Silent Sundays: Joint Effort–Introduction

For a few months, I have been contemplating a piece about the joints. The first time that I addressed this perhaps undervalued component of the physical body was in 2018: “The Heat Is On “ provided a practice to cope with sweltering Summer temperatures and humidity’s effect on the joints. 

At the time, I was in the early throes of osteoarthritis, but did not know it. Because I was—and am—a very physically active person, I dismissed the sudden, sharp pain in my right hip to having “moved the wrong way.” When the acute phase passed into an intermittent, dull ache, my bodyworker self assumed that I could apply what I knew and remedy the situation over time.

I wrote that first post about joint pain five months after the first mysterious flare-up. Several months later—nearly a year in—the left hip began to display similar discomfort. When I finally sought chiropractic help, that practitioner recognized textbook symptoms of arthritis and suggested I see an orthopedic specialist.

After the official diagnosis, I endured another year-plus of increasingly debilitating pain. During this time, I had no choice but to reduce beloved movements, then those that were “functional”: To stand, bend, sit up or down, or turn over in bed became a dreaded effort.

This trip back through that challenging time leads to this Silent Sunday. Having experienced the rigors of osteoarthritis for nearly three years—and now rejoicing in the privilege of pain-free movement after a double hip replacement last year—I am more aware than ever that the body requires constant monitoring and maintenance. 

More significantly, I have developed a deep reverence for the esoteric underpinnings of anatomical structures.

When one is young and healthy—or older and without physical concern—the goal of movement tends to be one of having fun, pushing boundaries, and muscling through feats of endurance.

That there are unexplored realms within any given anatomical feature that factor into “what makes us go” may be rarely considered.

My own fascination with the wealth of information hidden within joints—specifically those of the hips—was expressed in the following piece that I wrote post-surgery. Included within the post is a visualization and meditation practice, should you want to more deeply explore the potential that lies within your joints:

Finally, it may be helpful to supply some learned background. For example, joints, according to Louise L. Hay in her book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” reflect the ability to change directions in Life. If stricken with arthritis, joints may reveal the presence of underlying resentment.

Further, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, joints align most closely with the Wood element. Wood, associated with the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems, corresponds with movement, and is demonstrated by the qualities of a “pioneer”: 

Action compels the Pioneer. …The urge to get things moving, make things happen, and voyage onward typifies the Pioneer. … [When thwarted,] what was once a gratifying challenge can become an aggravating distress…

The above description (from Beinfield and Korngold’s “Between Heaven and Earth”) reinforces the notion of joints as agents of change. When one’s plans and anticipation of newness go unmet, resentment may build: thus, Hay’s note of arthritis as a reflection of that disappointment.

Another, not-well-known aspect of the joints—indeed, of the whole body’s hidden realms—is that of marmas. Marmas, according to Frawley, Ranande, and Lele in their book, “Ayurveda and Marma Therapy,” are sensitive pressure points that correspond with specific parts of the body; however, the reach and complexity of a marma surpasses any localized position. While marmas can be used to address a physical or psychosomatic condition, they also connect to the subtle nerves and energy centers of the body (nadis and chakras, respectively).

As stated in the book, “Marmas are classified by their dominant physical constituents as muscle, vessel, ligament, joint, or bone-based regions, [and as such], mark the junction of the body with the mind. … Treating them can release negative emotions and remove mental blockages, including those of a subconscious nature.”

With regard to the above information, one begins to understand how the joints are a significant representative of the often unplumbed depths of the physical body. When their function goes awry, it is not only mundane activity that is affected: unresolved emotions and conflicts, latent fears and dormant dreams—one’s history of being rises up and requires reckoning.

Next time: Joint Effort—A More-Than-Movement Practice

Happy Sunday…

How to Hang On–Day 27: Stay Cool

Today was the final round of appointments before Friday’s surgery.

Yesterday, my low back decided to join the party: spasm deluxe.

I was concerned about driving, about walking, about standing, about waiting—would my back, hips, and legs keep me upright as I moved through this final, necessarily busy day?

For that has been my primary goal: walk into the surgical center upright, of my own accord (with the help of canes). To be so close, yet so far… that was the feeling with which I awoke today.

And yet: I managed. One foot in front of the other; one wobbly cane maneuver, then the next; one smile for the surgical nurse; and then another for the COVID test-taker. Each move along this baffling game board toward surgery demands, overall, one thing: Stay cool.

By “cool,” I mean centered–in mind, body, spirit: When body balks, move to mind; when mind meanders, shift to spirit. And when at all possible, engage all three—ultimate coolness.

Also, however, I am acutely cognizant that Cool abides vulnerability: I am learning how to accommodate that uncomfortable, unwanted state, all while staying connected to Cool.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 24: Massage (Not What You May Think)

As a massage therapist, I am deeply aware of and committed to the value of most modalities of bodywork: muscular, circulatory, psychological, and overall vitality benefits. When it comes to massage, when—if ever—can it be too much?

