you are irreplaceable

“You’re replaceable,” a colleague said to me last week.

These words, seemingly harsh, were delivered with fierce caring and passion upon my return to work after being away for back pain. “I’m replaceable,” she continued. “If I die tonight, my job will be posted by Friday. But I’m not replaceable to my family and loved ones.”

I’d just expressed that I felt ‘bad’ for having missed so much work, after only recently starting in my current position. “Let me tell you right now,” she responded. “Nobody is thinking that but you. Nobody cares. I mean, we care…but we’re all too busy and wrapped up in our own little worlds.”

It was clear I had limited mobility and was still in some pain. “Don’t push yourself,” she cautioned. “Nobody is going to take care of you, but you. Are you taking care of yourself?”

This is perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning from back pain: the need for self-care. I had been pushing myself, but didn’t recognize it. ‘Pushing myself’ was just so…normal.

The emotional root of low back pain, I’ve read, is feeling unsupported. There were many factors leading to my injury. I didn’t take enough work breaks, I sat improperly and for too long, my yoga practice had lapsed. But the emotional explanation resonated. I’d long felt I was ‘going it alone’ in life: I was misunderstood, my financial situation was a bomb, relationships with men were painful, God was disappointed in me.

But was any of that actually true? Or was it that I felt deeply unworthy of receiving support?

I know this is about my experience of being a woman. I haven’t wanted to be a burden on others, to take up too much space or be seen as too demanding. I’ve tried to be independent and accommodating. On the occasions I have been called ‘selfish’, it’s kicked me right in the gut. For a woman, there can be so much loaded in that word.

Hence the compulsion to people-please, to over-accommodate. The all-consuming worry about what others will think, the inability to make a decision because I’m weighing in so many voices. These aren’t conscious behaviours; they’re deeply ingrained, woven into my cells after many years – probably generations – of conditioning.

My body had long been giving me warning signals, straining against the push to live up to expectations that were largely my own. I felt so responsible to do a good job, and guilty when I let others down. Breaking my back, bending over backwards. How bad does it have to get?

stop and notice the pink

There have been many blessings inherent in this pain. I’ve had to be vulnerable in relying on loved ones for help with everything from cleaning to driving to putting on my socks. I’m physically vulnerable to strangers. Walking to work on the downtown sidewalks, people barrel towards me. I see how fragile this body can be; one random bump could re-trigger the pain.

I’m used to being the one rushing, becoming impatient with slow walkers. I’m now one of them. I’ve discovered that it’s a relief not to rush – to have no choice but to go slow. Some people give me space, and sympathetic smiles. These are small things…but they’re not.

I hope I can hold on to all this, as my back heals. I like being vulnerable. I’m self-protective, but not on the defence. I feel softer, more raw and trusting. And my vulnerability gives others, particularly my loved ones, the chance to show kindness to me.

In receiving this care, I’m realizing that I’m the only one who saw myself as a burden. And I no longer wish to carry that belief. I’d rather be irreplaceable.

burn the journals

I moved a couple of months ago, and my box of journals followed me. I’ve carted this box around for several years, unsure of what to do with it. A part of me wants to burn these diaries, all at once, in some ritual release ceremony. But if I do that, I want to read them first – and this would take a while, given the sheer number of them. And the fact that it would be an emotionally exhausting process.

Why am I holding on? I’ve written about this in a previous post, and I’m still facing the dilemma. For the most part, my musings weren’t happy. I certainly don’t want anyone else reading them. And I don’t feel particularly joyful when I look at that box; if anything, it makes me anxious. I think of it whenever I hear the safety announcement on a plane. What if I died suddenly? Do I really want my innermost thoughts just floating around?

the box

I know what it is. I have this sense, this hope, that the diaries might provide a clue. A clue about what, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll contain a hidden gem that will give me some heightened self-awareness. A lightbulb moment. A traumatic memory unlocked, the key that brings missing pieces together.

Or maybe not.

In my last post, I wrote about it being the time of a full moon and an opportunity for completion. That weekend, I found myself going for a long walk, unexpectedly winding up in my childhood neighbourhood. I walked past the apartment building my family lived in at two different times; once when I was 4 and again at age 8.

