For weeks, I’ve felt consistent pain in my left shoulder. I felt it when I woke up, during my workouts and physical therapy session, during yoga, and throughout the day.
I complained about it constantly to my physical therapist as we continued to work on retraining my body and nervous system.
But then something happened. I noticed I hadn’t been feeling that pain so consistently for at least a week.
Every morning for almost 6 years I engage in a morning ritual in which I take inventory of my body and how it’s feeling. I write down in my journal the areas where I feel sensation, and what I feel. It’s a bit obsessive, but has served me in many ways.
Given this practice, you might think I would notice the absence of my shoulder sensation the first time I didn’t write it down.
It took something else for me to notice this.
It took sitting back and reflecting in silence, feeling into my body in a different way and noticing. And then it came over me in this wave of insight:
Huh. My shoulder isn’t hurting. In fact, I haven’t felt that specific pain in a week. Maybe I’ve turned a corner in my physical therapy and reconditioning work.
Noticing the Absence
When you have a pain, you tend notice it all the time. But when it goes away, how often do you notice?
oh, that pain isn’t here today.
If you feel off in your work, or you didn’t check off everything on your list, it’s easy to get down on yourself for where things aren’t going well.
How often do you notice the absence of pain? The absence of hardship?
Often we don’t notice what’s right or how far we’ve come unless and until we stop to notice it.
You Can’t Measure What’s Not There
In a world focused on external measures of progress — what did you produce, create, ship — we can easily forget that the absence of something is also progress.
What pain are you no longer feeling?
What thoughts are you no longer having?
What bad habits have you stopped doing?
You can’t measure something that is no longer there. But that doesn’t mean it’s not progress.
The most important progress can only be appreciated when you stop to notice.