Two Steps Forward
By Cat Blyth
2018 was a game-changer. On Boxing Day, 2017 I finally succumbed to the increasingly painful sciatica which had bugged me for the previous five months. Having no idea what was coming I had just carried on, wincing and grimacing but, essentially, putting up with it and continuing to run, ferry my kids about, teach yoga, work. All the life stuff. My husband and I have sometimes had a conversation along the lines of, what would happen in one of us was incapacitated. For me it was simply unthinkable. As a busy working mum there was no scenario in which that was an option. Soldier on. That’s what we do, right? And then Boxing Day happened. The pain suddenly intensified. I was on the floor. Yet, true to form, I suggested a family walk, traditional on Boxing day in our house. My husband looked sceptical. We settled on a quick jaunt to the mushroom on Scout’s Scar, me hunched over in agony in the car as my family took turns to express concern for this outing. Gritting my teeth, I managed to cross the road from the car park and, in the frosty near-dark, began to climb the path up to the top. Suddenly this was my Everest. I slowed to a crawl, every step more painful than the one before. I didn’t know whether I wanted to pass out or vomit. I made it to the bench near the top, where I collapsed, urging them to leave me there. They did. I lay back on the frosty wood and focused on yogic breathing, praying for the excruciating pain to recede. I swam on the edge of somewhere dark, my mind unable to cope with the intensity. I remember focusing on being mindful; the crisp, freezing, clean air. The crescent moon and a smattering of stars, shining sharp and cold above me. The land felt expansive and still and I forced myself to focus on the beauty of it all. The thrill of being outside. Eventually my family returned, and I began the epic, glacial-slow journey back to the van. Finally deposited at home I stayed there. For the next four months. Incapacitated.
Fast forward to April. I honestly thought I was ‘cured’. I was pain free for the first time in months. I was walking (slowly) with my dog in the woods every day, watching the wild garlic gradually cover the floor with its rich, green carpet, listening to the air filling with bird song. I was recovered, and life was good.
I’m better, I said. I’m going back to work, I said. I’m starting up yoga classes again, I said. I’ll just have a quick practice drive, I said….. I had not driven our van since before Christmas. I felt a little excited, if I’m perfectly honest. I slid some reggae into the CD player, adjusted my seat, mindful of my lower back and all, and started the engine. Now, had I been thinking sensibly I would probably have taken someone with me who could take over the driving if it proved too much for me. But in my over-enthusiastic spirit of grabbing my new-found health and freedom by the balls, I did it alone. Lesson number one, right there. I only went across town and back. Almost immediately I realised how weak my bad leg still was. And how damn heavy our van is, how hard that clutch pedal. By the time I had reached my destination, a mere ten minutes away, I was in pain. My leg felt spent, exhausted, useless. My spine felt aggravated and unhappy. I could have wept with frustration at the prospect of having jeopardized my recovery with something so stupid as a quick drive across town. So, I was back to the floor. Back to the exercises. Back to square one? No, not quite. A small relapse, but I knew exactly what I needed to do to get back on track. And, most valuably, I had learnt how slow and fragile this healing process is and that I needed to go easy even if everything seemed ok.
Two steps forward, three steps back. It is frustrating. But maybe this is how the best progress is made in the long run. Maybe this forges a deeper respect and understanding for the process, offering bigger, more satisfying dividends in the end. I began to wonder, could I bring the same understanding to other areas of my life? I mean, isn’t this how so many of our best laid plans actually pan out? And how useful would it be to set out with the knowledge that this oscillating and meandering and back and forth-ing is all part of moving forward, all part of the journey. I guess the important thing, armed with this understanding, is not to give up at the down times, the three-step-back times, but to see it as a time to re-group, pause, take stock, breathe and step forward again when the time is right.
I have been doing a lot of intention setting of late, holding in the light of my mind the end game, the final outcome, the biggest dream. No matter how remote or impossible seeming, no matter how improbable or laughable or unlikely. Visualising that dream as though it is happening right now, already achieved, being loved and enjoyed. Holding the image at all times, while working on the baby steps to get there, building the road as I go, one brick at a time. I read a lot of stories online of inspirational folk who have manifested their heart’s desire in an instant, who asked and received, who focused on the dream and achieved it almost immediately. As I read these tales, I can almost hear the doors of opportunity slamming open for them, bang, bang, bang, one after another. And it can be so depressing if that isn’t what you experience. What am I doing wrong? Why is my dream still an unresolved blur, miles off in the distance? Why is every door slammed in my face, not flung open with invitation? Am I not worthy enough, talented enough, brave enough, likeable enough? It’s all too easy to wallow in that place of failure, rolling around happily in the mud of defeat and self-loathing. Get out! Claw your way out of that unhealthy mire.
How about we celebrate the journey, not the destination. Sure, keep that widest dream in your sights and, if it’s worth aiming for, make everything you do another step in the right direction, another brick in the road ahead. But be prepared for set-backs, relapses, closed doors. And most importantly, embrace them all. Pause and consider what the learning here is. Do you need to change route? Do you need to take some time to nourish your soul before moving on? Do you need to focus on something else right now which might, in the long run, help the process? A few days back on the floor in pain does not mean the road to recovery is washed down the mountainside. It may have some temporary traffic lights, that’s all. No need to do a u-turn in anger and shoot off up another road in a cloud of dust and frustration, a road which may lead you in the opposite direction from your destination. Take it easy. Take it slow. Walk, walk, walk. Rest. Walk, walk, walk. Rest.
‘There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way’. Thich Nhat Hanh