Last Day, Leap Day in India
I love the symbolism encoded in my last day in India being a Leap Day. A day that is added every four years to help keep our calendars in sync with the solar system it is created to track. An added day for me to dial in and integrate the lessons and experience of being in India over the last month.
What do I vow to leap into? What have I learned during the past 29 days of my healing journey?
#1 Allowing myself to be seen and admired for my courage and strength has been a life changing choice. Opening my heart to humbly accept these offerings of kindness has empowered me beyond my full comprehension. I vow to leap into keeping my heart open to continue accepting and offering the powerful gift of being seen and appreciated.
#2 The power, courage, and raw determination that comes from deep within my physical body by connecting to breath and devotion far surpasses any thought or mental expression I can generate. I vow to leap into the powerfully divine and primal energy that my physical body intuitively knows and understands.
#3 The more I can accept that my understanding of reality is full of paradoxical and contradictory beliefs, the deeper I will go in the process of connecting to the truth that lies in my existence. I vow to leap into holding paradoxical beliefs as a golden gift from God.
"I have no where to go, and my heart yearns to travel."
"I am perfect exactly as I am, and I long to grow, deepen and expand."
"The world is the most beautiful place possible, and it is filled with suffering and injustice.'
#4 There are no answers to seek outside of myself and fear is my greatest ally in the pursuit of true inner self-knowledge. To fearfully and fearlessly look deeply within, to actively seek true inner self-knowledge, is an act of service toward the greater good. I vow to leap into the continual and revolutionary process of fearful and fearless self-discovery.
These deep and powerful lessons awoke during the India chapter of my healing journey during my daily asana practice, during and after my Ayurvedic treatments,through my time in reflection, from David's teachings this month and are concisely clarified in a Kabir poem he read to us in a Savasana:
I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are."
4 Months Later, Walking Forward
Today I walk out of my fourth month of spinal cord injury recovery. I walk forward on this new path created by an injury that drastically changed the course of my life. On October 22, 2015 when I tumbled down the stairs into a broken neck and damaged my spinal cord I began a new way of being in this life. The process of learning to live with a physical body that no longer accepts every command from my ego mind has been profound. The experience of relying completely on the kindness of others, first for survival and then for ease of life experience, has been both humbling and enlivening.
I do not have a single ounce of doubt that I am better off today than I was four months ago. Even as I type with only two index fingers, because the dexterity of my hands is quite limited. Even as I sit in a body that tingles in most of my muscle fibers with bizarre sensations and a torso, arms and legs that move slowly, stiffly, and awkwardly. Even given the state of this less than ideal physical condition, still I feel more real, embodied and whole than I have ever in my 46 years of living.
The new sense of wholeness comes from a few sources. First I will name the feeling of being seen and appreciated by so many people. The loving support that has poured in from all directions since my accident has been a direct lifeline to a full feeling of gratitude and appreciation. Sharing my feelings and experiences along this healing journey is liberating and as it is met with positive feedback and warmth, I am comforted and encouraged.
Secondly, I will claim a sense of embodiment and wholeness from feeling my raw determination and efforts. While never laying the burden of my life's satisfaction on my ability to do anything (with the exception of really needing to wipe my own ass) I have worked diligently in every single day of recovery to gain new physical, emotional and energetic capacities. This sense of hard work and effort, while crazy difficult at times, is also immensely satisfying.
Finally for this entry, as there is certainly much more bubbling up inside, I will be honest about my grief and vulnerability. Daily I grieve and I feel deep pain about the struggles I encounter as a result of my accident. I grieve the loss of being able to move about the world with a sense of ease. I suffer from the relatively constant discomfort that arises from being so awkward and unbalanced in my physical body. I feel a survival level fear in most of my daily activities that involve movement. There is no doubt I am living in a body with a heart that is traumatized on many levels.
I do my very best to allow myself space for this grief, frustration and pain. I don't wallow in the negative energies, but I am trying not to hide or run from them. And when I catch myself running or hiding from the ugly side of this mind. body and soul level experience, I remind myself it is both normal and necessary.
Walking through the world with my vulnerability worn on my sleeve takes an enormous amount of courage. I view it as badge of honor that I have been dealt this hand of cards to deal with and have shown up with a heart full of integrity. I deeply appreciate my own willingness to accept what is, while doing my level best to live my way into feeling as healthy, whole and complete as possible. May my fifth month of healing be as rewarding.
February 22nd, 2016
Falling in Love with Fear
What if I decided to fall madly in love with my fear? No holding back and going all in. Instead of hiding or running from my fear, instead I will embrace it as the welcome guest it is. After all, my fear has been my greatest teacher. So from here on out I will honor my fear and love it unconditionally.
I have been in India now for 11 days. The truth is it has been 11 days of a lot of scared. I've also had lots of fun and joy and deep gratitude, but still Iam scared a lot of the time. Basically any time I walk out of my hotel room there is a feeling of fear in my belly. I am not scared of the place, the culture or the people here, they are beautiful, warm and welcoming. I am scared I am going to fall.
Every morning before the sun rises I walk out of my hotel room onto a dirt path that wends through a kind of back alley pathway. The ground is rocky and not level. Even with a borrowed headlamp, the way does not feel well lit pre-sunrise. It is only 600 meters, that I am now walking in about 10 minutes down from 17 minutes the first couple of days. So it is not a long walk at all. The thing is, during that short walk, the whole time I am just trying my damndest to not trip or fall.
It is like my morning 600m walk to the yoga practice shala is a trek along the ice-covered peaks of the Himalyas. I have to be dialed in for each step. No daydreaming allowed while walking this early morning path. My thoughts are focused on careful foot and cane placement, smooth stride and balance. In my gut and heart it feels like the consequences of a misstep would be as dire as a misstep on a mountain peak. There is a current of fear running through my whole body in every step.
