Have you ever seen a sand mandala?
They’re beautiful. Tibetan monks painstakingly arrange grains of brightly colored sand in striking patterns to create them. (And then, finally, they are swept away -- so there’s always a larger, humbling message about our impermanence in a permanent universe.)
When you stand before one, the feeling must be one of awe.
Last week I wrote about “Runners Knee Cured,” an interesting and entertaining success story. The punchline was that, after taking pain pills and stretching and icing and getting bad (and conflicting) advice from doctors and trying half a dozen other things, the author fixed the problem himself.
The two-word solution, embarrassing in its simplicity:
Smaller steps (while running).
This week I decided to write about what I like so much about “smaller steps.” The first part of the appeal is really on a figurative level. Saving bad knees, like creating a mandala from nothing more than bowls full of dyed sand, requires enormous patience and great attention to detail. And, like putting together a mandala, it requires “going small.”
Metaphorically, for one, you must take smaller steps.
I found it very comforting when I concluded that fixing my knees would take many months, or even years. Why? Because I could get off the crazy up-and-down merry-go-round of hope and despair, where one week I felt a bit better and thought I was making progress, then the next I felt worse and a lost, hopeless feeling returned.
Adjusting to a long timeframe for healing is what I call “getting on cartilage time.” Getting better will demand extraordinary patience, as you slowly push your knees harder. If you walked two miles a day this month, next month maybe you increase that to three. Or maybe only to two and a half.
So the advice “take smaller steps” has a figurative appeal to me.
But I also rather like it as a literal prescription. Take smaller, easier steps. Reduce the impact on your joints. Nothing wrong with that!
I recall the many months I spent working toward my recovery. I did take smaller, slower steps. I knew I was injured and had to heal, but the process couldn’t be rushed. I knew that I needed to move my joints, but at the same time I tried to reduce the forces being transmitted through them.
You should have seen me walk downhill. It was like there was an egg between the bones in my knee joint that I was in fear of breaking. That’s not because of any sensations of pain; rather I knew that walking downhill posed special risks because it’s easy to let your legs slam forward, step by step, propelled by gravity. I actively resisted that tendency.
And I’m sure I was taking smaller steps while doing so.
So this part of his story really resonated for me. I like the simplicity of the message, and the advice works on multiple levels.
Note: Commenters have noted that the author of "Runners Knee Cured" actually had his knee pain return. If so, I think there's a good message of caution in the coda to his tale: Healing painful knees is very, very slow and be careful of declaring victory prematurely.