A young mother recently brought her two-year-old son to see me in the emergency department of a small rural hospital. He had been playing with a toy truck with small removable wheels. They were fun because they were made of a soft plastic that gripped surfaces like a speeding Baja Bug on the dusty desert road from Tijuana to La Paz.
For reasons known only to a two-year-old, he decided to remove one of the wheels and insert it deeply into his right nostril. Perhaps he wanted to inhale Sonoran scents like ocotillo, cardoon, mesquite, and yucca. Perhaps he just wanted to stick something up his nose. As anyone with young children knows, there was ample lubrication in the form of copious nasal secretions that allowed easy entry and made removal impossible.
When we met we were calm. The toddler’s mother held him closely with a wholesome, nurturing maternalness that reminded me of the importance of affection in healing. We tried a variety of gentle approaches to remove the wheel. I tried every technique that I knew, short of anesthesia. I’ve always been able to remove things from noses and I felt my ego approaching that precipice of aggravation that has the potential for harm. Each attempt I made pushed the wheel farther back until it was out of site. There were tears and a little bleeding ― from him, not me. Part of a raspberry popsicle helped us maintain our bond, but the effort was to no avail. I decided to send him to a bigger hospital that had the necessary equipment that would make removal easy and painless.
Mom was frustrated, the boy was upset, and my ego was bruised. Still, I felt that taking a break from trying so hard, and creating some space before the next effort, was the most nourishing decision. Off they went.
I called the mother the next day to apologize for not being able to remove the wheel and for the inconvenient trip they had to take. She said that she wasn’t upset and actually was very happy. When they arrived at the larger hospital and the doctor inserted a scope into the boy’s nose, the wheel was gone! Simply taking time to be and not trying so hard allowed his tissues to relax and he swallowed the wheel. Sure, there was certainly a chance he could have choked on it, but fortunately the body has a wonderful tendency towards healing that left to its own accord usually results in the orchestration of balance.
The Law of Least Effort
Many of us grow up believing that solving problems involves doing work in a disciplined fashion. The harder the work and the more disciplined the effort, the greater the payoff. Commitment and right action are clearly invaluable ingredients in fulfilling a dream. The problem arises when we encounter a roadblock and instead of stepping back to get a greater perspective, we push harder. Doing more of what wasn’t working in the first place is rarely useful.
When you’re feeling stuck and your intellect and ego tell you loudly and overwhelmingly to work harder at removing the obstacle to your desires, remember to allow yourself time to simply be. Powerful ways to cultivate this be-ing include meditation, the practice of non-judgment, and spending time in nature.
As our awareness deepens, we realize that being, rather than doing, not only allows us to more easily traverse obstacles, it also opens us to seeing them as invitations to more fully understand and enjoy the remarkable experience of living a human life.