A Lesson in Staying Still

learning to listen to your body

During the past 7 years of travel, there have been many instances where I’ve managed to get hurt in the most spectacular and occasionally comical of ways. Falling off a motorbike and over a cliff  when a truck full of cabbages broke down in front of me, raining cabbages down the steep road to Pai in Northern Thailand. Eating a llama empanada that gave me giardia and salmonella, karmic retribution for chowing down on an animal I love. Dengue and a respiratory infection in Saigon. Getting teargassed in Bangkok. And much more.

As I move around, I speak with my parents frequently. Communication with loved ones, be they friends or family, is something that has become far more simple since I set out in 2008. My parents are always happy to hear from me but remain in a state of vague dread for the next phone call that begins, “So the good news is that I’m alive. But…” To their credit, they’ve always remained calm — uh, except for that teargassing one — and I can almost hear the sound of their heads shaking at my newest misadventure.

After each injury, I did not stay still. I kept moving, and travelling. It seemed that my life was already quite decadent in that I built it around what most people think of as vacation, so taking the time just to rest seemed silly.

Someone once told me that the reason a lot of this happens is that my brain is always thinking and ruminating, half present and half not. Perhaps that explains part of it. Not the mosquitoes or that damn cabbage truck, mind you. But the mishaps that fall within my own circle of movement can be attributed to this kind of foggy non-presence.

A few days ago I woke up to the sound of something falling off a high surface. Heart pounding, I crept down the stairs and as I did, I imagined the possibilities of what created that sound. Half asleep, my heel landed too close to the edge of a stair and I slipped. I was surprised moments later to find myself on my back and at the bottom of the stairs. If there was an intruder, I’d have had very little ability to do anything about it by then.

Happily it was not an intruder. It was my friend’s cat at my cat-sit in Toronto, being mischievous and knocking off an item from the kitchen counter and onto the floor. While she looked at me with disdain, I curled on my side and waited for the initial pain to subside. I hoped that it was just that — the early shock — but unfortunately it was not. The next day a doctor confirmed that I would need weeks of rest to heal the back rib that cracked against the stairs as I fell.

toronto catsit
“Wait, I’M the reason you fell down the stairs?!”

As the site has grown I’ve held back from writing about these injuries. I wasn’t the only traveller who had them, of course, and it seemed dramatic to do so when I could still write about food. Ultimately, after a year of not knowing what ailed me I did write about dengue, but the smaller stuff stayed on the DL.

It’s only a cracked rib, but it reminded me of a paragraph in the excellent Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought me Home, a recent release about a woman who suffered a brain aneurysm and had to learn how to be whole again in the new version of who she was. She used to put on huge dinner parties but in her recovering state could not, and had to contend with sitting helplessly while others catered to her for a change.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing remotely as devastating or eclipsing as a brain injury. But sometimes it takes a small thing like this to fully put your rumination on pause and force you to reassess. Earlier this week, when a stranger at the pharmacy offered to tie my shoelaces because I couldn’t bend to do so, it reminded me that I am truly terrible at accepting help. I stood there, flushed red, telling her it was fine, that I could do it. She pointed out that I clearly could not since I just tried three times and failed. She tied my shoes. I stammered out a heartfelt thanks, and left embarrassed.

I love taking care of others, and try to anticipate what friends or family might need. But the people closest to me are the first to say “but Jodi, what about you?” Me? I usually try to deal with the problem by myself, to my own detriment. The times where this has spilled over into a state of overwhelm has shown me that it is most definitely not an effective solution. In this case, unable to actually move in normal ways, I have had to lean on those around me in Toronto. I am lucky that this injury happened in a city where I know many people, and they have immediately come to my aid, feeding me, driving me to the doctor, offering careful hugs for fragile ribs. I feel like a moron. I’m trying not to, because they tell me the only moronic thing is my feeling moronic. Fine, point taken.

I’m not sure everything happens for a reason but I do know that it’s been a bit of a rough year in private ways, and that’s why posting has been even more sparse than usual. I’ve avoided staying put as I pushed hard to try and get through whatever has been on my mind. Instead, I did the things that scared me. A 10-day Vipassana in New Zealand in January. Getting on a sailboat for 5 days despite having almost drowned as a kid, and many other smaller victories against deeply-embedded fears.

