Making the Mindbody Connection

by Ken Malloy

Lying on the couch with the window blinds closed; that’s all I felt like doing when I was in pain.

One Saturday a couple of summers ago, I was feeling bad. Not TMS, though. I’d recently ended a three-year relationship with my girlfriend. I hadn’t been sleeping well so I was feeling tired and sad. Now, I’m not suggesting that sadness is a bad thing. It’s not. I was facing what it meant to have ended what I thought would be a life-long romantic partnership. Given that, I suppose that a certain amount of mourning is healthy.

And, I was just feeling sad that day.

Even intense emotional pain can make you feel like doing absolutely nothing. And, I preferred that it be raining. Not only would the weather better suit my mood, it’s a great excuse to stay indoors. When it’s beautiful outside, well, that always made me feel worse.

As the splinters of sunlight streaming through the window blinds began to soften, letting me know that the day was on the wane, I forced myself up and out the door. I’d feel better if I took a walk, so headed outside with no particular destination in mind.

To my surprise, half a block from my apartment was a street fair!

If you live in New York City, you know street fairs are a summertime staple. They materialize on various blocks and avenues, from the beginning of May until October. But they’re certainly not the fairs that I remembered when I was young.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Connecticut, I’m blessed with rich, fond and resonant memories of colorful clowns painting children’s faces, boardwalk-style games, live brass bands, the musty smell of pony rides; all framed by wide-open grassy fields and big, beautiful blue skies. Memories of country fairs of decades ago were nothing like what I saw that Saturday: Booth after booth of people with one thing in mind… selling stuff to making a buck.

And, they sold such an odd mishmash of things: A booth of Tibetan religious articles, tables strewn with boxes of socks and underwear, a truck selling Italian sausage and chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick. Everywhere you looked, something else that ‘doesn’t belong with this picture’: Rap CD’s, phone cards, crepes, sunglasses, scarves, corn on the cob, you get the idea. It’s New York’s best impression of a Middle-Eastern open-air market.

The street fairs in New York City run along the edge of the sidewalks, leaving the center of the avenue open for people to walk. I took myself to the double yellow line in the center of the street and followed it as I slowly walked up 3rd Avenue. This way, I avoided the attention of hawkers, who worked tirelessly to pull people in for a ten minute Korean back-rub, or to sell them something they didn’t need. There’s nothing here that I want, I thought, and I don’t eat this stuff anyway. Not feeling well certainly didn’t help. I knew that finding something fun in this street fair probably wasn’t going to work, but I tried anyway.

After five or six blocks, I was ready to head home. Just before turning back, I saw something that seemed so unusual, so out of place, so fantastic, that at first, I was sure that I was hallucinating. Up ahead, directly in front of me, standing in a patch of gleaming sunlight… was a clown.

Not just a clown – the best clown I’d ever seen:

Over-sized bright green shoes, rainbow tights, a ruffled polka-dot skirt, orange Raggedy Ann hair, tall purple hat, and a perfectly painted face complete with a big red smile and a bright red nose. She was surrounded by children, waiting for one of her perfectly created balloon animals. Hanging from her belt was a Harpo Marx car horn and dozens of balloons in every color, ready to be blown up.

She worked with the skill of a samurai, inflating and tying the balloons with sharp, precise moves. Then, when she was finished, she held up her creation for all to see, and presented it to the happy child with a flourish and a graceful bow. She charged nothing for the balloon animals, but a dollar tip from the grateful parent was rewarded by a c7ouple of honks on her silly old brass horn: Oooh-gaa, Oooh-gaa!

I was pulled deeply into the moment. I stood there watching her and the children, not a thought in my head. I was mesmerized.

As the crowd of children and parents started to grow, the whole experience became all the more special, all the more beautiful. We weren’t at a street fair in New York City anymore. We’d been transported to another place, a place that was safe and friendly, innocent and joyful. It was a perfect moment. And yes, I wanted a balloon animal, too!

I didn’t get my chance.

