my back and hip are fine on long drives and the seat is no longer an issue.

We have a tendency to look only at the symptoms and try to get relief from the symptom and not what it would take to address the whole problem. Like with my own healing from the accident, I find myself having to explain to people that even with a hip replacement, I won’t go back to having the same body I had seconds before I got hit. That is gone. This is now. The goal is not to get rid of the pain, but to change the life so that any pain doesn’t interfere. A hip replacement would take care of the hip problem, but introduce a new one and do nothing about the rest of the issues.

When you try to erase what happened, to turn back time to where it was before, you will always lose more than you will gain. Life is about change and inevitably moves forward. When you cling to what has been, there is only sadness and anger. Who wants to live like that?

One of the problems that I have seen so clearly with the modifications I have had to make on the scooter is somehow we have lost our recognition that all change takes patience and time. We are trained to think that one pill, one engine, one purchase, one moment will transform our lives when even in the case of the one moment of getting hit by a car – the accident impact is still going on in my life. To think that it all happened in a few seconds and was over is to fail to see the reality of such an event. The same is true about changing a life; we expect sudden miracles and what we actually get are seeds.

Seeds to be planted that may or may not take. If we are smart, and have never planted that kind of seed before, we hold some back to see if what we think will work will come to fruition. If it doesn’t, try something else. But slow steps, sure steps, steady steps – steps you learn from.

There is nothing that can ever stay the same. In that, lies the secret of life. If we hold ourselves to the past, then we cannot remember who we are in the same way that we can never really remember how things were. Our memories our very subjective things, we fill in gaps and rewrite history to reward or punish us as fits with the current stories we have decided to live.

And that is the other key to change. We are all living stories that are not real. All it takes to change the story you are living, is to decide to live another one. It is not an overnight transformation, but slowly and surely the new story will grow. It is like the people who ask me how fast the scooter can go, and then dismiss it as an option for them because it is not fast enough. The truth is that in a city, with all its stop lights, I get to the same places within 5 minutes of someone in the car – how does this happen? While they can get up to 35 or 40, they then have to stop and wait at a light. With my consistent, slower speed I almost always hit green lights and never come to a rest. It is not how fast you go, but the steadiness of your journey that gets you there. But we think speed equals efficiency.

No story is real, but no life can be without a story for what life really is would be our undoing. We must always have our buffer, our context, our magic and hope to place what happens to us within a survivable framework. It is in choosing the buffer that allows for growth and change that we become healthy.

I don’t have a name for the scooter yet. But I do have grand plans for it. I forgot how much I enjoy having a tinker toy around. I try not to look at the bike in the corner; it is not the right selling season to be able to get rid of it. I have a cane that I have learned to use in the Bodhidarma Cane Kung Fu form and I see it as a tool now, not an object of weight and can use it during the day without anger and resentment.

But most of all, I have a sense that with patience, newness appears. It doesn’t matter if it lasts or does not last, that is unimportant. I have come to value economy and efficiency, doing what is needed in the moment.

All that really matters is doing what is needed in the moment. 

Be guided by your story, but don’t cling to it. It isn’t real anyway and should be the one thing you can let go of without undue pain in order to be present for the next one to grow. Just one thing to remember, you are the only one who can pick the story you live, you can take one that’s offered, but it’s still your choice. Choose wisely, and if it doesn’t bloom, plant the seeds again. 

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