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August 20, 2014

The Illusion of Broken. ~ Colleen Hohenstein

knee surgery

Remember where you came from, where you’re going, and why you created this mess you got yourself into in the first place.” ~ Richard Bach, Illusions

Patience is a virtue, but it’s never been one of mine. Tongue in cheek, I used to laugh at these words to describe myself.

It was true, I was not a patient person. I had things to do, places to go, and people to see. Earlier this year two words changed all of that. (No, those words weren’t “You’re pregnant,” although the experience of children has certainly cultivated a well of patience I didn’t know I possessed.)

The words were “It’s torn.” Being the youngest of five children helped me develop fortitude in many ways—I never mind taking turns, sharing a bathroom, or lending a friend a hand. But somewhere along the line I missed a very important lesson: You can miss a lot of important things if you’re always trying to catch up to someone else.

All my life I had been trying to keep up with my older siblings, a rather unlikely goal given the twelve year age span. These two simple words started an unexpected chain reaction. I wasn’t sure if I should simply nod my head in understanding at the orthopedist, or give voice to the silent f-bomb in my head. I wasn’t supposed to be in this mess.

For goodness sake, I was a yoga teacher—I knew how to treat the human body kindly.

Except I hadn’t. I had ignored pain in my knee. I had jammed my body past its limitations.

Attentively I nodded at my yoga teacher’s admonishments to baby my knee, and as soon as my knee felt the slightest bit better, I would jump right back in, full throttle. New Year’s Day skiing in icy conditions with a touchy knee became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t my smartest decision.

Somewhere along the way I had fallen into the trap of confusing perseverance with ego.

Perseverance keeps you going despite difficulty. Ego keeps you going past intelligent limits.

In short, I had created my own mess. There are no two ways about it—the past autumn had been hellishly tough, and I was emotionally wrecked.

I was anxious to put the old year behind, and start fresh with the New Year. Given my fragile emotional state, I should have been using the same amount of care and consideration you’d give a 1,000 piece puzzle. Instead I was more like a two year old stubbornly cramming wood pieces into a shape sorter. Have you ever watched a toddler attempt this? The triangle might eventually fit in the slot, but it sure gets banged up along the way.

The meniscus surgery was an unexpected blessing. I was brought to a screeching halt. At the beginning I was restricted to a recumbent bike at the gym, with the resistance setting at zero. It was mind-numbingly boring torture. I eased back into a limited yoga practice, determined to let my body set the pace. The shift in thinking was a slow process. More than once my yoga teacher threatened dire consequences if I didn’t keep to a suitable post-surgery yoga practice. My physical therapist lectured me at every visit, “Remember, you’ve just had surgery. Give it time to heal.”

They both knew me well, so I listened and thought about this mess I had created. I fought my natural impulse to rush back into practice. I wanted to catch up on everything I had missed, the same way I had always tried to catch up with my siblings. And when I forgot patience, my teacher was there to remind me to go gently on my body. Little nuances caught my attention and I honed in on them. Things I had noticed intermittently before, but had let slip by as unimportant became significant. It was time to make friends with this mess I had created.

I thought about the tempo of a yoga practice, how very tempting it can be to rush through difficult poses. And I thought about why it is crucial not to rush through challenges. If you make it through a challenge, but pay a high price, is it worth it?

I began to understand the subtleties of decisive movement paired with well-paced breath. And through all of this recovery time, healing was taking place. Not just my body and heart, but my mindset as well. You’d think I am insane if I said I’m happy I needed surgery. But the reality is, I’m grateful. I discovered a chance to become more patient with myself. Surgery was just the way the opportunity was presented. I had convinced myself pushing through asana practice was helping me heal emotionally, when in reality I was just trying to find a shortcut to healing. It’s still tempting to rush through life at times.

When that happens, I try to come back to my truth: really, in a spiritual practice, the idea of progress only has meaning if you are trying to get somewhere. Where exactly did I think I was trying to go, anyway? The only person I needed to catch up with was myself. The only place I needed to be, was exactly where I was.

 

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Steven de Polo at Flickr 

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Colleen Hohenstein