Sacred places and the case against being a couch potato

Sometimes I wonder why this injury had to happen to me, why not some couch potato who could just as easily sit on a sofa (or now, a wheelchair), and spend hours watching TV or playing video games, and having little to no concern about the weather outside or their natural surroundings. My situation would probably be easier if I were like this. Being a sedentary, physically unmotivated person who wanted nothing more than to be passively entertained would translate quite well to the common prognosis of life post-Spinal Cord Injury: sit on your ass, get around in a wheelchair, abandon hope of regaining who you were prior to injury, gain weight, and do your best to deal with your “new” life. But as I’ve stated many times, I am the furthest thing from this type of person and so I have to accept that while the path of NOT being a couch potato may be extraordinarily harder for my recovery (I would think a couch potato may not even bother to try to recover), the potential reward of rediscovering any of the active things that I used to do is monumental and motivating to me to continue my fight.

I believe we all have places that are sacred to us, and many of my sacred places are  associated with nature, the outdoors and the absolute sense of serenity, joy and fulfillment I get from visiting these places again and again. Over the last two weekends I had the pleasure of going to two of my sacred places: Yosemite National Park and the coastal areas of Marin County, north of San Francisco. On both occasions, generous friends opened up their homes and I was fortunate enough to share these experiences with incredible friends who treated me as I always had been, and recognized and respected how important these places were to me.

My earliest memories of Yosemite are as a child, grumblingly pitching a tent during a pouring thunderstorm, hiking underneath craggy peaks and swimming in its cold yet refreshing rivers, streams and lakes. I have explored many different corners of the park, which in more recent years has come in the form of finding solace from the large crowds by backpacking through its less-traveled trails and finding its more hidden treasures. I was nervous about coming back to this sacred place without the ability to hike and move as I used to. Honestly, I had avoided a trip to Yosemite since my accident specifically because I didn’t want my memories and nostalgia to overwhelm and upset me.

By contrast, I had spent a bit of time in the gorgeous coastal areas of Marin County as a teenager, but my deep appreciation for this sacred place developed in the last few years through my frequent road bike rides through this area. Living in San Francisco meant that I would often hop on my bike, cross the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and escape from the city to surround myself with coastal redwoods, rocky beaches and winding hilltop roads.

To be honest, it was excruciating at times to be in these sacred places in a wheelchair, unable to stand up or walk or go anywhere with uneven terrain. It pained me to conjure cherished memories of past experiences and to wonder if and when I would ever do those things again on my feet. I would be lying if I didn’t admit this, but to my surprise, I discovered that despite my physical limitations, it was fantastic to be in these places again. Those ethereal granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley haven’t changed much in hundreds of thousands of years, and there’s no reason for me not to continue to appreciate their beauty now. Sitting in the sun with friends, eating freshly shucked oysters and enjoying a beautiful afternoon was a bit more tedious because I was stuck in a wheelchair, but it wasn’t enough to take away from savoring that moment. I even figured out a way to lean my knees against a picnic table and stand up with the help of a couple friends.

The mixture of emotions that comes with going back to my sacred places, albeit in a very different physical state, is a difficult challenge, but at least now I’ve reopened the door to enjoying them and can use fresher memories of these places to fuel my continued recovery.

Getting towed by two black labs
Getting towed by two black labs
Standing up!
Standing up!

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38 thoughts on “Sacred places and the case against being a couch potato

      1. That’s ok you need help. The good thing is you are helping your bones by standing and telling your brain things. I know it was not easy… I’m just saying there are no signs of struggle in the photo on your face… 🙂 good job!!!!

      2. Oh yeah I know what you mean and if only you knew how relieving and great it felt to stand for that brief period of time! Wow. And yes I’m always trying to send those signals to my brain and body. Just rebuilding those neural pathways… Thanks for the continued support and encouragement -AB

  1. Your post really made me smile. Sure, life has dealt you a really shitty hand, but think of all the experiences you would have missed out if you had been a couch potato! You would more than likely not be in your current situation now, had sitting on the couch all the time been your lot in life, but, being the amazing person you were and still are, you have experienced SO much more than your average sloth.

    Myself, I am a self-confessed mostly-couch-potato. Well, a computer-desk-potato, if we really want to split hairs. I had a friend (we sort of drifted apart after a number of years) who is in a wheelchair due to a motorcycle accident in Switzerland where he skidded out on black ice. He makes me look like the laziest person on this earth. He does sit-skiing (water AND snow), he plays wheelchair basketball, he travels the world… he is just amazing.

    Another friend I had in times gone by was a farmer called John. He was a paraplegic since age 17 (car accident) and is now in his late 40s. I went to stay on his farm with him and he had just moved house. He came and met me in town and I followed him out in my car when we got to the farm gate. He somehow managed to open that gate by manoeuvering the car around and pulling the gate open, and then closed it again after we both drove through. He took me on a tour of his farm, driving his MANUAL four wheel drive by pressing the clutch in with a metal post and changing gear wtih the other hand while doing god only knows what with the steering wheel….

