Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Glass Hands

Illustration: Trigger Point Therapy Workbook

"Mind pervades all", said the Buddha. Our tiny little microverse is a mystery. From where does the defilement and illusion spring forth that captivates us and causes us so much misery? Was there ever a time in history when man could see with the eyes of an ultimate reality? Eons and Eons, kalpas and kalpas of remember and forget and we are left with a path of difficulty, beset with trials and dangers in which every success gains two more twice strong illusions. The veil is thick.
How much influence do we have in this universe, into nature, and on our own bodies? A lifetime of migraines and little help from the medical community has led me to turn my attention inward as much as outward, to use my love of the patterns of behavior and nature I observed as a child and apply this to an attention to patterns and cycles within my own body. I learned to listen to the ailments of others and to observe the discrepancy between spoken ailment and acted pain. As my migraine headaches worsened I began to see cycles within my own body and patterns to my headaches. Ruling out as many factors as possible, I attempted to ascertain which foods, behaviors, positions, hours of the day, etc led to such a dramatic increase in my migraine condition. Many early causes were laughable for some physicians. Many years later what had been humorous were accepted migraine triggers.
Being sensitive to my inner patterns, I could see the breakdown of the balance of my body when I began to take prescription medications for migraines. My headaches were far too severe not to take them, but I could feel something inside my body that was wrong. A cascade of problems followed that I could contribute to the medications, whether the medical community did or not.
My position at that time had typing as a main focus and I noticed that soon my hands began to ache. It wasn't just my hands. As my intake of medications for migraines increased, I could feel other joints ache and become tight, but it was in the hands that I could feel first the sharp pain in what felt like muscle or tendon, and then later in the joints themselves. It wasn't long before a few of my finger joints were swollen and typing became a painful experience. In my early twenties, just months into this job, I found myself with unexplainable joint pain and damage. The typing had triggered the damage, yes, but someone so young, and otherwise healthy should not have such fast damage to the fingers. Everyday the condition grew worse. At the point where I knew that I could not go on and that I was damaging my joints beyond repair, I called a stop to the problem and went to see a doctor. An independent physician x-rayed my fingers and determined that I had arthritis in my finger joints. The typing had only aggravated this crippling disease. This would explain how the damage could occur so quickly in someone so young. My company, in an attempt to escape any liability, sent me to a second physician who worked with them frequently on worker's compensation cases. This physician also concluded that I had arthritis, but as to swollen joints, she was not convinced. Any laymen could see the large swollen joints and compare them from one hand to the other. To make a scientific evaluation, she wrapped a tape measure around the less swollen left hand's knuckle loosely, barely touching the skin, then wrote down the measurement. When she wrapped the tape around the right knuckle, she pulled very tight, squeezing against the joint, causing the skin below to turn white. The numbers turned out the same. It was hardly scientific. It was hardly fair. I could see the motive behind her methods and moved on with the fact that I had been diagnosed with a crippling disease.
I have seen severe arthritis destroy the hands, feet, and entire bodies of people unfortunate to suffer the burden. As a musician, I had been waiting months to play music again, with no chance, given the amount of time spent typing at work and the pain it was causing. I knew that music had not led to my demise for I had never been one to play hours on end or spend too much time in practice. On the other hand, to imagine a life in which I would never again be able to play the piano, or the guitar, or type a story or play sports was terrifying.
One last physician x-rayed my hand and confirmed the conclusion. Arthritis. Get ready for a new life. Glass hands.
Stepping from the hands a moment, in my internal investigations, I could see that at times the pain in my head did not seen to have an origin in my head. It was as if the pain originated in the back or the neck. I could also see that there were times that a migraine was caused by muscular tension, while at other times, the migraine itself brought on muscular tension. I wanted to find out what would happen if I could take this muscular tension out of the equation. How much of these horrible migraines are in the head and how much is in the muscle? My quest led me to little bumps on the trapezius, the neck, the jaw and various other places that I soon found out were known as trigger points. A trigger point is basically a knot in the muscle fibers that cannot be treated with traditional massage, medication, meditation, or other common therapies. The fascinating thing about trigger points is that they rarely give off pain at the sight of the problem itself. For example, trigger points on the sternocleidomastoid, (the muscle on the front on the neck) refer pain not on the neck itself, but above the eyes and in front and in back of the ears. The a trigger point of the trapezius (the muscle from the neck the shoulder) can refer pain on the side of the head behind the eye, on the side of the neck and the lower jaw. The list goes on and on. In The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, author Clair Davies explains that he treated trigger points in the forearms in people complaining of so-called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome so often who gained complete recovery that he wondered if Carpal Tunnel Syndrome even existed.
Reality is a construct of our minds but as we can see, the nervous system plays funny little tricks. We do not even know the source of pain in our own bodies. The doctor looks for the source of the problem near where we point, but the source is far away. The source is tiny little trigger points. Alas, the doctor knows little of this. This doctor might "find" something wrong with the patient and surgery might be the only answer. This "find" will only make the patient worse, for the trigger point was never treated. Later, when the trigger point is treated by the few who know something of it, the patient must deal with the emotional scars of an ill-equipped doctor and the physical scars of wrongful surgery. Was it all just a matter of trigger points for me? No, no, no. The point is that we cannot trust the mind, nor can we trust what we are told about our own bodies. We can construct our own reality for we have constructed the old one.
I sat at home, with swollen, painful, glass hands, wondering what I could do. I was careful with my hands. I tried not to stress them. I tried not to type too often at home. I tried to keep my hands loose. I could feel other parts of my body weakening. I felt like it was time to wait for time to take me. Migraines and arthritis would bring further troubles to my body. It was at this time I thought of an ancient practice performed in the Shaolin temple known as Iron fist or Iron palm training. Monks would punch hard objects to gradually build up the muscle, tendon, and bone in their hands, using herbs to protect them from injury. At the time I imagined myself during this training and found it amusing to think of my fragile hands breaking into one thousand pieces on the first day. Then I thought of what the Buddha said about the mind and reality. The initial stages of the decline of my hands had taken place on their own, but at one point, my own mind began to believe in the fragility. I decided that my mind was too well disciplined to allow this too happened. (In actuality , the discipline came later) I began to see my hands as iron, not glass. I would stretch my fingers out each day, but not treat them delicately. I would pull them like each was a hard piece are solid iron. In the gym, I began an exercise in which I would support my forearm, place a weight in my hand, and roll the weight out slowly onto my fingertips. I started out with a very light weight, but within a year I could support a weight on my fingertips that bodybuilders and powerlifters could not, for they had not done this sort of training and found it very difficult to handle that a smaller person could train with such heavy weight. I trained numerous exercises to gain grip strength, turning weakness to strength. When it was all over, doctor after doctor exclaimed that I did not, and did not ever have arthritis. They cannot explain the still swollen knuckle which is my reminder of the past. Each doctor can only explain that the three previous doctors must have made a mistake. The x-ray must have been misread or have been switched. Another possibility is that, just as in the days when physicians used leaches to cure disease, the doctor has yet to understand the mind and the strong impact it has on the world and the body. While science hardly deals with this issue, it is paramount to the path of Buddhism. They are free to believe what they will. For me, I am comfortable with the time I turned silk into iron.