Thankfully, I have gotten less scared over my 11 days here. Cutting the time of that walk nearly in half is a clear indicator. I am getting sttronger and more confident in my feet and legs and their capabiities. My body is learning the way and I am less scared today than I was yesterday. I am proud of this and still noticing the swaths of fear that continue to sit alongside any feelings of courage or pride.
Each time I reach the end of my back-alley like dirt pathway without having fallen I breathe a sigh of self congratulatory relief. The next breath is to draw in the courage for my epic journey up the stairs. First up just 3 small basic cement stairs with hand support. A great warm up, I hardly find it scary. Then a short walk along a stony path to the 4 wide cement stairs with no railing. Less great, I find them terrifying. When I reach them I come to a full stop and stare them down good and hard for varying lengths of time. Some days I am lucky and another yogi comes along to offer me a steadying hand to hold. But just as often it is me, my cane and my courage that balance our way up those 4 stairs.
The final ascent of the morning journey is 4 flights of 15 stairs each up tp the yoga practice room. These stairs are no joke. They are steep and they are long. Every morning I make my way up one step at a time, working at creating rhythm and finding ease in the effort. I find joy in steadily planting a foot and feeling the power of my quadricep muscles engage stronger than they did the last time. I revel in feeling my ability to balance on one foot and the lesson of learning to trust legs that dont feel anything like they used to.
And through this empowering going up the stairs process, tendrils of fear based internal dialog find a way to emerge.
“What if a leg gives out? Uh it never has, its ok keep going.”
“What if I tilt too far back and tumble down? Lean a little more forward and keep going.”
“What if my foot slips and I tumble? Ah, that forward tumble wouldn’t be too bad, keep going.”
I have discovered that my “keep going” answer is the key. This is the lesson emerging. There is nothing wrong with feeling fearful. It makes a lot of sense in what I am going through. I am learning to feel my fears and to breathe into them while not letting them stop me from getting where I intend to go. Instead of pushing the fear away and trying to pretend it isn’t there, I am inviting my fear to come along for the ride.
This lesson emerged on the morning walks to my yoga practice because of my injury. It is not the first time I have done a dance with lessons around fear. But the constancy of this very concrete and quite simple fear of falling is offering an incredible opportunity to live into this lesson in a life changing way.
It is briliant that my healing journey path is to follow each of these epic morning walk experiences by getting on my yoga mat and facing all the same feelings in a different and controlled circumstance. It is deeply fulfulling to feel this full pattern of my life experience informing my yoga practice which feeds back to inform my life experience. I feel gratitude that there is great growth emerging in my courageous and determined heart.
Choosing. Not Choosing.
Choosing. Not Choosing.
I do not choose my path,
My path chooses me.
I do not guide my steps,
My steps guide me.
I do not know my heart,
My heart knows me.
Walking a path less traveled,
Watching truth unfold.
Living a life less ordinary,
Learning to trust what is.
Breathing into my existence,
Binding my mind to my heart.
Why am I going to India only 3 months after a serious spinal cord injury?
The truth is I really don’t know why I am going. I don’t understand what has driven me to make this trip happen. I just know that I am going and it makes me happy.
I do know I am going to flow in the healing light of freedom and truth I cultivate on grand journeys. I know I am going to practice healing yoga asana, to study this practice of yoga more deeply, and to melt into the traditional healing art of Ayurveda.
Do I need to travel over 8,000 miles to do this? No, not really. But I want to, and I can, so I am going.
Those two small words have huge meaning for me. When the fire of my desire to go on this journey was first lit, I did not know if it would be physically possible. I was lying in a hospital bed unable to move most of my body. I saw an email subject line that said something like, “Come to Kovalam in 2016 with David” and every part of my being said OK, I will. It made no sense and seemed completely unrealistic at the time. But some part of me knew I would make this journey, even then.
Mostly paralyzed and only a few weeks into my spinal cord injury recovery I started telling people I was going to India in February 2016. I said, “If I can walk, I am going to India.”
People’s reactions varied between placating nods of agreement, “Mhmmm, sure you might go to India, we’ll see how you are doing.” to direct shut-down “That is ridiculous. There is no way that 3 months will be enough recovery time for you to be ready for that big of a trip”.
I was undaunted. Completely unaffected by outside opinions of whether this trip made any sense or not. In my heart I knew, if I was able to walk, I would go. It became a driving energy behind the hard work it took to get my body to walk again. I never said that aloud. I never even thought it directly. I didn’t have the cogent thought, “I am working so hard to walk again so I can go to India.” But on reflection, I know that I was. My heart knew my path.
I have no idea why this trip feels so important, why it always has. Just like I have no idea why or how I fell down the steps last October.
In all of this, I feel the powerful influence of forces beyond my understanding at work. And understanding has become less important to me. What is important to me now is doing the work of connecting into the primal knowing of my heart and physical body. I am certain the most profound lessons in this experience are rooted in a new and unfolding understanding of the relationship between my mind and my body and the nature of knowing.
Broken. Not Broken.
Broken. Not Broken.
It was late autumn
days drawing shorter
light lingering less.
It was past midnight
moon waxing bigger
stars shining less.
I woke to walk while asleep that night.
Body rises from bed
mind continues to dream.
Body seeks the stairs,
whole being crashes.
A new frontier to explore.
Body is conscious,
mind is present,
mind offers commands,
Healing journey begins.
Step by step,
moving with breath,
feeling with grace,
A new life begins.
Lizandra Vidal is a poet, writer, and wellness expert. In 2015 she suffered a spinal cord injury and this blog is a space where she shares the story of her experience.