In my last blog I mentioned taking a vacation without planning ... how I'd hit the road in a southwesterly direction largely because I felt “pulled” to do so. At the peak of my trip I found myself face down in a traditional Native American medicine wheel with three women, each one a psychic practitioner. I closed my last blog discussing a moment of lucidity I had in the midst of that experience, how I’d stopped to check in with myself and make a mental note about just how ridiculous my circumstances were in the context of my “real” life. In retracing my steps to that morning’s events I could see that I’d followed a path to that place, surely enough, but not consciously. The path was crystal clear as I gazed back at it, but it wasn’t one I could have followed in a traditional sense, it simply had to be walked. In the midst of those strange surroundings, I was overcome with the sensation of being exactly where I needed to be. It’s a feeling I’ve been growing familiar with.
I’ve been wanting to blog about my early summer vacation and the steps leading to that strange morning for a while now, and I will get there. But before doing so I'm going to fill in a little of the (fairly strange) backstory leading up to the trip, as I feel it will help underscore what exactly I was seeking, and why it is that I’m so open to following whimsy and intuition in the first place.
A little over a year ago, I was out on an evening walk - a regular activity for me - when I was struck by a realization: my body is way out of alignment. This was not news to me, as I had seen x-rays throughout my life which showed a significant misalignment between my left and right hip, with the right one sitting much higher. When I walked I did so with a distinct supination on my right side; this was one of numerous clues visibly betraying my condition.
On this night, however, my realization was not intellectual, it was experiential. In other words, I did not visualize an old x-ray and remember I was out of alignment, I literally felt myself out of alignment while walking. This had never happened to me before; perhaps I simply lacked the sensitivity to notice it until that moment? I had been practicing body awareness diligently in the previous months, an endeavor which filled me with a great deal of curiosity as well as a suspicion that my body might be capable of a few things no one had told me. In the end, it was likely this strengthened inner-focus that allowed me to “feel” my body’s misaligned state soberly and honestly.
In that moment of realization a thought came to me, “Go home and lay down on a yoga mat, your body knows how to fix this.” It was a ridiculous thought, yes, but I was getting used to odd intuitions by that point, and had become open-minded about following them without expectation or judgement. Having already been in-and-out of the studio to track my second record, I’d had my share of opportunities to trust the path unfolding under my feet, and I was beginning to go along more willingly.
For some time, I'd been engaged in the process of learning to identify my highest inner voice, or intuition, and remain open to its influence. A psychologist might refer to this as “listening to your wise-mind”, whereas a spiritual person might call it “hearing your inner Buddha.” I think most hard-scientists would simply call it crazy, yet the phenomenon is no stranger to the halls of the learned, despite any protestations to the contrary.
In providing a bit of context as to why a reasonable guy - a software developer - might pay heed to an instinct suggesting a misaligned body can fix itself, I will state here and now that my worldview differs fundamentally from the norm. I believe life proceeds according to some basic rules, and that those rules differ from the majority of what I was taught. In truth, are we really taught much of anything about what, if any, rules life follows?
If your memory is in decent working order, you may recall taking an elementary science class in which you laid a sheet of paper over a magnet and then threw metal shavings across the surface of the paper to observe the shavings taking the shape of the magnet's field. The experiment provides a perfect analog for my life approach: I view my state of being - i.e. the quality of my life experience as determined by my perception of events as they unfold - as a kind of magnet which shapes my life circumstances around it, much like a magnet's field directs metal shavings. Therefore, if I want to change my life circumstances in some way, I look to what is inside - that which generates the field - rather than to outer circumstances. In short, I view circumstance as fundamentally illusory, and that which gives rise to circumstance as fundamentally real.
Hence, when I manipulate the “magnet” within me, I do so knowing that action will ultimately reshape circumstances within the magnet’s field of influence, permanently. Therefore, if I am prone to repeating a behavior, I look to address the inner pattern (action) responsible for creating the external pattern (reaction). Practicing this sort of living relies heavily on one's willingness to view themselves honestly, misalignments and all. One must own their life, seeing it as a set of circumstances cultivated by themselves alone, without imaging themselves to be a victim.
Non-interference has proven to be an effective way of participating in this inner-work for me, as it is a way of living that tasks life itself with the work of reshaping the inside, so as to realize positive changes on the outside. Because I was already well down this path on the night of my walk, I was aware that my life was actively realigning through my inner-work and, additionally, that this realignment may at some point involve not just my mental and emotional health, but my physical health as well, as my physicality is simply an aspect of my outer reality.
Short story long, I finished my walk and did just as the ridiculous thought suggested.
I had attended a yoga class once, years earlier, but had no recollection of the experience, nor did I own a mat. However, the person who shared my home owned a mat, and upon my arrival at home I laid it out on the basement floor and positioned myself flat on my back. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing ... I simply laid on my back breathing deeply. After twenty minutes or so I felt very relaxed, and I had a thought suggesting I should move my feet shoulder width apart and point my toes at the ceiling; even as a non-yoga practitioner I knew this was not much of a challenging pose, but I did it all the same. It seemed easy at first, but upon further observation, I noticed that - although I was not in pain - there were parts of my body that were not completely at ease within even this simple position.
As I held the posture and continued breathing, I begin to notice a tingling like pins and needles growing in one of my legs. All my life I have been told that this is a bad sign, your body's way of saying “no, turn back”. Nevertheless, in my open state of mind I decided to greet the sensation as a wholly new experience, choosing to forget what I had been taught and instead play the curious scientist. My body was sending me a message of some sort, and I wanted to know more about that.
Note: I did not move into the tingling. It started spontaneously from within a safe, stable posture with the passage of time, so I reasoned I could "sit" with the feeling and observe it without undue risk.