Davies, Clair Trigger Point Therapy Workbook Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. 2001


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Tomb

The Master Tombbuilder surveyed the land in front on him. To the east the holy mountains sheltered the coming tomb from winds and evil spirits. To the west, the vast dessert promised security from foreign lands. The sun watched high overhead, approving of the days work of marking off corners and rooms. The first inner wall was to be built.
Breaking with tradition and to save time and money, the Master Tombbuilder decided to use a local sacred softstone for the inner wall to improve the beauty and sanctity of the site. The first few layers of stone had been set without event. The Master set down his crossed leveling device onto the stone and watched the pendulum to ensure that the wall was indeed level. All was going as planned. He handed the leveling device to his apprentice.
When the wall reached shoulder height, a horrible rumble was heard, dust came forth from the lowest level, and within seconds, the stone cracked and began to fall. Men on wooden stools were hit by falling stone and mortar. Dozens of bricks of softstone hit the floor, cracked and broken. The men were panicked.
After cleaning up the destruction the Master Tombbuilder called the Head Priest from the Temple. Clearly the wall had failed because they had not sought the approval from the gods. To the man they went to one knee, one knuckle to the floor, and said their oaths to the gods. The Head Priest blessed the site and the men with his holy stick and returned to the temple.
The wall was built up again, but when the height reached that of the shoulder, the rumbling was heard, the cracked began to form, and the wall fell. Men were again injured and began to panic. The Master Tombbuilder sent the apprentice to fetch the Head Priest.
"Master, is it possible..."
"Silence! Fetch the Head Priest, boy," ordered the Master Tombbuilder.

The Head Priest returned. This time he blessed the site, the men, the Master Tombbuilder, his tools, and the stone. With that, he returned to the temple. Yet when the wall again reached the height of a man's shoulder, it fell.
The Master Tombbuilder sent the apprentice to fetch the Head Priest.
"Master, is it possible..."
"Do as you are told, boy. Get the Head Priest quickly or the gods shall take you," barked the Master Tombbuilder.

The Head Priest returned. This time he blessed the site, the men, the Master Tombbuilder, his tools, and the stone. He reasoned that the wall had fallen because the gods needed the priest to stay there. The priest stayed and the wall fell again.
The apprentice picked up a broken piece of softstone and looked up from the floor at the two powerful men.
"Master and Priest, I think the fault is in the stone itself, not in our affinity with the gods."
The two men began to laugh as they looked to each other.