the peculiar beauty of being forced to *splat*!

Posted on September 4th, 2011

This week in Sunday Life I simply get stopped

by jamie nelson

During the week there was a moment – a very brief one – in which I was flying through the air, superman-style, and cruising towards a pile of rocks, when it occurred to me, “this is going to be majorly inconvenient”.

I landed on all fours, putting out my neck, and gouging a neat, golf ball-sized chunk of me-ness from my knee. But, in that brief moment, all I could think was, “Goddamn, this is totally putting a stop to my plans – three months in the making – to go surfing for four days with my best mate who’s just flown in and has three kids and so never, ever gets four days to surf with a friend”.

Then, splat.

Indeed, I spent the next four days, after a stint in emergency, shuffling about like Gumby. (Have you ever tried going to the toilet without bending your knees? Definitely funny, in a Gumby kinda way).

Quite obviously I was stopped. In my tracks, unable to do any activity as every limb was accounted for with stitches or gashes. (And it was definitely funny that it was specifically every corporeal surface required for surfing – feet, palms and knees.) This is my idea of purgatory and it’s happened many times over, and always just prior to Big Plans for Something Important. Yeah, you too?

We used to call it Murphy’s Law and move on. But these days we see it as “a sign” of “the universe trying to tell us something”, which was pretty much everyone’s response to my accident during the week. “Ooooh, you’re being told to slow down!” or “Ooooh, you’re not meant to be running”, and from one unhelpful unsolicited advice peddler, “You’ve definitely got some bad karma going on.”

No I don’t. I can be quite sympathetic to this kind of woo-woo speak normally. But in this case I think the matter is more straightforward: I was simply stopped. And the other simple thing is this: we don’t get stopped often enough these days. So when we do, we get really put out and put it down to something really freakin’ supernatural and ominous. Rather than simply being stopped.

I’m sure you’re the same – we don’t accept stoppages these days because we think everything is fixable and reversible. We don’t have to wait for anything. Ergo, we shouldn’t have to wait for anything! Our flight gets delayed, we stroppily demand to speak to someone more senior who can get us on the next flight. We get a cold, we take drugs. Our phone carrier is having issues, we name and shame on Twitter. I think being stopped causes us more pain and anger and frustration than just about any other life circumstance these days. Think about the disproportionate angst a slow internet or a driver who stalls when the light turns green can cause.

Previously, coping with adversity was aligned with tenacity. Optimism was about an ability to push on, barge through barriers, despite the circumstances. But I find it interesting this week to notice more recent research finds tenacity can actually hinder us. A dogged belief you can always fix things sees the tenacious come undone when they simply can’t. Because sometimes you simply can’t. One study has found this style of optimism can suppress the immune system and make us sicker.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, found optimism now also requires the ability to reframe and to refocus. We’re not talking blind optimism, but switching goals quickly, like taking up music when you’re prevented from walking. It’s also about accepting. In one study, diabetics taught techniques for accepting their condition were able to stabilize glucose levels. The researchers add that optimism isn’t ingrained, it’s practiced. It’s a muscle that gets stronger when flexed.

So being stopped, what can we make of it? Well, it’s certainly an opportunity to flex the optimism muscle. And to practice accepting that we are simply stopped sometimes. That we don’t have to read too much more into it, nor do we have to do anything about it. We have a leave pass! Hoorah!

It’s also an opportunity, as I found this week, to practice humility. To realize not every occurrence in my life is so damn special. And to just get over it.

PS my knee is still healing…I’ve learned a lot of healing tricks along the way: Vitamin E or Roesehip Oil on the new skin to stop it from scaring, jelinet on the open wound to heal it faster, using a sanitary pad as a bandage (much cheaper), Arnica once the wound has healed over (the jar always says not to apply to open wounds…someone told me this is simply because it heals skin so fast that it can heal over a wound that is still ejecting muck; it becomes infected if it heals over too fast)….you got any tricks??? I’m still open to them because my knee split again after the stitches were taken out!