I felt both light and heavy. When we lived in this small place, my family had not been in the country for very long. So many years later, I could more fully appreciate the trauma and uncertainty that my parents must’ve experienced during those early years. My heart exploded with love for my mother and father, and my childhood grief that I couldn’t make them feel better.

I love that this building is still there, but I have a feeling it will be gone soon, as the whole area is being redeveloped.

Somehow the timing of all this feels pertinent. If the full moon a couple of weeks ago was about completion, we’re now in the birthing period of the new moon and total solar eclipse. Given that it’s Mercury Retrograde too, it’s the time for inner reflection. Whatever we’re intent on releasing, whatever new thoughts we want to implant… it’s a cosmically potent opportunity to do so.

The little girl in the apartment, the teenager writing in those journals, the woman on her spiritual search…what is she ready to let go of?

The need to apologize. The need to people please, the fear of rejection, the feelings of not enough, the ancient pain in feeling so responsible for others. Letting go of those physical reminders, those powerful words in written form, frees her to experience more of the real her: the woman unbound by old self-definitions. The woman who laughs more, who truly values herself and doesn’t needlessly worry about others.

Perhaps there is no more auspicious time to set those journals aflame. Instead of fearing what I might lose – my childhood, my identity – I can imagine the space created from releasing those (mostly sad) words. My being extends far beyond the letters on a page.

As I walked past my old apartment that day, it occurred to me that I never knew the building’s name. I went up to the main door. “Le Chateau.” The Castle. Seeing that made me smile. It seemed very fitting.

the fires of kali

It’s curious that the things we most love to do often get pushed to the back burner during times of stress. This post is my attempt to reconnect with blogging, a bright spot in my life – but one I’ve neglected these past few weeks!

Like many others, I’ve experienced some big life changes and it’s taken most of my energy to keep up with my day-to-day routine during all the transition. Last month, I moved homes yet again. Those who know me will probably find this amusing, as I change addresses more frequently than anyone I know…but these particular circumstances were unsettling and threw me off center. The silver lining? I’ve discovered that I’m getting tired of being a gypsy. I’m craving a real sanctuary, somewhere I can land at the end of the day and truly call ‘home’. I’m intrigued at what this realization might bring!

The past is certainly coming up for re-evaluation and reconfiguration. An old flame recently returned to my life, and the relationship is evolving into something new. Is it resurrection or completion? It is hard not to ask such questions, but of course only time will tell.

technicolor kali, sonja picard

Through all of this, I’ve been feeling goddess Kali’s strong presence. Kali, the destroyer of all that is old, tired, and decayed. Her sword slashes my ego to the core, over and over again, making it excruciatingly uncomfortable to remain in habitual reactions and beliefs. She asks me: Is this really what you want? How uncomfortable does it have to get? What are you sacrificing? Is it worth it?

This all sounds intense, and it is. But there’s also been so much beauty and healing these past couple of months. My external situations are no doubt mirroring the shifts on the inside, and while this often feels stressful and exhausting, I welcome it. Things have to get completely shaken up to settle in their new and rightful places. (I’m seeing snow globes.)

Kali asks: What do you want? I usually go blank at this question. Is it because I don’t know, or I don’t feel worthy of having it, or because it’s never been about external things? Probably.

What I want is to feel my connection with my source, my creator – God – more than ever before. To use the collective chaos and turmoil as the catalyst for delving deeper into my own Self. And that means trusting my own guidance and authority, something I’ve written about before, and is more crucial than ever.

Having said that, perhaps it’s also time to start creatively dreaming about those externals! I’m feeling renewed excitement in reviving plans and projects that I shelved a while back. Doing things for the sheer enjoyment they bring, like writing and blogging. Perhaps these times present a golden opportunity, a fruitful time to plant seeds that will grow into something big. The old hardened roots have to be dug up first, leaving what looks to be a huge mess…but it’s actually the fertile soil for great beauty. Summer feels ripe for the picking.

Jai, Kali Ma.