Death and Dahl

In a hole

In a hole

Let's just say I do have a bulging disc in my spine (although I am yet to have a scan to confirm it) I find myself in an emotional pit which is far deeper than I would have believed an injury like this could topple me into. Yet here I am and I am facing troubling thoughts.

Death is forefront in my mind and haunts me as it has never done before. I previously aspired to invincibility, believing myself to be almost immortal. I was working hard to achieve this perfection myth, in my fathering, in my yoga, in my physical body, throughout my life. Now I have discovered painfully just how much of a lie I was telling myself.

Many times each day I think back desperately to when pain was not part of my moment to moment living. When my body moved freely and fluidly and was upright, not stooped and stiff and slow. I am attached to and entangled with that past reality, however much of an unsustainable myth it was. I want it back. Wanting it back makes my current pain worse. I understand this cycle and yet I am playing it out day after day. A part of me is not willing to start climbing out of the hole. So on it goes. Relentlessly. Painfully. Miserably.

One of my friends is dying from spine cancer. I can't bear to look at the updates on his condition. In his imminent death I see my own. In his reflection I feel that I should be grateful for what I have and sometimes I remember to be thankful. But mostly what I think deep down is how unwilling I would be to accept my own death if it was brought to me soon. How hard I would fight and how futile that fight would be.

Yesterday my woman told me that since my body broke she has noticed with relief that my anger has mostly left me. She wants to spend more time with me. She says I am softer, more vulnerable. She is not alone. Other people have reached out to me with tenderness and empathy and support, yoga students and friends alike. Yet I sit here primarily wanting to withdraw and be left alone. The old pattern of isolation. Driven by a belief inside that I am on my own and had better get my head down and get on with it. I recognise this as unhelpful and yet it is a powerful learnt behaviour which has got me this far and must have served me in the past.

I am working on opening to support and love. I am digging deep each day for the courage to show myself to the world in my broken state, to say yes when someone asks if I have something wrong with my back, rather than deflect attention. I am trying but it is painful and excruciating and I am finding it exhausting. I want to cry all the time and when my body senses this vulnerability my muscles get tight and lock me down through jaw and fists and shoulders and psoas and hamstrings. Everything is holding and gripping. I know my body seeks to protect me against the structural injury but it is armouring me against love and care and I don't know how deep I have to dig in this pit or how long I have to stay here before my body will give me permission to start climbing out. What more do I have to let go of? How much more bent and stiff does my body need to get? How much more pain?

A goddess I know sent me this piece of writing from Roald Dahl recently which gave me some succour in this time of hardship and distress, particularly as it was this author who gave me such a colourful and comforting escape route during periods of difficulty and sadness in my childhood. So here he is again, helping me to see a more magical world, for which I am grateful.

 "I just want to tell you this: I am an expert on being very ill and having to lie in bed. You are not. Even after you get up and get well after this, you still will be only an amateur at the game compared with us pros. Like any other business, or any unusual occupation, it’s a hell of a tough one to learn. But you know I’m convinced that it has its compensations — for someone like me it does anyway.

I doubt I would have written a line, or would have had the ability to write a line, unless some minor tragedy had sort of twisted my mind out of the normal rut. You of course were already a philosopher before you became ill. But I predict that you will emerge a double philosopher, and a super philosopher after all this is over. I emerged a tiny-philosopher, a fractional philosopher from nothing, so it stands to reason that you will advance from straight philosopher to super philosopher.

I mean this. I know that serious illness is a good thing for the mind. It is always worth it afterwards. There’s something of the yogi about it, with all its self-disciplines and horrors. And it’s one of the few experiences that you’d never had up to now. So take my view and be kind of thankful that it came. And if afterwards, it leaves you with an ache, or a pain, or a slight disability, as it does me, it doesn’t matter a damn; at least not to anyone but yourself. And as you’ve taught me so well, that is the only unimportant person — oneself." - Roald Dahl.


Ben Parkes1 Comment