Within yourself lies a realm of deep wisdom. We think we are the mind, but we are not. The mind is just a part of who we are; the body holds much of our life experience and at times, seems to have a life of its own. At times, it’s as if you are on auto-pilot. You drive yourself home without even remembering the drive in the same way your brain breathes for you without thought and digests for you without reason. You don’t have to ask your arm to catch a ball, it will reach up and do it automatically if you’ve trained it to do such a thing. I can ride a horse in my sleep, I’ve done it enough times. And apparently, I can also saddle one while my mind is occupied elsewhere. (Confusing reference? Please read my last post.)
Which is where the seed of my accident began. On autopilot, I saddled up my horse and somehow must have missed a step because not 15 minutes later I was on the ground and hours later, contemplating how my life was going to radically change with rotator cuff surgery. There I was with a left arm that felt deaf to the commands of my mind, the signals couldn’t get through, certainly something was torn and mechanically in need of repair.
During the weeks since the accident, I have been thinking a great deal about the autonomic system and how it failed me after years of doing the same procedure countless times. In the retelling of my tale to my friend Fran, I was loaned a book to shed some light on the subject. Deep Survival outlines how chaos theory and active systems interact, how experts make mistakes, and how some mistakes can be deadly. Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales is a study of accidents and why some people survive them and why some do not. I would highly recommend this book if you, like me, are invested in not just knowing how accidents happen, but why they happen. I actually was comforted in learning more about how the brain works and how I missed crucial steps by being on autopilot. It was my expertise in the subject (saddling a horse) that was the pivotal point in which the system of horse-saddling failed.
However, knowing more did not prepare me for the magic that was to follow weeks later as I settled into my recovery. I do not use the word magic lightly… however, the brain is still a mysterious place, we have yet to fully understand all its secrets. But, before the magic, a quick backstory: 18 days after my trip to the ER, I was denied by my insurance to have a critical MRI ordered by my orthopedic specialist. Without this procedure, he couldn’t give a definitive diagnosis and proceed with surgery, though clearly, I was heading in that direction as I’d failed all the mobility tests. The only way to lift my arm was using the other one to carry it into place. Even in bed I had to reach over to place my arm next to me, the shoulder refused to work as it should. But the wisdom of the insurance company decided I should have physical therapy for 6 weeks before an MRI. I was stunned by the delay and what I saw as interference in my health care. To repeal the claim would take longer than the PT, so I called and made an appointment for the next day to get started on what I saw as “going through the motions”. I also made a critical decision at that point. Rather than express frustration or fight with my emotional reactions, I would “let it go”. I surrendered to the situation.
Surrender, as I read later in Gonzales’ book, is a critical part of survival. By surrender, he means seeing the situation as it IS, not as we want it to BE. The sooner you can accept your surroundings, or your situation, the sooner you can get down to the business of survival and doing what must be done.
With surrender, I discovered an awareness of the healing choices before me: I could fight the insurance company’s policy and stomp about in righteous indignation or I could release my need to insert my will and see what would come next.
Surrender is not the same as “let it go”; I could never quite figure out HOW to “let it go”. But the concept of surrender I understand because surrender isn’t a passive act. Surrender is an action of acceptance. For someone with a willful determination in life, taking an action to accept is much easier to DO. “Let go” seems like a not-doing, I don’t know how to “not do”. It’s funny though, as I further my meditation practice, I now understand “not doing” better. Still, “not doing” can’t be done as it’s more like the negative space in a field of objects. But I digress.
I surrendered to the denial of my MRI and that night, when I went to bed, I prayed for the strength and wisdom in knowing the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t. The Serenity prayer is near and dear to my heart. I did not sleep well, the injury kept me up, it was still painful and limiting my usual sleep position. At 4 AM, mind zipping from thought to thought, I arose and sat in meditation, but could not still my mind. After 20 minutes, I gave up and returned to bed. I sent out a prayer, a silent wish for acceptance and help to get me through the night. And then, a few deep breaths later, I felt an urge to stretch. I did so, and along with my right arm reaching above my head, my left arm joined it on its own! The signal to stretch was transmitted to my arm and although it hurt a little at the top of the stretch, it went up just like it always had before.
Shocked at my arms’ response, I hopped out of bed and tried it again from a standing position. Yup! It worked; it wasn’t a dream! I tested it a few more times before waking up my husband to share the magical news. I had no explanation other than a mystical one but I was flooded with emotions and cried with relief.
The next day my new Physical Therapist, Dr. Abbey, was amazed and pleased at this turn of events. After reading the surgeons report, she did not expect to see me raise my arm.
“Believe me,” I told her, “I am just as surprised. It went from not responding to this!” and I waved it up in the air.
“Well, the brain is remarkable.” She went on to speculate, “I can’t say for sure this is what happened, but the body remembers injury and since you had a previous injury in that same shoulder, when you traumatized it with your fall, the brain shut down the signals. It remembered what happened last time and shut it down so it could heal.”
If this is not an example of the illusion of control, I don’t know what is. That the accident happened at all was out of my control; why wouldn’t the recovery be the same?
The previous injury Dr. Abbey referred to had been several years ago when I was struck with a frozen shoulder. That shoulder injury had taken almost a year to recover from, hence my dismay at facing another prolonged recovery. But clearly my brain and body had other ideas when it came to this injury which showed me, I wasn’t as in control of myself as I thought I had been. I couldn’t even shape the outcome of the recovery! And I had tried, weeks of follow up appointments, phone calls, trying to push forward my MRI until the day it was denied. I did everything I could and it still was beyond my ability to affect the outcome. It was THIS concept, coupled with the accident that was a huge wake up call. I’ve thought about this a lot… but here’s the gist of it:
Do your best, but be prepared to surrender. Not everything is yours to control. Sometimes, not even your own body.
I guess that’s where prayer comes into play.