“I don’t ask for help and I don’t want to be here”.
Those were the first words I stated firmly as I defiantly took my seat in my first therapy session over three years ago. I may have even glared as I said it.
I’ve always fought to figure things out on my own so that I wouldn’t need to ask for help. I’ve fiercely resisted, pushed away and didn’t believe in receiving help. I could manage. I could do it.
I could do it by myself. Me. Mine.
More recently, I’ve been feeling a desire for help even if I didn’t know what that meant or how it looked. As if on cue, a chance to practice appeared.
Last week I had a tiny little freckle of a mole on the top of my left thigh removed after results showed that it tested positive for stains of Melanoma-A.
On doctor’s orders I moved quickly to book an appointment to excise the mole and didn’t know what to expect as a result of the procedure. It didn’t occur to me that it was surgery. I’d never had stitches before and it was such a small tiny thing, I didn’t think anything of it. When the doctor mentioned (after she had cut into my leg) that I wouldn’t be able to walk for the next two days or move much for the next two weeks. I was angry for not being prepared in advance but also didn’t quite understand. How could such a wee thing have such a major impact?
I thought of all the plans I had coming up in the next few days – tickets for a play that very night, highland dancing, swing dancing, offering a few yoga classes, meeting friends, taxes, massage, work… the list of events and commitments went on. No preparation or ability to try to change plans or timing. Feelings started to attach to thoughts that all those things I had been looking forward to were being “taken away” from me – a long-held belief.
I took the subway home and stayed there, alone, with my leg propped up still not convinced of the severity of what had happened and not able to slow down yet. I knew with nearly every fiber of my being that I should stay home with my leg up but I wanted to see people. I didn’t want to be alone but didn’t know that yet. I wanted support but only knew how to push forward (if I wanted to see people I had to be the one to go out to them) and so I walked down the street, took the subway and went to the play.
After the arduous journey to the theatre, telling the story to my friends helped immensely as I saw their instant camaraderie and supportive anger towards the doctor not preparing me more came through. I was surprised and grateful for their response. Our conversation moved to how we can choose to live such separate lives in this city and it dawned on me that it’s so easy to hide things here. I could have stayed home and not let them know. Not let anyone know and try to manage it by myself as I have always done before.
On the way home, moving as slowly as I thought possible, I felt a shift in the stitches and there was a rush of blood out of the wound. Under the pressure my leg experienced it felt like it had burst. That certainly caught my attention and I figured one day of rest would do the trick so I stopped as best I could the next day, fearful that I had ruined everything and that the wound wouldn’t heal.
A dear friend came over in the morning, bringing gorgeous pink roses and ushering in such a strong feeling of support, healing, and love. When I went to get up to get water, she asked what I was doing, and got it for me. “Oh, right,” I thought. Her being there and helping meant I didn’t have to do it all on my own.
Her company helped me to feel much better. Later in the day when I felt myself start to amp up to moving I realized instead that since the morning was so lovely maybe more company would be nice. I did something without hesitation that I’d never done before: I sent an email out to some friends who live nearby and explained what was happening. I asked if anyone could drop by.
The responses were instant. One person came that night and then others came by in the following day. Wow!
As the visits and deep, meaningful, conversations flowed; I realized how much fun I was having. How what was happening right now seemed wonderful and who needed all those other plans?
It didn’t take long for me to start to see that nothing was “taken away” from me. Nothing was taken away. I was loved, supported, and cared for – how is that having anything taken away? Every interaction was adding to my life.
As more and more people responded, I reached out to a few others. I started becoming more comfortable when people got me water or did my dishes or brought over food. The strong resistance I had held onto in the past around accepting help fell further and further away. I felt myself start to surrender and let go – more than I ever had.
By day two of being at home I still thought I could move, but just not walk. So I asked for help again and received a ride over to the yoga studio to participate in a friend’s first class as an instructor. I was amazed at how much of her class I could do without standing. I only braved the stairs once instead of twice, so that had to be good, right? I was doing less. I had rested for a whole day. I didn’t try to walk. I had let go of some of my plans.
Again, my leg was throbbing by the time I got home. How could such a minor wound impact so much? I had slowed down, hadn’t I? I had cut down my plans and stayed at home and was doing way less than normal. Surely that was enough, right?
And then I saw it. I removed the bandage for the first time and I saw the long slender incision cut across the top of my thigh. I saw the little crisscrossed stitches holding it in place. It looked fragile and as if the skin on either side was so pliable it could come apart easily.
Okay, now I understood just how important this was. All the rest of the yoga classes, work, and other plans needed to be canceled. I could do that. Nothing taken away.
By now my entire right side was in severe pain, my knees, hips, shoulders, back – all in so much pain from compensating for the inability to use the left side of my body.
