As someone who is not quite yet 28 years old, I would not initially think that I would have to be worrying about back pain just yet. After all, I eat well, move my body daily through yoga and qigong, and see a chiropractor on a regular basis. So when I began to experience pain and spasms in my lower back two weeks ago that can be best described as crippling and mind-numbing in their severity, I can say it took me quite by surprise. I can vividly remember one instance when I felt a pain so severe in my sacrum that it felt like an electric current exploded up my spine and caused my jaw and teeth to lock. It was so bad I literally saw stars and swear I could actually taste it in my mouth. It took nearly two weeks to finally be back to the point where I could move without wincing, bend over without a lighting bolt shooting up my spine, and walk across a room in under 2 minutes. And during this time I have been reflecting quite a lot about what brought this pain upon me.
Initially, for the first 3-4 days, I was sent into a very negative spiral of the common questions a person may ask themselves when a shift in their health occurs seemingly out of the blue (which of course it wasn’t, but more on that in a bit). Why is this happening to me? I’m better than this! I’m too healthy to be feeling this horrible…But after this initial period of “poor-me” mentality, I took a breath and a step back, and tried as best as possible to meditate on what brought this about. After going back to basics on some of my earliest lessons learned in macrobiotics, I was blessed with a deeper understanding of these foundational truths. And this allowed me to not only accept my current situation, but to do so with an open heart and a grateful mind. I now see that this episode was a gift from my body, and allowed me to move deeper into my understanding and practice of macrobiotics.
There is No Such Thing as “Out of the Blue”
No matter how many times I am taught this lesson, it seems it hasn’t quite stuck yet. Hopefully it will this time! One of the first bits of wisdom I learned as I began studying macrobiotics is that we are all responsible for our health. Nothing just occurs with no reason, for that is not how nature operates. There can be no reaction without an initial action to have caused it to occur. So often in Western vernacular we talk about people who “got” cancer or “caught” the flu. Or that arthritis just “runs in the family” and there was nothing to be done. If there is one thing that practically every holistic philosophy shares in common, it is that we create our reality, and that includes our health. I think the Indian spiritual guru Dada Shri said it best, “The fault is of the sufferer.” I remember when I was first introduced to this phrase, I thought it was a bit mean sounding. But as I contemplate it more and more, I begin to see the incredible wisdom behind its meaning. If I find myself in a state of suffering, I allowed it to occur. I don’t personally believe that this means we always want to become ill, although perhaps that is the case sometimes on a subconscious level, but rather that ultimately the circumstances that lead to our current state of suffering was due to our decisions and actions. I don’t see this as a critical or judgmental state of mind. Rather, a simple truth that forces us to reflect on what we individually did to bring about our current reality. When I began to look back at what I did to allow this incredible pain to develop within my spinal column, what fault I committed, I began to see how I allowed for this to occur. I had allowed myself to become overwhelmed by stress due to the education center I worked for being closed and losing my job as a result. I began to make excuses as to why I should skip yoga today or put off my qigong practice until tomorrow. I would sit in front of a computer for hours on end job searching, working on graduate school assignments, and not giving myself time to rest. I would work right up until bed, so that my head was still swimming when I attempted to sleep which lead to poor quality rest during the evening. This all occurred over a period of about 5 weeks prior to my spasms beginning, so how could I ever think that this just occurred out of the blue?
The Body Always Knows Best
My body isn’t stupid, so clearly it knew what it was dong. That must mean there was something important in this recent episode that I needed to learn or at least experience. The pain forced me to rest, to stop overworking, to take time to meditate and reflect and think gently about these questions. If I wasn’t experiencing this pain, I would have just continued on at the same frantic pace. So my body literally threw me to the ground and kept me from going over the edge of the cliff to something potentially much more severe and serious. And why back pain? Why did it not manifest in some other part of my body or as some other symptom? Considering it was directly in my lower back and causing deep pain in my bones and spinal column, this would be a sign that I my Kidney and Adrenal energy was experiencing an assault by what I was allowing into my life. After deeper reflection, this made perfect sense. I was experiencing Fear due to the impending impact on my income and financial stability, and Fear about finding a new job that would allow me to do the kind of work I wanted to do and still engage in my private work and classes. And I was exhausting my Adrenals through constant work without nearly enough rest and rejuvenation. My body was showing me that while I may be eating well, food is not the end of the story. Macrobiotics teaches us that while food is important, it is just one part of the greater picture of the influences on our health and our lives.
