To be perfectly honest, I don’t know for sure if my toe is truly broken … though it probably is. 🙂 You see, nearly two weeks ago I came home from teaching yoga and set my backpack on a barstool to unload a few things, like I always do. Per the norm, I then grabbed the backpack and spun to put it in a chair at our dining room table (aka my “desk”). Next thing I knew, the barstool had toppled over, and its edge had impacted directly on the second toe of my left foot. A few shouts and curses later, I thought about peeling my sock off to survey the damage. Honestly, it felt completely smashed, so I feared it might be permanently mangled or something.
To cut a long story short, my toe quickly turned QUITE black and blue and is very sensitive. After teaching a class later, a yogi who works as a nurse saw it and instantly declared, “it’s broken.” We haven’t gone to the doctor to confirm this, though, because the treatment would just be what we’re already doing, i.e. taping it to the middle toe.
A few days later, Lisa, my wife, and I were talking about how that day’s yoga practice had been for her. She shared with me how she really wants to and is working on carrying/tapping into joy in all situations. This is especially valuable AND difficult for her because she’s sensitive, has lots of feels she feels, and is quick to tears and feeling hurt … and on top of this, there’s a person she frequently interacts with who unconsciously treats people in a judgmental, gruff, and unkind manner.
As we talked, I asked Lisa if she thought this was attainable for her and others? “Yes,” she quickly and honestly answered. If she had asked me whether I had any thoughts on how to go about this, today I’d reply, “be thankful for your broken toe.”
What I mean by that is everything/everyone can be our teacher, practicing mindfulness allows us to see there is immense goodness and numerous things to be grateful for at ALL times, and living IN the flow of life brings continual bliss.
(It quickly got even MORE black and blue! Also, it appears I have some hobbit in my ancestry! 🙂
A couple days after I “broke” my toe, and before I decided to write this, I put an idea for a future blog on my list: Life lessons from a “broken” toe – everything/everyone can be our teacher and the “little guy” matters and is super important. My thought here is WHEN we pay attention there are valuable lessons to be learned from everything and everyone. In truth, I’d go so far as to say the most life-changing and life-giving lessons are often given us by the most traumatic experiences and difficult people. The key is taking the time to decipher how this person and/or this moment can help you or I become a kinder, more courageous, more peaceful, and/or more loving person.
For instance, my nearly mangled toe reminds me the “small” and “unimportant” people are actually SUPER valuable and important. It’s CRAZY how often we bump things with or get gently banged on our toes … or maybe I’m just especially clumsy! 🙂 Regardless, multiple times a day my toe (i.e. one of the “little guys”) will get dinged and bark at me, reminding me it’s an ESSENTIAL part of things I take for granted, like walking, jumping, dancing, and running. I’m grateful for this lesson, and am using it as a reminder to be extra kind, complimentary, encouraging, and interested in cashiers, baristas, servers, customers, ferry workers, bus drivers, strangers on the bus, and other people we can easily overlook or dismiss.
The crushing of my toe has also drawn my attention to my inner dialogue (have you noticed how it seems I keep increasing the damage done to it? At this rate, by the end of the blog the toe will have been severed! LOL 🙂 Specifically, I’ve noticed how easy it is for me to shame myself for poorly chosen words or unfortunate actions, as well as the ease with which I shame my body or body parts for perceived “faults.” It seems poor and demeaning self-talk come almost unconsciously. Learning from my toe, though, is encouraging me to practice more positive inner dialogue both toward myself and my body.
Truthfully, I’d say shaming self-talk IS unconscious, it’s mindlessness. I listened to an On Being podcast this week, where Krista Tippett interviews Ellen Langer, author and professor of psychology who is a renowned expert on mindfulness. In line with and inspired by her thoughts and findings from years of studies, I think when it comes to bliss and experiencing joy in all situations: Mindlessness is believing and buying into the story we’re handed by culture, others, and/or the negative thoughts we seemed haunted by, whereas mindfulness is choosing to see the goodness that’s always in us and around us, being grateful for these gifts, and creating more goodness from whatever life hands us. While I think this mentality applies in all situations, I’ve found it especially helpful amidst difficulty, tragedy, hurt, trauma, and sorrow.
