Spiritual Direction from my Wheelchair
We were downhill skiing and I took a tumble that landed badly – smashed bones and spiral fractures in my right leg. One moment I was floating through fresh powder, feeling strong and happy. The next moment I was stuck in the snow waiting for help to arrive. The next two weeks would be a blur of surgery, pain management and almost complete immobility. It’s been an awakening and, in this reflection, I’m asking what am I waking up to through this experience?
I’m awake to my body’s vulnerability. In trauma, my body’s needs have taken precedence over everything else. This means I’m learning to listen to my body for guidance. It knows what I need and when I need it. Pain and immobility are also teaching me empathy and compassion for those who suffer from chronic pain. My judgement is softening. I have more understanding that it’s very challenging to be proactive when you’re in pain. I hear Joni Mitchell singing, “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” It’s humbling.
I’m awake to acceptance. When ski patrol tells you they’re about to pull the boot off your broken leg, it’s too late to create a reserve of strength and calmness. I was surprised that somehow, I was able to "be okay with" what was happening in the moment. My spiritual practices – especially centering prayer – allowed a quiet inner knowing that I am handling this, and I know I am handling this.
I’m awake to Love. I see my husband with new eyes and am grateful for his ability to come alongside me wherever I am. Love has shown up in flower bouquets, cards, emails and texts. It’s been here in the presence of friends and family at my bedside. Love has surprised me with a tender email exchange with my brother who at age 23 had to rebuild his life after an accident left him a quadriplegic. Love has been food brought over: lasagne, carrot ginger soup, teriyaki meat balls, and chicken marsala. It’s been homemade bread, muffins and chocolate chip cookies. Love has been Reiki offered from a long distance and healing touch offered at my bedside.
I’m awake to the Buddhist teaching of the two arrows, summarized as, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” My understanding is that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. The first arrow that flew my way was the injury. I didn’t see it coming; it flew and struck me. But the strike of the second arrow is up to me. The second arrow is the suffering that I create in reaction to this event. So, my spiritual practice, moment by moment, is to bring awareness to my thoughts. Am I creating a mental story that will tear me apart more than I am already? Or are my thoughts creating strength and healing?
I’m awake to the gift of being a spiritual companion. After a few weeks, I felt ready to resume my practice and I’ve been reminded of the mysterious mutuality of accompaniment – in giving we receive. While creating an open-hearted space for another, my own heart has opened and filled. As my directee softens and is guided into insight I too feel that softening and grace. I have a deeper appreciation for this work that is so nourishing and can be done propped up with pillows on the couch.
I’m awake to loving kindness for myself. As I offer tenderness to myself, I feel a yielding and acceptance of the whole situation. It’s true that my garden is blooming, and I’m stuck inside. And all is well. My ambitious spring plans are stalled. All is well. Sitting up in my wheelchair is still painful. I couldn’t attend the funeral of a dear friend. All is well. Every few days I have a good cry. All is well. I’m frustrated that I can do so little for myself. All is well.
May the awakening continue.
Julie Elliot, in her own words:"I am a spiritual director trained with the Pacific Jubilee Program in British Columbia. As a spiritual director, I ask, "What do I bring to these holy conversations?" I bring spiritual practices of Centering Prayer, journaling, and silence. I bring an art practice of painting and printmaking, a passion for gardening, gratitude for the apple orchards surrounding our home, and love for my husband who planted the trees. I bring experience parenting two adult children, leading contemplative worship and retreats, teaching art classes, writing, and singing in a symphony choir."