As I am writing this article, my neck is wrapped in a warm compress, leaning against a hot pink airplane pillow. For the past few weeks, I have utilized all manner of medical and holistic interventions to heal a neck and shoulder injury that ranged from massage and chiropractic to Icy Hot and Tylenol. It is, I sense, a combination of stress, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and ‘shoulding’ on myself for everything I believe I need to do that sometimes slips through the cracks, falls by the wayside, falls short of my desires or falls flat. It occurred around the same time as the bronchial infection that led to coughing so intensely that I injured my ribs, sending me to the ER on New Years’ Day. My ribs are healed, while my neck feels like a twisted Philly pretzel, minus the salt and mustard.
My friend Diane Metivier posed this question on Facebook: “Do you ever give yourself a check up from the neck up? An attitude adjustment? I find I do especially if my spirit gets low. Remember that no matter what, there is always something to be grateful for. And if you ever forget that, look around you. I bet you can find a lot to be grateful for. If that doesn’t work try smiling for 2 minutes. It’s difficult to be sad when you do this.”
Her words called me into deeper inquiry about the intersection of thoughts and physical symptomology.
What was then called ‘The Little Blue Book‘, written by wellness pioneer Louise Hay came into my life when I was in my 20’s. For this psychology student with a fascination about what has people experiencing ‘dis-ease’ and what heals them, it was the ideal intro to Mind-Body Medicine. It is defined by the NIH as “The interactions among the brain, the rest of the body, the mind, and behavior,” as well as “The ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, experiential, and behavioral factors can directly affect health.” The book consists of a lengthy list of conditions, the possible mind-body connection, and affirmations to address them. More than just positive self-talk, affirmations can assist in rewiring the brain to make it more receptive to change. Consider the ways in which you speak to yourself; sometimes out loud and others in the shadows of your mind. Much of what passes for cerebral conversation is negative and self-deprecating. Even for those, like this author, those inner voices can be clamorous and damaging.
In Heal Your Body Hay offered the idea that our bodies are repositories for our emotional distress. She had experienced a series of traumas in her early life that included sexual abuse. In her 20’s she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her healing journey incorporated methods that revolved around examining her thoughts about what had occurred and her sometimes unconscious perspective coming to the surface. Now in her late 80’s the vibrant Hay reports that she was able to heal the cancer which never recurred by incorporating complementary medicine and spiritual practices of Science of Mind as originated by Ernest Holmes.
Neck throbbing and stiff, I turned to the reference to get a sense of what Hay would have to say. Not the least bit surprised, I discovered:
Neck- “Represents flexibility. The ability to see what’s back there. Refusing to see other sides of a question. Stubbornness, inflexibility. Unbending stubbornness.”
Back-“Represents the support of life.”
Pain- “Guilt. Guilt always seeks punishment.”
Stiffness- “Rigid, stiff thinking.”
When applied to my current state of mind, this makes perfect sense. As has been the case for many I encounter in my personal life and professional practice, I have been distressed over the present political climate and its impact on the future. Loss of sleep, incessant worry at times, and determination to continue to be a positive change agent, have taken their toll. There are times I find it challenging to comprehend the perspective of those who support the current trajectory. Daily conversation with those who feel as I do have provided solace.
When extrapolated to other areas of my life, I wonder where I have held steadfast to beliefs without an emotional range of motion. Over the years, they have fallen into my roles of wife and mother, sister and daughter, friend and professional. Part of my recovery through co-dependence and workaholism is to ‘work my program’ and ask myself where I’m not sure which direction to turn, and how I can look forward and backward at the same time.
I had been an independent kid who matured into an independent woman who learned to do nearly everything myself. Widowed at 40, I raised my son as a single parent, supporting us, holding down several jobs simultaneously. Old habits die hard as I remain ‘professionally polyamorous,’ working as a clinician, speaker, journalist ,and minister. I notice that while I am in the midst of one project, such as writing this piece, my mind is straining to move a few steps ahead, pondering the next article to pen, or the clients I will be seeing later in the day. Here and now thinking has flown out the window and needs to be beckoned back in.
Along with those mental meanderings comes the feelings of disappointment and frustration that it has become necessary to re-prioritize my time and activities in order to change my financial circumstances; yet another reason for the overlapping jobs over the years. Close on its heels are guilt and shame, that I find myself in this situation. I wonder what I might have done differently to ward off this outcome. I literally and figuratively twist myself every which way to find solutions that seem to evade me.
A few days ago, I spoke with a long time friend who uses the question WWIT? What would it take? to effect change and bring about intended outcome. My answers in this moment:
Breathe. Always the first response, since when I hold my breath, my brain doesn’t get the oxygen required to make good decisions.
Know that I need not move at ‘break-neck speed’ and instead, can slow down and take life as it comes.
Remind myself that I have a 100% success rate of getting through 58+ years of life since I am here to tell about it. Along the way, I have made applause worthy choices, as well as ‘what was I thinking?’ decisions.
Know that I am not alone. I am surrounded by people who are willing to offer a hand, a hug, a listening ear, opportunities to move forward. All I need do is ask and receive.
Take look at what feels like a ‘pain in the neck’.
Utilize my spiritual practice that includes prayer, meditation, and gratitude for the blessings that are all around me.
Willingness to release worn out beliefs, habits and addictive thoughts and along with them the pain of carrying them on my shoulders. They are much too heavy a burden to carry.
A final reminder that I don’t have to get bent out of shape over anything and can flexibly face each day.