What literally burning myself reminded me about mindfulness
January 20, 2017
One day while straining pasta in a mad hurry into a sink that was mostly full of dishes that I was too impatient to clear out of the sink, I scalded myself with when hot boiling water splashed out of the sink and onto my upper thigh.
I have to say there’s nothing like intense physical pain to snap a person out of some mindless multitasking into the present moment. Though, to be fair, there are way easier and less painful ways, so I’m definitely not recommending this. But since it happened to me, I’ll tell you all about it, and if you’d like you can live vicariously through my experience.
After ripping off my pajama pants (smart!) and hopping around on the opposite leg (less smart…not really sure how I thought that would help) I spend the next few minutes cooling off my leg and hoping I didn’t do very much damage, while knowing — intuitively, through a felt sense, or whatever — that was definitely not the case. But I’ll give myself kudos for being hopeful anyway, because why not?
It’s interesting how one of my first instincts was to cover it up and put it away as quickly as possible. I gently rubbed on some polysporin on it, stuck on some gauze and taped it down. Approximately 3 and ½ minutes later I realized this was not going to cut it, as I am prone to moving my leg quite often, by virtue of being human. So stand, sit, walk, whatever — something was pulling in some direction.
When I removed the gauze I could see it was blistering. I thought “Oh Shit!”, because eloquence was low on my priority list in the midst of this nervous system emergency response I was experiencing. But I was also thinking “Wow my body is amazing!” I mean, not mine specifically, but human bodies. (My body is pretty rad, but that’s beside the point.)
Watching it healing before my eyes was fascinating, humbling and super gross. I was having a mindful moment while observing my gross blistering burn! I was thusly snapped out of my rushy, mindless doing. Obviously it was a little too late since having a mindful moment while I was straining that pasta would have been much more helpful.
I also watched myself doing my regular thinking thing — ruminating on the incident and wishing I had gone slower, paid more attention and not been so lazy with the dishes in the sink. And to the other direction as well — worrying about what will happen once this pain subsides. Will it hurt more as it heals? What if it takes weeks to heal? What will I have to miss out on in the meantime? And this too was a mindful moment — albeit an imperfect one — because I could watch myself starting to ruminate, and starting to worry, but I could stay present and bring myself back.
After I rewrapped it, I was feeling kind of bummed that my plans for the rest of the day would now have to change. My leg was really stinging, I felt a headache coming on and I felt a bit off in my gut. I wasn’t freaking out — I knew I would be fine if I just took care of myself and let my body do it’s magical amazing stuff. Acknowledging that I should probably stay home, I decided to go grocery shopping.
I’ll be the first to admit, Grocery shopping is the opposite of staying home. It 100% involves going out, using one’s brain and carrying things. Maybe out of stubbornness or something I just wanted to feel productive after rendering myself relatively useless. But the truth is: spicy thai chili tuna was on sale, and I love that stuff almost as much as I love good deals. And so another interesting observation was made how easily I could motivated by deals and food, and even overcome physical pain and discomfort to get them. Keep this in mind if you ever need to finagle me into doing something.
I managed to stay present with how I was feeling as I went out on my grocery shopping adventure, which happily resulted in me taking my time (see I learn!) and not packing my bags to the brim with heavy cans of tuna (I only got 12, though I was tempted to slid every can off the shelf into my basket!).
When I got home I was hungry and very headachy but the stinging has subsided, which was nice. The sensations continued to gradually change over the night and into the next morning as my body continued to heal. I’m continuing to observe and be mindful of how I’m feeling and how my burn is doing. Instead of looking at it and thinking “That’s gross!” (even though is a totally accurate observation), I’m in awe of how magical and amazing my body is. It knows exactly what to do — from making blisters to protect my damaged skin while it makes new skin, to producing pain that makes me stop in my tracks if I do anything to disrupt the area.
In my past, this would have been a situation where I harshly criticized myself for being stupid (accurate…), and directed a lot of negativity towards my body — and what I’ll be missing out on, the pain, how long it takes to heal. Instead I’m quite uplifted by my response (more kudos for me!). It reflects that after many years of working on mindfulness and self compassion, it appears that these things have taken root and are becoming my new normal.
Another silver lining in all of this is how excited I can now get about things like wearing jeans again, or being able to sleep without a bandage, or being able to shower without wrapping my leg in plastic.
I’m happy to say that my burn is healing very well. I have no hard proof of this, but I’m pretty sure my positive attitude has helped immensely. Human bodies are complex, but one thing is for sure — all the systems are interrelated. Being negative and stressed about healing from an injury or illness certainly does not pave the way for a more effective immune system. Now when I look at my burn I feel grateful for my body, and I try to remember to slow down and be more mindful. Sometimes I do need to be smacked in the face with these realizations, and the universe is kind enough to oblige me. Maybe this time if I remember the lessons the universe won’t feel the need to cause me to harm myself again just to realize things I already knew in the first place! Here’s to hoping!
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