Fighting death from day one

A 37 year battle

A 37 year battle

In 1979 I arrived in this world, but not without a battle. I decided to come out back to front which is unusual given my higher than average coordination skills. As my mother tried desperately to push me out I wedged against her pelvis getting increasingly stuck. Each time she pushed, unbeknown to her, the umbilical cord around my neck steadily strangled me. The doctors attached a newfangled piece of equipment to my head to monitor dangerously low blood oxygen levels and left a scar and lump on the back of my skull which I still have today. After hours of struggling by both me and my mother (and no doubt my father who was helpless in the background) they took drastic action. I was pushed back in and they cut me out during an emergency caesarean. I survived.

I have been reflecting on my traumatic birth recently because I think something was cemented in me during that journey that has never really left me. That is the sense that every moment of my life is a battle. To this day and in this very moment I can readily connect to the warrior part of me that is ever alert, and ready to do what it takes to survive. I will fight hard to make it through. I will not be taken. Death is not an option.

In the early years of my life I was a head down warrior, hiding in the shadows, taking the back route, running away, surviving. Passive aggression was my tool. Now, mainly since I began working with the ManKind Project, I am a warrior with my head held high. I will challenge you. I will put you down hard if you threaten me. I will fight, speak out and survive. Clear and present anger is my tool. 

Always the battle. Always the fight to claim the ground beneath my feet, to claim the right to breathe, the warrior work to earn my place in the world. I am driven by the baby who faced life and death in his attempt to be born. I am guided by that sense of survival and struggle. Thirty seven years later the same story is running me and that perception of daily survival, of life and death bears no resemblance to reality. I do not face a moment by moment life and death battle. But on I go. Fighting my corner. I will not die. I will live. You will not take me. 

Now, as I face daily pain in my body, and physical distortion and vulnerability and helplessness and anger I realise I am running the same 37-year-old scenario.

The way I approach my injury is by fighting it. First putting it down harshly seven months ago when it began to show up and then, for the last eight weeks of intense pain, shutting down, tightening up, gritting my teeth, putting on the armour and entering the battle. This part of me almost relishes this new war zone. It's familiar. I know how to fight for my life. Indeed it was my very first act. I'm good at it.

All of the teachings and wisdom that I have absorbed in those 37 years cannot come close to the potent power of that baby's will to live. Yet my will to live, the constant struggle, is obliterating my life. Joy, ease, spontaneity and a sense of peace are often out of reach. That's why I teach yoga and made it my life. It offered an escape route. Albeit a temporary one. 

Now my body is beyond yoga, beyond any bodywork. The battle is so deeply ingrained that nothing reaches it. 

I find myself asking, how do I bring peace to this terrified, frenzied child who will never stop fighting?

As I struggle each day with the pain of my back and laser-like sciatica down my right leg I am all too aware of how much suffering I layer on to the actual pain. Sometimes the pain lessens but my suffering remains a steady constant. The risk of letting go, in my baby's mind at least, is death. So my body shuts down in powerful spasms and my energy is drained away as I battle and fight and struggle.

A friend who has back pain leant me a book called Who Dies by Stephen Levine. In it he talks about how our resistance to and fear of pain, our dread of the unpleasant, actually magnifies pain, condemning us to a living hell. Instead he talks about softening into the pain, surrendering to it, feeling it for what it really is underneath all the resistance. When pain becomes workable there are no more enemies. There is only an investigation of the unknown. Life once more becomes worthwhile. It allows a melting into the one. The exploration of pain, and the acceptance of death, becomes a passageway back into life.

Whatever the MRI scan shows up in my spine in two weeks one thing is for certain. I will never escape this battle until I have calmed my fighting baby boy. I may get through this back injury without resolving my inner struggle but it will turn up again, manifested in one way or another. Probably painfully. The gift of this pain is to ferociously steer me into the path of my deepest fear, that has been with me ever since I fought to survive my birth.

The fear of death.

I have been battling against it since February 27th 1979. It is time to end the battle and step into the unknown.

God knows what happens next.

Ben Parkes3 Comments