“I’m here, and I’m on the mend, my friend.” ~ On the Mend, Foo Fighters
For almost a year, I’d put off getting my elbow checked out. I was afraid that if I did, I’d be told to stop practicing yoga. But what had started out as a dull ache had turned into a sharp pain, and so I set up the appointment.
I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which for me these days is writer’s elbow. Who knew that writing could hurt? But apparently I had some microscopic tears that only rest could heal.
Why I needed someone to tell me that part of me was hurt and needed rest, I really couldn’t say. But my plan to dismiss the ache hadn’t turned out so great. Of course I was glad for the X-ray and to know that nothing was broken. Still, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d ignored this signal from my body.
Stopping my practice was a very big deal. Yoga gets me out and about, and the schedule shapes my week. Plus, I remembered another injury from before that had been tough to wait out. Back then, I was certain my practice would leave me if I were to leave it first, but in the end it proved loyal. When I got back to the mat it had been there, waiting for me.
Having certainty is no small thing. On the contrary, it’s everything. If I’d been more certain, I probably would have addressed my elbow sooner and not been scheduled for physical therapy. In fact, if I were to look back over the years, I probably would have addressed a lot of things sooner. But certainty is not without its challenges. I can get stuck when I have big doubts, which fills me with anxiety, and that messes with the signals that my body sends to me.
Last winter, when I was out of town, I attended classes on Kabbalah, the tradition of ancient Jewish mysticism. I learned all sorts of things about the meaning of life and about how when we have doubts, we should seek the light. When I returned home, I continued the classes online, but I’d long since fallen behind. Luckily for me, the topics I’d missed were on certainty, and so a decision to catch up now seemed to be timely.
“Certainty is the way to fix your Tikkun,” the Kabbalah instructor says. “It’s what you apply in the tough times to correct the darkness.”
Tikkun is the Hebrew word for correction, and the Kabbalists identify it as the purpose of our lives. And they don’t believe that doubt is a bad thing. We’re here, they say, in order to correct things in our souls, and our doubts are simply the signals for what needs fixing. According to Kabbalah, we are supposed to do this through certainty.
That's not to say that we need to be certain of knowing exactly what to do, because sometimes we just don’t know. All that’s called for is the certainty that one day we will.
If this is true, then it means that it’s okay if we can’t fix a problem right away. We can allow ourselves the time to rest and mend, so that we can be calm enough to let the answers in. And this, I think, makes for a compassionate plan, especially when we find ourselves having to begin again.
And so I did my best to remember all that and to view my break as a finite amount of time. I was certain that it would begin and it would end, and that after that my elbow would mend. This made everything so much easier. I watched movies and caught up on television. I went on walks and out to dinner. And I even got the chance to catch up on my sleep.
In the end I was away from the practice for two months, until one day while traveling I realized that my elbow was better! It was finally time to come back.
I awoke early and walked to a familiar studio just around the corner from where I was staying. The streets were empty and the sun was barely up. It was my favorite time of day. I checked in and put my belongings in a locker. I’ve always gotten a little confused with the locks at this studio, and, as usual, I accidentally scrambled the combination. When I entered the practice room, I knew that I’d need some help at the end if I were to see my things again.
I rolled out my mat in front of the mirrors in the big empty space. The heat felt good, and so did my mat! I sat for a while and then braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And that’s when I looked around and noticed that I was still the only one there! Someone popped her head inside the door, and I asked where everyone was.
“The class is in the other room,” she said gently.
A rookie mistake on my part, but I told myself that it was okay as I gathered up my mat. I was giving myself a pass on my first day back, figuring I needed to be as gentle on myself as the practice I was hoping to have. I followed her out the door and into the other room, where everyone except for me had already known to be!
I have to admit that, even while studying the topic of certainty, it was hard to keep all of my doubts at bay. But the practice was indeed gentle, and my elbow was feeling okay. And so I made plans with myself to come back again the very next day.
And this time I set my locker combination correctly, and I chose the correct room, too. I settled in among the others and braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And then I laid back on my mat to wait for the class to begin.
But still I was bothered by a niggling doubt. It’s hard to admit, but before I came back I had started to wonder whether I still belonged on my mat. I sat up and checked my reflection in the mirror. Why was I questioning my loyalty? And what were those puckers on the sides of my top? Uncertain and without answers, I dismissed such questions and made myself lie down again.
And then the instructor walked in and it was time to begin, and right away the practice started to work. The flow was more rigorous than the day before, and I relished every stretch and every fold and each release after every hold. The poses awakened all of my muscle memory, and I moved with what I can only describe as an inner certainty.
And this is why I always come back, for certainty is a gift, and the practice is precious because of it. When I practice, the movement smooths out all of my puckers of doubt, even those that had appeared with my shirt inside out!
And this gives me the chance to heal my Tikkun, because for the moment my questions are gone. And then at the end I get to lie down again, and I’m certain I’m where I belong.