Last Monday night, after applying heat and cold to my sacroiliac joint to help its healing, my entire lower back seized. If you've never experienced a lower back seizure (which I hope you haven't and never do) essentially all the muscles in my lower back cramped causing searing, wrenching, life-gutting pain so great that I could barely lean forward. Bending over was out of the question. And standing up after being seated required me to use as little of my core as possible - arms and legs only. The pain was so great and I felt so weak that I lay down and tears streamed down my cheeks.
I've experienced some pretty bad physical pain in my life - broken bones, motorcycle exhaust burns, deep knife cuts and of course the tearing of my ankle ligaments back in March. The essence and sensation of each of these pains are so different but none quite as crippling as that back pain. It stopped me in my tracks. I could barely stand up yet alone walk with just my own body weight. I knew that unless I received a miracle (and I do believe in miracles) that I would not be able to start walking from Rome to Jerusalem as I planned.
I spent all of the next day in my friend, Viv's apartment sitting on my butt on the meditation cushion or on the edge of the futon bed which seemed to be the most comfortable posiition. Sometimes I cried because of the pain but instead of tryng to ignore it or run from it, I felt it and I asked it what it wanted to tell me.
Some may say I have had a string of bad luck this year - a long on/off illness at the beginning of the year, tearing the ligaments in my ankle, the return of my morton's neuroma in my left foot, injuring my sacroiliac joint and now this lower back issue. But it isn't bad luck. Although I'm not quite at the "yay this is fantastic" stage yet, I know this is a blessing in ways I am just starting to discover.
Those who know me or have followed my journey over the last seven years will know that I have been on one hell of a spiritual awakening journey. I understand that I create my reality through my thoughts and words. And I know that unexpressed emotions (which are just a form of energy) stay in the body until they are released through feeling them. Unexpressed or repressed emotions manifest in our bodies as dis-ease in the form of illnesses or injuries. My injuries are a way of my body and spirit speaking to me and also showi me where to look for the underlying issues that have caused the dis-ease. This isn't always an easy or pretty task - to look inward at the shadowy, less desirable parts of ourselves - but it is a necessary part of healing and spiritual growth.
Part of my awakening journey is the reclaiming of my divine feminine nature, a part of me that I disconnected from in childhood when I was hurt and that I shunned when I went out to succeed in the patriarchal world. Very early in my career, I witnessed a strong, passionate female mentor of mine discounted by male Executives for being too emotional so I hid my emotions at work as best I could in case I was seen as too emotional or too weak. I have hated the colour pink for years for being too girly. And part of me chose boxing for sport because it was hard and tough and not what most girls would do.
We all have masculine and feminine energy. The masculine is what gets things done whilst the feminine is concerned with feeling - our state of being. They are both necessary to put our dreams into action and get things done in the world but they must dance together in their own way unique to each of us for our lives to be harmonious. As I have discovered this year, too much doing or doing that is motivated by fear of not being enough, or of needing to achieve for my life to be meaningful, or needing to prove myself hurts the feminine within me. This over-doing has manifested as injuries to the left side of my body - the feminine side of my body. First my ankle, then my neuroma, then my sacroiliac joint.
As I have sat and spoken to my injuries with kindness and curiousity, I discovered why my back seized and was quite shocked by what I learned: I have suppressed my fear about this journey, walking alone from Rome to Jersualem through unknown lands that I might not be safe in.
At the time I tore my ankle ligaments, many people kept asking me if I was scared to undertake this pilgrimage alone. What I heard them saying was that they would be scared to do it and that I should be scared too. Now I hate being told how to feel and what to do. I reacted the way I always have since I was a child and my mother tried to tell me how to feel and what to do. Subconsciously, my stubborn, inner rebel rose up and took control. She decided that I wasn't going to be afraid because everyone expected me to and because being scared was weak. She stuffed it down where it couldn't be seen or heard and assuredly declared that she wasn't scared, that she only expected to meet curious and helpful people along the way to help her.
Futhermore, thinking this was a great opportunity to do something positive and show others, especially women, that they didn't need to be afraid to follow their dreams or to do it alone, I decided that I was going to be a kind of martyr and that my pilgrimage could serve as a lesson for others. I contacted my pilgrim friend, Peter, who had recently asked if he could walk with me and I told him that I now felt that I needed to walk alone.
Oh dear. How arrogant and foolish of me. How much have I misunderstood fear and judged others. And oh how I have been tremendously humbled. I say this with great love and kindness to myself.
Perhaps if I really listened and didn't judge what was being asked, I would have heard the question simply as it was asked then felt into my body where I would have felt the fear that was and is there. And instead of reacting, I would have answered, "Yes, I am afraid but I feel called to take this journey and I'm going to do it anyway." This way my fear could have accompanied me in my awareness to be used as an ally, to help me ascertain when my safety really could be at risk. Instead I shut it down and silenced it. I thought if I really felt my fear and acknowledged it that it might stop me from doing what I really want to do. But because I wasn't listening and fear needed to be acknowledged and part of this journey too it stopped me anyway by clamping my lower back muscles down around my root chakra my centre of safety and security on earth - to get my attention so it could keep me safe.
As I said earlier, I believe in miracles, and in an act of grace, my back stopped seizing on Sunday about the time I would have landed in Italy had I been on the plane. The muscles are free and I can bend forward and move pain-free. However, I am left with the pre-existing sacroiliac joint dysfunction and pelvic instability so I'm not physically ready to start this pilgrimage yet. I also have some more inner work to do looking at the shadow parts of myself and reconnecting with the true essence that motivates me to walk rather than the one made up by my ego.
I am blessed to have a friend like Viv who is happy for me to stay here camped out in her lounge room for as long as I need. It's not surprising that my back has seized here. Viv lives in a basement apartment which essentially means that it is below ground level and looks out onto the surrounding garden. I sit amidst the roots of vines and trees going into the earth delving into the deep and often dark aspects of myself. It also helps that Viv is able to hold a safe and understanding space for me to do this.
I have a flight to Rome on the 15th September - a date I chose intuitively with a lot of hope when I changed Sunday's flight so I didn't forfeit the fare. But I don't yet know if I will be ready to start walking then. I don't yet know if my back will heal sufficiently that I can even start walking from Rome to Jerusalem this year.
There is a chance that I may need to surrender the walking - the doing part of this pilgrimage and just throw myself into being. You see whether I walk or not, the pilgrimage has already begun. For what is sacred and holy lies inside each one of us. We don't need to physically go anywhere to experience this but instead have the courage to sit silent and still and go deep inside bringing the light of our own love and compassion to our dark nooks and crannies and honour the divine light that burns at our very core.