Facing Back

I’m still collecting my thoughts after our recent reconnaissance adventure in Iceland.

On one hand, I accomplished what I’d set out to do – getting the lay of the land, seeing the house we’ll be using this October for a men’s retreat, formulating ideas for incorporating the land, sky, and ocean in our work.

On the other hand, plans for getting places we could only access via more rigorous hikes were dashed by a series of nasty, persistent back spasms.  Sitting was uncomfortable, as was standing, and walking presented its own set of buzz-shock challenges.  Postural transitions were a freakin’ ugly, snarly bear.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not fishing for sympathy.  None of that, please.

Having dealt with decades of dorsal disruptions, this wasn’t my maiden journey into pains in the posterior.  Far from it.  It was the worst, though, eclipsing earlier events in just about every way.

It’s been remarkably distracting and, aside from dialing up my empathy for those who suffer chronic pain, it’s been… well, it’s been annoying AF.

Here’s the thing: Not to get too woo-woo on y’all, but I think I’ve been presented with an opportunity to up-level my self-awareness and walk-my-talk game.

Hang with me here.

While it’s true that I’ve got the aforementioned history of ski crashes, weird, torqued impacts, and other delights, there wasn’t anything of note that set this whole thing off.  Same holds true for a bout of sciatica back in late ’21 that I jokingly blamed on the perfect storm of the seats in the last row of the balcony at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Willie Nelson.  (I still love Willie.)

As I began to dig into the early pages of Healing Back Pain by John Sarno, MD., I was hit with two bright, neon data points.  The first was that this bout initially came on just a few days before leaving for Iceland.  (I’d packed Sarno’s book for the trip.)  The second was that the sciatica event mapped very closely to the months of the steeper part of the arc of my father’s decline.

It was enlightening, even strangely comforting, to read that, from Sarno’s research, acute back issues and vacations ain’t exactly strangers.  Add the emotion that went with my dad’s deteriorating health, cognition, and eventual loss?

No shortage of breadcrumbs to follow.

Where is all this leading?

I’m facing back, literally and metaphorically, and approaching my circumstances with buckets of curiosity.  I’m allowing myself to step away from the baggage I’ve carried about things of a psychosomatic nature and those dealing with them.  I’m making peace with the very real possibility that while the pain is all too real, the equally real cause may very well live in the expanse between my ears.  If that’s where it is, then I already have the tools needed to work through and beyond it.  To heal.

As men, most of us have been socialized toward having answers and solutions rather than developing awareness and reflection.  I see both as wildly important, each with its own time and place.

This experience with my back has shown me that, in the arena of awareness, there’s ever more to discover. I’m finding a surprising amount of gratitude for the whole mess – and that’s a bonus I was not expecting!