Friday, September 16, 2011

Real Life Tao - Too Far One Way

There are many concepts central to the Taoist perspective, but for me, the most important one of these is balance. It is when we keep to the middle path that we avoid the extremes of the left and the right. It's like riding a bicycle. If you lean too far one way or the other, you're going to fall off...repeatedly. There is nothing inherently wrong with falling off; it simply hurts like hell.

Because of one of my congenital conditions -- my malformed and slowly degenerating left hip -- I have been treated to a real life example of what being out-of-balance can lead to.

I began to experience pain in my left hip as early as high school. I could run around as much as the next fellow, but when I stopped my activities for the day, I would be beset with severe pain and stiffness. Since I was an active bloke, I learned to put up with this inconvenience. I gradually grew to understand that, for each day of strenuous exercise, it would mean far less movement for the next few days. So, my life became an odd sort of pattern: hustling and bustling one day, followed by 2 - 4 days in which I felt miserable!

Because my left hip has always been weaker than my right, I favored the latter. If I needed to plant a foot, it was ALWAYS the right one. If I needed to pick up or push a heavy object, my right leg served as the foundation. You could say that I was congenitally out-of-balance.

Though I never thought much about it, my day of reckoning was coming. Within the past two years, it has arrived. These days I experience as much pain, if not more so, in my right leg as my left. Yes, the leg that never seemed to hurt now hurts all the time!

As my doctor explained it to me a few months ago, these past 40 years spent favoring my right hip has taken a toll on it. Though x-rays show no structural damage (sure wish I could say that about the left hip!), a lifetime of walking and moving in a slightly contorted manner -- to protect the bum hip -- has caused the overall alignment of the right side to be off a tad. Bad alignment causes pain.

I still experience flare-ups in my left hip and, when this happens, I become a temporary cripple. Both legs hurt a good deal and I find it difficult to get around, even with the use of a cane! A friend suggested that I go to a chiropractor to see if I could get the alignment worked out in my right side, but as my primary physician pointed out, it wouldn't do much good. Since my left side remains weaker than my right, the latter would get out-of-line again in a day or two and I'd be right back where I started!

Though there really isn't much I can do about this situation (short of having hip replacement surgery), it has served me well as an object lesson in the importance of balance. Chuang Tzu would be happy about that!!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. Are you not considering the surgery?

  2. I don't like the idea of being sawed on. Besides, my hip teaches me a lot about Taoism and life. I don't want to throw away such a good text book!! :-D

  3. Aren't suffering and fear something we try to overcome? Your preoccupation with pain that you are afraid to alleviate sounds a little masochistic.

    I have a friend, our age, an avid bicyclist, who had a replacement this spring. He's back on his bike now and happy he did it. My father had a knee replacement that vastly improved the quality of his life in his later years.

    I don't understand why Chuang Tzu would be happy for you. Just what have you learned from this "object lesson?" I'm out of balance and it hurts? The noble suffering of wu wei?

  4. My surgery won't be run-of-the-mill because the whole hip/pelvic area will need replacing. It would mean 6 - 12 months of being not very mobile and I've been warned that it may not alleviate a good deal of the usual pain -- it has something to do with the fact I have extra lumbar and the overall degeneration of the muscles, connective tissue and nerves.

  5. So, better the devil you know than the devil you don't? I can understand, but even muscular degeneration can be overcome. Maybe Tai Chi, I took a class full of old people who said when they started, they could hardly move or walk, and now they were teaching the classes and full of flow and fluidity. It convinced me. I'm sure even with conventional physical therapy you could go far.

    But I can understand your hesitation, surgery is scary, and the downtime of recovery sounds extensive.

    Anyways, I think this Tao in daily life is my favorite series of yours. Keep 'em comin'

  6. Yes, you put it very well! I'd rather deal with the devil I know.

    One of the problems with living in a small town in a rural community is that there are no Tai Chi classes anywhere around. I have searched high and low. I am convinced that Tai Chi would help me immensely, but I need a teacher and I can't seem to find one. :-(

  7. It doesn't have to be full-on taichichuan...some less complicated, easy-to-learn qigong movements are good; there are numerous DVDs available, although without a teacher to "transmit" the skill, it may be more difficult.

    Movement of any kind is probably good. I hope your physician is suggesting some ways to slow the deterioration, rather than just progressively suffer until you can't move at all.

  8. I guess I have a problem with fatalistic views of health (despite the fact that we all will die). Someone close to me suffers from congestive heart failure, takes dozens of pills a week, is under regular surveillance by a physician whose only counsel is, "You're progressing as we expect." He has recommended no regimen (like diet and exercise), or if he has, the patient is too lethargic to implement it. He'll always have a weak heart, your hip will continue to crumble, but surely there are things that can be done to improve the quality of life. I do not accept (personal physical) suffering as an ongoing "object lesson" in the Tao. (That's really so Buddhist, anyway.) Quite the contrary, I look for opportunities to prevent or overcome it. Things will certainly change. Where I can influence them for the better (even if temporary), is where I take action.

    Ironically, the word verification for this post is "dross."

  9. But what is better? Remember the story from the Zhuangzi about the farmer, his horse and his son? Often, what appears to be a good or bad result can have the opposite impact.

    I could elect to have surgery (with the idea of curing my chronic pain) and yet die on the operating table or it could be a remarkable success. I could choose to forgo the surgery and to continue to suffer pain, but also gain a better appreciation of life.

    When my hip gets to the point that I consistently can't get around very well, I will probably opt for the surgery. But who really knows which is better in the end?

  10. I want to correct the above comment. The story I referenced is NOT from the Zhuangzi, but the Huainanzi.

  11. Oh I know the story of Uncle Zhou and his horse...use it often myself. Of course, it's up to you, but pain is usually an indicator that something is wrong (and out of balance). If it helps you "gain a better appreciation of life" so be it. (That's what some say about giving birth...) I guess being willing to take a risk is just being fearless. Personally, I prefer life without pain and fear.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.