Ihad a colonoscopy yesterday. For you millennials reading this who may not know what that is, let’s get the TMI out of the way right now. A colonoscopy is a procedure where a gastroenterologist sticks a tube with a camera on it (colonoscope) up your butt and examines the entirety of your colon, about five feet in total. What they are looking for are polyps, small growths which can become cancerous over time.
My guy didn’t find anything yesterday which means I don’t have to do it again for ten years. Yeeeehawwwww!
Once you’re in, it’s over
But the actual procedure isn’t what this article is about. Because once they wheel you into the operating room the long, painful journey is over. They put you under anesthesia and you wake up in the post-op room a half hour later none the worse for wear. Seriously. There’s no post-procedure pain at all. Just a little woosiness from the anesthetic.
So why the need to be mindful at all about this colonoscopy thing? I can sum it up in one word: Prep. In order to get a good look at it, the doctor needs your colon to be completely cleared of all matter.
Part one in accomplishing “colonic clarity” consists of eating only clear food the whole day before the procedure. We’re talking clear broth and jello. That’s all I had.
Clearing the colon
Part two starts around 6 p.m. the night before when you drink the ever-so-tasty Miralax concoction. You drink 24 ounces over an hour and a half and by roughly 9 p.m. your colon is as clear as Caribbean water. The net result of parts one and two is feeling progressively lousy for the 24 not-so-solid hours before being wheeled into the op room.
Because of some family medical history, this was my fifth colonoscopy, the first coming at age 35. So this wasn’t my first “colono-rodeo.”
The four previous procedures came before I’d kicked my spiritual work into high gear. And all four followed the same path.
Letting future events seep into your moments
They all started with feeling lousy even the days BEFORE the day before prep. Why? Pure anticipatory anxiety/bad feelings. Because of my previous experiences, I knew how bad I would feel and therefore worried about it. We all know that drill, right?
Then I’d wake up the day before and feel anticipatory anxiety knowing that I’d have to eat nothing but broth and jello all day. Then midday I’d feel lousy, 1/8 because I physically had eaten only jello and broth and 7/8 because I was dreading what would happen at 6 p.m. when Colonopalooza got under way.
As the afternoon hours would wear on, I’d feel physically worse/weaker because of the food and worse because Colonopalooza was around the corner.
The baleful brew strikes again
Then 6 p.m. would come and I’d drink the baleful brew that consequently clobbered my colon. A few hours later I’d crawl into bed feeling awful because I prognosticated a poor night of sleep ahead.
Then I’d get up the next morning actually feeling better than the day before. Why? Because I knew the end was nigh.
I’d get to the clinic. Head into the op room. My new best friend, the anesthesiologist du jour, would pump some propofol into my vein. I’d wake up a half hour later feeling fine. They wouldn’t find any polyps. Rinse and repeat several years later…
My new mindful strategy
But THIS time, with my full(er) quiver of spiritual arrows, I decided to take a different tack. The mindful tack.
First, I examined my colonoscopic history of horror and, being one with an incredible command of the obvious, soon pinpointed the one, and really only, culprit: Allowing bad thoughts about the future to impact how I felt in the moment. That really is the whole ballgame right there.
Not all, but most, of my agony stemmed from allowing my mind to wander out into the fearful future. Whether it was days before the procedure or the hours before taking the Miralax or going to bed thinking my sleep was going to suck…all of this involved predicting how badly I was going to feel which then worsened how I actually felt.
What I actually did this time
Fine. So what did I do about it? I used all of my psychic will to remain present in as many moments the days before that I could. So that how I felt in each moment truly was reflective of what was happening in those moments.
The result? I felt markedly better than the previous colonoscopies. I fared best in the “days before the day before” category. Two days before the procedure my thoughts were along the lines of “I’m eating and drinking whatever I want today. There is NO reason to feel anything but fine in these moments.” So I did.
The first part of the day before, when I began my boring, tasteless, clear diet, I wasn’t thinking at all about the bowel buster prep at the end of the day. Just the limited discomfort of not having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with milk for lunch.
Enough said. You get it. We all do this around uncomfortable life events.
This helps for ALL stressful events
And that’s the point of this piece. It’s not to help the few of you out there who get colonoscopies. It’s to help ALL of us who let our minds grab perceived suffering from our future and stuff those bad feelings into how we feel in the NOW.
Bottom line: We don’t have to do this! Whether it’s the LSAT/GMAT/GRE/SAT/MCAT/PhD oral or whatever test you have in four days that is freaking you out in every moment of the days leading up to it. Or the speech you have to give next week before 500 of your colleagues that is making you feel sick NOW. Or maybe it’s as simple as dreading going to the dentist.
Stay in the moment you’re in
Whatever it is, the mindful basic that works for me is to just continually say to myself, in the case of the colonoscopy, “I’m not on the clear diet right now. It’s two days before and I’m mowing down a cheesy quesadilla.” “I’m not drinking the awful prep juice right now. I’m sitting here writing.”
In the other examples, it’s just “I’m not at the dentist right now. I’m having dinner the night before.” And then when you’re actually in the dentist’s chair it’s “In this precise moment there’s no massive pain or anything. I can handle this.” Then moments later say the same thing.
Works for speeches, big tests, everything
And do this if you have to give a speech. Or take that big test. Just do your best to stay within the moments you’re actually in.
Many of you might be saying, “Great advice, but waaaay easier said than done.” And you would be right. It is easier said than done to remain present in the face of stressful future events.
But you know how you can do it? And get better at it? By simply 1) Committing that you want to help yourself by doing this and then 2) Practicing it.
The practice: “What’s happening now?”
Next time you have a stressful event coming up, commit to practicing this. And what is the practice? The technique? Just keep stopping and saying to yourself, “X tough thing is not here right now in this moment. It doesn’t exist. I’m just…” and then say what you’re actually doing in that moment. Driving. Talking to my friend. Eating lunch. Working. Taking a shower. Cleaning out my garage…
That’s all mindfulness is. Placing your attention on what you’re actually doing in your moments. As the great Thich Nhat Hanh famously said:
“When you’re doing the dishes, do the dishes.”
What will make all this a whole lot easier is developing a regular meditation practice. All meditation is is practicing being in the moment for a certain amount of time each day. The more you meditate, the better you’ll get at staying in the moment in your daily life.
Meditation helps — a free program
If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my website davidgerken.net for a free program designed to make meditation as easy as possible.
The long and the short of all this is that mindfulness can make a massive difference in how you handle stressful events like colonoscopies and all the rest. It’s all about living the moments you’re in and letting the future come when it comes.