More friends came over and helped. I moved less. I became more comfortable with people helping, bringing and making food, bringing movies, doing dishes, watering the plants, even tidying my house and doing laundry. I started to say “thank you” instead of “you don’t have to do that”. More great conversations. More sharing. More company. More and more beautiful and meaningful interactions! It was so filling and fun.
In this state of pain I decided to keep the massage and energy work session I had booked ages ago. It was just down the street. By now I knew it was way too far to walk, even if it was only half a block away. I was actually terrified to walk that far but also knew my body and energy needed the help in healing that the session would bring.
I walked as slowly as I thought possible. And by the time I arrived was limping fully, right side feeling the damage of misalignment and taking all the effort. My shoulders and back rounded and slumping forward, trying to cut my brain off from the pain.
The session was wonderful and my body felt amazing afterward. And at the end, the sweet woman offering asked if she could call someone so they could carry me home?
In the past I would have instantly resisted – fully and completely. I would have fought and then suffered and dragged myself all the way home, re-harming my body. “I don’t ask for help”. But it was offered so easily and now I had so much practice by saying yes to help, I agreed with ease and speed.
I hadn’t really thought about what this meant until, with one of them on each side of me, and my arms wrapped around their shoulders, they hoisted me up, carried me out of the building and down the street. It was hilarious and awesome and couldn’t help laughing at what was happening as they carried me. A passer-by even stopped and asked if we needed help. Help seemed to be in every interaction – flowing all around.
We got close to home and decided to walk the rest of the way. With someone on each side of me holding me up, my walking slowed to the pace of a snail. Barely taking half steps. I had thought I was walking slowly and with care the few times I’d tried to do it before but this made me realize that even though it was slow compared to my normal gait, I had still not slowed down as much as I possibly could. My slowness was still quite fast.
It wasn’t until I was physically fully surrounded by the support of others that I could completely slow down.
It wasn’t until a person was standing closely on either side of me, holding me up, that I could take the steps I needed to take.
It wasn’t until I let all of the wonderful people around me in to help that I could stop and heal.
Who new surrender and letting go of resistance could be so fun?
As I settled into home, I saw an image of all pieces inside my body working together to try to help this wound heal in relation to all the people coming to support and work together to help me heal. I started to see that all the constructed plans I had set for the weekend had such a different quality to the interactions that I was experiencing by staying put and not running around all over creation.
Surrender. I hear that all the time in yoga, but where is it in the teachings? I couldn’t remember exactly so, now on day four of (actually) resting, walking around the apartment as minimally as possible and using a Swiffer as a walking stick for even more support, I opened Heart of the Yogi by Doug Keller.
Scanning the book for teachings on surrender I found reference to a niyama, Ishwara-Pranidhanani or a complete surrender and devotion to the Divine. Okay, yes, that was happening here by letting go of the plans and seeing it not as being “taken away” and giving over to whatever divine intervention this was, but it didn’t resonate as fully. I then found a reference to savasana pose and surrendering to death by practicing letting go in life. No, not quite what I was experiencing… Then something caught my eye, “The Role of the Kula – The Community”.
I turned to the page and read, “we identify with a community which is more than the individual and yet does not exist apart from the individuals of which it is made. The experience of the community is our first very real experience of transcendence of our own individuality – one which takes a certain degree of surrender” (145).
It was more than fulfilling my individual desire for help. Much more. A transcendence of sorts from that former self who claimed “I don’t ask for help” because a fierce desire to hold onto my individuality as identity required hiding myself from others at all costs to one of openness and sharing. In sharing what was happening and trusting that I’m supported in the process, others could come in and share as well. It wasn’t just an experience of me receiving help and what I need, but a surrendering to becoming part of the greater whole.
Several exchanges took place in sharing ourselves over the few days. We shared with one another. New connections and relationships formed. It wasn’t about focusing all attention on me. It was a surrender by many of us that allowed true community to flood in. This community “exists as a genuine connection of spirits in which egos are transcended” and is critical to the health of the individual (145).
The kula or community in yoga ideally “provides the connection between our inner life and our outer practice” (146). It becomes the medium through which there is a process of knowing. This is true of my experience in this case. The internal struggle and healing around being more authentic in relation to seeking help was brought forth into an outer practice only because of the kula. It would have been impossible otherwise.
Not to mention all the thousands of other interactions and moments of practice in community, each helping contribute over time to this experience of surrender. It took years and so many people to allow this transcendence to happen.
This helped me to see in a new way that in yoga, as in life, we are in community. In every class and centering and meditation and pose we share together. Sharing our experience, not in isolation, but as individuals who are part of a whole, a whole that cannot exist without each individual present. In sharing ourselves we help each other, support each other, carry each other, guide and learn from each other. It happens in fleeting moments over and over and over again contributing to the constant evolution of each person and the world around us.