Meditation Knee Pain: the Elephant in the Meditation Room…
Let me tell you about a small little moment that I experienced that was also something like a giant elephant.
A few months ago I found myself sitting under a pavilion roof on the sand floor, with about fifty other meditators in Surat Thani, Thailand. We were about to begin a ten day meditation intensive. It would mostly entail complete silence and lots of sitting.
Before we began, the woman in charge of organizing everything tried to prepare us. In particular, she gave us some advice on sitting discomfort. She told us of her own experience many years ago: how her legs would fall asleep on her, and how she would actually look forward to this moment because it meant the intense pain she had been feeling until then would finally dull! Not to worry, she reassured us, because there was no permanent damage—she was always able to get up again eventually. (!)
After these “encouraging words,” she very, very slowly managed to get off the low table she had been using as a chair, bring her legs into a semblance of working order, and ever so slowly hobble off…
I came to know her careful walk very well over the next ten days: bent at the waist, protecting her knees and hips, suppressingand a wince, carefully and stoically managing her continual discomfort. I found her to be a wonderful person, truly committed to serving. It pained me to watch.
I think about her walk often, and how she genuinely passed on heartfelt advice to all of us without seeming to feel the strange and obvious dissonance of her own suffering. I never got the chance to talk with her about it. After breaking silence at the end, I had to catch a last bus on my way to Vietnam.
I’ll never know what story she would tell of her knee pain. Whether she would keep it separate from the story she told of her practice, the advice she passed on to us. It strikes me that it is not particular to her. That this advice and these kinds of suffering are part of a larger story that cleaves to meditation. A story of suffering and overcoming.
But I wonder what other kinds of stories we can tell ourselves, what other conversations, what other ways of taking care of ourselves we can find…
Sitting doesn’t have to be a struggle. Sitting well and effortlessly can lead the way to a sustainable and sustaining practice. One where you stand up after a session spryly, not with great effort.
That’s the kind of world I imagine is possible for us.