It was vanity that initially led me to Yoga — seeking yet another means for perfecting my body, or some new level of fitness.
Over time, Yoga revealed an intrinsic reward aligned with my deeper longing: to live the examined life, which Socrates proclaimed to be the only life worth living.
When life presented me with arthritis of the spine, yet another motivation for practicing Yoga emerged: to find the cure in the promise of Yoga’s potential.
I know. I can imagine you saying to me, “Life is filled with pain, and Yoga is not intended as a cure for pain or our experiences of it.”That’s just the thing; during my two years with enduring pain, my intellectual self has argued this fact with my hopeful self, wishful for a cure-all.
It was here, at the crossroads of necessity for practice and reality as it is, that I was led into the messy mystery that lives outside of and in between intellectual concepts and mythologized potentials. This was chronic pain’s first gift.
In his book The Jump into Life: Moving Beyond Fear, Arnaud Desjardins proposes that we must say Yes to change — to life — if we intend to inhabit reality and live fully.
I long to make this kind of leap and enthusiastically embrace the inevitable changes of life, but I fear change, which has made this Yes-saying business easier said than done.
Desjardins suggests that the first Yes we may need to say is to ourNo. Herein lies chronic pain’s second gift: coming to terms with the ways in which I’m an Eeyore dressed up like a Tigger, secretly bemoaning No-it’ll-never-work and belying any genuine relationship with my life as change.
I’ve encountered times when I’ve been overly eager to jump into my Yes to life, only to discover I had spiritually combed over my refusal to accept pain, and discover what it may have come to teach me.
There have been plenty of times I’ve indulged my No and turned it into self-pity and a storyline about being an otherwise fit woman in her fifties who has lost something valuable… her lumbar disks!
Whatever the case, saying Yes to the changes and jumping into our lives with any authenticity is, at best, a stumbling and fumbling to a clear discrimination between the fantasy stories we cling to and what is real.
To be clear, I am not advocating for more pain or a reckless jumping into anything that would cause you, dear reader, or others, unnecessary suffering. Do take care, and please use common sense if managing chronic pain, and practicing Yoga.
The Slow Track to Liberation
The third gift I’ve received from my relationship with pain has been the impetus to slow down. Slowing down has, by necessity, forced me into the Now.
This idea, of Being here now or Being in the present moment, is profound wisdom offered to us by many spiritual teachers, including Ram Dass and even Desjardins (not to mention countless others).
Many of us have heard various Yoga teachers translate this idea in phrases like Enter the present or There’s nowhere else to be. Softly or plainly spoken, we grok what they are saying.
Yet, if like me, understanding a thing tends to often masquerade as knowing, then slowing down to fully experience what is happening in the Now may liberate our understanding into an embodied wisdom.
A healer once said to me, “Your most treacherous symptom is your greatest dream coming into being.” While the meaning of this riddle remains a mystery to me, I can attest to arthritis pain being a treacherous bitch of a symptom.
Just as I’ve given up solely practicing Yoga to attain a perfect body, so too am I giving up the wishful thinking that Yoga is a cure-all for life’s painful experiences.
Perhaps this is my greatest dream coming into being, and the ultimate gift of recurring pain: jumping or crawling onto my mat to practice every day, with or without pain, and not diminishing my experiences with fantasies or assumptions that they need to be any different from what they already are, here and now.