breathe into what tightens

sticker art of a turtle with one bulging eyeGood morning this morning. The light outside my windows today is warm and bright, and the crows are gathering on the other side of the fence to argue with a seagull about some tasty morsel. Today I am just in the moment. It’s all I can do. It’s what I get to do.

This morning’s blog is coming to you from a standing position — I’ve adjusted things in my apartment so that I can place my laptop on top of a bookshelf. I’m typing in between walking around my apartment and stretching, in response to a terrible lower back spasm. I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I’m scared. My body is talking to me in a new way this morning. How can I learn to listen?

Sophie keeps getting me up to show me how to do downward dog. I try to do sun salutations, but can’t bend over to touch my toes, and instead just get onto my hands and knees and do some gentle cat-cow poses, like I learned from Allison Stelley at this year’s Femme Conference (this is what we’re teaching each other back in the green room).

I stand here at the computer and type a little bit, shifting my weight back and forth as though I were rocking a baby. And it rather feels like I am.

When I woke up, my back (which had been aching since I’d gone dancing in terrible shoes on Friday night) held my body firm to the bed, and also didn’t want to quite relax into the mattress. It hurt to move and it hurt to lie still. So I decided to move. Look, I told myself, it‘s after five. Time to get up. We’re our own boss now — let’s use these days.

But my body wasn’t a willing employee today. I managed to get to a standing position, and then found I nearly couldn’t move. Wait — what? I live alone, it’s still dark, and my body doesn’t want to move? Now what do I do? I stood in this place of panic, and reminded myself to breathe. I heard my mother telling me to breathe. Breathe, Jennifer.

Deep in through the nose and out through the mouth: my mother gave us this tool for presencing when we were very young. Anytime anything hurt, when we were crying or scared or angry, she told us to breathe. At the time, maybe she was using it herself, to calm down and center. My sister and I absolutely found it annoying when we were younger (how could we not be breathing? we were already breathing!) But what I’ve learned is that she was teaching me to breathe into exactly the moment, exactly into whatever it is my body instinctively wants to shut down and away from.

This has served me consistently over these years of healing. And every time I remind myself to breathe into whatever is happening, I feel my mother with me. And so, this morning, I was immediately less alone.

Now, the pain did not dissipate right away. It was so painful getting just across my narrow hallway from the bedroom to the bathroom and back that I was afraid I might not make it back to the bed to lie down. The meta-watcher part of me was fascinated and a bit concerned: Ok. If you can’t move at all, then what will we do? And now you’ve gone and left your phone in the hallway. Great. What about your whole gonna-be-a-writer job? What about your dog? What about …

And then a powerful buzzing rang itself through my body, up from my back, down my legs, through arms and shoulders, filling this conscious self that found itself prone on the bed, quieting that voice, taking everything over. I fell into this experience my body was having, closed my eyes, listened and felt. It went on for a couple of minutes, rather like some higher something had hit a reset button inside me and I was rebooting. And after it passed, I was able to stand a bit more comfortably, and walk down the hall without holding on to the walls.

I wanted immediately to come to the blog, to write all of this down, to share the experience with others in this both intimate and anonymous way: revealing my vulnerability without having to get up close and personal with anyone about it; I mean, not having to show actual need to my friends, my community.

However, I couldn’t quite sit down yet. So I thought about all the stretches I’ve ever seen my writers do during workshops, the ones who are struggling with body pain, the ones being tender with their backs. I did my cat-cow pose, I moved through a series of gentle stretches, I dropped down further into my body, releasing all the plans I had for this day. There’s so much to do — and I can’t do any of it if my body isn’t with me and well. So, this is what we have to do today.

I let my sweetheart know what was going on with me (scary: who wants to be the broken girl?) , and then, when my friend Kathleen called (who has dealt with back issues for a long time), instead of deflecting or pretending like I was just fine, I immediately said, I need your help! And of course, she gave me all sorts of ideas.

Kathleen said, You have to keep it hot. Don’t let it get tight. And then I notice how I want to tighten everything in response to this pain. My whole body is tense, and I keep breathing deep, breathing right into my lower back, right into the tense shoulders, right in to where it hurts the most.

This is just like the writing, when Dorothy Allison tells us to write to our fear. When we write into the place that we want to tighten around, that’s when the electricity and magic emerges. When I breathe right into the pain (against my instincts), the pain abates. It hurts more for a moment, and then there’s release.

It hurts more for a moment, then there’s a release, and I can go deeper in.

Today will not be the day I had imagined, the day I had convinced myself it would be. Yesterday I sat at my desk and worked on my novel and on writing ourselves whole business for eight hours — that’s not going to be today. Today the computer time will be at a minimum. The body is reminding me that I have to take care of my instrument first, before I can expect it to play symphonies. Think warm and stretchy thoughts in my direction, ok? And in your own –

Oh, and please go vote.

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I have two prompts today:

First: This is what happens when she (I, they, we, he) stretches…

Second: Imagine breathing into your own pain (or your character breathing into their pain) — where are you breathing into? What are you breathing into? What happens with that influx of oxygen and energy? Allow yourself to imagine that a moment or two, then pick up your pen or drop your fingers to the keyboard and start writing. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Give yourself at least ten minutes to stretch your writing self today.

And be easy with your good body. Thank you. Thank you for your words.

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