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But so does 5+4
The way you do things is not always the only way to do them.”
Out of the clear blue, I got sick. One day I was hopping around on my yoga mat and the next day, as I began to move, I thought, “holy crud something is terribly wrong with me.” And it was. I had a blood clot that required two four-day stays in the hospital over the course of two weeks. While I am sure I will be sifting through the mental and psychological fall-out of such a sudden and scary ailment for a long while, now that I’m home and easing back into my regularly scheduled life, I realize that, every step of my illness was teaching me the same lesson.
“The way you do things is not always the only way to do them.”
The moment it became clear that I would not be going home from the emergency room, I had to start the process of letting go of control of anything that did not pertain to my body. What would my daughter have for breakfast the next morning? How would the dogs get exercise? What should my husband do about the laundry? Was there enough milk in the fridge? These all became issues for someone else to handle. And I was able to resist the impulse to create detailed lists of instructions to ensure that it was all done “my way.” In fact, I was so totally preoccupied with what was happening in my body, the thought that “my way” is really the “best way” didn’t even cross my mind. (And usually that thought crosses my mind kind of a lot.)
You know what? Dog walkers were hired. Groceries showed up. Needed clothes were washed. Those that weren’t needed stayed in the hampers. Breakfasts and lunches were made, and when they were forgotten, they were purchased. Not only was everything fine, but I was literally awash in gratitude that any of it had been done at all.
The care I received in the hospital reiterated this lesson. I had to have the same intense “clot busting” procedure twice. As I headed in for round two, I thought I knew what to expect. Surprise! It turns out that there is more than one way to do the same medical procedure. Each nurse that cared for me had a different way of taking blood, of giving medicine and of checking vitals. Each doctor approached the mystery of my clot from his or her own angle. It was fascinating for me to see that while excellent medical care was immediately recognizable, it rarely looked the same from one professional to the next. There was clearly more than one way to do this, too, and all of them left me feeling the same way – profoundly grateful.
By day two in a hospital bed I was getting twitchy. (Honestly, I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin.) The physical movement of my practice that I love and crave had been taken away from me by my illness. Worse, however, I was spending way too much time and energy in the future (worrying) and in the past (replaying warning signs and decisions). While I expected to feel unsettled by the recent turn of events, the intensity of how out of sorts I was feeling surprised me.
I whined to my husband, “I wish I could practice …” to which he replied, “So practice.” My knee-jerk reaction was to cry, “I can’t!” And truly I couldn’t (and still can’t) do many of the movements that comprise the practice I’ve done daily for years. Lucky for me, the yoga teacher within spoke up. “Sure you can. You can breathe. You can even make tiny movements. You can practice.”
So I did. And so I have done every day since. In the always hectic hospital, my practice was mindful breathing and two to three minutes of meditation. The first few days I was home, it was child’s pose, some forward folds and five minutes of meditation. A week later, I am practicing postures that do not require upper body weight bearing or full extension of my shoulder for almost an hour and sitting in meditation for fifteen minutes.
While my practice doesn’t look anything like it has for years (in other words like “my way”) it is providing me with the same gifts. My practice of movement synchronized with breath helps me to center myself. It helps energize me. It smooths the rough edges of my emotions and slows my skittering thoughts. It helps me to stay in the moment. It helps me to pray. This “other” way of practicing is also providing a gift that feels brand new and critically important – it is healing me. In fact, at my check-up today, my doctor actually said, “Whatever you’ve been doing for the last week, keep doing it.” It is bringing my body back into balance, it is slowly but surely helping to reduce the swelling in my arm and it has helped to soften my rigid, sore, over-taxed vein.
I find myself once again overwhelmed by gratitude that there is more than one way to do everything. Even though my heart pines for the days when “6+3=9” on my mat and in my body, I am perfectly content to let go and embrace my current “so does 5+4” reality. In fact, I am so grateful that I feel no need to fight for control or struggle back to the “way things were.” I’m going to take this one step (and one breath) at a time and see where it takes me. I suspect it might be a brand new, open-minded reality where “7+2” or even “8+1” could also be the answer.