It’s been a long, hot summer here in Toledo, especially since all of the gorgeous trees that once lined the end of my block have been cut down. For the past ten years, one by one, the lovely hundred-year-old maples that used to shade my house have been ground into mulch, leaving the front yard exposed to extreme heat and sunlight all day long. By mid-morning I could fry an egg on the metal surface of my screen door, not to mention the toll it’s taken on my morning glories which hesitatingly uncurl themselves for an hour or two, only to wither in the late afternoon.
I can totally relate.
An odd duck to the end, I don’t experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the winter like most people. Every summer between Memorial Day and early-August, I long to spin a chrysalis around myself and hibernate until the crickets come out at night, chirping a lullaby of imminent autumn.
Satish, Danta, and I were tooling around town last week and the subject of a new house came up in conversation. For a few years, I’ve been longing to move out of the city and into the suburbs, so I told Satish to keep an eye out for homes in the Monclova area.
“That’d be so cool!” he nodded.
“I’d like to live a lot closer to your family,” I explained. “And we’d get to see each other more often.”
“Yeah, then you can come over to play all the time!” Danta beamed.
“Right!” I smiled. “That’s the idea…plus I could take you to school and stay overnight if Mummy and Papa need to be out of town.”
Always the pragmatist, Satish asked, “How much land do you want?”
“Oh, about an acre,” I replied. “But here’s the thing…the house has to be on a shaded lot.”
“How come?” Danta asked. “You can’t grow food in the shade.”
I winked at him. “Right! The back of the property can be sunny so we can plant our vegetables and greens. But the house needs to be shaded because summertime is too intense for me.”
“Too much light…too much heat…too much noise,” I explained. “I’m already fiery enough…or didn’t you know that?”
“Yeah!” Danta laughed. "Can I still help you with your garden at your new place?”
“Sure! You still want me to pay you in books, ice cream, or cash?”
Danta giggled. “Uh huh!”
So these days, when I’m stuck inside listening to the air conditioning hum, I often fantasize about what my next house will look like. I visualize it located on a quiet, rural road, surrounded by trees, with a little out-building and a charming plot of raised beds chock-full of chard, greens, and basil. Then, in the evening, I sit on the front porch in the shade, appreciating the incredibly enchanted flower beds I’ve been growing for almost twenty-five years.
This year it’s been challenging to get out in the garden, not only because of the weather. My back went out in early June and I spent two months doing intense physical therapy in the hopes that my L5 would miraculously move back into place. My sacrum would feel better for a while, but inevitably, after an afternoon pulling weeds or an hour or two pruning shrubs, I’d have to come inside, take a hot bath and lie down for the rest of the day. There were weeks when I’d talk my yoga students through most of their practice, endless days when I could barely sit down or stand up without pain shooting through my sacrum, hips, and legs.
Ten days ago, I thought I had it licked. I woke up on a Friday and felt fabulous. Went to the gym and worked out with no problems. Came home and picked up the house, readying it for the next day’s yoga class. But come Saturday morning, I was riding the slippery slope back into needing to wear a brace and pop Ibuprofen every six hours.
By Sunday, I was in agony. Getting out of bed was excruciating. Getting dressed, nearly impossible, so I stayed in my pajamas all day long. Deciding to practice what I preach to my students, I listened to my body as it shouted out, “Please stop!”
So I did.
Other than getting on the floor to do the PT exercises, I stayed on the couch, watching Netflix or reading. While the strengthening isometrics helped some, by nightfall I was still in unbearable pain. Still, if I didn’t get up and feed the cats or scoop the litterboxes, no one else would. If I didn’t do the laundry, there was no one else to do it. So, gingerly making my way down to the basement, I decided that once I made it back upstairs, I’d skip dinner and just go to bed. Bending over to pick up a laundry basket, my back seized and I knelt on the ground, tears filling my eyes.
“Oh, my God,” I cried. “Please help me. I don’t know what else to do to help myself heal. Please, please show me a way out of this pain.”
It took some time to climb the steps. To put away the laundry. To pour kibble into my cats' food dishes. While taking a shower, I thought about writing in my journal, something I haven’t taken the time to do in several months. Pulling on a fresh pair of pajamas, I found my journal where I had left it on a shelf in my office, grabbed a purple pen and propped myself up in the living room, waiting for the words to come.
Crickets chirped outside an open window as sitar music played in the background. Relaxing into the haunting melody, I began writing about how it has taken me nearly my entire life to come to a place of self-acceptance…away from the peer groups of my past, away from the organizations and occupations through which I had identified myself. Away from the things I thought I wanted, the things I was taught I should be or do or have.
As the words unfolded on the page, I clearly realized why it was my low back that had been in agonizing pain, for it was reflecting the internal pain I had been carrying for decades. In yogic tradition, the pelvis, low back, hips, and legs connect us to our tribes of origin, to one-on-one relationships, to our feelings about money and sexuality and control. As I wrote about all of the failed relationships from my past – both personal and professional – I realized what a great gift each person had given me…and through that realization, I was finally able to forgive them all. Through their abandonment, I learned to take care of myself. Through their betrayals, I learned how to establish healthier boundaries. Through their disrespect, I gradually learned how to respect myself. Through their not wanting me, I was given the freedom of not being involved in relationships that would be riddled with drama and expectation.
In part, I wrote:
I can forgive them all for cutting me open so I could bleed out my karma, burn out the past and rise from the ashes, free from them and from my own self. Perhaps this is all my life will ever be. Perhaps not, but unless I fully accept that this is my life now, no matter how much I try to change it, I won’t ever truly heal.
An hour later, when I stood up to go to bed, there was no pain. When I walked to the back of the house, I did so effortlessly. When I sat down on the bed, for the first time since I can remember, I did so with ease and grace. Lying there in the dark, I asked myself, What if this is it? What if this is all you’re ever going to have…all your life is ever going to be?
Without missing a beat, I thought, I’m healthy. I’m happy. I do what I love and love what I do. I live life on my own terms and because of the choices I’ve made, I have the freedom to do and be whatever I want…all of the time. If this is it, well, that wouldn’t be so bad at all.
Ever since that night, I’ve awakened to a pain-free existence.
It’s a beautiful life I now embody, this place of fully accepting what is…and what is not. Letting go of what’s past, letting it be ground into the mulch that will fertilize the future. What I have now is more than I had ever imagined, for there’s more than enough love and abundance in my life and it fills me to overflowing.
Like a caterpillar who knows when it’s time to accept that life as it has been is over and done, during this long, hot summer I’ve been spinning a chrysalis of silence around myself, unsure of what’s next, but completely trusting my instincts. I'm willing to allow myself to dissolve into something unrecognizable all the while believing that whatever emerges on the other side will only be a reorganization of my perception of what is possible.
Now, in every moment of every day, I will remind myself, This is it, Kate…your real life unfolding.