I did my back in a few weeks ago. I know now that this is a pretty common thing, but it was my first time and knocked the wind out my sails. One moment I was operating as normal, albeit with a few aches and pains, the next moment, as I picked my three month old baby up, my back just buckled. It was as if something had knocked down the beam that holds a building up, and there it went. Rubble all around. I couldn’t walk unaided or use the toilet without assistance to get up and down. The suddenness of this new condition was what frightened me most. How quickly things can change. I still had three young children to look after but was now incapable of doing so. Just like that. A sobering, and humbling, experience. This body is mortal after all.
With the help of family and friends I re-learnt the lesson of inter-dependency. People need other people. I was helped with childcare, cooking, cleaning and advice on how to heal by the grace of the people close to me. I re-learnt the lesson of slowing down. Lying on my back for several days waiting for the spasm to pass meant I watched the sky out the window. It had been too long since I had connected to the moment I was in. I became aware of how relentlessly I pursue distraction.
Good intentions followed. After the spasm of a back collapsing has subsided sufficiently for mobility to return, the best thing to do is work with that mobility. Walk. Be active. The strength of the back is built up again so that it can do the work of supporting the rest of the body. I began with gentle, slow walking and worked up to a daily twenty minute yoga practice. These are easy things to incorporate into days that are dominated by the needs of young children, and the restrictions being a primary carer places on time.
Of course, it is easy to forget what the motivation for making positive change is once health returns. My back is working really well now, dare I say back to normal. I have been engaging my core abdominal muscles to do any lifting and have powerfully felt how quickly the benefits of yoga and walking are felt in the body. So, being healthy, the last few days I have let the yoga practice slip. I’ve allowed the distractions of being busy eat into the day. And though my back is holding out, for now, I notice how my mood is increasingly cantankerous and annoyed. Care for the back, I realise, is also care for the self. When I support my back through right action, I support so much more. Letting it slide, it is only a matter of time before moodiness becomes the collapse of the bodies most beautiful metaphor for support: back muscles. As I deviate from the path of supporting myself, the sub conscious speaks. I love how this happens. It’s why dreams are truly where it’s at for offering sharp reminders to look more closely; to be with what is beneath the surface.
I dreamt I lived another life entirely. I was an older man, harassed and put upon. There was a younger man with me, a companion who I felt deeply responsible for. The young man is part of so much I must care for and look after. I am strung out. Suddenly, and unexpected, the young man snapped at me. “Stop viewing me like a five year old!”, he said, “No wonder you’re a mess if you think that’s who you have to support you”. Lightbulb moment. This strong, young, intelligent man is my companion, an aspect of myself, ready to live with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Yet, I infantilise him as a helpless child who must be protected by this other aspect of myself, who is tired, older, worn out and a little fearful of relinquishing control; to make that leap of faith that this other aspect of self, who is ready to live, can support me. Is, in fact, me.
Backs, life and dreams. Body, mind and soul. It’s all one and the same. Count the threads and see the pattern.