I’ve been in some rather deep lessons this week. Lessons I’m learning through my lived experience, though I’m sure I can’t be the only one, so it feels good to share these things, in the event someone else can find these musings helpful.
In August of 2017, I had ACL replacement surgery to tend to a torn ligament that resulted from a fall in June. In June, my partner and I were out on our second hike of the season, yet I was far away from the trail itself. Since that accident, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where I was, but the train of thought that lead me to this moment evades me in its own way. What I know to be true about it was I was engaged in a thick inner dialogue, discussing or arguing with myself about something or another…something about worth and ability I’m guessing, since that is the topic that typically takes my mind for a ride. During this thought-filled moment, I went to cross a creek, stepped on a boulder I instantly knew I shouldn’t trust, and the boulder rolled into the creek, pinning my leg as I twisted and fell into the water. The fear that took over me was powerful and complete. I was certain that a bone was broken and knew that my relationship to my body and ability were instantly changed. My partner helped me out of the water and we worked together to get my left leg moving again and I was awash with a relief that it was not a fractured bone and the dread of having to go through the process of learning what had happened and tending slowly…allowing my leg to go through whatever process it was going to need in order to arrive back on the trail. Finding out that my ACL was completely torn and it would require surgery to repair didn’t really sink in right away. It’s the kind of news that had me saying “yes, ok I understand, what do I need to do next” while simultaneously in shock that I was so seriously injured.
I’ve been in a healing process ever since that moment with the creek..ever since I placed my left foot on that boulder; ever since I felt it wobble underfoot. Surgery went off without a hitch, and I’ve recently completed physical therapy with the OK to go back to activities “as much as is tolerated” while continuing to strengthen my weakened hamstring. The recovery process came with a certain kind of ease. I was able to keep pace with the prescribed practices and mobility benchmarks, so much so that my physical therapist has asked me to teach a class on alternative modalities of healing to the PT staff to help give voice to my quick recovery in the hopes that can guide work with other people. I think this success kept me focused on completion, on receiving the OK to be in my body the way I have always liked to be, without as much space offered to the healing processes that needed to occur. These processes include grieving and mourning my altered body, exploring and expressing the anger I have with myself for my lack of mindfulness, for “knowing better” but remaining so wrapped up in some story, I was not able to be present, feelings of shame and guilt that arise when I require assistance and support for my wounds, and the struggle of having to learn to be a new body with new limitations and new expectations. Post surgery and post PT, I’m finding myself in the welling of all of these processes as I come to terms with the fact that no, I am not 100%. No, I cannot return to “sport” as I would like. No, indeed I am not yet healed, regardless of my hospital file and the reflections of my care team. No, I am not through the hardest part, it seems to be arriving right now, timed with the big snows that have finally arrived here in the northern Sierra mountains.
The snow that has fallen throughout the past week has awoken in me the person who, this time last year, was struggling to learn how to ski. Though I grew up in Colorado, I am one of the people that comes from the mountains without deep experiences of the back country or play in the snow. I’d yet to learn how to ride the tides of water as it flows in winter. Starting to learn to ski last year brought up it’s own slew of processes including facing my fear and my fearful self head on, learning how to communicate my pace and needs, and the very real push to keep myself isolated and sequestered while I take it upon myself to learn. There is a lot here about burdening people, slowing down or holding back people I love from engaging with what they love in the way they love to engage it. All that considered, as the snow falls now, I am feeling deep within myself a desire to try again, to reengage the world with new eyes and more mindfulness than I have in this learning process thus far.
This entire story, from June to now, begs me to look at myself in a healing way. To see the ways I self-reject when things do not come easy, when I am not as strong, skilled, capable, or trained enough to make my way through a challenge. When I find myself in the stew of pity and judgement that creates a thick mask of shame I can’t even see myself through. Not being able to ski and continue on that learning path of deep nature connection and humbling is bringing up in me now the same feelings of tension and ridicule that I felt the moment I saw the boulder give way to water. Not being able to take it upon myself to learn in privacy is exposing that wound, those habits, resulting in the painful acknowledgement of where I am for all to see. Not being able to go out in the snow and play with my partner, a man that is an avid skier and deep lover of outdoor sports and adventure, brings up in me a fear of abandonment, of seeing myself not as an equal but as not enough – defective and unable to meet a need. None of these things are easy…in fact they are the newest manifestation of the oldest, hardest, and biggest internal struggles I have faced since a young age. Abandonment, isolation, inadequacy and conditional self-acceptance are the shadows of my psyche that I have been dancing with for my whole life. These dances, sometimes graceful and most often clumsy and jerky, drop me into a state of being which is hard for me to return from. These feelings situate me toward myself and organize my experience of self, other, and place in a profoundly isolating and static way. There is no fluid movement, no breath, no laughter…just the frustrated stepping back and forth in a dead partner dance.
