I consider myself to be a very open person, yet I prefer to sleep on my side. Curled into a fetal position, I feel safe and usually have the sweetest and deepest of sleep. Two weeks ago I woke to a dull painful ache in my shoulder, intensifying with each passing day. No specific spot, no injury, no place to target and massage, just an undefinable heavy pain somehow mirroring what happens to my heart when I read the news. I want to stop, but I can’t. Not knowing feels more dangerous than knowing. There’s not one specific news event that does it, it’s the sum of the whole and makes me curl even tighter into myself, a human hermit crab that curls around its heart.
Now that I’ve become an amateur medical researcher, I’ve discovered that the cause of my shoulder pain is sleeping on my side. The cure is to sleep on my back, the least safe and comfortable position when I’m feeling so vulnerable. I tried it last night and periodically woke as every muscle and bone yearned to turn over and curl up protecting my vulnerable psyche. All situations that involve laying on my back cause this defensive response: a dentist chair, a doctor’s table, and a psychoanalytic couch. I feel exposed and vulnerable, like a turned over turtle with its soft belly to the sky. Yet in my attitude, approach to life, and in my mind, I am always open to just about anything. What is my body saying? Why is it telling me now it’s time to sleep on my back?
Since my illness, I’ve begun a daily yoga practice, 30 minutes every morning since August. One of the things I do and can do is relax deep into the corpse pose. Why not in bed? Perhaps it’s about letting go, giving up control to the unpredictable world of sleep where lovely dreams or scary nightmares are equally possible. Like what I read in the news. Like what is happening in my country right now. If I don’t want pain, I need to train myself to sleep on my back. I must practice being open and accepting during what feels like such a dangerous time.
When curled in too tight in a ball, I miss the potentiality and possibility of the moment, no matter how distressing. Sometimes if we protect ourselves too much, the consequence may be that we end up living in pain despite our best protective intentions. This pandemic and current time we’re living in brings us so many decisions to weigh. Do I go out or stay in? Do I hug my daughter who works in a school? She worries about me taking care of my granddaughter also in school. Do I go to a socially distant art gallery or meet a friend for tea? What should I do with my money, my retirement account? Dare I spend, or is it better to save? Should I mail in my vote or go in person to make sure they count it? Will I ever believe it’s safe to ride the subway again?
I’ve found out during my life that being open when you’re hurting allows you to heal, to think about life in different ways, and let in new people and ideas. To adjust and adapt to whatever may come your way and have the confidence to know you can. Even hermit crabs outgrow their shells and have to find a bigger one. So wish me luck as I train myself to sleep on my back so I can ease the pain and remain open to all the joy, wonder, and glory of being alive that also exists right now in this unprecedented (at least in my lifetime) moment in time.
How are you managing the pros and cons of all the decisions we have to make right now?