To the tune of "The Authority Song," John Mellencamp.
My father used to say, “some lessons in life need to be learned more than once.” It was his gentle way of saying it is ok to make the same mistake, even if you thought you “knew better.” I have always found the phrase deeply comforting. When it comes to life lessons, my body has been my greatest and my toughest teacher. For better or worse, I have a body that reacts to physical, emotional, environmental, and energetic stressors with physical pain. Back, shoulders, neck, joints – it tends to move around and shift its type and intensity – but to some degree it is always there. And though I have spent many years coaching people to accept rather than fight illness and pain, it seems I still need to learn this lesson over and over again myself.
I don’t want it to be this way. I don’t want to have that kind of body. I want to be more resilient, more physically capable, stronger. I want to be able to sit for hours, walk miles, run, hike, work out, carry stuff, clean my house, or play tennis - for as long as I want whenever I want, without a painful protest from my body. I can’t.
Still, in protest or denial, sometimes I ignore the wispers – a little fatigue or some minor aches. Then the wispers get louder and louder until I finally can’t ignore them any longer and I have no choice but to stop, rest, take care. Then, in time, I get busier, take on something new and I think to myself, “maybe it won’t happen this time. Maybe I am healed.” When it happens again I go through all the stages of grief again, starting with denial. When I finally see it for what it is (my body being my body) I feel loss and defeat. And then I feel foolish for letting it happen. And then I feel foolish for blaming myself for it. And then I just feel foolish for feeling foolish. Shouldn’t I know better by now?
See how this can be crazy-making? And yet it is what the human mind does with pain, illness, limitation.
Here is what I know to be true: when I fight reality, reality always wins (to the tune of Authority Song by John Mellencamp). What we resist persists. When I deny or push my limits (physical, emotional, or energetic) I hurt. When I accept my limits, respect and enforce my boundaries, accommodate and care for my body rather than push it, it relaxes. It exhales. It lets go. It can trust that it is safe. The suffering eases. Yes, I might then have to allow and sit with some grief. No one wants to do that. But it’s the only way. That is compassion. Compassion heals.
Lately I’ve been having a flare – back pain, fatigue, low mood. The trap I fall into – and that I work with so many of my clients on – is chasing the “why.” What did I do? Why is this happening? Why was I fine a month ago and now I feel like crap again? But I know that “why” is the wrong question. We cannot know why.
Our human body-mind-spirits are so intricately complex that it is audacious to believe we can ever know why we feel some kind of way at any point in time.
The correct question is WHAT: what do I need? What is my body trying to tell me? What will bring me some comfort, some ease? What is true?
The lesson is always the same: stop struggling with the reality of your body and your life. Stop trying to figure out and control everything. Exhale. Accept. Listen deeply. Accept again. Grieve if you need to. But stop trying to be the person you wish you were and start caring for the person you are. Acceptance may not make the pain go away, but it will ease the suffering. I promise. I’ve learned this a thousand times more than once.