In observing the tingling, it was immediately clear that the sensation closely resembled electrical current: not unlike what touching a weak, live wire might feel like. As I continued to focus on the sensation, I thought about nature’s tendency to avoid wastefulness, reasoning there must be a purpose for the tingling. A physical therapist would likely regard such tingling as a signal from the body to cease and desist, but something didn't feel quite right about that.
As I considered retreating - that this sensation may be intended to repel me - an inner-dialogue began to take place: "doesn’t the body already use pain to warn of impending damage?" I wondered, "why would the body require a secondary sensation - so unlike pain - to serve the same function? Why would it use two ways to send the same message?" I didn’t have an answer, so I continued breathing with the pins and needles and simply watched them as they not only continued, but began a crescendo which lasted for a minute or two and then dramatically faded, followed by a coolness which filled that area of the body. I did not know what that meant, but it felt good in the moment, physically and otherwise.
Now I was interested. How could this tingling have just run its course and disappeared? I would never have suspected that outcome based on the warnings I had received throughout my life. I had always been told to turn back when encountering such sensations, so I'd never hung around long enough to draw my own conclusions. I hadn’t the foggiest notion as to what had happened biologically, but it didn't feel bad, and simply assuming the tingling was a signal meant to ward me of didn’t seem reasonable, that much I knew.
As it turns out, my simple decision to forget what I had been told and just see for myself really paid off. In doing so, I had awoken a strong curiosity that filled me with questions: what had happened? What was controlling it? What was that cool and soothing feeling that followed? In the next weeks I spent more and more time on the mat, laying in the most rudimentary positions (usually on my back) and slowly moving one or more appendages until I found something my body didn’t like, and then waiting there, breathing, and often experiencing a return of the tingling sensation, which would rise and fall, time after time. I still had no clue as to what was happening, but I knew I felt good afterwards, in all aspects.
After three weeks had passed, I was surprised to find myself retreating from a walk due to blisters on both of my feet. Upon arriving home, I found I had six fresh blisters: three on each foot, between my outside toes on both sides, each foot a mirror image of the other -- a symmetric match. Never in my life had I gotten blisters in these locations. When I discussed this with the woman I lived with, she said that I was walking differently, that I had always been flatfooted, but now my feet seemed to be flexing more normally. This was especially evident when descending the stairs in the house, which I was navigating noticeably faster, as we had both observed.
This was a big moment for me, truly. Getting on that yoga mat was beyond ridiculous, I knew that. Yet, I had gone along with it, and now I was actively engaged in improving some basic structural issues within my body -- improvements I had assumed to be fundamentally impossible. To top it all off, I had no clue how any of it was happening; what mechanism lay behind the healing that was taking place?
Yet, at that point, I knew I did not need to know. Perhaps someday I would understand the biological mechanisms at work, or perhaps I never would, but after that night, I knew that I could trust it; that I could invest fully and fearlessly in my intuition moving forward. It was as if something beyond my understanding was on my side somehow, and it had my optimum life experience as its ultimate goal. I had been engaged in a partnership, a dance, leading up to that night. I knew I would be less tentative with my steps moving forward.
As time has passed, I have attempted to educate myself on what it is I stumbled into exactly. Along the way, I learned that humans possessing only five senses is something of a myth: science has identified numerous other senses within the body that are simply underdeveloped and, as such, do not get much publicity. One of these is the vestibular system, which provides sensory information about motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. If you have ever touched your finger to the tip of your nose with your eyes closed, the vestibular system is what you used to do it.
In retrospect, I suspect that when I began working on the yoga mat I was actually training myself to use one or more largely dormant senses; that through strengthening these underutilized abilities I was able to access physical (and emotional) issues in a completely new way. What’s more, I was able to access reality in a new way: through new sensations; ones I will continue to sharpen for the remainder of my days, no doubt. I cannot describe what that has been like exactly, except to say that there is much more to the body than I ever knew, and that my continued explorations have given me tremendous reservations in regards to western medicine’s mechanistic approach to healing.
It has been about fourteen months since that initial walk, and I have logged a lot of time on the mat. Yes, it is technically work, but it is also healing and fulfilling, and it’s where I want to be. My experience of this time has largely been blissful and has, time and again, acted as a reset button in my life, leaving me lightened and renewed. This is no surprise considering the practice is essentially meditative.
As I became more deeply engaged in this practice, my physicality continued to improve, as did my mental health. Yet, at a certain point, I reached a roadblock with my right shoulder, an area of the body I have struggled with throughout my life. The injury had worsened in the previous year, becoming somewhat debilitating. Although my mat time had improved the situation to some degree, it was unlike the rest of my body in that there seemed to be real limits on what I could do to improve things. I couldn’t say exactly why my time on the mat wasn’t helping my shoulder in the ways it was the rest of my body, but something in me could tell that what was working almost everywhere else was not enough for my shoulder: the pain in that area felt bigger somehow, deeper … beyond me.
Months passed, Tennessee Night released, and I eventually climbed into my truck for that long overdue vacation I had been longing for. I was in great need of rest and recuperation, yes, but I was also following a pull that I had been feeling for the previous two years, a subtle call to head west. Additionally, I was seeking answers regarding my shoulder pain. Some part of me felt that I was going to need assistance with the shoulder and that it might just be waiting out there for me somewhere. As it turns out, it was. I just had to follow my way to it. Till next time!
Americana Singer Songwriter Ed Dupas’ lived-in melodies unwind with reflective lyrics that speak to the current state of the human condition. Soothing where possible, agitating where necessary, and calling for change where appropriate. Ed Dupas creates and shares well worn wide awake music.
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