In the last year my life has changed remarkably, surprisingly, and mostly against my will. At the beginning of last July I unfortunately fell down a flight of six stairs. I had never fallen down stairs before and I only imagined how painful it would be. Being a kind of clumsy girl I found it fortunate for me that there aren’t’ a whole bunch of stairs to fall down in Taos as most buildings are one story and the front entryway is even with the earth. Though before last July I had yet to fall down stairs in my life, I wasn’t new to falling. I had more than once slipped on the ice, stumbled over after one to many beverages of the saucy kind, or just being my clumsy self tripped over something outside my range of vision. As a tall person, falling in general, isn’t’ much fun. I lament my height as I watch children fall and bounce right back up without much more than a whimper. Over my many years as an avid snowboarder I became more accustomed to falling. However, when playing in the snow one does their falling in the snow, which has a generosity in it’s reception of a body no matter it’s size. Falling into snow that has freshly fallen is as delightful as falling into bed when you’re exhausted, it’s a welcome surrender. Falling down stairs, not so inviting, and falling down stairs when you have placed your foot where you see the step to be, and you step with the confidence of someone who has managed to stand upright for more than three decades, is a far cry from a welcome surrender. After I tumbled down to the bottom of the flight of stairs, body facing up the direction I had come, in acute and shocking pain, feeling like something beyond the veil of my perception had pushed me I questioned, “How did I miss that step I was so obviously taking?”
Since the fall everything has changed. As I said before, falling to the ground as a tall person usually does not lend itself to bouncing back. Before the fall I was experiencing more chronic pain in a long-term back injury than I wanted to admit, but after, I could no longer ignore it. I went to the doctor, which was marked for me, as I never go to the doctor. That doctor sent me to another doctor. I was ordered an MRI that catapulted me directly back to the trauma of the car accident that caused the back injury so many years before. In conjunction with the memory of the trauma my fear worsened as I relived an old reality that once I laid down in the MRI tube I may never stand up again. Recognizing this was a fear, an old story, before the test I rose to the opportunity to face it head on. Inside the MRI tube I choose to meditate on spacious landscapes as to not feel claustrophobic, and based on previous experience this time I knew better than to open my eyes. More importantly I was able to remind myself that no matter the pain I was going through and the possible outcome of the imaging, I would be walking away after the loud hum of the magnificent machine stopped.
I’m a stubborn person. I credit my stubborn nature with the reality that I can walk post car accident. Yet, it is also my stubborn nature that perpetuated me living my life without pause, as I was doing, in a state of chronic pain before the fall. The imaging results of the MRI were good, and I in perfect stride with my stubbornness took a minor two weeks off of my regular schedule for “rest”, which hardly included rest. Along with being stubborn I have a hard time slowing down, and though it was far from the truth at the end of my two-week “rest” I told myself I was better. I was not better, and this journey was really just gearing up. By the end of December a mere six months later I could barely walk.
Falling down stairs was not something I wanted to do, nor was falling out of my perceived ability to manage my life, which in turn meant constant managing of my lie. Telling myself as every day went by and the pain in my low back and hip and shoulder and neck got worse, I was ok. What compounded the necessity of the lie was another lie I was telling myself, I couldn’t, not work. I had to work. How would the bills get paid if I weren’t working? It’s not like I was making a whole bunch of money, but I had this story in my head that if I didn’t make money the financial fall, and a fall from self reliance, would be worse than the pain in my body, worse than relying on someone else, worse than anything I had lived through up until that point.
Keeping up the façade for six months was easy because I would smoke copious amounts of tobacco and pot and forget about it. I would get in bed daily after following through on my commitments and tell myself this new standard of living was ok because at least I made a bit of money that day, and now I could numb the feeling and rest. However, a few hours of rest some days, did not make up for the sometimes eight hours a day I was teaching most days at that point. And like the fall down the stairs in July, I fell in my driveway at the end of December coming home from the studio. My legs collapsed underneath me as I burst into tears.
Keeping in stride with my knack for holding a stubborn position, I looked around at my life and told myself I was totally screwed. I was screwed because I had built a life around using my body to make a living and now my body was saying no more. After spending so much time trying to maintain a semblance of control in my life, if not within my body at least within my bank account, I was now face to face with the reality that I truly had no control. In a disparaging state I realized the one thing I could do to feel better was quit smoking, and on the first of the year I did. This good feeling choice was followed swiftly with a ripple effect as every relationship I held close to me was pulled into a vortex of friction, discontent, discomfort, and conflict. From my husband, to my siblings, to my best friends, to my parents, all relationships were up for evaluation, and most especially, the one I was having with myself.