While these felt like accomplishments, they did not address the underlying rumination. Movement rarely does. I have no choice, now, but to stay still. Perhaps the lesson here is to re-familiarize myself with my own thoughts and words, something that used to bring me comfort but that I decided was a chore during the last few months.

This injury is insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it has made me throw up my hands and say “enough”. It’s ok to say you need help when you actually do need help. It’s ok to listen to your body when it says “no more” and to stay still as a result. And it’s ok to write about it too.

So here I am.

I’ve spent the day writing by hand and it feels good. Foreign almost, since I had stopped doing so in large part this year. People often talk about routines and how they are important on the road and I truly agree. What I’ve failed to include in mine of late is an outlet of words, even if they remain unpublished forever. When people ask where I learned to take photos I say, “Oh I’m not a photographer – I shoot in auto. I love pictures because they make my true love — words — even better.” To me, the photos are the accessories to the breathless possibilities of prose and yet in the last year I’ve stopped writing even for myself.

I’m going to follow doctor’s orders and take it easy. I can’t climb a mountain this year for my birthday as I normally do, so I will spend it with friends, family, and readers in Ottawa instead. I was supposed to take the train out but since I can’t carry anything — no backpacks for weeks, says the doctor — my brother is going to have to come fetch me from Toronto. As per usual, I felt terrible to put him out in this way. He just laughed at me. “Jodi, please — you get hurt in ALL these far away places and I can’t do anything. I’m just happy you finally hurt yourself close to home. I’ll come to get you next week.”

This is the kind of brother we all want.

I will stay with family until I head to Bangkok in October to keynote at TBEX Asia.

Some housekeeping notes:

– To those who came out to the reader meetups in Toronto and NYC – thank you! I had a great time, and it was lovely to meet you. Props to Amy, who works on boats and navigates them up and down the St-Laurence river, training to be a captain. When I met her at the Toronto meetup she said, “Oh I parked the boat at the beaches and then walked up to your meetup.” Amazing. The best part of these is seeing readers befriend each other, and then they send me photos later of them all hanging out after I leave. Yay!

– Some of you saw the note about my rib on Facebook, and I thank you for the many lovely comments and well wishes.

– There will be a Montreal meetup as well in September, but I’m not sure when yet. As with the others, I’ll be posting it as an event on the Facebook page. You can subscribe to the events for the page here.

– An update about the Word Master position. With close to 400 applications in 2 weeks (!) I hired a wonderful lady named Marloes, who I actually met in person in Chiang Mai in 2011, when she sat next to me for a foot massage. She had apparently followed the site ever since, and her application was excellent, as was her second round submission. She’s been helping update and reformat the resources pages, with the first one – my World Travel Resources page – complete, along with shiny buttons for a new table of contents. We’re working on the gluten-free cards project too, and if you’ve submitted your name to the language translation sheet, she will be reaching out soon.

That’s it for now,



81 thoughts on “A Lesson in Staying Still”

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your back injury Jodi. Even with what happened, it seems that your hands will be full with the numerous events you’ve planned in the coming months. I do hope you don’t rush the healing and get proper rest. Happy to know you have people close to you whom you could count on in times like this. Get well soon!

    1. Thank you Doi. I guess it is all relative, right? This is far less than I usually have planned! But these events are a pleasure not an obligation – it always cheers me up to meet readers and hear their stories and what they are up to. Thank you for reading.

  2. I read the first tweet where you asked for help and did not realise how serious your injury may be. My mom fell down the stairs years ago and I could see how painful it was for her. At times we do need incidents like this to slow down a bit and think about ourselves a bit more. Cherish yourself and take the opportunity to relax.

    p.s.: your friend’s cat is a beauty <3

    1. Thanks Claudia! It’s not that serious as injuries go, just really uncomfortable :) I am taking an extra month to relax this summer instead of returning to Asia earlier. I think you’re right, that time needs to be taken.

