Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Feed Your Horse First

It's a delight too to work on a perfectly healthy body: I thrust my hands under her back and it was easy, everything ran so free; her spine rose like a dolphin; nothing was stuck, nothing was guarded. Oh, there was a bit to do in the pecs and the abdominals; sore hamstrings; but mostly it was a body in perfect working order: young, soft, strong, fluid and malleable.

I admire bodies in a new way, now. I ogle shoulder girdles: "lovely," I think, "all the room in the world between the clavicle and the ribs. No thoracic outlet syndrome for her!" A scapula with full range of motion entrances me. Someone looks gracefully back over his shoulder and I think, "If you knew, if you only knew, what a blessing it is to be able to do that, and how many people can't!"

Sunday was an exasperating day: I had to turn two prospective clients away because I was scheduled for the afternoon, and then my afternoon appointment cancelled. So I was grumpy, and it was lucky that I had yesterday's lovely massage to restore my spirits.

I was reading Polka Dot Witch's tuesday confession: she wrote that her back was killing her and she wouldn't go see a doctor. I was about to write a Dutch uncle comment, telling her to take care of it right away, when I realized that I myself was sitting there with a crick in my neck and stiffness in my back. Physician, heal thyself!

So I put down the laptop and went into the massage / shrine room and took out that most magnificent creation of modern civilization, the tennis ball.

Got down on the floor on my back and slipped the ball underneath, and gradually worked it up and down the paraspinals on both sides. Oh, my God, it was glorious. And then stood up and leaned against it to work the upper traps and lev scaps, the neck and shoulder muscles. Wonderful. Now I can go talk like a Dutch uncle to the Witch. I wouldn't go see a doctor about my back -- what do doctors know about backs? But I'd do something about it right now, right away.

I've had a rule of thumb for twenty years. It's like the cowboy's rule of "feed your horse first"; it's "take care of the body first." If my back and my emotional life and my work and my spiritual practice are all wrecks, my back is what I should attend to first. I've often regretted deviating from that rule, but I've never regretted following it.

You know what's wrong with 21st Century Americans? They won't do preparation, maintenance or repair. I had huge resistance to riding a bicycle rather than driving, and it wasn't anything to do with the extra time or the extra exposure to the weather. The resistance was to the few simple acts of preparation at the start -- putting on the helmet and the velcro doo-dad to keep my pants-leg out of the chain, putting on gloves if it was cold, settling my backpack in the rear basket and putting a waterproof cover over it. A total of two or three minutes, and it was, till I got used to it, almost unendurable to me. Because it made me feel stupid, a doofus, a loser, to prepare like that. And then I had to take the things off and lock up the bike when I got to my destination. I'm not sure where that sense of shame comes from, but I wouldn't underestimate its influence on what we choose to do. I have a similar resistance to adjusting the brakes on the bike. The tension gradually goes off them, and I have to adjust them. A slight nuisance, a few minutes' work every few weeks: but it looms ridiculously large, and I always wait until the brakes are dangerously soft before doing it. And my impulse is to want to buy a new bicycle rather than spend -- what? maybe half an hour a year? on maintenance. I'm tempted to spend $600 rather than do a half-hour's work.

Notice that the emotion here is shame. A sense that if preparation, maintenance, or repair is needed it means that I've been caught out, found wanting.

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