To know this about myself now is a gift. It is a teaching. It is a reflection on clean glass. It is my work… a work I have spent a lot of time resisting, and now, sitting inside on a big snow day on top of a mountain with nothing to do but be my own company as my partner is out skiing and enjoying, I am finding that resisting cannot hold much longer. It is asking me, the grief, the pain, the sorrow, the anger, the process is asking me to chose the path of least resistance. To go the way of nature that accepts that all things are as they are and they will all change in due time. I’m being asked to stop fighting myself as much and start loving myself more. To find the way of patience and grace that will allow this knee to truly heal. At the pace of nature.
I cried about it today. I screamed a guttural scream that seemed to come from my hamstrings, from my knee. I moved and attempted to breathe, and when I couldn’t find breath, I wept more. Tears flowed and covered my yoga mat as I struggled my way back toward center, to give myself the space I truly needed to be with myself once again. I am actively working away from punishing myself for getting hurt, from blaming myself and my thought-filled mind for my injuries and its requisite stillness, and into the process of humbly taking responsibility for myself in an effort to increase my response-ability to these shadows as they come to play and distort my worldview. I am letting the waves come, waves that have been struggling to swell since June. I am not tearing down dams within myself as much as I am becoming the waves and finding other ways to travel.
Change is a process of transformation, and therefore a process of death and rebirth. In the woods in June, a very real part of me died. The part of me that knew how to use both legs as I do, the part of me that felt compelled to chose to be somewhere else in mind than where I was in body, the part of me that was willing to keep the struggle for connection engaged through the path of resistance. I am still mourning that person’s death. I am still grieving the loss of my body as I knew it before I fell. I am still angry for my wounds. There has been a loss, and the absence is still deeply felt. And, as I allow for this grief to take shape, something new is happening, change is occurring, transformation takes hold. As I acknowledge that I have to step down from where I have been to truly be where I am now, I have to also acknowledge the loss and the pain involved in such a process.
To chose the path of least resistance, for me, means looking around and figuring out where I am in this exact moment before making any decisions on where to go next. I have had to go through the death process of where I was, including the denial and the grief and the anger of that loss, to finally begin lifting my head to see where I stand now. And I stand on both legs. I stand on a left left that is not as strong as the right. I stand on a left leg that aches and gets wobbly. I stand on a leg that can regain balance and withstand pressure. I stand on two legs, one of which is new and learning to trust me again. I stand at the crossroads of my healing, in a place where I am offered the space and time to turn toward the ouch that arises from the snow that falls and my desire to be anywhere other than on my computer at home. I am in the lucky place of witnessing my wounding and seeing it as it comes up on a daily basis.
What’s more, I am in a teaching of nature. Though I long to be outside, that is not the only way to learn the Earth’s lessons. As I sit now and watch the snow fall, I witness the movement of snowflakes that wind and twist their way down to the resting community of snow below. I witness each individual flake on its individual journey to wholeness, to that point of return that allows each crystal to rest into the web of a blanket of snow. As I listen to my body, I witness the way things get lodged in muscle, tissue, and tendon. I witness that my own gentle touch on my leg brings forth a well of tears I cannot stop; tears that soothe the pain of injury and death with the waters of life. I feel the settling of my system into those tears, the path of least resistance that allows me to gently fall back down to the waiting Earth. I witness myself in my own healing journey toward wholeness which, like the snowflakes fall, is connected to the whole and simultaneously unique and personal. I settle into the path of least resistance that does not have me mentally and prematurely physically running toward some other place I long to be, but rather has me entering into the place I already occupy which contains all the directions for my most useful and healing movements. I am also learning more deeply about the process of healing. That healing is not a gauge of achieving a static healed position, like my surgeon and physical therapist may have me believe, but that healing is an on-going process of engaging with the world from each new place we occupy. It is a process of awakening to the truth of the here and now versus remaining asleep in the worlds of past or future. It is about learning to say YES to the ways my being is saying NO. It is about the NO directing me toward the next YES that is genuinely possible and available. It is about learning to acknowledge what I do and do not have control of, and learning to love my life from that place. It is to heal at the pace of nature…which is slow, patient, quiet, mysterious, and never complete but ever unfolding. Perhaps it’s about seeing the infinite that is only made visible by limitation.
This is far from complete, and I feel truly grateful for that. To learn about myself is a bittersweet gift I wholeheartedly, albeit begrudgingly, accept. I cannot speed up the process of healing by willing it to be. All I can do is surrender to the wisdom of my body, a body like all bodies that is a manifestation of life, an expression of the Earth herself. In this way, learning to listen to my body is no different than learning how to read landscapes. Learning to trust my embodied self is no different in knowing how to cross a creek safely. Though I have much to learn about place and how to safely move myself across it, none of that knowledge will do me a lick of good if I am still finding myself lost in thought; if I find myself out of doors but in my mind, dancing with the shadows of my story.
The lulls in the storm allows us to look up and see our place. The gusts of screams and the accumulation of tears reshape my landscape, opening up new paths of least resistance that I was not able to identify before. Slowness. Stillness. Expression. Compassion. Gentleness. Patience.
This is the way of healing. At the pace of nature.
I hope that this reflection brings you ease in your own struggles of self-discovery.
My this lesson be of use to others. In service to all life.
For all my relations.