      1. I wish I did practice what I say! I am exhausted. Working so hard to grow my business that I can hardly do anything else. I can’t work all the time, and yet when I am not working, my mind is set on work… How sad is that?

  3. Hey Jodi, first of all I wish you a speedy recovery! I’ve never had a cracked rib before but damn it sounds painful! Hope it starts to feel less painful soon.

    I totally identify with what you said about not accepting help. My mum had to point it out to me a few years back, and I’ve tried to become better at it, but I always feel like I’m putting people out. I’d rather do everything myself! But I guess there are some instances when you just have to let people who love you help…

    1. You know, it isn’t something anyone has pointed out specifically, but I’ve also avoided having to be called on it by being far away. My friends wherever I was that the injury occurred did really help – my friend Shannon in Chiang Mai even drove around town to try and find me a back clinic and got me food. But it’s still something I feel quite guilty about, which I suppose is your point here :) Hope you are happy and healthy yourself.

  4. So sorry to hear about your injury and plans having to change, I’m sure that’s frustrating. Wishing you a speedy recovery! I also saw your birthday is August 15? Mine is August 16. Happy Birthday month to us :)

  5. I’m so sorry to hear about your injury, but glad you’re learning to take it slow, albeit slightly against your will.
    Hope you make a well recovery and enjoy this time of being surrounded by dear ones xx

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your slip on the stairs – Ouch! I hope that the healing goes well and that you can relax into the slowing down.
    I get the thing about finding it difficult to accept help and I loved when a friend recently shared with me that she had learnt to receive more easily; she had come to know that there is a giving in receiving. When we receive help we are giving our helper a few things in return, among them the opportunity to help and the experience of being appreciated.
    And yes, that is a cute cat!

    1. I think that’s quite true, and in Stir she mentions that too, that being a guest means letting people cater to you occasionally, because it makes them feel good too. Same when it’s an injury and some loving kindness. The cat is cute – but evil!

  7. Tear gas, schmeargas! You brought that one on yourself…

    Super bummed to hear about your latest injury, but glad that you’ve got family close by that can help take care of you.

    Sometimes staying in place for awhile can be a good thing, even if the reason for having to do so is less than ideal…

  8. I’ve already sent you my well wishes but will do so again. Hope you recover quickly, I’ve broken many bones but the ribs were worst of all. I remember when we went for our food crawl in Saigon and you kicked the foot of your bed right before meeting up and broke your toe and still wandered the streets with no complaints. Since you won’t be able to climb a mountain for your birthday I guess I’ll have to do something in your honor. This Saturday I’m going skydiving for my sister’s bday, but next Saturday I’ll climb the nearest mountain in Virginia for you. Feel better, see you soon.

    1. Oh man, Matt – that’s beyond sweet. You definitely don’t need to climb a mountain in my honour but what a lovely gesture. Yes, I forgot you were on my food tour when I messed up yet another toe. What does it all mean? I do injure myself with alarming frequency, eh? I hope you enjoy the skydiving and thank you for the comment!

  9. I was sorry to hear about your injury on facebook. I can imagine something like a cracked rib that you can’t plaster is especially annoying! Falling down stairs is something I do often (I must be the clumsiest person in the whole world) but fortunately it hasn’t caused me anything nearly as bad as a cracked rib. I hope you are feeling better soon, both physically and emotionally. I’m sure the thought of heading back to Saigon will be of some help!

    Sometimes it is the smallest of things that can shift something in you. I was having a very stressful week last week and stopped in at my local Vietnamese ‘hole-in-the-wall’ favourite restaurant for some Pho and because it was before the morning lunch the owner- who I’ve become good friends with- decided to sit down with me and chat. I didn’t realise how much I just needed a bit of company in that moment- something I easily could have gotten by contacting one of my friends. But I guess I’m a little bit like you- I don’t like asking for help!