Clearly, a physical massage takes place on a body that won’t be damaged by tissue or internal stimulation. There are numerous contraindications to various styles of massage; an educated, observant massage therapist knows and abides by these boundaries.

The “massage” to which I refer today, however, is not of a physical kind. It is one that I had never heard mentioned before this morning, when a sensitive, intelligent friend informed me of its existence. In response to my umpteenth thanks for her help, she took a breath, and ever-so-kindly said:

“A rabbi once told me: ‘Don’t massage an apology.’” She went on to explain that overdoing a “sorry” takes away its integrity, its depth, its truth. She used this rabbinical admonition to gently let me know that I did not have to “massage” my gratitude.

What a wondrous gift this was! And what a wondrous rabbi, wondrous friend, and wondrous circumstance: Without arthritis, without looming surgery, without the need for help, I would never have become acquainted with such wonders.


’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 21: HALT

Today’s title refers to an acronym well-known to recovering addicts. When “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired,” those in recovery are in the most danger of giving in to the urge to feed their disease. I have come to regard “HALT” as a useful tool in any circumstance wherein a negative response or impulsive reaction wanders too close to manifestation.

One of the surprising aspects of  “hanging on” pre-surgery has been the sheer number of appointments leading up to the day. It strikes me as absurdly ironic that just when the body can barely take another step, more is asked of it: Any errand or appointment requires (in my living situation) dealing with three flights of stairs; a couple-hundred-feet walk to the car; maneuvering into the car; mobilizing across a parking lot, into a building, standing/waiting, and then doing it all in reverse.

I steeled myself for just such an endeavor today. Upon arriving home, I felt the kind of pain that has come to signal a serious need to end the day, set myself up for rest, and become still. Instead, I entered my apartment to a ringing phone: On the other end was a nurse from the surgery center; she informed me that “R” would be in touch to set up a “meet and greet”—another appointment.

I uttered those words in sheer disbelief: “Another appointment?” I could feel the tears stirring, and my anger wondering if it should enter the fray. To her credit, the nurse entirely empathized, echoing my bewilderment that at this time, more activity was demanded. I kept quiet, ended the call, and thought of HALT.

Hungry? Not much of an appetite these days. Angry? Frustrated, for sure. Lonely? Nope. Tired? Times 10.

So, I realized that my reaction to the addition of another appointment (which, to me in these pre-surgery days translates as additional pain) was a direct consequence of at least half-a-HALT.

With that acknowledgement, I could remind myself that despite the feeling of exhaustion, I was nonetheless still on the road, moving in the right direction. Regardless of more appointments, and thus more pain and fatigue, surgery gets closer each and every day. And with that, I can levy against the flood of negativity, consider my place on the HALT spectrum, and resume deep and full gratitude for what lies ahead.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On: Day 20–Head and Heart

No matter who you are, finding a balance of head and heart is a lifelong endeavor. I have had to learn how to allow my very capable head to be an equal partner; from a young age, my passionate, sensitive heart has tried to rule the roost. In younger years, that meant that my emotions could far too easily rum amok; as a counter-balance, I misguidedly tried to build a fortress around my heart.

In the past decade or so, I have become more aware of when one teammate tries to lord it over the other; consequently, I have become more adept at fending off mutiny of one or the other. Over the course of the past year, I somehow have floated above them both, which has afforded me an oddly objective view of both head and heart. 

It as if I have become a parent to two children who love each other furiously, but are just as prone to stifle the other when in need of attention. As their parent, my responsibility is to love them both fully, yet acknowledge that there may be times when one needs more attention or guidance. In doing so, they both learn that there is an ebb and flow to leading, following, and walking hand in hand.

Today I met with the surgeon who will perform my hip replacement next week (10 days, to be exact). He has presented himself in both of our meetings as a Head. I have, on both occasions, hoped for more heart; today, however, I was prepared for the Head, and brought mine to make his acquaintance.

And I was pleased to discover that I felt no less strong: My heart stayed still, behaved (save for a brief moment of near-teariness in the presence of Dr. Head), and waited patiently for the meeting to end. My head spoke on behalf of all of us; I was pleased with its performance.

When trying to Hang On, most days—in my experience—follow the heart’s lead. Yet it is helpful to remember that the head is there, too, just waiting for a chance to save the day. 

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 18: Dream a Little Dream

In the midst of the first lockdown of the 2020 pandemic, many folks began to take a hard look at the quality and trajectory of their lives, personally and professionally. The time spent alone, the required cancellation of social engagements, and a quarantined life for the foreseeable future led many hearts and minds into an extensive re-evaluation of Life, in general.

I was no different. I thought about how I had been leading my life in recent years, and about “promises of protection” that I had made to my heart more than a decade ago. Ironically, despite my affinity for solitude, the pandemic shifted my heart into a desire for intimacy. Yes, I had a man in mind: mind only, as I initially thought he was married. Then, when I discovered that he was not, I allowed myself to think about possibilities.

Alongside this romantic thought trajectory, I began to reimagine my work life. I had grown accustomed to and delighted by my niche in the dog- and housesitting business: I had no plans to alter that. Of course, pandemic times meant canceled travel plans, which meant no pets or homes for me to look after.

