This Is What They Told Me
Lying in bed in ICU, hours after being extracted from my car, I remember the surreal experience of listening to the sounds of voices fading in and out “her neck is broken…we can take the pressure off the cord…paralyzed from the shoulders down…people don’t come back from this….”
Folks were parading by: husband, family, friends, doctors, nurses, all speaking in hushed tones of concern. Drifting in and out of drugged consciousness, I found myself looking quietly to my interior for the voice of comfort that always comes in stillness and meditation, grateful that I was familiar with quiet—for everything in my body was quiet and unmoving, except my mind and my lungs.
I’ve been at this quadriplegic thing now since 1995. Pondering how I continue managing my physicality in life, I’m struck by the thought that “every experience that came before I rolled my car and broke my neck was preparing me to respond to just such an occurrence.” Hmmm! I had familiarity with and practiced healing modalities that allowed me to bring an alternative approach to my injury and thus, my life. The question “Why me?” didn’t get much of my attention. It was more “Why not me?”
Knowledge from years of studying mind-body relationships was all coming into play. Was I going to “walk my talk?” (no pun intended), or would I collapse into some desperate abyss? It’s easy to talk of kindness, compassion, loving action, perseverance, and right action when life is moving along easily. This was to be the true test.
Growing up in a home with a basic attitude of “there is a silver lining in every cloud,” I had practice and success looking for the “good” in things, and my mind naturally drifted in that direction when I was injured. “What is this about and what am I here to do, because here I am. Resistance is futile.” This attitude enabled me to ignore my medical team when they told me I was “too optimistic about my future.”
I had the great fortune of being introduced to the idea that I was responsible for the way I respond to conditions in my life. Wow! A little scary since every moment has choice involved. Each moment an opportunity to choose a path, a way that feels good in the mind, the soul and harms no one; a choice that brings joy, contentment, peace, resolution. So empowering. Self-awareness grew and I became adept at recognizing what my mind was thinking and what emotions were stirring. Then, I could act using a loving kindness model with others and myself. This was a deeply critical skill to develop; it enables me to feel my sadness when it comes yet not dwell in it.
I have a body, yet I am not my body. I have work or employment though I am not defined by my employment for work is an aspect of my interests. I have a vision of myself walking but am not attached to the outcome. Interested? Yes! Attached? No! Whatever animates me continues dwelling inside this body and is totally intact.
The process of recovery and stabilization after injury is not linear. I am familiar with activities that require practice, doing something over and over and over. I swam competitively and was trained to put in the time and effort to increase speed and stamina. As a martial artist practicing Aikido for eleven years at the time of my injury, I knew how to arrive at each day’s training with a beginner’s mind, looking for what was new in a technique I had been studying for years, seeking freshness. The process of learning to be comfortable with the plateaus—the times when my art seemed to be stagnant or even going backwards—has proved to be a great asset as I faced my spinal cord injury.
I suddenly sense that this sounds as though I’ve been out here living my life alone. Far from it. My injury did not occur in a vacuum. I had many established relationships: husband, children, mother, brothers, friends, martial art community, employment community. All were effected by my injury. Everyone was a beacon of light and loving as they gathered around feeding me, dressing me, attending to me, massaging me, including me, visiting with me, caring for me. Over the years, many of these relationships have changed, for that is the nature of relationship. What remains stable is my attitude, my gratitude, and my mantra, “God, grace, gratitude, love, appreciation, forgiveness, healing, energy, synchronicity, patience, abundance, peace, bliss.”