There I was in the dark of winter, having what I call an acute episode of life, as I was now truly falling into the well of the lies I had used to hold up a life they could no longer hold.
In retrospect I can say life is pretty amazing. Again months have passed and I am no longer in the cheese grater of life and I can look back on those painful days and weeks and know I am better for them. In the presence of the hardship I found myself supported in the most beautiful of ways. I found that there is always help. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves enough to ask for help and step outside of our limited ideas of how life is supposed to be long enough to receive it as it is, but I found that when I did, help arrived. Help arrived for me, just when I thought I would continue falling and never hit bottom. I think that when we are in the worst states of emotional and physical discomfort in our lives, when we are truly most vulnerable it is the hardest time to reveal our truths. I know for myself last winter was the most challenging emotional time I have lived through in my life up to this day. There were days when I contemplated carrying on, the value of this experience, and what a relief death might be. To reveal that kind of emotional experience in that state takes courage, but if we chose not to, if we continue to hold up a façade of a life of lies, we do eventually slip through the cracks like Robin Williams did last week, and so many of my friends did before him. I like to think I am not alone in this kind of experience, that anyone with a heart that hurts has contemplated crossing over, yet I do not know if that is true. What I do know to be true is that I was fortunate to have a net of help wrap itself around me, as I needed it. Help arrived then and help has continued to arrive, mostly, because I was able to ask for it.
The pain in my body before the fall, and after the fall, is mostly tied up in the real injury I sustained so many years ago in my back. It is also tied up in the layers and layers of story of my life stored in my cellular, emotional, and mental body. I am not ashamed to admit that since January I have been in therapy, revisiting the story of my life, the truth and the lies, while learning how to see it as a whole bunch of this one time, rather than, that’s always the story. My desire to experience less physical discomfort has gratefully lead me to make choices for my self that are loving and not rooted in the contracted state of fear I was experiencing last winter, nor the deluded state of smoke and lies. In the delightful heat of the summer and after months of deliberate care for this vehicle that houses my spirit, I spend more days with less pain than I have in years. I am feeling more optimistic than ever before that I will feel less and less pain as more time goes by, maybe even no pain someday, but that is going to require diligent awareness and honesty.
I haven’t smoked in months, I haven’t gotten high or told myself money was the most important tool I had, I haven’t done these things because I recognized that though they had worked as a band-aid in the past, that’s all they did was cover up the problems. I realized this week as I agonized a bit about the weight I have gained in the past few months that holding onto the concept of a good weight is akin to holding onto the fear of not having enough money, akin to choosing pain over health and well being, akin to being afraid of falling. It was in that realization that I recognized it doesn’t’ matter what the band-aid is because beneath any band-aid the need is always the same. The need is to surrender, to fall and to trust, to believe the net will appear. As I had this small epiphany I began to cry, the tears fell with ease, with joy, with sweetness, with grace from my eyes. To surrender to grace, I am continuously reminded, is the greatest gift I could ever give to myself, any of us could ever give to ourselves, no matter the circumstances.
Like falling into fresh snow, falling into grace is a generous invitation to fall into the authenticity of being alive, a welcome surrender into the divinity of being.
Though as I intended to step down that flight of stairs and I placed my foot where I could see the step to be, it clearly wasn’t the best next step for me. No matter how much control any of us wants in this life, the reality is, we aren’t really in control at all. Life is full of happenstance, circumstance, and experience and what we have control of is our response. Perhaps Robin’s response to the circumstances of his life was the correct one for him. Perhaps his fall back to grace just looks a little sloppy from here. Grace always catches us, this I know. I also know that my falling down the stairs was really more like leaping over a threshold of honesty into a life of authenticity, or being tossed by grace from a lackluster life of lies into a resplendent and honest future. Like raindrops falling from the sky, any time we fall we are making our way back to the source, back to the bigger body of water, the brilliant divinity from which all life was begot. Anytime we breakthrough the lies, the pain, the hardship and rise to the occasion of humble surrender, I truly believe, we are getting what we need.
With love, and many tears of laughter and sorrow for Robin and because of him, for all my friends gone, and the opportunity to continue to live,