The Importance of Falling by Laurence Charland-Arcand

       I’ve always hated hospitals. For a place that is supposed to heal you it has a way of making you feel nauseated and short of breath, like you’re going to be sick. That’s how I usually felt when visiting my great-grandmother when she was hospitalised. The moment I would walk into the building I would feel like I had just put on a heavy suit of armour. All the patients would look like wide-eyed zombies. But now that I’m visiting a hospital as a patient for the first time I feel strangely calm. I sit down in one of the chairs in the waiting room facing a flat-screen TV that is playing a show I’ve never seen before. I let my back lie against the soft cover of my seat. Amidst the sound of the elevator going up and down and the smell of humidity and antiseptic soap.  I wait.

***

       When I was young, I had a white bicycle with pink handles and multi-coloured tassels. It had a pink seat and a pink basket that hung from the front. What it also had were two tiny wheels which were attached to the two bigger wheels of the bike. At camp I was the only kid with extra wheels. Every day we would travel from the school the camp activities took place in to the swimming pool in the park near my house, and every day I would struggle to ride as all the other children cut in front of me, flying at the speed of light on their two-wheelers. I was always the last one at the end of the line, the last one to cross the intersection, the last one to make it to the pool.

***

Body Scan Meditation

       1. Make yourself comfortable lying down on your back, in a place where you will feel warm and undisturbed. You can lie on a mat or rug on the floor or on your bed. Allow your eyes to close gently.

       2. Take a few moments to get in touch with the movement of your breath and the sensations in your body. When you are ready, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your body, especially to the sensations of touch or pressure where your body makes contact with the floor or bed. On each out-breath, allow yourself to sink a little deeper into the mat or bed.

***

       The doctor leads me into his office, a cramped place with a desk, two chairs and that bed doctors make you lie on when they want to inspect you. The first thing I do is give him the form they had me fill in when I arrived at the hospital, which contains questions ranging from “What did you eat for breakfast?” to “When was the last time you had sex?” He takes the paper but barely looks at it. Instead, he measures my weight, my height, my blood pressure. He makes me sit on the damn bed to check my breathing. As soon as the checkup is over, he buries his head in his books. Once in a while he looks over his shoulder to give me an awkward smile.

***

       One day when I was about seven my dad was taking down the dusty bicycles from where they hung upside down from the ceiling of the garage, the way he did every year. Only this time, as I was reunited with my companion of misfortune, I found that its little wheels were gone. Enough was enough. I was going to learn how to ride like a grown up. I spent the following weeks covered in plastic from head to toe. I had everything: a helmet, hand protectors, elbow protectors, and knee protectors. Nevertheless, I still managed to end up covered in bruises. Every time I felt the bike starting to shift, I would automatically throw myself onto the asphalt before my bicycle had the time to hit the ground.

***

       3. To set the appropriate intention, remind yourself that this will be a time for “falling awake” rather than falling asleep. Remind yourself as well that the idea here is to be aware of your experience as it is unfolding, however it is. It is not to change the way you are feeling or to become more relaxed or calmer. The intention of this practice is to bring awareness to any and all sensations you are able to be aware of (or lack of sensation) as you focus your attention systematically on each part of the body in turn.

***

       I show my parents the prescription the doctor gave me. My mother reads it and shakes her head. Dad simply asks at what time I want to go to the pharmacy. After supper, he drives me there to get my pills. Once the car is parked, I wait for him to open his door but he remains in his seat and stares at the windshield keeping one hand on the steering wheel. I step out of the car and into the pharmacy. Inside I order my medication and pay for it with my own money. During the drive home I take the bottle out of its paper bag and stare at the small white pills inside. Half a dose for the first ten days and then I start swallowing them whole.