And, too, I was dealing with the increasingly swift deterioration of my physical abilities. Pandemic plus arthritic pain slowed my pace socially and professionally, yet somehow accelerated my inner world of dreams, goals, fantasies, and possibility. To delve into that dimension during these times has been an integral part of How I Hang On.

Although I intend to continue with my doggie clients (for I have grown to love them true), I also feel called to share what I have learned from my experience with pain and immobility. I foresee addition to my life, rather than subtraction; I envision a man where once I had built a wall; and I anticipate health and vitality where perhaps I had been waning. 

These are months and years that have put me to a strenuous test: However, this is not a situation that demands “pass” or “fail;” rather, it is a challenge that serves as reminder of the nature of challenge. When hardship descends, hearts can open; when Life seems to have come to a halt, minds can persevere. When all seems lost, continue to dream: Therein lies the way through.

’Til tomorrow… 

How to Hang On–Day 16: Be Tired

Gird your loins; grit your teeth; keep your chin up; one foot in front of the other…

So often, to hang on means to tense, to exert, to force, to power on: Yet sometimes, to hang on requires a softening, an easing into what is really happening. Today, after yesterday’s physical pain and emotional concern over my mother’s bout of abdominal distress (heightened by her confused brain), I have entered a mental duality: uplifting relief that my mom is okay, albeit worn out; and sheer fatigue. 

I am tired. 

I am, however, equally, if not more acutely aware of my blessings. In the midst of fatigue, I recognize that I can choose between couch and bed, both of which are clean and warm; despite lack of appetite, I have plenty to eat, should the mood strike; even in pandemic, I have friends to ask for help, and family who supports; and throughout this painful ride of bone-on-bone arthritis in both hips, I remain healthy overall, and with the ability to plod, stagger, and remain upright with the help of two canes.

Each of these scenarios are taken for granted, each and every day, by almost each and every one of us. But when any one of them seems on the precipice of disappearance, their significance takes on an extraordinary quality.

With these thoughts in mind, I feel that I can yield to fatigue. That in itself is a gift: to be tired and to have the choice to give in to it. I need not tense my muscles for aching support; I need not overwork my mind to carry on; and I need not strain my being to overcome. I will honor tiredness and treat it with the soft, gentle touch it so badly needs.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 14: Find Humor, Somewhere, Anywhere…

Today began as most of my days do: tea, yoga, meditation. And, to be perfectly honest, I almost always spend time surfing through pop-culture websites and playing word games: As much as I cherish my exploration of and communication with other realms, this earthbound dimension has some fun distractions.

On that note, one of the things that has proved invaluable during this time of extreme physical pain and mental perseverance is the appearance of humor. When a good laugh lands, I feel astonishingly revitalized. Time without worry or pain is a treasured gift these days; if you can find humor around you, take it in—fully, gratefully, and with a good belly laugh attached.

My cheeks began to ache (i.e., could not stop laughing and grinning) when one of my favorite neighbors stopped to chat; her mischievous mood was clear from the start. As we discussed household goings-on, she asked if I had seen the new framed picture that our landlady had put out on the landing. This drawing was accompanied by a bowl of candy and a potted plant; it was a simple, lovely gesture.

But “MJ” had other ideas: She wondered aloud about putting a silly picture of herself inside the frame. Would the landlady be affronted? Would anyone notice? Was it too much?

Feeling my own mischief stirred, I encouraged the escapade. This is what has become of our days: The smallest bit of nonsense takes on a massive significance; that one, at that moment, seemed like just the right amount of naughtiness.

So, upstairs we went, and into the frame went a ridiculous photo of MJ. The sweet still-life set up by our landlady took on a tone of giggle-inducing irreverence. And my cheeks ached. And my day was made. 

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 11: Start to Say Goodbye…

When I first learned that I had arthritis in my hips, I invoked healing mantras and pointed visualizations to flood my joints with curative power. Then, when I fully accepted that the deterioration of my hips was a one-way street—i.e., nothing I could do would repair them to a healthy state—I began to focus on calming and stabilizing their energy of pain.

Aa of a few weeks ago, my conversations with my hip joints have become even more specific: With surgery in the near future, I am starting to say goodbye to the ball and socket with which I was born. I feel weepy upon writing this, as if the wear-and-tear of my highly physical life is something I need to apologize for, or acknowledge as a misguided path through life. And upon writing that, I recognize that I have done nothing wrong; rather, I made full, exuberant use of my original hips. They have served me well and continue to support me, despite their weakened, rickety state.

So now it is my turn to support them. Throughout each day, I applaud and thank them. Come morn, pre-dawn, upon first wake, I lay my hands on them and pray sweet gratitude into them as I bid a loving adieu. I am mourning their loss, marveling at their past bounty, and preparing the ground for their replacement. Out of their loss will come a fresh start, one that I will heed with newfound wisdom and awe. 

Cheers to what was, and what will be.

’Til tomorrow…