No to perfectionism
I’ve been thinking a lot about bones recently. I’m one of those people who is a bit obsessed with anatomy generally. Almost anything that relates to the physical body seems interesting to me, especially in the way that one’s anatomy connects to mind and spirit.
Two years ago I had a fall on my left wrist which led to having several pictures taken: X-rays, CT and DEXA scans. That last one is known as a bone density test. What the images showed was that I had osteoporosis, i.e., loss of bone density, sometimes called thinning of the bones. Not good.
I was surprised, but not quite shocked, as I’d been through a couple bad-news diagnoses over the last decades. In 2006 I was diagnosed with atypical cells in my endometrium which forecast a 30% chance of progressing to cancer. I underwent a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of ovaries).
In an earlier shock (1992) I was diagnosed with hip osteoarthritis which eventually led to bilateral hip replacements (both hips).
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was devastated by both of these diagnoses. I felt like I’d devoted myself to good health for most of my life and then my body somehow betrayed me. I actually felt somewhat ashamed of having these serious conditions. What this says is that I was very disappointed that my body was no longer a complete paragon of radiant health. Not perfect.
Yes to acceptance
I discovered later that aiming to be a paragon of anything is a burden. I would have to learn many lessons, including the ultimate one: being kinder to myself.
Recently I heard American Op-ed columnist Frank Bruni in a podcast talking about going to bed one night with normal vision and then waking up the next morning blind in one eye. In the book that he wrote subsequently, ‘The Beauty of Dusk’, he says, ‘We are all walking time bombs, we just detonate at different times.’ Yoga teacher, Dr. Timothy McCall says, ‘More often than not, good health is accidental.’
I’m not saying I’ve become inured to receiving unpleasant news but osteoporosis is treatable. This wake up call has had me include more weight bearing exercise and strength training in my exercise routine. I find that doing standing poses mindfully and with repetitions is so helpful, and simply walking is good for the legs and spine. Daily, I take Calcium and Vitamin D tablets, on my doctor’s advice. And twice a year injections of a medication called Prolia.
A friend and colleague told me me that she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and that she was stunned by that news.
Hearing this, I started thinking about a book I read in the nineties by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’. Bones feature prominently in Estes stories. There’s La Loba, the wild woman and collector of bones in the desert. And Skeleton Woman, the Inuit of ice and snow.
Bones represent getting down to basics. We might talk about the bones of a story. Diving deeper we say, I knew it in my bones. When Estes features bones in her stories, they represent the stripping away of the outer self – of the persona, or social mask – in order to contact one’s essence.
I’ve had to let go of my perfectionism and drop a little more of my ego identity as I age. I tell you it’s a painful process, but only because of the fear of being without that old prop (ego).
This is a relentless process as you age. No one is likely to tell you this… that the pain is self-inflicted. The best pain transformer is acceptance. You’ve been hearing this all your life if you are a seeker. Believe it.
Acceptance opens you to the possibility of resilience and gratitude for the life you enjoy and all manner of things. Nature, singing, grandkids, a good night’s sleep, a hot meal in the winter, yoga practice.
I’ve recorded a lovely visualisation, a kind of meditation on the bones of your body. It can be found on my YouTube channel. While you’re there, have a browse. You’ll find many goodies.