  10. I’m reminded of the book “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, which I highly recommend.

  11. I am so sorry to hear about your rib, Jodi, and I really hope that you will recover real soon and that it doesn’t hurt too much. It would be fantastic to see you at TBEX Bangkok although I am not a 100 percent sure if I will make it there due to a further training. I have been to the TBEX in Lloret de Mar and loved it. I also highly enjoyed your and Derek’s session. Anyway, I wish you a good time with your family until you fly to Thailand and get well soon.

  12. Sorry to hear about your tumble, Jodi. But if the result is me having more of your writing to read, my sympathies lack complete conviction. (Although I’d prefer less traumatic ways, obvs.)

    When you’re writing by hand, do you find you write and think differently?

  13. I hope you have a speedy recovery! I have never had a broken bone that demobilized me so much as your rib, but I’ve had a fractured tailbone, hand (twice on the same hand) and face! Both times felt like very silly accidents playing my sport that could have been prevented. How do you get over that initial feeling of gosh I’m so stupid, that could have been avoided? Or do you just not feel that anymore?

    All the best to you and hope the rest of the cat sit goes well. Falling down stairs is one of my biggest fears (that’s how I got the tailbone injury) and I’m sure that it’ll happen at some point in the house I’m living in now because the stairs are narrow and I go down them too quickly…

    1. Thanks Chewy! I think your last line is my issue too – the lack of present tense is often why I fall or trip or have a mishap. :) Yes, there are definitely moments of “OH MY GOD NOT AGAIN WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!” I think I realize how much of it is about distraction, and in my case I have an ear disorder that makes perception/depth difficult in some situations — so all the more reason to be careful! It’s frustrating I agree, but not much to do except work on being more slow and more careful.

      1. I think I get distracted too, but usually I can catch myself in time. I didn’t know about your ear disorder! Is it unbalancing? I had double vision for a while after surgery for my facial fractures, and that was weird to adjust to. At one point, the right eye saw everything at a tilt so that made me a little nauseous if I didn’t wear the corrective prism over my eyeglass lens. I still have some double vision at the extreme right, but it is manageable now.

  14. Hey Jodi, So sorry to hear about your injury. It’s tough to slow down. That’s exactly how Dave fell in the Amazon, I’m glad it wasn’t something worse. A doctor told us that is the number 1 way people break their backs by slipping on stairs. So I am grateful that it is a rib and not the spine. However, that doesn’t make the pain any less. Man, it must kill you to breathe, I can only imagine. Take this time to reflect and relax and know that you have a lot of people that care about you. You’re going to come out of this inspired and stronger than ever. You’ll see!

  15. Jodi, I am so sorry to hear about your rib! That must have been an incredibly painful fall. Back injuries that DON’T break anything are super painful, I can’t even imagine. I wish you a very speedy recovery! And I am very much a hypocrite saying this, but best wishes learning to accept help from others. Everybody needs a hand sometimes. :)

  16. Hey Jodi! I’m awfully sorry to hear about your back. I hope you get better much quicker than you hoped. It must be awful although I feel much better that you were in Canada rather than in the middle of no-where. Having said that, people are kind wherever you are so please let people help you.
    It’s a blessing or a curse that many women have – being selfless, strong-minded, independent, and thinking of others first – Let your family and friends help you as it’s a pleasure for them to do so.

    Get better soon, stronger and ready to go. :)

    1. Thank you Victoria! Definitely grateful for having family and friends nearby. Agree though, that people are kind – strangers too, as the lady in the pharmacy showed me. I hope you have a great weekend!

  17. Oh Jody! I was sorry to see the status about the state of your rib, and I hope your lay low time goes well for you.

    Fwiw, years ago pre-travel or Argentina, when Lila was a baby, I was trying to do the so-called having it all. Then I started getting migraines. They were so bad that I also was forced to slow down. It’s a really sucky way to have to slow down, and while I haven’t entirely learned my lesson, I’m much better at taking time to do what feeling like nothing much.

    Feel good! Let people take really good care of you! Besitos.

    1. Thank you Leigh! I learned this lesson at the very beginning, in 2008. But to me I have slowed down – I take longer in each place, I don’t move as much. And yet… (and yet). One day we will learn fully, eh? Besitos back.