    Then we got to his house. He had not had time to build himself a ramp just yet. He was at the staircase, a half case, when he plopped out of the wheelchair and hoisted himself up each step on his arse, and then when he got to the top he reached down and hoiked his wheelchair back to the top of the steps and got back into it. I asked him if that was a pain. His reply was along the lines of ahhhh it only takes a few minutes. I asked him if there was anything he could not do. His reply? When the light bulb goes out in the ceiling that is a bit of a problem. Other than that, he was perfectly able.

    So the moral of my little story is… I am sure that both those guys have been where you are now, with varying degrees of difference, of course, in their injury, but when you look where they are today…. they are doing what they loveand getting the most out of life, albeit in a slightly adjusted manner. So, while you are at the stage that you are now, I truly hope you are still blogging in five years so we can all take a moment to look back and say “look at Arash go!”.

    1. Yeah the independence and self-reliance of your friends is truly admirable. I know that enjoying life doesn’t stop with this injury but it’s a bit more of a challenge for me to enjoy things when I want to do those things in the ways I used to. But alas, it’s a source of motivation for me to continue my recovery. Thank you for sharing these stories with me. -AB

      1. Hey! I am sure you will get to that stage too, in due course. 🙂 I always love reading your stories as you are always so honest and inspiring. xo

  2. Congratulations on finding this joy again. Like the other commenter, I can’t wait to see the next five years. But I anticipate the very next post and what you have done, or are doing now. Continued success in your recovery and adventures.

  3. So very glad that you aren’t limiting yourself and you are allowing yourself to have those moments of joy and revisiting your favorite places. I’m sure you are seeing these places from a totally different perspective – and it’s good to realize that the different perspective isn’t always bad! I hope that these journeys will continue to fuel your soul and as always, sending good energy your way!!

  4. Arash, hello! I know how you feel. Besides doing things with my family, playing golf is my passion. Last Fri. I played 9 holes at a par 3 executive course which also had two par 4s and one par 5. I beat my 14 yr old grandson by one stroke! His name is Preaston Pauole and the therapy stairs at Neuroworx was his Eagle Scout project this past year. I know I won’t beable to beat him much longer because his drives are 3X mine, but that’s okay. Keep enjoying life and it’s great seeing you standing. Sam

    1. Hi Sam. Yes you do know how it feels I’m sure. Enjoy the remaining golf games in which you can win. 🙂 It feels great to stand and I only hope I can work up to the level you’re at sometime soon. Best to you -AB

  5. I am so happy to see you standing up Arash! I know one day you will be walking through Yosemite again. Keep up the inspiring and optimistic writing!

  6. Arash, so great to see you in the outdoors and the place you so dearly love – Yosemite. It is my favorite place too and the majesty of nature there never fails to inspire. As does your spirit too!

  7. Sometimes it is the areas of deepest potential pain that ultimately bring us the greatest joy!! I am so glad that you went and enjoyed instead of allowing the unknown emotional reaction to keep you from relearning those areas and enjoying them regardless of your physical condition.

    On another note in entrepreneur magazine this month on the cover is a robotic suit made to help SCI patients walk, thought of you when I saw it!

    1. Very cool to hear about the exoskeleton. There are some truly amazing things happening with helping SCI. I think in a few years there will be a lot more technology and attention given to it. -AB

  8. Ohhh, Arash. (Do I start every comment that way? Probably…) I know it doesn’t compare, but I remember the great effort it took me to walk—a quarter mile, a half mile, a mile—with my arm in my sling after my accident. Nothing like what I’d been able to do previously, but still oh so good to be out… I love Yosemite. Haven’t been there in YEARS. Also love Marin County, though I’m sure I’ve not been in that area as much as you. Do you like Tiburon? It’s a pretty little town… I’m so happy for you that you were able to get out and enjoy these places—almost like old times. Nature has her own soothing touch.

  9. Nice to see that smile. It looks like you are keeping or building a great upper body.
    That will come in handy as you regain your other abilities. Try to do a lot of swimming. Nice to hear from you. Vince Nash

  10. Arash: This is a great post. Thank you for your generosity and grace in sharing your experience with such openness and vulnerability. These characteristics, coupled with your strength and determination to heal will serve you well in this journey, even as it inspires so many more of us whose paths you are crossing – both “able-bodied” and “dis-“! It was good to see you back at SCI Fit today. I’m hoping for miracles for you along the way, especially for everything you need financially and as far as insurance goes, so that you can really focus your energy on doing the physical, mental and spiritual work of getting through the healing process. Will work from here to be on the look-out for anything that I think may help, to pass it along. Courage and peace. Cheers. -Tom Haller

    Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2013 03:50:55 +0000 To: thallerjrpeagreen@msn.com

    1. Great to see you too as always Tom. It does seem like it will take an actual miracle to get my financial/insurance situation sorted out but I just have to keep going now with the positive support I’ve gotten thus far. Thanks for your offer to help. I’m excited to hear how your trip goes and look forward to sharing our knowledge. Look forward to seeing you next week -AB

  11. Hi Arash ~ I can understand all of what you explain, and can only imagine how many emotions and conflicted feelings you must have had — thrilled to be out and visiting these magnificent sacred places, and then reflecting on when life was so free and easy there too. Perhaps use this just as you are doing with all your visualization work — see yourself free and easy again there — and just inhale that feeling till your cells can record it. I know you did this — just about sure of it!
    You look fantastic and happy in these shots – so nice to see!! I have to agree with your opening remarks – the fact that you are NOT of ‘couch potato’ mentality just has to increase your motivation and rate of recovery. Stay strong and keep smiling my dear friend ~ Much Love
    to you always, Robyn

    1. Yes you nailed it Robyn. Amazing how you are so insightful about me just from our blogs and online communication. I’m truly grateful for that and to have connected with you. I do think about those outdoor experiences and inscribing them to my brain somehow. I think that’s why I still continue to have such vivid dreams of walking, running, etc. Here’s to NOT being a couch potato, ever. Much love to you -AB

  12. Great to see you out & about in the great outdoors, Arash.

    And while it is understandably painful to go to your previous outdoor locations in a wheelchair, I urge you to do so. Take up every possible offer by friends and family to revisit treasured memories. Eventually you will find the emotional despair & frustration turning to enjoyment.

    It’s all about the mind.

    If you can ‘see’ those places through new eyes, you will find some of that frustration lessening.

    Emotions are merely products of our own creation (unless you have a chemical or drug imbalance of course). It’s hard to say that to anyone whose life has been turned ‘upside down’. The world hasn’t changed. The parks, mountains, flora and fauna still exist in exactly the same way, it’s our eyes (and in your case, body) that have changed.

    I discovered that in order for my life to change (from an invisible chronic illness sufferer), I had to change. I had to see the world from a different perspective. I had to create new pastures and new pastimes. I had to re-invent my life to fit in with my limitations.

    It’s not easy to do, but gradually, gradually, one day you wake up and discover you have got some of your life back again. In my case, the new life was better than before, because I re-discovered my creativity and zest for new experiences. Yes, I still have daily pain, fatigue and some physical challenges. Yesterday there were 2-3 times when I knelt down to take a photo and couldn’t get up again. A momentary panic engulfed me. I thought I’ve have to ask a stranger walking past me for help. Then I told myself “this has happened before”. You can do it. Calm down. Put the camera on the ground and change your weight to the right. Lean further over and take your full body weight onto your hands, forearms & shoulders. I had to take charge of my mind and think slowly and carefully. (The nerve damage and messages my brain send to my right leg don’t work any more).

    1. It’s informative to read your experiences with your own struggles and how you deal with them. I hope that I can one day get to a point where my frustrations are significantly lessened but that day seems far away for now. I know it’s great to get out there and enjoy these experiences as much as possible, but it’s surprisingly challenging for me still. It’s like I don’t want to taint these places that are so sacred to me, by enjoying them in a different way, in a wheelchair. It may not make sense but that’s the best way I can describe it. Thanks as always for your candor and encouragement. -AB

  13. PS. I forgot to add……
    “This happened to you” because you have the strength to overcome,change and adapt. You have the ability to reinvent yourself. And……by doing so and sharing your experiences, you are able to inspire and help those in a similar situation. Think of this life-changing situation as an Opportunity.

    I have a poster taped to my fridge. “Optimism – The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them”.

    1. It’s interesting you say that because that’s what I think a lot of the time. Every time I get bummed or frustrated about my future after this injury, I think that I should treat this as the most incredible opportunity to do something. I hope I can do that as I move through my recovery. I have visions of this and I suppose it’s just up to me to make them into a reality… -AB

  14. Arash: In case you haven’t already found this on your own, I’ve seen a couple of interesting things regarding the upcoming implementation of “Obama-care” insurance exchanges. Specifically, for California, there is a website – http://www.coveredca.com. Also, as a decent overview article, with some other embedded references and links, I saw a piece published last month in the Sacto Bee that might be useful; article by Emily Bazar of the California HealthCare Foundation (“CHCF”) Center for Health Reporting at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Best of luck, courage and press on. Cheers. -Tom Haller

    Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2013 03:50:55 +0000 To: thallerjrpeagreen@msn.com

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this info with me Tom. I’ll look into all of this. Would be great to find something better than what I have now… See you soon -AB

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