Sciatica, a Hair Shirt and Attention

So, this is sciatica. I get pains from my lower back and down my leg. I walk stilted and my leg is sometimes numb. I’m getting treatment for it and it doesn’t seem to be a chronic condition even though I’ve had it off and on for about 3 months. Each time the sciatic nerve becomes better I inflame it, twice now. Each inflammation was due to my helping Kevin the Handyman. It’s not his fault and neither mine. The jobs needed doing and I had to help him otherwise they wouldn’t get done and he could have got hurt if I didn’t help. Each job seemed small and if I didn’t have sciatica they were. I did not listen to my body.

Sciatica - diagram from Wikipeadia

This is the key – my not listening to my body.

In fact, if I view this situation from a Work perspective, the sciatica, instead of being a useless pain, could be useful as a powerful sensation reminding factor. I remember when I first came across the idea that sensation was the anchor, the platform, the foundation of awareness of oneself, I thought I found the key to my tan tien, my centre. Up to the discovery of sensation as an anchor for attention I visualised where my centre was. Informed by my Tai Chi teacher the centre, the tan tien was about  3 inches below my belly button and about an inch or two in towards my spine. I tried to direct my attention by visualising the surface of my body. With the discovery of sensation as an anchor things changed. I theorised that if I can place my attention on my body, or a part of it and at the same time carry on doing what I normally do, I have the beginnings of separation between “I” and “me”. The attention is divided between sensation and what I am doing. (Check out a development of this idea in my post Kites and Consciousness.)

I went about trying to find means of remembering my tan tien, my centre while watching and counting my breath using the sensation of cold incoming breath and warm outgoing breath through my nose. This was the simple Buddhist meditation of counting the breath. I scratched the spot where the tan tien should be on the surface of my body gently, I even put tiger balm on the area because the heat generated would draw my attention there. I thought I’d figured out why some monks wore hair shirts. It reminds them that they have a body and not to just squat in their minds.

Tan Tien

Did it work?

I gained a sense of my centre but this was also due to the growing sensation of my whole body. It was easier to remember the tiger balmed spot and it was the heat of the balm that drew my attention.

My sciatica has freed me from the need of a hair shirt or tiger balmed strategic spots. Sciatica has given me the “gift” of pain sensation in my lower back and leg and attending to it with awareness of my breath – I type or eat or drive as needed. The pain is there when inflammation fires up but my awareness of it is not. Reacting and feeling the pain is not being aware of it – the pain leads and my mind follows.

If I can build a floor, a stable point of attention in my body I will have the beginnings of separation.

Why the need for separation between the body and awareness?

Why the need to say I see through my eyes not with them; I hear through my ears not with them; I sense through my pain but not with it?

Without that separation “I” am not here, there’s just a happening, an event but no observer.

I wish to be present to what is happening and if what is happening is witnessed within the mind-body then I witness through this mind-body.

So, who am I? Who is the Observer? The Witness?

3 Responses to Sciatica, a Hair Shirt and Attention

  1. Ruby says:

    Hi, hope your sciatica is going well. From Ruby your grandaughter.

  2. maclc1 says:

    Gift from whom?

    I sit hunched over a screen in the three floor factory of my being, below and above all seems confusion. And yet this too is lawful? But what is my place on the turning wheel? Who am I?

    Was just looking at sites talking about my own foot aches & pains (the “Sock Doc” site is pretty intelligent, I think)

    Yes awareness is not doing and yet that separation you write about and invoke is not just a happening but a relationship that may arise from new understanding?

    I do find it hard to stay with sensation of body. I flee from it as I flee from love! Can I abandon I?

    You & I connected last year over our respective trips to Damascus. Now much of Syria is going through their own aches and pains! May there be balm for them and us!

    and peace

  3. Yes, I too flee from sensation but not as from love. There is not enough “energy” or power, perhaps the right word here is “attention” to sustain the effort to focus on sensation. I have to also remember that it is not just on the sensation but also on the whole of me that my attention must engage, otherwise I am just attaching my self to the sensation – pain. My fleeing really is a reaction to the lack of attention.

    I have been thinking – feeling the situation in Syria, particularly when Homs is mentioned because I stayed there for a few days and used it as a depature point for the most incredible Roman ruins in the world – at Palmyra. I caught a taxi for the over 100 km trip and the rose coloured ruins of Palmyra have stayed with me.

    Now my memory and vision of Syria – Homs – Damsacus is stained by the colour red – red for the spilt blood of people who just wish what we take for granted – democracy.



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