  18. Jodi,

    Thank-you for writing this post, I can relate to so many of your points. Asking for help is never easy, I too shy away from that, even when I need it the most.

    Over the last year I have learned the value of taking some personal time and staying still. It was a touch decision in the beginning, but I am so grateful that I did it. I know you will be as well.

    Take care, heal, and continue being amazing.


    1. Thank you Pam. I remember chatting when you decided to stay in N America as your dad’s condition worsened. Thank you for your thoughts and I am sure that I will agree with you eventually ;)

  19. Dear Jodi!

    I wish you speedy recovery. As I read this I had watery eyes.. I just a few days ago completely opened up on my site about what absolutely hellish ride I’m on with my health. Unfortunately it’s not one thing. I relate to “asking for help” .. I can’t stand that. I thank you for being so brave and sharing your feelings. I never knew how to slow down.. so life made me slow down. These things make us better and stronger. We need those pauses from life so we can take a good look at ourselves and maybe change something.. I wish you to get better soon! I’m with you.

    Here’s to fighters who are not afraid to ask for help..

    In stillness we can sense what our soul truly needs. In silence we hear answers.. in breath we come alive…

    all my love

  20. I’m so sorry that you have a cracked rib and hope that you give it more than enough time to heal. Doing that will pay off for the rest of your life. Some people believe that we are put in positions that will lead us to learn what we most need to learn. I don’t know to what extent that may be true, but it sounds like you are trying to learn as much as there is to be learned from this accident. Best wishes for a full and edifying recovery!

    1. Thank you Leslie! Yes everyone who has had this kind of injury has been clear that it’s Really Really Important not to push it or I’ll pay for it in spades. It’s been a year of learning for me and I think ultimately I’ll be better for it but sometimes it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the throes of it all. Hope you have a great weekend.

  21. I knew there was a reason I’m a dog person. ;-) I bruised some ribs coughing when I had pertussis and that was pretty painful, so I imagine actually cracking some is up there on that 1-10 pain scale medical practitioners seem to love to quiz people on. Be happy your forced Canadian sojourn is during the summer and not in February. (Small blessings). I wish I could see your Bangkok keynote IRL. I’d say something encouaging, like “break a leg”, but that would be so inappropriate for right now.

    1. I just did a talk at G Adventures and someone wrote to say “I’d say break a leg – or a rib – but I think it’s inappropriate” The jokes write themselves!! I am very happy to be in Canada in the summer believe me – wearing wool socs now, let alone when it’s cold. Sorry to miss you in BKK!

  22. Hi Jodi, Sorry you have hurt your back. I can relate as I am sure others will also. Sometimes learning to be still and to neite present comes with necessity to do so. I also think it takes time to learn these things and if we avoid killing ourselves, which I think involves some luck, we learn to be still when the situation requires it. Happy travels and Happy resting in the stillneess.

    1. Agreed. Sometimes stillness is a matter of necessity. This is a lesson I’ve been wary to heed, as “just getting through the pain” seems to have been my motto. No choice now! Hopefully it mends quickly but if not I know what to do…

  23. Is it bad that I am secretly glad you’re injured and have to slow down FINALLY? Oh well. Love you, rest up and rest your brain while you’re at it.

  24. So sorry to hear about your tumble, I’m glad you’ll be alright. Thanks for the mention in your post, it made my day! Thanks to your meet up in Toronto I was able to meet so many great people, I can’t wait for the Montreal one.

  25. Dammee – it must be the movements of The Planets… You had mentioned that you might have an event in sunny Toronto in an answer to an admiring comment of mine on your Wanaka blog. My wife was all genned up, we were ready to go – and I walked head first into a square sided telegraph pole, edge spot on right down the ridge line of my nasal deliniator. Yes Reader, alcohol was somewhat involved. Alas, I was rendered unsightly and so did not wish, on the following day, to try to find out where to meet with you and your other Toronto fans. Alas. Jeez and crap – these stupid swats upside the head are a bugger. I’m trying to get ready for Marina’s (the wife) and my move to Croatia on Aug 30 and I’m stuck inside feeling silly. Feh. Well – I’m getting some of the paperwork done.
    Pliss – start writing more blogs, you, while you’re confined, nu? adams

