Injuries are my teachers
[Prefer to listen? Find the recording on The Natural Wisdom Podcast.]
When I broke my collarbone in January of 2001, it was the first time I had ever been seriously injured in my life. I was on horseback, chasing after a cow in a team-penning practice. Suddenly, I was no longer on the back of the horse but lying flat on my own back in the dirt, with very little memory of getting there.
After the crowd of friends (several of whom were EMTs) determined I was coherent and hadn’t broken my neck, I got to my feet, tied my bandana into a sling for my mostly useless left arm, and followed my husband to the truck and trailer, leading my horse. All the way to the emergency room, I kept telling myself ‘it’s only my collarbone’. The pain had not yet set in. After having several layers of clothing removed, x-rays to survey the extent of the damage, and a soft brace fastened around my shoulders to support my posture, I was given heavy-duty pain medication and sent home.
Back then, I was in full-on corporate warrior mode. Although my boss took my place on the business trip across the country that week, I drove myself to the office two days later and tried to work, despite the combination of intense pain and lack of sleep (I had thrown away the pain pills after realizing just how dangerous they were – it’s completely understandable that people become addicted!).
In short, I tried to ‘cowgirl up’ and escape the pain and limitation of my injury.
Four weeks later, the bone was still not healing. In desperation to avoid the threat of surgery, I accepted the offer of my first-ever Reiki session with my counselor/Reiki master.
I had walked in stooped over in pain. My healer told me she felt my pain as nausea in her own gut. While she held her hands slightly above various parts of my body, we talked a little, mostly about my fear of never being whole again. As the session progressed, I realized my body needed my acceptance of the brokenness, and my trust in its capacity to heal. I walked out of her office feeling relaxed and at ease for the first time in over a month, with far less pain. The bone began to rebuild right away.
A few days ago, I fell five feet through the open trap door into the crawl space of the family cabin, slamming my chin into the floor as I went through, cracking a rib, and badly bruising elbows and hip on the edge of the opening and ladder below. This time, as I picked myself up from the floor of the crawlspace and cleaned myself up, I promised to be gentle with myself – both physically and emotionally – and not try to escape from my experience.
I cleaned myself up and treated the few cuts, and then lay down to allow the shock to pass. For the rest of the day, I did nothing beyond a bare minimum and stayed with emotions as they came up. Every time I walked over the trap door, I felt some trepidation. Seeing the bruises come up brought tears to my eyes at the damage to my body. I staunchly refused to criticize myself for the circumstances of the accident.
In truth, I have been amazed at the speed at which the bruises are fading, the cuts are disappearing, and the pain of the cracked rib is easing. I certainly credit my first aid kit: I used honey for the open wounds; homeopathic arnica montana for the pain and bruising; and homeopathic comfrey, called ‘symphytum’ for the bone trauma. A friend gave me some oil infused with cottonwood buds, a version of the biblical ‘balm of Gilead’.
One of the greatest medicines has been rest, the ‘nurse of the world’ according to Ayurveda. It takes resources and intense ‘labor’ behind the scenes for the body to rebuild flesh and bone. It deserves to be able to focus on the task at hand, despite the voice in my head telling me I need to get moving again, get some exercise, get some work done for Heaven’s sake.
Accidents such as these are traumas, and have mental and emotional as well as physical effects that need to heal. Conventional models, such as the one I followed so unsuccessfully with my first injury in 2001, are designed to ‘fix’ what is broken, cover up the pain, and ignore the rest. It is all about powering through and getting back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. There is also a strong tendency to try to affix blame and determine fault, which can simply be another way of avoiding the feelings of the experience.
But healing does not work that way, and we have an epidemic of PTSD to prove it.
“Healing comes through embodiment of the Soul”Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst
The fundamental lesson of injury is the necessity of embodiment – of staying present with the pain, shock, fear, grief and limitation. Taking unplanned time off as a self-employed person is not my first choice, of course. But for a human living in 3D reality, the body takes priority. I’ve tried the other routes of trying to ignore and ‘rise above’ the physical plane with poor results.
Embodiment means allowing myself to feel whatever is happening, and letting my body call the shots, even when it means doing very little for long stretches at a time.The hours I spent during those first few days simply noticing, feeling, and allowing helped the shock to abate, my adrenal glands to calm, the emotions to flow through rather than become stuck, and let my body get on with its work of renewal.
Interesting to me is that the planetary alignments for this accident are very similar to that of the one in 2001. Three transiting planets – Uranus, Saturn and Mars – were in the same tense, dynamic configuration. Uranus can signify trauma, Saturn offers limits and restrictions, Mars creates action and acts as a trigger. Uranus in the sign of Taurus, too, brings up themes of our relationship with the material world, from money to food to our bodies. In my personal make-up, Uranus figures prominently, and its wake-up calls do as well.
From one point of view, the line up in the skies symbolized an intense level of tension needing a place to go, much like the build-up of static electricity before a lightning strike. In one sense, I offered a pathway for part of that release. Whether I could have avoided the situation or not I don’t really know. Maybe if I had looked closely at the chart that morning I would have been more cautious; maybe I could have been more cautious in general. Maybe, it just happened and my choice is to respond as consciously as I am able.
The latter seems best to me – no assignation of blame, no need for self-attack to add insult to injury. I can release the arrogance of thinking I can control everything, and practice embracing life as it comes, even when it is a bit faster, harder and more painful than I might like.
Most of all, I can embrace the experience, knowing that even these sensations are part of the roller coaster ride of physical existence, and an opportunity to practice being present right here, and right now, as an embodied human being.