Surrender

I drew this mandala as part of my healing process.

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.

The Illusion of Control

Stilling the Mind

In my last post, I offered the concept that choice is all we really have and to choose wisely but after a recent painful event, I pondered, do we really have choices?  I will get to that event but for now, if one considers the philosophic concept of determinism, one abandons free will which in turn points to having no choice whatsoever. The definition of determinism is thus: it is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

Take for instance the case of Covid.  If we choose to follow the recommended CDC guidelines, we will greatly reduce our chances of getting or spreading the disease.  Furthermore, it is suggested that we stay home as much as possible to reduce our chances of becoming a vector of transmission.  At this point, we all pretty much know why it’s a good idea to flatten the curve.

And still the pandemic goes on, month after month as hot spots move about the American landscape, this is a fire that has yet to be stamped out. Many people are getting tired and stressed by the length of our vigilance. We are an independent thinking nation of people and while many are embracing the challenge to not become another statistic, others are venturing out. I’ve seen more and more cars on the road as summer progresses and we “quaran-cheat” with parties, gatherings and celebrations.  We’ve needed this social time; humans are social animals.  Some choose to camp out in secret backwoods spots or spend time on a beach if it hasn’t been closed. As an avid backpacker myself, I watched as the Pacific Crest Trail association implored hikers to not attempt thru-hiking the trail this year.  Permits were revoked, trail angels and support faded away and hikers groused about it or applauded the decision depending on their ideas about the pandemic crisis.

In the effort at maintaining good mental health, I continued to hike my local trails as I am blessed to be in a place where I rarely run into other people.  My wilderness plans were focused on more remote locations away from the PCT which has become pretty well trod of late so I am in agreement with the PCTA’s decision regarding Covid-19.

The choice to stay within my comfort zone of risk, as in backpacking and horseback riding was sound as far as I was concerned.  I am very well experienced in both these things and have whittled down all risk as to be non-existent.  I am a safety star, careful my middle name.  Surely these activities will pose no risk to the general public, right?

Yes, and no.  Here’s where personal choice comes into play.  If you eliminate all risks, as much as is humanly possible what else can go wrong?  But it is exactly why we call things that go wrong “an accident” because life is unforeseen and unpredictable even when we do the best we possibly can.

Which is how I came to be in the emergency room of a hospital getting multiple x-rays to determine how many bones I may have broken on a remote national forest trail while riding my 100% safe and trustworthy horse.

Basically, shit happens.  Sometimes even when you use the power of your choices to become as well informed and as well prepared as you can.  Even when you are experienced and conscientious, aware and careful. One cannot factor on everything, and especially those factors you are unaware even exist.

Who knew that on that fated moment a deer would scare my husbands’ horse (they aren’t usually scared by deer) and that he would dump my husband then wheel into my horse and she would  jump in response and at that moment my saddle fittings would fail and dump me onto my shoulder?  Who knew that a second deer would boldly linger in the brush, then leap out, charge at our dogs and further frighten the already unsettled horses? Who knew that my shoulder would tear and I would be left with an unusable left arm to catch a frightened horse sporting a saddle sideways upon her ribs?

No one knew and least of all, me.  The me that not 15 minutes before had checked my girth to make sure it was fastened tight, less I have an accident!  The silver lining was that we hadn’t gone far; the bad part (besides being hurt) was that we had just set up camp for a long anticipated 3-day horse camping trip.  And there we were, just a few hours later, taking it all down and loading up for a drive home with a stop at the emergency room along the way.

Nothing broken, but in a great deal of pain, I took to my bed for days and slept off the pain meds and allowed myself to heal.  My ribs were severely bruised, making it even harder to get up and move about; my arm hung uselessly by my side. In the time between doctor appointments, I pondered all my choices that led up to that point, and wondered what I could have done to change any of the results other than remain safely at home.  And yet, accidents happen at home as well; I’ve personally torn my knee tripping over a wheel barrow.  My friend broke her leg in her back yard and another just spent 7 days in the hospital with complications from gall bladder surgery.  I myself had the same surgery a year ago and then returned with complications as well, both times having to leave the safety of my home with these serious ailments.

So where does choice figure in when sudden emergencies occur?  One can choose to stay home with the hope that they stay out of harms way, but harm can find you at home.  One can choose to live life and venture out as safely as possible and still, harm can find you there as well.

Which leads me to control and the illusion of control.  There are times when we may think we are in control of our destiny, that the choices we make, make a difference. We eat healthy, exercise, reduce our stress, contribute to society, brush our teeth, are kind to others. And then there are times that clearly point out how little control we have; control of our life isn’t always available, we just thought it was ours to choose, but it wasn’t.  It’s in these times of perceived tragedy and accidental injury that we see that control may not be ours to hold. No matter the free will we exercise over ourselves, ultimately, we cannot control everything.  Is this what is meant by faith and trust? Is it not the realm of faith that something, someone, some higher power has control and purpose and that there may be meaning in the chaos of circumstances beyond our control?  Is this the ultimate in trust?

I don’t subscribe to determinism, nor do I believe that we are entirely subjected to free will.  Perhaps it’s a combination of both a higher power and our own free will.  But, and here’s the kicker, one has to be aware of the choice before we are free to choose.  When someone reacts out of anger, triggered by old programs and patterns, they are not choosing if they are unaware there is a choice.  Choices come when one is aware.  It is our sacred mission in this life to awaken enough to see the choices before us, to transcend old habits and programs and find the free will that belongs to us.  Not all of our life is steered by our own free will, sometimes fate steps in and removes that illusion of control over our destinies.

Meditation may just be the easiest, simplest way to awaken to our egoic patterns of mind control that robs us of our free will and choices. In meditation, we exercise our ability to control wayward thoughts and old programing that keeps us from awareness and we bring our attention to the moment at hand. There are many techniques but the goal (if there must be a goal to stilling the mind) is learning how to find space between who you think you are and who you really are.  It’s listening to your inner voice and finding quiet knowing and clarity.  It is that clarity that awakens your mind to the choices in life that are before you.  Choices you never even knew you had.

And when you find your clarity to make awakened choices, you also may find the illusion of control and relax, surrendering yourself to something bigger and more beautiful than your own small self.  And that is a choice I can get behind.