  26. Get better soon. Sometimes an injury is your bodies way of saying slow down for a little bit.
    Big hugs
    Nicola xxx

  27. Not happy you’re hurt at all, but I am glad that it has led to a reminder for you of just how many people care for you and WANT to care for you even if you don’t feel you need that love and care. “No man is an island.” ;)

    And I hope that you can get back to writing by hand, hopefully to find some healing in that as I know the pain you’re going through (and I don’t mean your back) may seem like it’s just not going to end. But it will, eventually. And how amazing it would be, no, to one day look back and read about the journey you took to get to the other side of that…

  28. I broke a rib in a stupid fall about three months ago so I know how miserable you are. At least I can say it does get better over time… Rest up!

  29. Well, at least this happened after your vipassana course – anicca, anicca, anicca!

    (It took me forever to figure out how to spell that. Also, best wishes for fast healing!)

    1. You know, I’ve been wholly unable to meditate since. I keep trying, but I just sit there agitated. Might take a break from Vipassana and try something different like Headspace for a bit. Definitely not a permanent thing but at the moment with the pain I’m finding Vipassana not helpful at all. Have you gone through phases like this?

  30. This piece on slowing down and learning to lean on those around you resonated with me deeply. I have the hardest time asking for help, but am learning slowly that I can’t always do everything on my own. Thanks for sharing. Feel better soon!

  31. I’m so sorry to hear about your cracked rib! I hope you recover quickly. I can totally relate to wanting to hep others but struggling to accept help. I somehow feel like it’s completely reasonable to always want to do things for other people but it’s a foreign concept to want the same in return. I recently got really sick (food poisoning that led to complications with my ulcerative colitis) and I ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks. It was so strange to have doctors and nurses helping me with so many things, but I absolutely needed it. Even after fainting in the bathroom (luckily with my pants up) because I had been losing blood, the nurse insisted I call her next time I had to use the bathroom. Insane! I can go to the bathroom by myself! Despite the bump on my head from where I bashed it against the door jam. So I never asked for help. Good thing I didn’t faint again, but really, why is it so hard to ask for help? Anyway, I’m glad you’re slowing down and spending time with friends and family who love you and can take care of you, even if you feel ridiculous asking for and accepting that help. And as far as whatever has been on your mind lately, I hope you can work through that as well.

  32. Jodi,

    Rib fractures are awful- for me the worst was always getting in and out of bed. Rest up and listen to your body. I’m glad you’re using the down time to reignite your personal writing passion. You’ll be back at it in no time!!


  33. It’s so important to take time to slow down and be still. During the school year when I’m working and studying non stop, I hardly have time for myself. But when I go home for vacation, I can usually take a step back and re-think whether I’m taking the right steps towards what I want to do. Deepak Chopra says that you should be totally silent for at least 30 minutes a day so you can hear yourself better.

  34. Yikes. A friend of mine got into a car accident last month and cracked a rib and he is STILL on heavy painkillers. Doesn’t sound fun at all. I hope you are able to recover quickly and smoothly and I’m glad you were near family this time!

    1. Sounds like he probably had it worse than me. I can’t sit and write for long before it hurts to hold my rib up but I did stop taking painkillers after the first few days. It’s a slow heal but it wasn’t that kind of aggressive impact because it was a small fall. Sorry to hear bout your friend!

  35. Jodi, I came across your blog a while back and have followed from a distance. I was sorry to hear about your injury. You’re a bit of an inspiration to me (I’m also a former lawyer living far from my previous life), and now we have injury in common. I also fell down steps (a dog was involved) – broke my ankle badly and am still unable to do very much. I’d be lost without words – voracious reading, journaling and finally starting my own blog have been my salvation this summer. Enjoy the forced downtime but I wish you a speedy recovery.

  36. Jodi,
    Just found your blog today. Your blog and your journey inspire me so much about traveling. I’m 72 yrs old and don’t travel even 1 tenth of yours. I really envy you. Hope that you recover soon from injury.

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