If you read the post before last you will have heard from Adelina about my bad back. (You will also have heard her views on Poetry, but I take no responsibility for those.) I’m pleased to say that I’m now well on the way to recovery and have begun doing things again that for the past few weeks have seemed well nigh impossible: weeding the garden, going out for pleasure, even sitting at a desk. I’m only taking painkillers occasionally and the frozen sweetcorn is soon destined for the compost – though I have still got a rather neat gel pack that you can either freeze or heat up.
The thing about back pain is that it hurts. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such intense pain before, or had such difficulty finding a comfortable position to sit or stand or lie in. What happened was that an old injury from a fall I had in my teens, which normally hardly bothers me, somehow got disturbed. I felt it getting worse for a while, but the final undoing came when I had to empty the old garden shed and then put everything back into the new one. As with so many physical ailments, though, there was another layer. I’d just been through what you might call a romantic misadventure – a relatively mild one – and although nothing very much had happened it shook me up far more than I realised. At my age one doesn’t take these things lightly – not that I ever did. The physical pain and the emotional pain were tightly woven together, creating something that for a while was truly agonising.
As a psychotherapist and the sort of person who has been engaged in self-exploration for most of my life (meditation, Focusing, my own therapy and, in a different way, writing), I couldn’t help knowing that the emotional pain was not only connected with the current situation. Our bodies carry trauma from the past, often from times well before we were able to speak or register it consciously. I was certainly in touch with plenty of that. I’m very lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find good complementary therapists (for those who think I should tie my camel as well as trust in God, I have also got a very good GP) and I’ve been fortunate to have an excellent craniosacral therapist, who has been working with me intensively for the past couple of months. As the pain has gradually lessened I’ve come to the point of cutting down on the sessions, but without them I would have been in a sorry state. Craniosacral therapy works gently but deeply with all that the body is holding and allows it to release, be it physical or emotional or – more usually – some combination of the two. I could have gone to an osteopath or chiropractor instead, except that a previous episode of pain in the injured area some twenty-five years ago was triggered off by some over-zealous osteopathy. Softly, softly seems to be the order of the day.
It’s only in the past week or two, as spring has unmistakably announced its arrival and we’ve begun to remember what sunshine is like, that I’ve started to get my life back properly. Since mid-January I’d hardly been out anywhere except down the road into town, and that only for treatments or shopping or to do a very small amount of work. I’d been having sessions with my psychotherapist on the phone as I couldn’t get to Exeter to see him, and also Focusing with friends via the phone or Skype. I even joined in a couple of meetings with my writing group – which meets in the Bath/Bristol area, some way from here – on Skype. The rest of the time I was in semi-hibernation: feeling sick and woozy with painkillers until the GP found me some that weren’t so disabling; struggling to get through my dissertation marking and other paperwork; reading; distracting myself with emails and Facebook and videos on YouTube; and sometimes feeling able to be with the process in meditation – walking meditation more easily than sitting. Apart from that I was simply trying to manage the pain as best I could – an enormously time- and energy-consuming process.
However, as Adelina told you, I did also do some writing. Not only did I finish the work for the poetry course; I also entered two novels for a competition, one finished and one still in progress, and put together some pamphlets of poems to enter for other competitions. The first pamphlet doesn’t seem to have been shortlisted but I won’t know for some while yet about the others. Completing the poetry course was a real rite of passage – I’ve now got my ‘poetic licence’. I said to my writing group that it was like getting a pilot’s licence, and lo and behold someone came up with the perfect image. Not only is the plane ready for take-off; it looks as though the pilot herself is about to take wing unaided. Ah, the power of poetry!
The whole experience of being confined at home has been in some ways rather isolating, despite phone and email contact with friends. Some people have said it must have been like a retreat, but it was notably lacking in the focus and discipline that I associate with being on retreat. However, it has in its way been a time of regeneration. Coming out of the house again, in the beautiful Devon spring, I’ve been rediscovering a simple joy in the natural world, whether in the gardens at Dartington Hall – for a long time one of my favourite places – or up on Dartmoor, wandering through the woods or stopping to gaze at the wide sweep of hills and fields. I’ve been enjoying my own garden too. Though there’s still a limit to the gardening I can do, I’ve managed to start planting all the plants I’ve bought for a herb bed and a new herbaceous border. I’ve even got a tree peony – a magical plant – for the front garden.
The sense of coming alive again in the spring is always wonderful, but this year I’ve been even more poignantly aware of it. Walking in Dartington gardens, recognising the spring flowers, daffodils, primroses, bluebells, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, anemone blanda, and the pink and white magnolia trees down the flight of stone steps, was both a sharp reminder of previous springs and an exquisite pointer to this moment now, just as it is and unlike any other. The beauty of the setting, the vista of hills and fields and river, the terraced landscaping of the gardens themselves, the fact that just as I arrived a wedding party was assembling, all touched something in me that after a time of solitude and pain was perhaps more open to being touched. Eventually my back told me it had had enough – there’s a little way to go yet – but still it felt like a privilege to have been able to be part of all this: not only the trees and flowers and fields but the wedding guests struggling to carry oars up from the car park for the guard of honour, the bride in her cream silk dress, the families with noisy or curious or bored children, the elderly people with walking sticks hobbling up the steps, the staff bustling about too busy to notice what the rest of us had come to see.
It’s good to be back in life again.