Learning to swim



Part of me relishes wallowing in my own pain. There's certainly a lot of physical pain to wallow in at the moment and I often feel sorry for myself. How could this happen to me? It's a powerful story to attach myself to and at times I amplify and exacerbate the pain by dwelling in it so deeply.

On Friday my emotional state shifted after I connected to another osteopath and then my yoga teacher in Reading. Although my physical discomfort was throbbing and relentless and my posture bent double, my internal self found some freedom and I felt some hard attitudes within me dropping away.

The osteopath suspects my disc is bulging and pressing on the nerve (although I have yet to confirm this with a scan). Most of the body therapists I have seen have suggested this diagnosis and with this latest opinion I have finally accepted my fate and stepped onto the year-long road to recovery. 

I then found some deeper truths whilst sitting in the dark underground car park of IKEA Bristol. I was in contact with the woman who taught me how to be a yoga teacher and her written words found their way in past my damaged armour, broke me down a little bit more, and I felt a softening in my heart together with a lot of grief. I spent a good stretch of time weeping in the aforementioned underground car park of IKEA.  

I think the softening and opening came from two realisations. The first was the visceral understanding that I am broken and not perfect. That like everyone else in this world, I am holding together my brokenness as best I can. As my teacher observed, I am escaping the story of mythical perfection and discovering painfully that it is an illusion. I am flawed in the places I pretended to be shiny smooth, weak where I claimed to be strong, and the world sees me more clearly now. There's immense relief in that feeling, as well as an excruciatingly painful vulnerability.

The second realisation is how I have held my sword at the throat of those people in my life who were not perfect and did not meet my expectations. I'm thinking of my father, mother, brother, sister, friends I have ditched, girlfriends, flat mates, fellows in recovery, the mother of my children and countless people in the street over my lifetime. All of whom I have judged harshly at times and sometimes dismissed for failing to live up to my unrealistically high expectations, whilst simultaneously creating an unrelenting prison as I tried to live up to them myself. As I write that I can feel how powerful and attractive the story is and how easily I attach myself to it.

Instead of doing that I'm going to try something different, which is to swim in the water I find myself in. So right now I'm a yoga teacher with a bad back and I'll be that for as long as it takes and then it will change and I will try to be whoever I am when it changes. The other thing I'm going to try is to let compassion and gratitude flow, as far as possible uninhibited by my old stories. Thinking about how that will change my relationship with my parents (let alone everyone else) is terrifying. I might have to acknowledge how they felt bringing up me and my siblings. I might empathise with them. I might even thank them.

With others I might offer a hand, make reparations, ask for forgiveness.

With myself I might acknowledge how hard I work and continue to give of myself. Then I might take time away to reorganise and refuel when necessary. I might let joy in more often. I might cry more.

If I can pay attention like this it might liberate me to be who I am, from moment to moment, in any given situation. I'm going to give it a go. I'm going to be gentle with myself as I go forward. I'm going to try to swim in the water around me.

Ben Parkes3 Comments