I. The Power of the Word
My friend John Brehm gave a marvelous reading from his new collection of poems, Dharma Talk, last Sunday at Powell’s City of Books in Portland. Several mutual friends were there, one of whom inquired about my health.
I replied, somewhat carelessly, that though my health was mostly fine, little age-related stuff seemed to be nibbling around the edges of me—things like my slowly thickening cataracts, a weird snapping stiffness in one of my finger joints, and—here I pointed down to my right heel—a little plantar fasciitis.
I wrote about plantar fasciitis—a common, painful heel condition—in this newsletter a few months ago when I first developed it. At that time, it was often excruciating and it definitely impacted my lifestyle, which normally involves much walking.
But since then, with the help of orthotic shoe inserts, it had gradually eased off to the point where it no longer interfered with my activities and I scarcely thought about it. When I did think about it, it was with relief and gratitude that the pain was abating so quickly, in just a matter of a few months. My heel still felt occasionally sore but nothing like it had at first.
Still, for some obscure reason, I felt compelled to include plantar fasciitis in my little inventory of bodily complaints that I itemized for my friend. And I even pointed directly at the afflicted heel.
Then, about fifteen minutes into the poetry reading, I suddenly felt a sharp stinging pain in the back of that heel—the nasty paper cut-like sensation that had augured the start of my plantar fasciitis, but which had quietly disappeared over the last month or two.
And then for the rest of the day, every step hurt.
And I noticed, the next time I drove my car (which was the following day) that I reflexively hesitated to get back out of the car because I knew that standing up again would hurt. I hadn’t experienced that inhibiting anticipation of pain for at least a month.
In short, I was – and am – having a plantar fasciitis relapse. And I’m completely convinced that my words had something to do with it (and the pointing didn’t help either!). It was as if, in speaking the words “plantar fasciitis” and pointing down at that heel, I had cursed myself (or re-cursed myself maybe).
I really need to watch my words! They have tremendous power—far more power than I/we understand at this moment in our evolution.
Does this sound like superstition to you? Or maybe merely an unwitting auto-hypnotic suggestion?
Could be, but consider: a mere 400 years ago, humanity was utterly unaware of the existence of microorganisms, or radio waves, or electricity. These phenomena were not only unknown in 1623; they were pretty much unthinkable. That is, they were probably beyond most people’s imaginations. Today of course, they are implicitly accepted as invisible elements of the reality we are immersed in day by day.
So who can imagine what we will come to know—come to hold as common knowledge—about the power of spoken words in a few hundred years from now?
Doesn’t the Bible say “In the beginning was the word”? Think about that. Maybe those old prophets were on to something.
Anyway, I’m pissed at myself for my careless words and I cannot accept that the pain is back, so I just go for my walks every day anyhow, and sometimes the pain recedes or goes away, and I really can’t figure out how much of a role my mind plays in all of this, and if there is some pain that is “real” and other pain that is “psychosomatic” and whither the two shall meet and whether in decades or centuries to come everyone will have such natural control over their own minds that no one will ever have to endure physical pain, and therefore no one will be susceptible to torture anymore. (I hope we won’t need a friggin’ implanted microchip to attain this level of self-mastery.)
On the phone the day after the poetry reading, my friend Patrick Miller, who introduced me to A Course in Miracles some 33 years ago (that is, before electricity was even invented … just kidding!), reminded me that, according to the Course, life as we know it is a dream. I had forgotten this, though I remembered well (and have repeatedly referred back to over the years) the Course’s emphasis on absolute, unequivocal, unconditional forgiveness for everyone and everything. (ACIM: “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for help and healing, regardless of the form it takes…. Only appreciation is an appropriate response … for both loving thoughts and appeals for help, for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly.”)
Patrick also reminded me about the Course’s description of “the happy dream,” which is the state of existence/consciousness one enters into once forgiveness becomes automatic, immediate, moment by moment. The happy dream is delightful and blissful, though “still a dream” says the Course.
I said to Patrick, “I’ll take that dream! Can I at least hang out there a little while?”
But it occurs to me that perhaps this plantar fasciitis relapse is a golden opportunity to practice unconditional forgiveness moment by moment, step by step (literally!). With every stab of pain, I can forgive myself for having spoken so recklessly, and forgive God for being such an unforgiving rigid old fart and “punishing” me so mercilessly for my heedless words.
As you can see, I still carry within my psyche the concept and image of a stern old stick-up-the-ass father God from my childhood and I often blame shit on Him, like when I somehow hit my head on the shower shelf the other night after bending down to pick up the soap I’d dropped (no prison jokes please! Jesus!), and I blurted out: “Fuck you, God!! I hate you! And I mean it!” And I did mean it!
But the “real God” laughs at that kind of outburst and even relishes it in a way – forgiveness not even necessary. Real God doesn’t have an ego that gets offended, much less one that requires protection. Real God says, “If you feel you need to forgive yourself for telling Me ‘fuck you,’ go ahead, by all means. As for Me though, I just thought it was funny, sweetheart.”
Shit, though. My heel really hurts right now.
II. The Joy in My Burrito
I’m not going to name names but there is an extremely popular Mexican food franchise (two locations) in Portland that’s always crowded and people seem to assume that it’s a “cut above” most other Mexican restaurants. But I ate there last week, for the first time in over a year, and was reconfirmed in my impression that their food is tasteless, non-nutritive garbage.
So I won’t name that place, but I will name Los Gorditos (three Portland locations) which is a two-mile walk from my home, and which is seldom busy, and which doesn’t present itself as anything fancy, but whose veggie tofu burritos are always amazingly, vibrantly delicious.
When I stopped in there a couple of evenings ago, I noticed that the cook – who works in plain view around the corner from the ordering counter – was dancing joyfully to the music playing over the sound system as he cooked. And I thought: “Wow! All that joy is going into my burrito. So that’s why it tastes so good! And I bet it’s healthier too, because he dances while he cooks!”
Some day, I am convinced, science will understand the health-and-flavor-enhancing benefits of elated food preparation.