Wednesday, January 11, 2012

...morph happens

I watched a sand artist at work in Santa Barbara..the rest of the picture is another post

Ponderisms, my friend, Marshall, calls them. My personal definition goes like this: those soulful places wrapped in mystery that loom large, where the mind meanders much like the lost tribes of Israel: in circles for forty-odd years. Marshall’s contribution today: age is a territory that has never been explored.
Now, every day I receive at least three unsolicited emails about aging gracefully in body, mind and spirit. I can think of few subjects that are more explored than the aging process. Long before Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth (been there, didn’t work), we humans have sought to slow the march of time. On the surface, aging appears to have been explored ad nauseum.
But Marshall - who acquired his latest ponderism while on jury duty - has a point. And I’m getting there but, first, an analogy. When Bill began treating my back, I was overwhelmed and confused by the ever-increasing list of daily exercises and stretches. So I asked for a matrix. When he quit laughing and got up from the floor, I said, “Well, I’m glad I can amuse you. Seriously, though, I think this is a great idea.” 
He composed himself - barely - and said, “If I had a dime for every time a patient asked me for a matrix, I’d be a wealthy man. But it can’t be done.” Had he not spoken compassionately, I might have been offended. 
I’m nothing if not persistent. “Sure it can. And I’m just the girl to do it. I’ll just set up a spreadsheet....” He stopped me, again nicely.
“Well, yes, technically, you could set one up but the result would be useless.”
I said nothing, nicely. People who know me find silence - even a nice silence - on my part extremely unsettling.
But he continued. “The exercises and stretches must reflect where your body is at a given moment. What is out of balance today will differ from what you experienced yesterday. Or an hour ago. In fact, the very nature of therapy is fluid. As the load shifts...” 
When I hear the phrase “load shift”, I know that he is headed toward back/neck nirvana. And I listen because I’m learning a lot. These days when we take walks by the shore, I find myself saying, “Look, Bill. That fella in front of us is definitely right-side-bending.” And he points out foot drop. We are a fascinating duo. 
But he is right. As I stretch one area, the load shifts and a new dynamic results. The laws of physics at work. My matrix approach won’t work. I am learning to read my body and to respond to postural habits - and pain - on an “as is” basis. 
Oh, the seductive power of lovely, lazy life matrices: what better way to de-rail one’s journey. In delirium. The truth is - with aging as well as with backs - morph happens. I can watch what I eat. Exercise regularly. Work crosswords or do Sudoku to ward off memory loss. But that pesky interior journey can’t be plotted. Or predicted. My aging - my personal experience - can be examined only by me. Context is ever-changing.
Now, let us go back to the back...and neck. Bill really stirred the pot when he introduced referred pain into the mix.
“But my wrist hurts," I said, perplexed. "Why are you putting a tennis ball under my spine between my shoulders? Is the idea to create pain elsewhere to get my mind off my wrist?”
A C-4 or C-7 or F-3-1/2 vertebra explanation inevitably follows. As does my response. “But feel the lump on the side of my hand, please. I’m swelling.”
He then takes both hands and holds them in front of me and points out that the lump is present on both wrists. It’s called a tendon or a joint or a muscle, whatever. My mind so wants to ice my aching joint or put heat on it or wrap it in gauze. Bill, on the other hand (unintentional pun...Freudian, perhaps?), wants to drape my supine spine over a tennis ball. Inevitably the pain goes away. The first time he did this, I told him the swelling was gone as well. He refrained from laughing. Wisdom comes with age. This we do know.
So must my trek through time be studied. I must learn where I am disjointed. And come to grips with referred pain. This is a solo trip. Others can enlighten me. The wisest friends get out of my way. Even let me stumble. But only I can re-visit those places of the heart and soul and mind that I passed through mindlessly the first time around: to find context, peace, perhaps a little wisdom of my own. 
Courage isn’t my first alternative. But every time I face my fears, I am emboldened to move forward, unencumbered, no longer captive to the power of shadows. Years ago I read To a Dancing God by Sam Keen. A drawing from that book illustrates this beautifully. I lost the book in the Great House Collapse of “03 but the picture remains in my mind. Visualize this:
A line drawing depicts a vast desert, with a huge sun beating down upon the sand (much like west Texas last week). In the upper left corner, the sun. Below, a large pyramid (named “Doubt”) which casts a shadow (labeled appropriately “The Shadow of a Doubt”). A long stretch of desert stretches across the page. On the far right, a deep chasm (labeled “The Bottomless Pit”) slices through the arid land. On the other side of the chasm, large leafy trees and water. The title of the illustration: Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt.
So I plod through my deserts, thirsty, aching...and arrive at The Pit. The Bottomless Pit. The only way across is a leap of faith. The oasis on the other side is sometimes pitifully small and the visit there brief. But never a mirage. For every time I take a leap over the unknowable, I find that I am one step closer to reality. A peace unrelated to circumstance...more often than not, in spite of circumstance. A gift. The gift. Truth.
With shameless plagiarism, I hereby deem aging The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of this writer. An enterprise that may stretch well beyond five years if time allows. Or end abruptly. I am clueless about my allotted days. My mission: to revisit the worlds I have only glimpsed, to explore new ones; to seek life and to grow in civility; to boldly go where no other man or woman can go, to that I place I avoid at times: within.
Funny, the black holes that once tugged at me do not taunt anymore. Experience empowers.  I have, for instance, driven carpool for over twenty years. Once, when I was the lead car at Pizitz Middle School, my battery died, thereby blocking traffic until I could be jump-started. I survived and lived to tell this tale.

Yes, two posts ago,I gave you a list of upcoming blogs. This one wasn’t on it. Proof once more that matrices inevitably fail. The other posts on the list are forthcoming. I just don’t know in what order. Or when. Adrienne’s fifth grade teacher was a unique individual. He had each student copy this Hellen Keller quote at the top of every paper: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I never know what’s around the next bend. But I’m enjoying the trip more each day.

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