I went to bed the other night with a slight twinge in my right shoulder blade, a common problem for me. I use it as a barometer, sometimes, of my activity level. If I start feeling pain in my shoulder from my old backpacking injury, it means I'm sitting in front of too many screens. Time to take a walk, time to get moving.
But the next morning I woke up with a jabbing pain behind my right shoulder blade, a constant throb that feels like it connects to both my spine and my neck, looping around my shoulder joint in the meantime. I've always been one of those people who (as much as I try not to) look down on those who let pain stop them. It's one of the reasons yoga has been so helpful to me, but even then, I think: they must not have been listening to their bodies enough. With some Protestant work ethic and some good Calvinist stick-to-it-iveness, they could snap out of it. No complaining. Work through the pain—push harder, soldier on.
Admittedly these are things I did not know I believed until I started experiencing constant stabbing pain for going on five days, pain that makes it impossible to sleep or to sit or to stand still. I'm on my second day of ice, but I worry increasingly that I won't make it to 2014 and Obamacare before I need to see the inside of an MRI machine.
I also begin to search for what I'm doing that is causing God to punish me, as I do whenever I experience suffering, another firmly held belief contradicted by my stated conscious beliefs. For someone who is supposed to believe in ultimate grace, I believe a whole hell of a lot in karma. What unknown sin have I committed? Is it because I have gained weight this year?
Because of course that's immediately where my mind goes, what I blame everything on. If only I was a svelte 00 nothing on my body would hurt. Babies have starved to death while I have padded fat molecules with egg rolls, ranch dressing, ice cream.
Or is it the sin of pride? For having the audacity to teach a new yoga class when I am a year out of practice? For braving the role of teacher when my own practice, thanks to angst and loneliness, has been dying on the vine?
Is it because of yoga itself, because I've deemed it an acceptable choice of exercise, disagreeing thereby with the orthodoxy of the Southern Baptist convention? Because I disagree that yoga is of Hindu descent and thus of the devil? Is it God's way of telling me that yoga is merely Satanism disguising itself as aerobics class?
Once upon a time a 26-year-old girl walked 3000 miles in two years, while carrying all she needed for life on her back. Her walk was a pilgrimage, a rebellion from the broad path, a way for her to discover her inner callings and gifts. She failed to defend herself against injury. She continues to fail to listen to her own body, the gift that yoga gives her that she continues to deny. She injured ligaments, sprained tendons, tore muscle fibers, built scar tissue—in her shoulder lives the memory of that journey.
Can I blame her? Is it punishment? Or is it merely consequence?