A few weeks ago I “pulled a muscle.” You’d think at my age that I would know better than to break up the packed ice on the sidewalk outside my house, and heave the snow over my shoulder to the verge; but it was such a pretty, blue-sky day, and I felt so good that I simply didn’t think. So there I was shoveling snow, and happy as a lark.
Two days later my back ached. By the end of the week I couldn’t walk, and soon an old sciatica, reignited, sent pain shooting down my leg into my foot.
I’ve been doing everything imaginable to get well again, including doctors, chiropractors and PT, arnica, heat and cold, hot baths, back brace and prayers by Silent Unity, plus energy work like Reiki and Cranial Sacral. It’s just going to take time. Meanwhile I found myself falling into such self-pity that I started beating myself up for that indulgence too, scolding myself for wallowing in the pity-parties I despise.
It’s useless, but worse, it’s wrong. Even the words are wrong. Instead of calling it self-pity, let’s name it self-compassion. If I acknowledge my sorrow and attend to my discouragement, it diminishes. It moves out.
Let’s talk, therefore, about love, and about loving ourselves with all our frailties and failures.
Last week as I lay on the massage table for a long and luxurious cranial-sacral treatment, drifting in and out of awareness, I found myself praying for my body. All my life my body has done whatever I asked of it, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before to offer thanks. Lying there, responding to the osteopath’s gentle suggestions, I was aware of the miracle of having a body. Imagine! I live inside a body! What a privilege!
And then I remembered that Forgiveness is the most powerful prayer you can make. It’s so important that all Christ needed to do in order to heal the leper or the man blind from birth or the adulteress was to murmur, “You are forgiven.” And they walked off healed.
I asked my body to forgive me for all the times I have abused it, or invaded it with surgery or flushed it with powerful emetics for some unnecessary colonoscopy demanded by my doctor, for mashing my breasts for mammograms or for blasting my belly and limbs with x-rays and MRIs. How many times have I slashed my body open to remove some inner part, beginning with tonsils and adenoids and appendectomy when I was only a child and going on right into adulthood, cutting my flesh open to toss out cysts and organs as if they were just trash.
Lying there, asking for forgiveness, I thanked my body for everything it has done for me. The fact is, I live inside this miraculous self-healing organism that cares for me, enfolds me and that functions without my having to direct a thing. My heart beats 4800 times an hour, 42,000,000 beats a year and billions upon billions of times for my lifetime; my lungs fill and deflate with air, circulating nutrients to every muscle, tendon, cell. My brain sends forth electrical currents to feed this magical system. My bones regenerate every ten years; white blood cells every week, my skin every two or three weeks. And all the while, I take it all for granted.
Then I forgave my body for growing old, for having wrinkles and sagging skin and loosening stomach muscles, and shifting itself out of alignment.
Here’s what’s odd. (Was it my imagination?)
As I prayed, I could feel my muscles relax. I could feel my body shift into the light. I could feel it—am I crazy? — stretch, as it were, take a breath, and settle down to heal.
Here’s another idea. In the last few days I’ve been experimenting with something else: When I feel loved, and when I am openly loving something else (cat, dog, human, tree or bush), when my heart opens and I am flooded with spiritual well-being, the pain diminishes. It vanishes. This also happens when I am meditating, painting, concentrating on writing or creating.
I’m not saying this is easy. When I am tired, when I become anxious and afraid, when I start to scold myself impatiently for my disability or for not healing faster or better, when I berate myself as old and useless and finished — used up—my muscles tighten. . . my back begins to spasm and I am weak and sick again.
Can this be possible?
Is healing simply another word for love? Love for myself and fearless, unfathomable love extending out toward others… Is it possible that self-compassion and an open-hearted delight is one secret to being well?
© Sophy Burnham, 2019.