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  • http://www.lucentimagery.com Lucent Imagery

    I certainly agree that we all need to stop whether we’re made to or choose to. I love the line about optimism and reframing our focus. I am legally blind with a degenerative condition which means I lose more sight every year. A few years after my diagnosis I bought my first camera when that was probably the last thing expected. I now pursue my love of photography and will do so for as long as I am able to share my unique perspective. So I guess my diagnosis was a splat and then my choices after that were my way of reframing my approach to life, what’s important and what makes me and loved ones happy. I like the lessons it has allowed me to learn.

    Sorry if this comment has sounded self-indulged, I just love the way your post makes us think. I hope you heal soon but enjoy the downtime!

    [Reply]

    Stephanie Reply:

    I’m quite inspired by your comment. I have health problem that I may have to live with forever, and letting go is tough. Your example is a wonderful one! Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Lucent Imagery Reply:

    Oh Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to say that. I just popped back in today wondering what further comments had been shared. Yours has warmed me. I wish you all the best in facing your own challenges.

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  • Georgia

    Hi Sarah,

    You can also take arnica homeopathically, it tends to help with the shock or trauma that the body experiences when put out of balance/injured. Not sure if you’re a homeopathy believer but I certainly think it helped me when I took a similarly large chuck out of my knee, so maybe worth a try? Hope you recover quickly! xo

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  • Emma

    I love this: “It’s also an opportunity, as I found this week, to practice humility. To realize not every occurrence in my life is so damn special. And to just get over it.”
    I got sick this week and instead of looking at what the universe was trying to tell me, I just accepted that ive had too many late nights and am run down. It’s nice to stop overanalysing things for a second and just dig into some chicken soup.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Yes! Or a bath. An afternoon bath can be great.

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  • Mia

    It sometimes shits me when people say “it happened for a reason.” Not that I entirely disagree but frequently I experience blessings disguised as things that shit me off, only I dont realise the blessing in it until much later, months possibly years. If I had stopped at the time to analyse everything I would have only driven myself nuts and missed the point entirely. You cant pick over every detail in your head. Otherwise there is a tendency to get way too self absorbed!

    Sometimes, shit just happens. Things break, flights get delayed, people screw up, things fall out of place. Nothing to do but smile and be happy in the moment, knowing you can never control everything, so you might as well enjoy the chaos and embrace it! Life is messy. Have fun with it.

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  • http://www.sarahrooftops.co.uk Sarah Rooftops

    I loved this.

    I’m actually not bad at realising there are some things I can’t fight, but the amount of backstabbing that goes on at my work every time somebody “skives off” by getting ill is incredible. Sometimes we just have bad luck; we wait it out; things get better. That’s all.

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Really? Isn’t that horrible, that that’s where we’ve got to? When we have great workplaces, we don’t want to skip work. Good luck in there!

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  • Ross H

    I had to laugh at the bit about going to the toilet without bending your knee. Been there, done that. Football injuries can be a bugger for causing problems like that. :-)

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  • http://oneaprilmorning.net Laura

    I don’t believe in karma or that things happen for a reason or the universe trying to tell us something… but I do think that everything we come across, however random and/or undeserved, is an opportunity to learn and grow. As you say Sarah, to reframe and refocus, and flex our humility/optimism muscles. Hurrah!

    Thank you for another thought-provoking column : ) xx

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    Cecilia Reply:

    Laura, thanks for sharing your view – I agree completely that things don’t happen for a reason (there’s no way that horrible traumatic things happen to people because it was ‘meant to be’), but from everything that happens good or bad there is something we can learn from it. I have argued this many a time with people who in a way release the reigns on their own life a say it’s just how it supposed to be, instead of taking the reigns and taking action to make their life the way they want it to be.

