by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

I lay on the couch most of the day yesterday, my lower back in agony, my right arm in agony.

“Damnation,” a part of me thought. “This isn’t supposed to be happening. I’m supposed to be getting better.”

Really? By whose yardstick?

Here’s the piece. Almost nine weeks ago I had rotator cuff surgery. It was a viciously brutal piece of surgical work, my right shoulder was a right awful mess, I took multiple nasty falls due to the meds knocking the crap out of both my shoulder and the meds. Yet I expect to get steadily better, without any valleys in the process.

First of all this is laughable. Any time we have a major surgery, the body is going to heal on its own time, not on ours. If we haul off and injure the surgical site as I did (FOUR TIMES, no less) and cause additional damage, it’s fair to say that said surgical site is going to complain loudly. Especially if my unhappy landings damaged some of the careful work that surgeon accomplished.

Besides that, I’m impatient as hell.

Long before given permission I had my sling off and was moving around, asking my poor arm to do things it wasn’t quite ready to do. Exactly what did I expect?

When given the go-ahead to start using weights at my gym- only on my left side mind you- I went at it with a vengeance. When you put the body into an imbalanced state, you’re likely to pull a muscle.

Which I did, to lovely effect, pulling a rib out of place in my eagerness to get better as quickly as possible.

So yesterday, after three days of genuinely frustrating lower back pain, an inability to exercise, and a right arm screaming at me, I had two nights of very little sleep.

No position worked. On one side, a very angry arm. On the other, a very angry pulled lower back muscle.

Well, SHIT.

Our bodies are miracles of self-healing. They really are. But at the same time, after being invaded by very serious surgical procedure, they need time and patience. I’m not very good with either.

On one hand, I genuinely understand the concept of giving the physical body time to heal. Moving, exercising as we get well moves critically-needed nutrients and oxygen to the tissues that are inflamed and injured. This I fully understand. I’ve had more than my share of experience with epic injuries, and the sooner I start moving the faster I heal. Despite the fact that I’m 65, the mindful diet and consistent movement have gone a long way towards getting me back on the mountain, on a horse, and into my sports very quickly.

But over-eagerness costs. As hard a lesson as this is, the tendency to want to push past the pain and return to normal activities pushed me backwards a bit, which means that full recovery is farther off than I want.

Let’s be very clear here. What I want is irrelevant.

What this teaches me, whether I happen to like it or not, and I don’t in my less-than-mindful moments, is that sometimes time really is the answer. There are inevitable peaks and valleys in the healing process, and it would be foolish to assume an always rising arc of improvement. Whatever arrogance I might harbor (well, I’m not going to slide backwards, you just watch) is inevitably going to come back and bite me in the proverbial ass.

This is not only instructive about my body, but it’s also a great reminder that in all things- the physical body, the spiritual body, the mental and intellectual body- there are law-conformable ups and downs. It is supremely foolish to expect continuous rises, constant improvements. Life just isn’t like that, any more than a robin that builds a nest in one of my backyard ash trees should expect a spring thunderstorm to spare its babies. Shit happens.

Photo by Soner Eker on Unsplash

I regularly experience myself failing, flailing and falling. No matter how old, how wise I think I am, no matter how far I’ve come, no matter what perspectives I may have gained, the only real guarantee I’ve got in life is that I will indeed fail again. And again. And again.

This morning after a particularly evil night struggling to find some kind of sleeping position (I failed miserably) I got up early, as I always do. In the sweet early hours before light, before the day hits the nineties, I can choose to set the expectations for the coming hours. I can be resentful that I’m not already back on my bike. Riding horses. Or I can choose to take it easy, despite my over-eagerness to push myself. I can choose to respect the body’s very clear communication to slow the hell down and let the healing process take its time. Or I can telegraph impatience, anger and unfair expectations to it, which it will most certainly respond to with more pain. It’s a very eloquent vehicle.

Being in the moment, being mindful, which seems to be a very popular topic these days, requires a wholly different level of work. I’m not always very good at it. However each day I’m given the chance to practice. Listen to the body. Listen to my heart. Listen to my soul. The body responds to loving care, patience, and permission to take the time it needs to mend fully. While I do indeed heal quickly, constant re-injuring because of impatience simply extends the whole process further. That’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding me that I’m not in charge here. I have considerable influence, but I don’t run the show. Nature does.

The spring robin, if future generations are to survive, has to rebuild its nest. It’s just life. Nobody is guaranteed anything. Nothing in nature, nothing that lives is promised anything other than the chance to play. I play very hard. I injure. That’s my doing. Nature will heal me but not if I don’t slow the hell down and give Her time. She doesn’t give a good damn if I don’t like it. And she will slap me down hard if I have a disagreement with Her time frame.

by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The true gift here is time. There are times, as all spiritual work teaches, to simply sit and BE. To enjoy the sunrise, which is happening as I write this. The earliest hours are full of promise. The achingly sweet cool of midsummer mornings, mornings that I am dying to begin with long, thoughtful runs, are just as lovely when I sit on my deck and listen to the breezes. Watch the bunnies chew on my lawn. Listen for the sound of the hawk’s wings as she hunts for her chicks.

In the quiet, slow passage of time, we heal. Not our time, Natures time. Whether from a surgery, a hurt, a lost job, a lost love. We heal. It’s a reminder that my work is to cooperate with Her, not make demands that She hurry the hell up. This is just one of the most compelling reasons why spending time in Nature, life’s slow lane, heals us faster than most medicines.

Mother knows best.