7 life lessons from back pain

I was all set to write another post on blogging a couple of weeks ago, when I threw my back out. Not for the first time…but this was unlike any other episode. Excruciating spasms. Unable to stand up on my own. Putting on socks? Forget it.

I’ve been thinking about a good friend who was in near-constant back pain for months. Most health care practitioners were unable to help, and she eventually had surgery. I remember meeting with her while she was struggling with pain. I see now that I was unable to be truly present with her. I wanted there to be a solution: I wanted her to discover the emotional root of her issue, the ‘why’ of it.

Artist: Maxine Noel

And now, as I write these words, I realize I don’t know the ‘why’ of my own pain, and how presumptuous it was to think I could know it for anyone else. But I have come to some insights about what this experience is teaching me personally.

Listening to my body’s warning signals: as mentioned, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown my back out. I’d had warning signs for years, and knew what I needed to do to prevent future pain from happening. But I always put it off. This time, my body made sure I was paying attention.

I am vulnerable: I never knew just how much I need my lower back. Now I need help with so much. I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones for assistance with the most simple of tasks. I’m not used to this, and it is humbling.

Which brings me to Gratitude: I am blessed that I have people in my life to help me, and who ask nothing in return. This is no small thing, and it’s probably the biggest gift of all.

Compassion: I think of all those who don’t have caring support. I see where I’ve missed opportunities to be compassionate and helpful. When we’re feeling good and healthy, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to be in pain, especially chronic pain. I wanted to fix my friend’s problem by helping her discover the emotional root, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to feel validated and understood for what she was feeling in that moment.

Meds can be a good thing: Is there an emotional root to my pain? Probably. Low back pain is suggested to indicate a lack of support. And I have felt that, for many years. But it’s interesting that the pain is also revealing to me the support I do have. Beyond the mind/body connection and my holistic practices, I’m grateful for the medication that’s reducing my pain. This is noteworthy, as I’ve always been somewhat anti-medication – you wouldn’t even find an Advil in my home – and had a bit of an ego about that.

I am not in control. I can play my part in my healing, but my body is on its own timeline and will recover at its own pace. This has required patience and surrender that I’m not accustomed to. Forcing anything is only going to set me back.

Self-care is a priority: I’ve never missed so much work, or relied on others to take care of me. I notice how guilty I feel about it. Thoughts that I’m a burden on others, that I’m taking ‘too long’ to get better, surface repeatedly. No one has given me this message. It’s been eye-opening to realize just how hard it is to take care of myself first.

This entire experience has been very humbling, and I’m learning to trust that my body knows what it’s doing, even when my mind objects. I’m thankful that I’ve had no choice but to slow down and listen.

kundalini + mantra = miracles

Shortly after my first Kundalini Yoga class over ten years ago, I passed a woman on the street just outside our local studio. She was about my age, clad all in white, her face glowing as she chanted a mantra to herself. She looked completely blissed out and in her own world. Wow, I thought. I want some of that. But not too much. It’s a little weird.

That memory hit me a few days ago, when I found myself walking down the street, chanting a mantra, completely blissed out and in my own world. Wow, I thought, a little giggly this time. Thank you, Universe.You really don’t forget.

Blue Saraswati, by the amazing Sonja Picard

Blue Saraswati, by the amazing Sonja Picard

It’s been almost a month since I began my Kundalini Yoga teacher training program. I’ve skyrocketed from infrequent, intermittent meditation pre-training to a 45-minute (minimum) daily practice. My red wine consumption has decreased dramatically, and I’m now tackling my sugar addiction.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life is scheduled around my homework, and probably will be for the next few months. I wouldn’t say it’s been easy…but it does feel right.

