Recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve been bumping into people with injuries– in the supermarket, on the street, and of course as clients … and as I listen to their frustration and drive to get back to “normal” I find myself sharing with them the story of the leg. ……. The lesson of the leg changed my life and ultimately was instrumental in leading me to the work I do today. However, this is in hindsight! At the time, the lesson of the leg was Painful.
It started out with a skiing trip with my two close friends on that tricky mountain in Tasmania, Ben Lomond. We had taken 4 days off and had access to a lovely ski lodge on the mountain – had piled the car with goodies to eat and drink and were in high spirits. We arrived in mid afternoon and headed out onto the snow fields. After a couple of runs, we decided to head back to the lodge, knowing that accidents happen when you are tired. As we skied off, on the flat near the lifts, I hit a patch of ice awkwardly and fell. My bindings didn’t release. There was sickening snap and my leg was at a very funny angle to my boot! We started the long journey back, with me being skied down the mountain on a stretcher (this seemed marvellous at the time) and off to hospital where a break in the bone just above my ski boot was confirmed.
I was given a plaster cast, a pair of wooden crutches, told to expect it would take 8 weeks to heal and sent off home. Then reality began to set in. My long term, live in relationship had recently come to an end and the day before the accident, my partner had moved out. So I was alone. I lived in a house with lots of stairs, on a very steep block, so I couldn’t get around the house, let alone go outside and since it was my right leg that was in plaster, I couldn’t drive.
I decided there and then that 8 weeks was far too long! After all, I was a bit of a healer, most of my friends were healers of one sort or another – anyway, I had my own consultancy, corporate and business clients waiting, a mortgage to pay. No, I told myself and my leg, four weeks was going to be plenty of time to be up and running!
A couple of days later I hopped (literally) onto a plane to fly interstate and co-facilitate a three day adventure based training program for senior executives. You know, the sort of thing that was popular in the early 80’s – abseiling, team work, that sort of very strenuous thing. Well, I thought, I might have a broken leg, but that was all. I could still lead a group and hold it all together couldn’t I?
By the time the plane landed, I was vomiting with the pain and exertion and just wanted to lie down and never move again.
Home I went and the reality began to dawn on me that I really couldn’t get out of the house. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea and carry to to a chair. I was totally dependent on the kindness of friends to help me. I had to learn to ask for help. To accept what kindness was offered.
8 weeks passed and the break hadn’t even begun to heal.
16 weeks now and I was still in plaster and the bone cells at the site of the break were declared dead. No healing was possible and a bone graft was recommended. I did some research and didn’t like the success rate. I heard about a machine that was rumoured to help heal broken bones. The idea was that a little pad attached to electrodes was attached to either side of the break, creating some sort of circuit and jumping an electrical pulse across the bone to activate the cells…… Just what I needed – but although I tried for weeks, to track it down, I was unable to find anyone who knew of the whereabouts (or the name) of the machine. Finally I gave up looking but still I held strong and positive and told myself I believed that everything would be OK.
By this time, I was broke, couldn’t pay the mortgage and was getting increasingly scared and lonely, although I wasn’t prepared to admit that to myself.
One day, several weeks later, I slipped and fell and landed heavily on the floor in my office. I finally gave in to what I was feeling and I lay there on the floor and sobbed and sobbed until I had nothing left to sob with. All my fear, financial anxiety, fear for the future, my work, my life, frustration at my limitations, loneliness, pain and downright self-pity came up to be sobbed out. Finally I was done sobbing, and as I lay there exhausted on the floor, I noticed I was right by the bookshelf. I pulled out a book – it was by Deepak Chopra, asked for help and opened a page. There was only one short statement on the page I opened. It said “Nothing heals until it is first accepted”.
“Oh yes”, I thought – “I know that. Give me something else” – and I started to look for another page!
Mercifully, at this point, something got through!! STOP!!! JUST STOP!!!!!
“Nothing heals until it is first accepted” “Hmm”, I thought, “have I actually ACCEPTED this?”
