Yesterday I had one of the most physically and emotionally satisfying days of my life. A day that would have been impossible even last year. I skied all day, from 8am to after 4pm, skied black runs, explored new runs on my own and exploded in a fall that resulted in skies flying and me tumbling and spinning down the slope some distance from my skis…and laughed. And I did it all in the company of friends.
In short, for a whole day I was a normal advanced, intermediate skier enjoying a beautiful day on the slopes with friends, on a beautiful winter’s day in Japan.
Except I’m not. I am someone with a degenerative chronic illness that attacks the central nervous system and has left me in a wheelchair on more than one occasion. I am also someone who has lived in fear for most of her life, fear that has precluded exploring the unknown and being in easy company with friends.
But on the walk back to our hotel I started to feel the familiar leg collapse that can herald the onset of MS. ‘no, it is just the snow crunching underneath my boot.’ Then the unmistakable ache from the right side of my sacrum down my right leg.
I focussed my whole attention on walking, perfectly balancing my skies on my shoulder to require the least amount of effort. Picking up my pace to get there and sit down…and save face (still saving face). I made it to the steps, got down the steps, unloaded my skis, sat down and went into a full-blown MS moment.
The pain, spasticity and dysfunction reminding me that MS is also a part of my story. For a moment, I felt defeated but then as I started the climb up Staircase Mountain, I realised, “I just skied a black run, I can climb stairs”. And I did, one twisted and painful step at a time.
I felt embarrassed to have been so disabled in front of friends who had never seen me like that but they were nothing but supportive, seeming to think no less of me for my disability. I felt emotional, grief for the illusion of greatness I had lost.
And then the tension in my body and mind was unwound with the warm waters of the hotel onsen and the soft presence of my partner. I began to understand that far from taking away any of the greatness of the day, this MS episode brought the remarkableness (it’s a word) of the day into crystal clarity.
MS revisiting took nothing away from what I had achieved it just put the achievements into context of the whole of me, making them...well…remarkable. I began to remember every turn, every run, every explore with awe – “Wow, I really did this”. Gratitude like warm golden honey flowed through my awareness.
And then an even more remarkable thing happened, I began to look at my life from an internal perspective, without external reference points, no comparisons. I began to feel my life from the inside.
I had grown up being the youngest and feeling the weakest, dumbest, maddest etc., comparing myself to everyone to find out where I ranked, always seeking external acknowledgement of worth, rather than feeling it for myself. So much so that for the most part it was invisible. That is, invisible until it wasn’t. Sadly, even friends, family and partners became competitors rather than fellow travellers on the journey of life.
Even over the last ten years of healing, writing and teaching I have not felt the worth of my journey, yet here I was in the bath, feeling my life. This MS moment was a gift, putting everything into place. I could feel the magnitude of my journey. I felt worth and love. And in doing so I felt worth and love in others’ lives.
So today I am feeling my life. Feeling grief and sadness, and so much love and gratitude for the people and events that have carried me to this place, particularly the ancient practices of yoga and my teachers that have facilitated my healing.
I am writing this in a café while my friends have gone skiing in another beautiful winter day in Japan. I have felt emotional while writing, sometimes to the point of tears, but no resentment of my friends, no comparison of their fate with mine. I have felt only appreciation and gratitude for their presence in my life.
It was an impossible day where pleasure and pain were transformed into healing by the alchemy of presence. The possibility available now is greater peace in my mind and my relationship with the world.
Imagine this possibility in your life. What would that look like for you? What would it look like for the world if we lived with the possibility of self-worth derived from inner knowing rather than external indicators of value and status? If we didn’t need to prove our worth by better than others we would be capable of true compassion
I may or may not ski again but if I do it won't be to prove something, it will be for the sheer thrill of sliding down a mountain on sticks of fibreglass, in a beautiful environment alongside fellow travellers.