I’ve discovered the joy of mantra meditation. Kundalini Yoga centres on chanting in sacred languages (Gurmukhi and Sanskrit), and my monkey mind is loving it. I’ve generally found it hard to meditate in silence; the thoughts come barrelling in, much too fast to control, and I can’t seem to get ahead of them. (Can anyone relate?) Focusing on a word like ‘love’ or ‘peace’ is sometimes even more difficult; if I’m not in a peaceful or loving state, my mind vehemently resists. Who are you kidding? You don’t feel that way! This is pointless and excruciating, let’s check email instead!

The uncontrolled mind is a tricky, sly beast. It knows all the little crevices to slip in and transport us somewhere far, far away – nowhere close to the present moment.

What I love about chanting in a language other than English is that the words bypass my mind and download straight into my cells. My DNA recognizes the ancient truths embedded in the unfamiliar sounds. My mind cannot object or protest because it doesn’t know what it’s protesting.

Chanting taps me into my multi-dimensional self – the ‘me’ beyond form, language, and conditioning. I can’t get enough; it’s like I’m being fed after years and years of starvation, and my system is lapping up every last bit.

I’ve been chanting for purposes beyond homework too. There are so many fear tapes playing on repeat in the collective consciousness right now, and I want to be vigilant in overriding this mass programming. I feel humanity can transcend this dark cycle, provided we don’t buy into the untruths we are being sold by those who have a vested interest in keeping us feeling deflated and powerless.

***

I was hesitant to start my teacher training program; I didn’t want Kundalini Yoga to take over my life. I very much wanted to retain my ‘Aleya’ personality, her likes and preferences, her idiosyncrasies. I feared that committing to a spiritual path would strip away my individuality.

And of course, it is doing just that. Our earthly identities are just a finite fragment of our infinite selves. But Kundalini Yoga is not really stripping Aleya away; it’s helping her access her limitlessness, while flooding her finite self with more love, compassion, and kindness than she’s ever known.

What’s not to love?

the healing sea

healing sea

The ocean soothes and contains me. I grew up surrounded by water and can’t imagine my life without it. It is not an ‘it’, but an alive being whose consciousness I feel more and more. She feels feminine to me. Receptive, open, pulled by the moon…

Water is my conduit to the Divine, and her expansiveness holds all my hopes, dreams, prayers, fears, tears, and desires. Today I say ‘thank you’ to the healing sea, for always holding me in her loving depth.

year of the jellyfish

 

jellyfish

a few years ago a relative told me i reminded her of a jellyfish.  i was confused and she explained: she saw me as translucent, a pearly bubble ready to burst with all the colour and potential and goodness inside me.  she said i couldn’t see it, but she could.  it was a sweet conversation and one i remember once in a while.

maybe it’s all the end-of-2012 talk, but lately i’m beginning to feel those colours emerging.

something has shifted. like i’m breathing a sigh of relief. like i made it to the other side of something. i don’t feel quite so intensely compressed, like i’m a tube of toothpaste and someone is trying squeeze every last bit out.   although everything looks the same, something unseen and profound feels to have taken place.

i can’t hold onto anything anymore. i can’t blame anyone anymore. i can’t make excuses.  i can’t tell the same old stories.

but instead of feeling ungrounded or anxious, i feel peace.

i know that:

-i’m not powerless.

-i don’t have ‘bad karma’.

-i’m not being punished.

-there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

-i’m not unworthy.

-it’s not about the money.

(to name a few.)

whatever i used to say to myself that stopped me from doing what i really love to do, does not work anymore.

and saying that ‘i still don’t know what i really love to do’ (my usual fallback) is also an excuse, of sorts.  maybe i don’t consciously know, but it’s there nonetheless, and moving within me.  something inside has cracked and there’s an opening…to something that’s been closed a very long time.  the hope that maybe i can create whatever i want.  maybe, just maybe, everything i’ve believed for 30+ years no longer has power over me.  it’s subtle yet undeniable.

just the act of putting pen to paper (or fingertip to key) shows that something has shifted.  why today?  why after years and years, did some part of me decide that yes, today is the day to write?

my story that’s not a story. 🙂