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We have no raisins today

By David Giuliano

But for the light seeping in from the hallway, the room is dark. It is the second day post-surgery. My body lays dumb as clay —  nauseated, aching and stinking — on the bed.

My mind, meanwhile, is busy with mischief. Do I need more pain meds? Did I actually hear the nurse say that the guy in the next bed should be in isolation? How hairy will the flesh-flap — transplanted from my thigh to my forehead — get? Will the titanium mesh create problems in airports? Am I having a stroke? A clot? Just wiggle your feet. What’s my BP? I need prunes. I could go on, and believe me, my brain did.

I tried to calm my brain with a relaxation meditation, starting with my toes. I ended up starting over at my toes at least five times —  never getting past my knees — before throwing in the contemplative towel.

Then I remembered the Meditation for Beginners CD in my beloved Pearl’s laptop. Squinting through my bulky eyelids, I found the audio player and the earbuds, and booted the CD up. I scrunched the thin pillow beneath my head, ready to welcome the guidance of mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Pan flutes and chiming prayer bells flowed into my ears. Peacefulness descended like a flannel quilt.

“Mindfulness has to do with paying attention to the things we don’t ordinarily pay attention to,” began Sensei Zinn.

Ah, yes. Take me there, Jon.

“Let’s have some raisins on hand,” he continued.


“We’re just going to take one of them and bring it up towards the face for closer inspection.”

A raisin?

“Just drinking it in through the eyes, as if you’ve never seen one of these before, maybe even forgetting that it’s called a raisin.”

I don’t have a raisin.

“. . . and seeing it in its fullness, you’ve certainly never seen this particular one before . . . ”

In the dark, I pat the table, feeling around for something edible. A raisin? Maybe a cellophane packet of crackers. Who has a raisin just lying around waiting for Kabat-Zinn to tell them to drink it in? Oh, and — newsflash —  you can’t drink a raisin in through your eyes, especially if your eyes are swollen shut! This is stupid.

“. . . noticing its surface features, its colour, shape, as you turn it in your hand. Seeing whether there are any unique features to it.”

I then cross my arms across my chest, and the IV needle jabs into my wrist and is strangely consoling.

“As I am doing it,” Jon barrels ahead, “I notice a little circular scaring at one end which, of course, you’ll know is the equivalent of our bellybutton . . .”

Oh, for the love of . . .

I shift in the bed, setting off a fresh wave of electric pain and nausea. The earbuds cord tangles with my IV tubes, yanking the buds from my ears. I disentangle and plug them back into my head, skipping to the next guided meditation: "Mindfulness Breathing." Good. I fold the stingy pillow in half and stuff it under my neck. I’m glazed in sweat.

“Let’s take the same quality of attention we just brought to eating the raisin,” Jon begins.

Again with the raisin? The peaceful tone and cadence of Kabat-Zinn’s voice starts to get on my nerves.

“. . . the same moment to moment, the same non-judging, non-cerebral . . .”

Now we’re judging my judging cerebrality.

“. . . direct tasting, of our experience, whatever it is, whether it was through the touching, or the seeing, or the hearing, or the smelling, or the actual tasting the feeling of the swallowing or what came in the aftermath of the raisin.”


I am shouting in my mind at the great Jon Kabat-Zinn, about raisins and bellybuttons. I close the laptop, toss the earbuds onto the table, re-cross my arms over my fetid hospital gown and savour a fresh stab to my wrist. Let’s have some raisins on hand! Give me a break, Jon. Fortunately, it’s not time for the nurse to check my vitals; my blood pressure is through the roof.

Sometimes, on the Camino de Cancer, it’s difficult to be contemplative. Sometimes, we just don’t have any raisins to drink in with our eyes. Sometimes, it’s just hard walking.

David Giuliano is the former moderator of The United Church of Canada, an award-winning writer and author of "Postcards from the Valley: Encounters with Fear, Faith and God." He lives with his wife, Pearl, in Marathon, Ont.
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