***

       Then it was my sister’s turn to teach me. I was straddling my bicycle in the middle of the street when she and her friend came out of the house, whispering to one another. My sister wore a look of triumph on her face as she approached and then waved a Ziploc bag in front of my face which contained some kind of multi-coloured powder. She poured a small amount into the palm of her hand and held it at eye level so I could see. She told me it was magic dust and that all the great cyclists had used it at one point or another in their career. You just had to sprinkle some over your bike and you would no longer fall. A few years later, as I was looking through my sister’s desk drawers, I would find out that her magic dust was in fact a mix of coloured sand used to make sand paintings.

***

       11. The mind will inevitably wander away from the breath and the body from time to time. That is entirely normal. It is what minds do. When you notice it, gently acknowledge it, noticing where the mind has gone off to, and then gently return your attention to the part of the body you intended to focus on.

***

       We’re sitting at the dinner table. I’ve just told my parents that I’m going to drop two classes this semester. My father sighs. My mother shakes her head. She asks why. Because I’m sick. I’m too scared to tell her that the meds aren’t working, that they are making me worse. They won’t even drive me to the pharmacy anymore. “How many times do I have to tell you? You’re not really sick. For God’s sake, snap out of it. Really, it’s like you’re not even trying.” She gets up and puts her plate in the dishwasher. My father goes to sit in front of the television. I ask to be excused and walk up the stairs into my room.

***

       My parents were getting more and more exasperated with my progress. They were big cycling enthusiasts so it was inconceivable that one of their children could not bike properly. Finally, in an act of desperation, my dad offered a hundred bucks to whoever could teach me how to ride. My brother was the first to take on that challenge. He would take me out onto the street in front of our house every day to practice. He would hold onto the back of my seat and I would start riding and eventually he would let go and I would crash into the nearest object. Once I landed straight into a pile of melting snow in front of our neighbor’s lawn. My brother then picked up my bike and slowly walked back to the garage. That was the end of our little lessons.

***

       10. When you become aware of tension or of other intense sensations in a particular part of the body, you can “breathe in” to those sensations in the same way as you can to any others—using the in-breath to gently bring awareness right into the sensations, and, as best you can, have a sense of what happens in that region, if anything, as each breath lets go and releases on the out-breath.

***

       I wake up to the sound of my alarm blaring. It’s 11:55. I’ve missed the bus I need to take to get to class on time, and the one after, and the one after that one as well. I can barely keep my eyes open. My whole body is glued to my mattress, right down to my toes. I know that if  I get up right away and dress really fast I might make it to school before class ends. But then I picture my teacher’s piercing eyes scanning me from head to toe as I come in and interrupt his class. I turn my head toward my desk where my textbook lies unopened. I pull my blanket over my head and go back to sleep.

***

       Despite my initial skepticism my sister begged me to try the powder anyway and before I had the time to complain she sprinkled some of the powder over my bike and told me to ride like I meant it because she wanted the money. So ride I did. I put my right foot on the right pedal as I used my left foot to push myself forward. And I pushed and pushed. Up and down and up and down. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. I felt the bike starting to lose its balance. I inhaled sharply and gripped the handles even tighter. I’m not going to fall, I told myself. Just this once. And slowly but surely I was riding. The wind was playing with my hair. I looked up from the ground. I could see the house at the end of my street, and beyond it the sun shining brightly in the vast blue sky.

***

       5. Having connected with the sensations in the belly, now bring the focus or spotlight of your attention down the left leg, into the right foot, and all the way to the toes. Focus on each of the toes in turn, bringing a gentle, interested, affectionate attention to be with and investigate the quality of the sensations you find perhaps noticing the sense of contact between the toes, a sense of tingling, warmth, perhaps numbness, whatever is here, perhaps no sensations at all if that is the case. It is all okay. In fact, whatever you are experiencing is okay; it is what is here right now.

Notes

Williams, Mark, et al. The Mindful Way through Depression: freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. 1st ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 2007. Print.

Laurence Charland-Arcand is 19 years- old and currently finishing her last year at Dawson College where she studies Literature. This is ther first time she has submitted work to a literary magazine. This piece was produced for Susan Elmslie’s creative writing class at Dawson College, which was her first experience taking a creative writing course.

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