Well, you can guess the answer. So I finally set about really acknowledging this broken leg. I put my attention into it. I talked to it, asked it how it felt, I sent it love and compassion. I realised that I had been angry and afraid, and had therefore pulled away all my attention and my energy from the leg. No wonder it couldn’t heal. Now I greeted it like an injured friend. I told it how sorry I was. I was kind to it. I felt right into it with all my attention until I had really met it.
And I was humble. Finally, I was humble.
A few days later I got a phone call. “Hello” said the breezy voice on the end of the phone “are you the person who has been looking for that machine? – I have one I bought for clients, but I’m not using it, would you like to borrow it for as long as it takes?”
I don’t know to this day the name of the machine, or how it really worked, but something was working. Three weeks later, X rays confirmed that the bone was knitting. I was on the road to recovery.
Two months later, I gave up my consultancy, the corporate world and Australia for the time being, and went to live in India to be with a great spiritual master, Papa-Ji.
Today I work very differently. My understanding of acceptance has deepened. The kind of acceptance I’m talking about has nothing to do with resignation – even subtle resignation is quite a different thing. Acceptance is really not even quite the right word for it – it conjures up the possibility of being a doormat, or of allowing what feels wrong, of having to be Ok with what doesn’t feel OK. It has nothing to do with this either. And it certainly has nothing to do with any form of resistance, or any story we might tell ourselves about what is going on.
So what is it? Well, it is more about being willing to meet, deeply, that place inside which we are afraid to meet, to touch the feelings which we keep our energy away from, of being willing to move deeply into this, claiming it as part of our self, accepting and inviting and embracing it. This is a felt bodily experience, perhaps a cellular memory, certainly a felt sense which, when it is finally met, fully and completely, can reveal itself at last for what it really is.
This kind of acceptance is actually about being powerfully, completely present with what is without trying to change it, get rid of it or move away from it. It is about accepting even the feeling that we are unable to accept, and in doing so, we feel relief from the inner conflict and miraculously, we move into acceptance, peace and spaciousness. In this there is a deep surrender.
You may be thinking as you read this –“yes, yes, Ok but HOW do I do this???” The funny thing is, that there is no way you can do this. It is more about you having already said “Yes” to this experience – this present moment at some level, or it wouldn’t be showing up. It is really just about noticing what’s here.
I often see in my clients a resistance to meet what is imagined to be too painful, or too scary, or too dark. We feel afraid to touch into this sense of unease, and so we create a mask for the world as we either try to pretend that it’s all OK, or we just collapse into a small, dark, contracted place. Rarely, if ever do we really meet whatever painful emotion is there, not trying to change it, get rid of it, or make it better – but just really meet it. This doesn’t mean catharsis, or a re-living of any painful memories, on the contrary, I believe this is the way we can re-traumatise ourselves. This is a gentle effortless noticing of what is already here.
The key here is a tender, compassionate approach. I have found that when our internal experience is noticed and met, greeted tenderly, gently and with compassion- in the way you might hold a small hurt child, then something miraculous begins to happen. The pain or emotion begins to move, to take up space, instead of being resisted, contracted, confined and ignored. It may have a voice and often will speak as the child, asking for what it needs, – which is usually a mature, loving parent who can reassure him or her, offering encouragement and containment. Then a new perspective can be given on an old, mistaken idea that has been innocently believed – such as “I am unlovable, I am unwanted, I don’t belong” – a new perspective that trusts in the process of life. In this way, we re-parent a part of ourselves, giving ourselves what our own parents were unable to give. The thing is, that as we stop being in conflict with ourselves, we come right into the present moment. And then this pain begins to move, to expand, to change.
This change is not just a shifting around, although that can be part of the process, it is a transmutation. This is not the same as transcendence. When something is transcended, it is moved through, risen above, gone beyond. In the process of transmutation, the energy that has been suppressed literally transforms into its deeper aspect and becomes something higher – clarity, love, affection, compassion and spaciousness, allowing us to be more of who we really are – more present, more alive, more powerful, more real, more whole.
One of my dearest early spiritual teachers, Bartholomew, once said “You come here because you want to feel, and then you spend all your time and energy trying to avoid it”.
I laughed, because I didn’t know then, the depth of that statement.