Ellen says mindfulness is simply “actively seeing and creating new things.” She notes how studies and life shows a simple word change will make a world of difference. For instance, as you can imagine the average maid does a good bit of manual labor at “work”, right? Pointing out to her/him that their efforts are great “exercise”, and shifting their perspective from seeing it as “work” to a “workout” leads to increased happiness and fitness. Likewise, say it usually takes 8 hours sleep for you to feel rested and energized, while 5 hours leaves you grumpy and lethargic. Quite literally if you get only 5 hours, but declare it “a good night’s sleep, you will almost certainly feel the same as if you’d slept 8 hours (note, Ellen points out this will work for a few nights, but not over the long-haul).
I bring these examples up to point out: Words make worlds and the perspective we choose can bring us to heaven or hell … no matter where we actually are. For example, recently a 51 year-old friend of mine died unexpectedly. Instead of a “memorial”, the family had a “celebration of life,” which created a very different mood and environment for family and guests. From afar, it seems this mentality has beautifully shaped the whole family, even while they continue to grieve well. Likewise, amidst the storms of life, be they troublesome coworkers, family disputes, cancer, disabilities, or divorce, the words we choose to define our experiences and perspective we pick to see things through will bring us either bliss or turmoil, EVEN as we feel our feels … which, I’ve discovered the hard way should be gone through rather than avoided.
There is ample evidence in life and the world to believe this is all meaningless, pointless, and ugly. One needs look no further than the evening news to see this. AND there is abundant proof in life and the world to trust this all is amazing, ripe with meaning, and beautiful. So, I ask: Which is a better story? Which brings more joy? Which leads to greater love? We’re ALWAYS telling a story in our heads, so let’s make it a GOOD one!
Personally, I think it is SUPER easy to go along with the story society hands us. The one that tells us we’re never enough, to be afraid, and that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. When we’re mindless and unconscious we go with the flow and buy the story that we’re NOT enough, DON’T belong, and AREN’T loved, because reality bites, hook, line, and sinker. With practice, though, I believe we can pick a different path.
When we’re mindful and conscious we live IN the flow, where we see everyone/everything is our teacher, there’s ALWAYS countless things to be grateful for, there is beauty all around and within us, and we trust we’re all being created, guided, and carried by a Cosmic Goodness (aka God).
As Lisa was sharing with me, something Jesus said came to my mind. I think the Divine in the flesh was talking about living in the flow, which is simply trusting God (or whatever you consider to be the guiding principle and nature of reality) is Good; meaning our Source is FOR us, WITH us, and ON our side. (As a side note, while I use a variety of words for “God” because I want to make the blog applicable and accessible to as many people as possible, and because I like to vary the words I use, I find God and Jesus incredibly helpful because personally and experientially I find our Creator is relational, loving, and intimate, instead of merely being some cosmic force). Here’s what Jesus said:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6.25-33, New Revised Standard Version)
Animals don’t live fearful, anxious, worried, or insecure lives. They simply trust and enjoy life AS it is, and we can do the same thing. Note, this doesn’t mean we don’t work against oppression, strive to end violence, shout in the face of injustice, and so on. Instead, I mean we live in the flow, working, playing, and loving with the secure trust of a child whose Divine Parent has our backs. We pick a good story, even as we feel our feels and go through our struggles.
So, this Thanksgiving season I am thankful for my “broken” toe. It reminds me everything/everyone can be our teacher, practicing mindfulness allows us to see there is immense goodness and numerous things to be grateful for at ALL times, and living IN the flow of life brings continual bliss. At least that’s how I see things 🙂 What do you think?
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Grace and peace,