This awareness of not only where the pain was originating in the body was important to not only know how to treat the local discomfort, but also to discern the energetic and psycho-emotional origins of the issue. In this way my body was giving me exactly the information needed to treat the root cause of the pain to and facilitate healing on all levels. Relying only on methods that reduce the symptoms of the pain, even if using so-called “natural” methods, defeats the wisdom of the body. While seeing my acupuncturist was a true Godsend in terms of pain relief and releasing the energetic blockages, if I had stopped there I would not have learned anything. Using arnica gel helped me to sleep at night, but at the end of the day many of these remedies are following the same thought process as just popping an aspirin to kill the pain. My body didn’t create pain just so I could numb it, it was trying to tell me something important.
Getting Sick Doesn’t Mean You Failed
Macrobiotics seems to have been developing a very intense preoccupation with disease management. This is concerning to me, because macrobiotics is not medicine. And while it is a truly spectacular thing that so many physical ailments can be reversed and managed through a macrobiotic approach to life, limiting our application of macrobiotic theories to disease management is the same view that Western medicine takes to viewing the world. Instead, isn’t macrobiotics really about expanding and evolving as a human being, and allowing our individual growth to facilitate the growth and healing of the world around us? Some articles in this very magazine, especially those recent interviews with William Spear and Bill Tara, have articulated this idea perfectly. We have become too focused on how macrobiotics can shrink tumors or strengthen the lungs, and have lost the greater purpose of personal development and expansion of our consciousness to something greater than ourselves. If we keep this more narrow and limited view, every time we get a headache, backache, or stomachache we will naturally feel as though we are failing our purpose and that our macrobiotic path “isn’t working.” But why can’t illness be a part of the journey and important steps on the path to personal evolution? Maybe illness is a requirement to do so? So instead of thinking, “My back is on fire, what did I do wrong?” perhaps I should have been thinking, “My back is on fire. How about that? What is this trying to teach me?” Admittedly, this is easier said than done, especially in the throws of the pain, but that’s the challenge; to stay mindful and present and see the larger picture in all events, even those that we label as bad. If everything truly has a Front and a Back, what is the Front and Back to illness? Couldn’t one side of that coin be a positive and necessary experience? How many people have said that their cancer, heart attack, or other illness was the best thing that happened to them? Developing an illness isn’t a failure, it’s the initiating step needed to get our journey going!
Lessons Finally Learned
Now that the pain has been healed, I have developed a much renewed sense of joy for the moment to moments events of the average day. To be able to get up out of bed without wincing or tearing up makes the day suddenly seem all the more joyful and full of promise. Meals being prepared without pain make them all the more celebratory and enjoyable. And this has certainly helped my mind refocus its priorities to return to placing my self-care and growth above all else, which has (no surprise) only helped me do better quality work in those other areas of responsibility.
I feel all the more relaxed and energized and healthy from this experience. Who knows, perhaps the past two weeks were my body’s way of releasing an old blockage that has now been successfully discharged. And if that is so, than why would I ever have wanted to wish that experience away? I should embrace it joyfully, knowing again that my body is doing its job expertly. Hopefully I have learned whatever lessons I needed to learn from this experience, and can carry that knowledge along the rest of this journey. And if I haven’t, or l lose my way again, I feel confident that my body will give me another loving reminder to help me out. Either way, I know deeply within my soul that whatever it is, it’s exactly what I’ll need at that time.