Two days ago I sneezed.
I can imagine what you are thinking. How does that make for the subject of a blog post?
Here's how: if you have a couple of degenerating discs in your lower back and you sneeze when you are in the process of lifting one foot to go upstairs while one hand reaches for the banister, you are off balance when you sneeze and the violence of the muscle contraction knocks you further off balance and wrenches your spine and...you throw your back out.
At the time, part of me knew it was comical. My little dog staring at me in confusion, me hanging for dear life onto the banister, trying not to collapse onto the stair because I knew I'd not be able to get back up, saying (well, yelling), "Oh my God, oh, my God, oooooooh my God."
And then breathing deeply; imagining the breath going to those spasming muscles and calming them, softening them; saying (I learned this little mantra from my mother), "I can do this. I can do this," one step at a time with a deep, slow breath for each lift of a foot to the next stair, up two flights of stairs and then baby steps, slow baby steps, into my condo. Getting the ice pack (you have at least two of those if you have migraines and a bad back) and finally, gratefully, gingerly, lowering my aching self onto the bed.
In Mariechild's reflection (Open Mind -- Women's Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful) for March 15, she writes, ironically enough, of stiffness and pain in her back. But before that she has made this amazing statement:
"Spirituality is learning to make friends again and again with our shameful parts, our confusing parts, our wild parts, our silly parts, the whole of ourselves. Right now."
She writes this in response to the Pema Chodron quote at the top of the page:
"Our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to. It's who we are right now, and that's what we can make friends with and celebrate."
In my previous post, I wrote about shame and blame, about how we have learned them from childhood and how, if we free ourselves from shaming and blaming, we free up energy "to be used in the service of self-knowledge and wisdom." And now Mariechild says that we should make friends with our shameful parts, our confusing parts. Even our aching backs, our bodies that won't do what we want them to, our silly mistakes like sneezing at the wrong moment.
Mariechild says that the reality of her painful back "has to be okay. Cursing the pain or cursing myself for not unlocking the key to this pain won't help." As odd as it may sound, she has made friends with the pain: she has accepted it, stopped fighting or cursing it. And more, she tells us that what helps is "softening and loving myself."
What a neat way to think of pain management! At the moment that I was using my breathing and calming skills to manage the muscle spasms in my back, I was not thinking of loving myself. Yet isn't that exactly what I was doing?
Freaking out about being struck to near-immobility by pain would not have been very self-loving, now that I think about it that way. But having immediately handy those tools for managing the sudden, shocking pain and knowing how to use them for self-preservation, means that I had loved myself enough to learn and practice them so well that they have become readily available to me at a moment's notice. Pain management is loving myself.
Acceptance of who we are in this moment -- be it a moment of back spasm, embarrassment, ignorance, silliness, confusion -- is loving ourselves. It is spirituality.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.