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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Elbows, ankles and life's four stages

So, I took a risk early this morning. I started to exercise again seriously after two, no, four days since a seizure. Time sure flies when you're having fun....

   It’s the day before another Avastin treatment. The risk is that the exercise I’m doing may set off another seizure, but I felt I had to keep those joints as supple as possible, the muscles working, the symmetrical exercises repeated, and the crookedness of the arm in particular worked on.

   This is even at the risk that, if they have to use the right arm tomorrow to find a suitable vein, I might get a seizure in the middle of that infusion, which could interfere with a process I don’t want even slightly disturbed. But somehow it seems right. Just one minor seizure the whole past three weeks. Surely the risk is worth taking to keep the rest of my body tuned as far as that’s possible?

   I confess to being bamboozled about the relationship between manipulating my joints down the right side of my body and the seizures. After all this time, I feel I know less about it than I ever did. The Brain-Brian thing remains much of a mystery to me. Sometimes it seemed perfectly clear; now? I don’t know. 

   Maybe seizures have nothing to do with the exercise at all. Maybe Brian just has a growth spurt at certain times and kicks off a seizure. Maybe the relationship just isn’t that close. Maybe maybe maybe. I realize I don’t even know at the deepest level what a seizure actually is. All I know is that a perfectly good limb, undamaged physically to begin with, starts to misbehave.

   And I also know that with the seizures under control as much as possible, the exercise I do makes a significant difference to me in all sorts of ways.

   So, I wake, often round 5 am or so. I stretch the arms, the fingers, rotate the wrists. If the right one won’t rotate like the left, which it usually won’t, then I use the left hand to push it firmly into the similar position to what the left hand was in, and hold it. Every exercise I do, I do it ten, maybe twenty times, depending on what it is. Arms, legs. I won’t go into it, as this is hardly riveting stuff, but doing an arm or leg exercise slowly and methodically gives you time to think.

   Hinduism gives everyone within its fold a complete religion, a way of life, a social structure and a flexible philosophy adaptable to every person. I focus when doing these exercises on one aspect of the way that works for the individual. It divides life into four stages, very sensibly. In the first stage, you are the student. Your task is to learn, whatever it is you need to learn for your future. Parents and wider family support you. Who could argue with that? It sounds very familiar.

   Now, stand in the doorway. Hands on the door frame. Do a vertical pushup against the frame. Slowly. Now, repeat that twenty times.

   Then, when you have learned as much as you’re going to purely as a student, you pass to the next phase, that of the householder. This is the time of marriage, of creating a cocoon to raise children, to acquire the necessary possessions for food and shelter for the family. It’s your duty at this stage to do so. No need to feel guilty that you own a house and a car, or acquire material things; at this stage, your family needs them.

   Now, do that door frame exercise again, only use just the right arm, with the left not even touching the frame. Make the right do all the work. Oh dear god, how weak that arm is! The right one, that you once did all the heaviest lifting with. Pitiful. Work it. Work it hard. No, come to think of it, not today. After Avastin, then work it harder. It’s doing OK.

   So the time comes when your kids are no longer dependent on you. (Will that ever happen, some of you might ask! Let’s not go there...) They’ve left the nest and now you enter the third stage of life – to start to withdraw from attachment to all these things. The possessions you cling to and don’t want ever to let go and the things you don’t want to change... get over them. They’re not going to fulfil you for the rest of your life. You want something deeper and more meaningful, but you can’t do that clinging on the things that will ultimately let you down.

   You need to come to terms with, or be at peace with real fulfilment, free of attachment to possessions. You start to let go.

   Now, those ankles and feet. Stand there, holding the door frame with your left hand for balance, and just raise the heels so you’re standing on tiptoes. Twenty times. Now, ten times for the left foot only. Not too bad. Now, ten for the right. That’s a struggle. It’s like the foot is glued flat to the floor. Raise the heel. Yes we can! Where’s Obama when you need him? I can do it. Not great, but I can. Brain, not Brian.

   Finally, you reach a stage where you can free yourself mentally and learn about the things that matter to you as you approach death. You realise the limits of attachment to the world and the freedom that brings. That comes with real maturity. If you’re still chasing around after new possessions or gratifying the senses alone, you’ve got a long way to go. Sorry – I know the truth hurts. Yes, I can do without an iPad. Truly.

   But, you can do what a lot of people do and deny the whole idea. That’s a pity, because I’m sure the Hindus have it right. Contentment isn’t about possessions. Not of course that that idea is peculiar to Hinduism. Christianity has the same outlook in this respect. So has Buddhism. BUT, for all of them, as Shakespeare thinly disguised as Hamlet says,
      " is a custom
      More honor'd in the breach than the observance...."

   Now, do an alternate heelraising like pedalling a bike, only standing. How floppy that right knee joint is! Yet how much better than the first time you tried doing that. Ten times. Come on, don’t wimp out on me. Just do it.

   It’s a day for slogans, it seems.

   When I was at my lowest ebb, some months ago, I had certainly started that process of withdrawal, well and truly. I lost interest in many of the things that were almost a passion to me. World news became depressing – well that hasn’t changed - but at least I don’t ignore it now. I withdrew into a shell that extended not much beyond my front door. But there was a sense of freedom in that. An absolution from responsibility.

   And yet, whereas by the Hindu model this should promote a loss of ego that is part of gaining spiritual freedom, maybe it did the opposite for me and put the focus where it shouldn’t have been. On myself, way too much. A better sense of well-being offered by Avastin, however ephemeral that may turn out to be, gave me a second chance to get things into proportion, pour all that ego and self-obsession into writing it down, and to feel as if this frees me to face whatever is ahead.

   I’m tipping it out of myself, like a form of sludge. That’s good.

   I’m ready for the Avastin tomorrow. And a bit more arm, leg and ego bashing.

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