The Road to Recovery and Self-Discovery

February 28, 2019
Hilary Leighton
The Road to Recovery and Self-Discovery - School of Environment & Sustainability

In Othello Act 2 Scene 3, Shakespeare wrote” “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” And while my own recent experience is far from a tragedy, it has had its epic and also beautifully painful moments. In mid-November during a typical morning walk with Beau my 155 pound Pyrenees/Maremma cross, in a moment of mindless rambunctious puppy-ness, he and a passel of other hounds, came barrelling at me full speed and quite literally took me out at the knees. It has been a difficult three months of slower than anticipated recovery from a deeply injured ACL; months that featured rest, elevating, icing, physio, massage, Feldenkrais, cranio-sacral treatments, and did I mention rest, elevating, icing? For a high-energy, lively person with at least two jobs and many interests (not least of which is a big dog to walk!), this injury-invitation to myself to stop having the “conversation” I was having and have another one entirely, has been a tectonic shift.

For some time now my coherent identity – part of an abstracted life -- has been drifting further from what I understand to be my truer course. Carl Jung said we are mostly of two minds – the one we show the world (persona) and the one we are having the real conversation with right now (soul). A necessary disappearance (orchestrated by my beloved companion) allowed me time to sift and sort through the stories I had been telling myself, to choose what was and wasn’t necessary for me to carry forward and in this way, I have come back in a different form. For a time, I felt like the self that was – in the words of poet David Whyte – “no self at all”, sitting with an injury where a radical letting alone of things (without trying to name, strategize, plan or pin things down) allowed for a different more essential conversation to emerge. I was forcibly slowed to pace of noticing things that might otherwise be missed. I had been granted a state of friendship with the unknown (for a change) that illuminated the absurdity of my own assumptions that my life would go this way or that (and that I was in charge). Instead, I found myself lying in pile of beautiful ruins, in humiliation and humility, in the midst of the phenomenology of change, without reward, without agenda. I simply could not “carry on” as before. The act of saying “no” to my life (albeit forced upon me) was in the end a bigger “yes” to what has appeared. But along the way, during dark moments, who knew?

An early silver lining came in the form of noticing that my nearly 90 year young mother -- a fiercely independent person who seems to need nothing at all, was in fact in need of more care and less stress herself. Early conversations and slight but elegant changes in the way we live, alleviated some of that. Rather than worry about the work I had mounting before me, I worked away at things one-at-a-time until (for the first time in perhaps a decade), I have finally caught up (at least in this moment). The ability to multi-task is vastly overrated and my appetite for it has disappeared. I have read full books again. I am now more aware of how my body craves aerobic exercise in order for it to be its resilient, brilliant self and I won’t let another decade go by without falling in love with this way of being in friendship with my body and the world again.

This has also been at times a call to go against myself. To call upon a more generous part of myself, that place just beyond myself where I can be more hospitable to the stranger in me and cultivate an inward symmetry to my outward appearance. I believe my future self will thank me for this extent experience with its important teachings to: go slow and steady, take small steps for greater gains, dance one day forward and one day back, rest deeply, pay attention and notice. This reminds me of all profound journeys (thesis included) that shape and humble us, that slow us to notice, that reveal what was hidden (that needs light and air), to show us wise ways of walking in this world and most of all, to listen deeply and profoundly for those beautiful disturbing questions that shape us if we tend to them and don’t turn away. In this drama, I was asked to not only move through the physical trauma but the trauma of letting go of some of my old ways to arrive at the other side of myself (something more like reality and less like the delusions of a more youthful time trying to preserve its immortality). I might not go so far as to speak of the “gift” of this wound quite yet as I am still “feeling” my way step-by-step to full health and there are still daily twinges of pain, however this has been an incredibly rich time. And as in all journeys – and now I really do mean the thesis journey, I believe there is place we arrive in the end that we cannot get to by following any map, timeline or strategic plan, that cannot be met by early knowings and is instead found only through the practice of undoing (and often under cover of necessary darkness), where what finally appears – the joy and radiance we already carry within us, is the greater reward, the mastery itself, manifest in the way we can more truthfully live in this world.