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A few weeks ago a nagging pain at the side of my left leg appeared out of nowhere. At first, it was muffled and intermittent, then gradually turned sharper and more prominent, until eventually it was impossible to bear. It was time to see the doctor. My primary physician, who knows me for many years, listened to me for less than 20 seconds before interrupting me with a textbook diagnosis: “L3 herniated disk in your spine, impinging on the Sciatic nerve. It’s very common. You need some physical therapy and you’ll probably be fine”.
Like anyone faced with an unexpected medical issue I was pretty bummed out. I had stuff to do, and all of a sudden had to be subject to a regimen of PT appointments, pain killers, and stretching exercises. Plus, I was told that it would be weeks before I’d be able to walk without experiencing pain so I should expect to limp my way around in the meantime. Physically unable to move fast, and spending a couple of hours each day stretching, there was no sense of fighting it. I simply had to slow down and take it easy.
I was preparing myself for a few miserable weeks leading to recovery, but then something surprising happened.
Apparently, when you move more slowly through the world, you discover new details in it. Things emerge and unfold in front of you in a different way: scents, colors, textures, and sounds that were not there before suddenly stand out. I kid you not. This may sound a little bit like unicorns and rainbows, but I genuinely started noticing the lush green of the grass, the bright yellow dandelions, the distant buzzing of insects, and the sweet scents of spring. It was almost as if someone had changed the colors of the TV to “movie” mode, and switched on the 5:1 surround sound. True, vivid HD.
The merits of mindfulness are well-known to us today. The philosophy of being immersed in the present moment dates back thousands of years and spans many cultures. It has also been studied extensively by behavioral scientists over the past few decades. But just like other things that are good for you, mindfulness isn’t easy to practice. Stopping to smell the roses is hard In a world where your attention is constantly divided between emails, tweets, alerts, push-notifications, and the car’s navigation system. But it came naturally when I was injured. I guess that sometimes you do have to break your back to be happy. Literally.