Sometimes the ongoing chatter in my mind is like a constant whir of a fan, a muffled, incessant hum. Like white noise, I’m used to it. It’s always there. It keeps me company when I have no other distractions. Or more aptly, it refuses to leave me alone. And sometimes, when the chatter is all about my problems or worries, it’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed.
I had an appointment with my massage therapist yesterday. After a stressful week, I was looking forward to the chance to relax and take some much needed time for self-care. As I lay there, my thoughts wandered to all kinds of places. It raced into the future to the problems I will need to solve at work next week, and to the plans I’m making for an extended trip with my Girl Scouts. As my therapist’s hands attempted to find and relieve the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, I realized I wasn’t present on her table. I wasn’t in the moment.
I have been using massage for more than a year to help reduce muscle tightness and pain. When I first visited Susan (who is also a wonderful yoga instructor), I had a huge knot at the top of my left shoulder. I had pain in my neck that stabbed me whenever I turned my head to the left. And I had tightness across my left pectoral muscle that caused constant discomfort. I had been ignoring all this for about six months before I decided to do something about it. That was my New Year’s Resolution in 2014.
I felt some immediate relief with a stretching exercise that Susan recommended for the pectoral muscle. Hallelujah! But the shoulder and neck were stubborn, so I decided that I should rule out any kind of injury. I visited an orthopedic doctor and had X-rays and an MRI of my neck. After examining the images, the doctor could find nothing more than minor arthritis beginning to form between the vertebrae in my neck, which is normal for someone my age. She recommended physical therapy. So I worked with a physical therapist for about six weeks. I faithfully did the exercises she gave me. I saw very little improvement.
But I kept up regular visits with my massage therapist, who was able to explain more to me about how my muscle groups are all connected and affect one another. She warned me that it can take a long time to “re-train” muscles that have spent so much time in a contracted state. We also talked about how stress can manifest in the physical body. After ruling out everything else, it was clear that I was experiencing a physical reaction to emotional stress. This realization was part of what motivated me to take a hard look at where I am at in my life. It was also the impetus for starting my Vulnerable Path blog.
I am happy to report that, with Susan’s help, I no longer have a huge knot in my shoulder, and most days are pain free. Yet after more than a year of serious work to improve my mind, body, and spirit, I still haven’t figured out how to just “be in the moment.” It sounds like the simplest thing, yet for me it is actually a struggle.
I wrote a previous blog post about Pema Chodron’s advice to take three breaths. This basic principle of meditation, to focus on your breathing, is a tool to use whenever we feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, worried, or scared. It’s a way to push out the clutter in your mind. It helps to even visualize it, imagining all the junk being blown away with your exhales.
I have read and re-read Brene’ Brown’s book about wholehearted living. I connected with her guideposts about cultivating calm and stillness, authenticity, self-compassion. Yet it is an ongoing process to let go of perfectionism, to be slow to judge myself and others, and to choose a mind-set of sufficiency.
So there I was, physically on that massage table, but my mind wasn’t even in the building, let alone the room. The good news is that I realized it. And I immediately shut down the chatter. I took a few deep breaths. I focused on the soft music playing and the physical feeling of the massage. And I also realized one other thing in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bothered by that stabbing pain in my neck. A second Hallelujah!
I’m making progress. I feel more in touch than ever with my own consciousness and the way I want to grow and transform. I want to work harder at being in the moment, to appreciate fully the here and now, rather than waste any more time worrying about the past or the future. I’ve had a book on my shelf that I’ve intended to read for many months: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. In the introduction, Tolle says that people come up to him and say, “I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?” And his response is, “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.”
I think Tolle and I are going to become good friends.
© Vulnerable Path, 2015