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  • Jan

    Sarah, what was the name of the retreat in BB that has been an ad on your blog? I finally saved enough money to book myself a break, but the add is gone. Help please.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Here you go: http://www.ahealthyview.com.au/

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  • Jan

    Also Sarah, loved your column this week. I wasnt too favourable about last weeks column, but this is great writing (not about your leg though). Sometimes I get a bit lost with the research you use to back up your argument and have a dictionary sitting next to me to decipher the words! But this one was good stuff. :)

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  • Alex

    I totally agree that sometimes things just happen. V basic wound advice = keep it warm and moist and try and avoid frequent dressing changes unless it’s saturated. Give it a rinse in the shower every few days/when you change the dressing. I agree dressings are really expensive :( if it isn’t healing buy a fancy one and cut it into pieces for more bang for your buck. I banged up both knees running a few months ago and got a nasty infection in one because I didn’t follow my own advice and couldn’t leave it alone! I kept finding more bits to dig out!

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  • annemarie

    I SWEAR TO GOD THIS WORKS. I have used it for all kinds of kitchen knife mishaps that would have sent anybody else to Emergency.

    Gently peel the delicate inner skin of the egg away from the shell and place the egg skin over the wound. It will stick to the skin even when dry, healing and helping to prevent a scar from appearing. Replace the egg skin at least twice a day until the wound heals completely.

    Read more: How to Use Eggs to Treat Minor Wounds | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_2126926_use-eggs-treat-minor-wounds.html#ixzz1WzgOF4Sr

    [Reply]

    annemarie Reply:

    oh, p.s. I have done this all my life, especially on open gashes that self-evidently have no gunge in them. It causes the wound to close up immediately. Much better than stitches.

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  • Selena

    Thanks Sarah, another insightful post! I love your ability to get us to stop and think about important matters. I know I am ridiculously tenacious, at times, to my own detriment. My sister was blessed with ability, while I was given an overdose of determination! I approach life with much driving force, and as per the law of momentum, find it difficult to stop and/or change direction.
    About 18mths ago, my health was deteriorating… I was terribly low on energy and struggling, so I pushed harder…and it pushed back on me even more. It was a frustrating 6 months of refusing to accept my situation and not wanting to let go of my demanding role and lifestyle and all the financial and personal goals attached. I just wanted to fix it! I was diagnosed with two AI conditions and sought to gather as much info and project manage them out of my life. Turns out not everything improves with a structured Project Management methodology! Acceptance was probably the most powerful healer.
    I agree with the hypothesis that happiness hinges on our ability to be ability to reframe and refocus and switch goals quickly. I think it is one thing to recognise something, but can sometimes it can be much harder to put it in to practise. Would welcome ideas on: how others exercise improved mental agility?

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  • Ava

    I love this fiery post of yours!! It’s funny, I’ve been doing this thing for the past couple of weeks where every time I feel sad instead of mentally delving into the ‘real’ reasons behind it, I just go “OK, time to feel it” and before I know it, it’s totally gone. It’s like my mind ticks it off my mental checklist as something to sort out… Whereas when I get down into it and expolore every possible wwhyyy, I *become* it.

    Thank you for another thoughtful post!!

    [Reply]

  • Happy!

    hi sarah – this is totally unrelated – but wanted to let you know. not so long ago you wrote a post, or a series of, about trusting your feelings, being brave, taking risks etc. you inspired me to tell my boyfriend at the time that i was in love with him. it was risky as the relationship was new but there was an urgency as he is from london and his visa was running out. anyway, turns out he felt the same way and now my new boyfriend is my soon to be new husband! im very glad i was brave enough. thanks.

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  • http://johannascott.tumblr.com/ Johanna

    Hi Sarah,
    Johanna here – I worked with you briefly on StreetSmart (when I was with Stellar*)? Anyway – just wanted to say thank you for the post! I am experiencing a similar thing right now (back injury). I agree, there’s no meaning behind it, just a lesson in patience I guess. I’m used to doing whatever I want, whenever I want (especially as I live in New York you can get whatever you want at any time!). It’s incredibly frustrating – but what can you do?

    Given your experience I thought you might appreciate this:
    http://johannascott.tumblr.com/post/9798270608/that-up-there-on-the-page-in-the-most#.TmT_Fc33t20

    Thanks, Johanna

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  • http://www.livingsavvy.com.au Jo-living savvy

    I know very well the thoughts that pop into your head in those brief moments between a fall and the splat. Every time I am amazed how my mind processes the experience, recognizes that the impact will hurt and projects forward to the implications! Amazing.

