In the blessed off-season on Chincoteague Island, the beach is vacant, the mini-golf is shuttered, the restaurants have gone fishing signs on their doors. The waterfowl have overtaken the island.
I listen to their honk and squawk from down on the floor, in Downward Dog, which is where I start each day, the V of my body pointed to the ceiling.
In the throes of another scoliosis flareup, I live and breathe for this soothing body movement, one of few ways to fight gravity. In the stillness, blood rushing into my head, oxygen seeping into tight crevices between vertebrae, a thought knocks me over like a feather:
Pain is your teacher.
I exhale hot lion’s breath through a curtain of hair.
I thought I WAS over this…this congenital curse, this twisted condition. Got a clean bill of health from the spine surgeon just last month. The new Xrays showed no perceptible difference to the old ones.
Caroline My Blessed Crooked Spine was not, by objective standards, getting any worse. And I felt great! I’d made across country and back – 27 states, 10,000 road miles, hundreds of hiking miles through the High Sierras, the Sawtooth, Joshua Tree, The Grand Staircase Escalante.
I have since degenerated. I don’t know when or why or how. The pain radiates, stings, burns, aches, screams through my body every single day; I can hardly stand at the counter to prepare a meal, at the sink to brush my teeth.
On the yoga mat, I rest back on my haunches and fold into child’s pose. Tears rise up my throat. The gulls over the channel caw. My hipbones crack into place.
Over the past year, though yoga and diet, visits with shaman, chi masters, acupuncturists, massage therapists, tarot readers, karma cleansing, mineral hot springs – I healed myself. It was miraculous. I was out of pain – I had rebuilt my confidence and strength. On top of the world at 12,000 feet on Mammoth Crest in the High Sierras, I’d declared victory!
You’re in training for old age, calls the maritime wind howling outside my window.
I sit up on my shins, Hero's Pose, blinking into the cloudy bright sky. The heat of resistance spreads through my torso. “I’m not old,” I frown, jaw clenched.
It’s time. We’re moving into a new phase. Don’t worry. Remain curious.
“A new phase,” I cock my head, notice a slight smile spread on my face.
Hah, this is about change, I chuckle. I’m good at change!
With every change – I’ve told my my SeeChange clients for years, and now I remind myself – there is LOSS and GAIN.
Oh, but there's so much loss. It's easy to focus on the debit side of the T-chart. AND it's essential to acknowledge it.
I began running at age 13 – track teams, meets, races, camaraderie, t-shirts and medals, adrenaline and endorphins – my way, growing up, to escape the chaos in our house. Well into adulthood, running continued to be my go-to escape out of my head, into nature, into my body.
A habit for life - and not a bad one at that - running was not easy to give-up. But I did, shifting to hiking, walking, daily yoga practice. Isn't that enough?!
Now, Caroline’s cutting into those less jarring, spirit-feeding activities, even cooking, because simply standing upright is too much gravity baring down upon her twisted, compressed, compromised structure.
“Yes, it’s a LOSS!” I cry, I scream.
A strolled the beach the other evening, sun setting gloriously over the narrow strip of sand, nature’s divine presence enough to make me melt. Though all I could do was think about my shitty pain. I crouched down in the sand, in my now go-to yogi squat position, and before the roaring roiling ocean, I sobbed. I raged into the gull-filled air, wind whipping my hair.
“Let me live my liiiiiiiiffe!”
Okay, a bit dramatic. Luckily the beach was deserted, or someone may have hauled me off for disturbing the peace.
When I was done with my fit, I stood up, spine rested, throat raw, and walked on.
If pain is my teacher, what else am I supposed to learn?
I have to learn to feel it, see it, acknowledge it - not ignore it. Waving off the losses will not get us to change.
So what the heck are the GAINS? Here's one to add to add to the right side of the T-chart...
Squatting. I'm serious. It’s good for you - stretches the ankles, flexes the knees, opens the hips.
I do it 20 times a day, now, if once – in the kitchen, on the beach, in the grocery store, at the gas station while the fuel is pumping. I crouch down wherever I am, stretch one arm overhead, then the other, inhaling space and grace into those tight, gnarled, ancient places.
They say the ability to squat is a predictor of longevity.
“Let me live my LIFFFFFFE!”
Perspective. From my squatting pause on the beach, I catch the last orange slice of sun before it sinks into the sea. Rising up, I applaud the afterglow, lavender, pink and peach, sense the pastel light spread inside me.
Perspective. When pain’s on the table, when time’s on the table, everything’s more precious. Your choices must be thoughtful. You don’t waste your energy tangled in negativity or, for that matter, if you can help it, rush hour traffic.
Tonight, I’m cooking a chili and sharing it with nonagenarian friends down East Road. Talk about lessons in aging gracefully! Richard and Elin are just who I need to see to remind me of living life. That is, if I can get past the painful, glorious process of cooking: standing to chop, sauté, stir for an hour, then cleanup.
Workarounds. I employ my workarounds: a step stool to elevate my right foot alleviates pressure off poor Caroline; squats give her a break to elongate and breathe.
No pain no gain? It will be worth it, once I sit down with these old friends to a warm wholesome meal on a blustery, wintery eve.
I’ve probably been running from my SELF for my entire life.
As I’ve gotten quieter, on the island, on my journey, I’ve had a chance to see: I’m not bad company.
As I embrace my change and slow my pace – even the pace of my writing – NEW IDEAS appear on the page. I don’t let them blur by.
You mustn’t either!
Yours Truly, Amblin’ Anne
Verb gerund or present participle: ambling; to walk or move at a slow, relaxed pace.
Questions to Propel You
What CHANGE are you facing? Or perhaps avoiding?
Is it prompted by career, retirement, pain, surprise, pandemic, dreams, social causes, your own choice?
What LOSSES must you face to allow the change? How and where it the body and in your daily life do you feel the loss?
What GAINS have you to welcome? How do the gains propel you?
What might be your new MONIKER?