Don’t get me wrong by the title. I am doing really well since surgery #2, as I’ve mentioned to several of you recently. It’s true. This surgery was WAY easier than the first. I guess because they didn’t remove lymph nodes and I therefore did not need a drain. The range of motion in my left arm was supremely disabled after surgery #1, so much so that I could hardly change my shirt or brush my hair. Day by day, my range of motion got better and coming out of surgery #2, I am happy to report it was not negatively affected at all.
So, recovery then was way faster. I was even able to eat at the hospital before being discharged. I only took pain killers for maybe 3 days and now (10 days later) am pretty much back to normal.
So why the sadness then, you ask?
Well, it has come up in meditation. The first time I noticed it, a couple days before surgery #2, I was doing a lying meditation in bed. I was focusing on my breath and of course frequently drifting off into thought (meditation takes practice and constant reminders to come back to focus). As I delved into a total body scan, whereby the goal was to attend to the whole body and sense which spots or areas were troubled or tight or uncomfortable, my heart stood out.
My heart hurt.
It felt heavy and sad. It was kind of weird because I don’t typically feel sad, at least not for myself. Even when I was diagnosed, I wasn’t sad for me, and only really got upset when I spoke with others about it. I can feel others’ sadness but not usually my own. I was not upset about the feeling and didn’t cry. I simply stayed with it for a few minutes before moving onto another ache. I accepted it completely.
Of course there’s sadness here. DUH!
I noticed it again just prior to being wheeled into surgery #2. I was told after surgery #1 that how one feels going into surgery is typically how one feels coming out. If that feeling is anxiety then one might wake up screaming. If it is calm though, one would likely wake up calm. Remembering that, I thought that it would be a good time to practice the mindfulness skills I’ve been learning and practicing in group.
My initial instinct was to do another lying meditation and just try to calm my whole body, however, as soon as I relaxed, the sadness was profound. I even started crying. Then I started to freak out a bit because I was thinking, “NO… I cant be upset when I go into surgery or I’ll wake up upset!” Okay, so I was a bit of a wreck.
So, I switched to a “mini”. Mini’s are something we learned the day before surgery in group and involve breathing in a particular way (turns out there are several ways to meditate). There are a few different ways to do a mini that I wont go into here, but the one I chose to practice in those moments before surgery, was a square mini.
The square mini includes 4 parts of breath, all equal in length (like a square). Breathe in for 3 seconds, pause for 3 seconds, breathe out for 3 seconds, pause for 3 seconds. Repeat. In group, I initially found the pauses, especially after the out-breathe, very difficult but surgery day, it worked perfectly. It managed to calm me right down and to (miraculously) keep me solely focused on breathe for the good part of 2 or 3 minutes! I was calm going in and calmer than usual coming out. Success.
Finally, this past Wednesday, I shared all of this at group. The doctor who leads our group said that often when people notice sadness, their initial reaction is to push it away as it is an unwanted or unpleasant feeling.
“Don’t push it away”, he said. “I understand why you did pre-surgery but I encourage you to sit with it next time you notice it. Be with it. Notice how it feels physically in your body. If sadness is there, let it be there and get to know it.” (this is loosely quoted from memory).
He also warned that people often say, “I’m sad.” This is an inaccurate statement though because they are not sad, rather they are many things (I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter etc). By labelling oneself as “sad”, one is almost encouraging the feeling to be all consuming. It is more accurate and beneficial to say, “Oh, sadness is there. There it is. I know that feeling,” and accept sadness as a feeling one is experiencing rather than a label of who one is.
Sadness is here somewhere and my mission this week in meditation (“safe” meditation at home alone) is to welcome it and get to know it better. The reason I say “safe” is because I know this will require time alone for me to fully embrace.
Do you push sadness away or have you gotten to know your sadness?