    I fell off my bike and fractured my elbow when my daughter was only 4 months old. Very inconvenient, lucky for me plaster was only required for a week, I choose to see this accident has both a blessing it could have been so much worse and a life lesson not to set out on lengthy bike trips after a few hours sleep being kept awake by a restless baby. And several years later I am still living the lesson.

    I wrote today about my choosing to see “signs” the universe was sending me last week.

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  • http://www.livingsavvy.com.au Jo – living savvy

    PS. I have been thinking some more,

    I began to think about optimisim differently after listening to HOPE 2010: Crisis, Catharsis, Renewal. An event hosted by the Sydney Festival and ABC’s Radio National in January 2010, They asked nine panellists: What do you hope for in 2010?

    Peter Sellars, a panelist, talked about the difference between hope and optimism, referring to the definition given by Cornel West, who in turn refers to Vaclav Havel.

    You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said “optimism” is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to “hope,” which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I’m full of hope but in no way optimistic. – Cornel West

    You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said “optimism” is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to “hope,” which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I’m full of hope but in no way optimistic. – Cornel West

    Here is the link to the event http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2010/01/22/2799285.htm

    [Reply]

  • Belinda Hannaford

    This is all pretty new to me, but was made aware of your blog,thro a mutual friend ,both having just read books by David Hawkins “Transcending the levels of consciousness”
    He suggested we start a conscious club in Adelaide.
    To give it the best chance, thought when I am in Sydney next I should come and see what goes on, is it available to a transients like me?

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  • Steph in Oregon

    What is jelinet?
    I have scraped and gouged both forearms and I am a massage therapist. Believe me, it’s not pretty. Fortunately they are not on surfaces that would ever come in contact with my massage clients, but I’d like to help the healing process along and minimize the scarring if possible. In the meantime, I’m learning to be okay with where I am now, scabs and all.

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  • Ava

    Hi Sarah,
    I have the same reaction to peoples unsolicited comments on karma and uneducated Universal wisdom. The understanding of karma is often misinformed, as if it’s your fault! You might find however, with time passing, you were perhaps guided by your own guides. Something may show up that perhaps you were to miss, or not to miss – given your inner most situation. Relax and enjoy the journey.

    It is also especially true, you must honor those who you have been respectfully admiring. The contact with others spirituality will often lift you to a path that aligns and resonates a level higher. This happens with the choices we make. Then we get a helping hand now and again, whether we like it or not. ;)

    What I know will help your wounds heal is an old fashioned remedy of sea salt. As you live in Byron you can heal by swimming in the ocean. You can also use add a handful to your bath with tea tree oil, and this will aid in healing. Vitamin E capsules will help with your healthy diet.

    Best wishes on your healing. xx

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  • jamie

    Enjoyed this post because is where I am at the moment!

    I’ve gone splat (or pop, or crack) more times than I can count – I’m really injury prone. I have been a runner for 3 years, yet have trouble running more than 5km without stopping because every time I build up to there, I end up with a injury (mostly training related, but sometimes you just fall in the snow and break your tailbone!). Finally after all this time it has taught me patience and I now have the slowest training build-up ever to prevent any more injuries. Going splat is definitely a good way to force you to learn!

    On the plus side, I’ve learnt to eat better for when I can’t exercise, and I can hop across the room without spilling my coffee :)

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  • Esta

    Ah reading this was timely. I am now dealing again with a crick in my lower back/glutes and annoying sciatica. I cannot lift the heavy weights that I love lifting. I have to do boring stuff like yoga and Pilates and strengthen my core. I have to get an MRI to see if I have a herniated disc because after two and a half years I am still re-injuring my back. I have finally realized that perhaps I need to shift focus and stop. Maybe I just need to walk and do yoga and be gentle on myself and let myself heal. Maybe I need to stop worrying so much that I will get fat (exercising and watching what I eat has not helped me lately to shift those few unwanted kilos – maybe the universe is telling me something). Maybe I need to cancel my gym membership and just get out in the fresh air and walk. As I said finding this blog post is timely for me. Thanks.

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