A harsh voice popped the bubble of frivolous carefree fancy; and I was back on the street in New York. A very large, very unhappy man shouted at the clown, “You can’t be here! I’m getting complaints from the vendors; you’re taking their business away!” The children and parents disappeared so fast, it was like they’d vanished into thin air.

As for me, I was furious!

From deep within me came emotion that was deep and intense. Part of me that always had been told what to do and that had to take it from parents and teachers – the part of me that always had to walk away silently with my head down, full of disappointment, suddenly filled my entire body. I couldn’t just walk away!

As the clown collected herself preparing to leave, I turned to the guy and said: “Let me tell you something, she’s the best thing you’ve got here. She’s not taking business away from the vendors, she’s bringing you business!”

As I look back, I realize that I probably wasn’t very nice when I said that. I don’t remember what he said next. I do remember what I said back to him, though: “You’re an idiot!!” (Yikes! What was I thinking?)

The man stormed off. I turned and spoke: “Sorry about that!” She replied: “No, no, thanks for standing up for me!” When we looked back to see the man talking to a policeman, we quickly agreed it was a really good time to leave! We made a hasty exit across the street, behind some of the booths, running; trying not to look like we were running. “Here, take my card. I’ll give you a great price on a party.” With that, we shook hands and parted ways.

As I slipped into the crowd and headed back home, I was struck by how reckless I’d been. Frankly, I felt ashamed of myself. I took a moment to shake off what I was feeling by throwing out my hands in front of me, and sharply exhaling a few times. I could’ve really gotten myself into trouble back there! What was I thinking?

Just three more steps, and it hit me: intense, jabbing pain, under both shoulder blades, like a double punch from behind. I stopped. I leaned against a building, grabbed a few breaths, and started walking again. The pain persisted. The pain frightened me. I knew it was TMS. What else could have caused such intense pain from out of nowhere? I’d just been walking. I’d done nothing to my back, strenuous or otherwise. Why would I get TMS right now? I asked myself.

Well, let’s see! Did anything intensely emotional just happen?

I slowed down. As I walked, I checked in. I listened, I felt. Suddenly, I was a little boy again. I felt the sensation; the old familiar sadness that I’ve learned to understand, to experience and accept. At that moment, I didn’t think too much about it. I knew that trying to understand it always got in the way of what I need to do:

Just let go and feel the feelings! Although I was walking, I was able to let myself fully feel what there was to feel. There it was: just sadness.

Welling up in my belly… then my chest… into my throat; a wave of intense sadness flowed through me. Tears welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.

I wish I’d brought my sunglasses. I really don’t want people to see me crying as a walk down there street, They’ll think… What a minute! Who cares what they think! I’m a human being. It’s OK to cry. So I cried. I felt.

Only two blocks before you’re home, Ken. You’re doing fine.

The sadness I experienced was so overwhelmingly deep, so pervasive, so profound; that at first, I didn’t notice that the TMS pain in my back had completely disappeared.

The beauty of TMS is that it points the way– it sends a message. As a reminder, it’s not always a gentle one, but it sure gets your attention! Yes, it hurts. But it’s a much better alternative than serious disease. And most importantly, it lets you know that you’ve got emotional work to do; and when you learn to make it go away, you know that you’ve done the work you need to do– for that day.

When you experience the relationship between unpleasant emotions and your symptoms, then you can focus all of your attention on the psychological causes of your pain and not be distracted by any notion that the cause may be physical. This is what I call making the Mindbody connection.

In this experience, it was easy for me to not attribute the TMS to anything structural because my intense back pain occurred during a very benign activity: walking! The pain came on so suddenly and was so intense and then, went away just as quickly.

The more your TMS symptoms come and go, the more positive experience you’ll have with it, the more you will become its master – rather than the other way around.


This blog is not affiliated with any medical doctor or medical practice in any way. The contents are for your educational purposes only and not meant to diagnose or treat any disorder or disease. In the case of any symptom, please see an appropriate medical professional.