I share Wednesday mornings with my friend Sharon. I drive up to the foot of Hot Spring Peak where she is living on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation with her ninety-year old Grammy, her teen-age twin girls and her 22-year old daughter, Sarah, who is her caretaker. Her father, his wife, and their two boys live in the house nearby.
The drive is a short twenty minutes from home through our beautiful countryside, past huge valleys of pasture lined with groves of live oak and manzanita trees. Horses and cattle graze on the Warner Springs Ranch and I see an occasional hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail. The through-hikers are north now, in the cooler High Sierras, but day hikers still walk the trail as our temperatures climb into the summer range.
I drive past the fascinating rock outcropping known as Eagle Rock as I approach the “res.” I wave to the gate guard as I enter and make the left turn up the steep driveway to Sharon’s house. The yard is a beautiful wild landscape of cactus and fruit trees, flowers and small structures. As I walk down the steps to the back patio, the hummingbirds at the collection of feeders bring a smile to my face and the wind chimes play their melody on the breeze.
I open the door, stick my head inside and call a soft hello. She is there, sitting up in her hospital bed. The massage table has been set up in anticipation of my coming. Sarah comes in from the kitchen, her quiet beauty and strong nature (gifts from her mother) strike me every time I see her. Sarah’s path has brought her to a powerful door and she is walking through it with grace and courage. She greets me with a hug…I want to hold her tight and tell her something that will bring more light to her day. I ask about her birthday party of last week and she smiles. Sharon talks about all the friends that came and the great food they enjoyed.
I sit on the sofa next to Garfield, the big orange tabby cat that is Sharon’s constant companion. He is sleeping but lifts his head to acknowledge my touch. I hear him say as he resettles himself, “She is one of the “okay” ones.” Garfield is like a sentry; Sharon’s feline bodyguard.
Photos of family and friends cover the wall behind Sharon’s bed. I look at the smiling faces of her five children at their various ages. Gazing at the pictures of this tightly knit family, I think about the support network they have created for their mother, daughter, sister and friend who loves them fiercely and has cared for them so well.
Sharon begins to tell me about her experience of the past four days since I was here last. Her story is of pain in various forms and about the therapies and body positions she uses in her attempts to relieve it. Her physical world has become small. Mostly she is on the bed, with occasional trips to the bath for treatments and soaks, and maybe a brief walk to the kitchen for food or a cup of tea. When Sarah needs to leave, Sharon tells me she stays in bed and shifts her body searching for the spot that will allow a few moments of relief and relaxation before the ever-present pain returns.
When Sarah is there, they employ body therapies like castor oil packs, cryotherapy and massage, which may give temporary relief. We share a common story: when ill or in pain, we therapists often forget the very things we tell our clients with the same symptoms. We forget even the simplest treatments we have prescribed hundreds of times. It is as if we get temporary amnesia when it comes to taking care of ourselves. We wonder aloud if perhaps that has to do with the bigger lesson of learning to ask for what we need and learning to receive when we are so programmed to be givers.
The primary location of her pain begins in her low back and travels through her hip and down her right leg, ending in her shin. It burns, throbs, aches and mostly never lets up. Standing is especially irritating and at times sitting and even lying on her back is no better. One of the tumors is on her low spine, compromising the sciatic nerve that innervates her right leg. As I listen, I am drawn to decompress her sacrum. Perhaps the relief of that pressure will be helpful. Humbled by her condition, I know not what to do other than listen to her body and follow its instructions. It seems right for her to stay on the bed today. The table looks too hard and unforgiving. We prop her with pillows, raise the bed a bit and I position my hands and body to do a CST sacral release. Once my hands have met her tissue we both drop into silence. As I listen and follow the tissue, I coach both of us to remain neutral, letting go of our agendas, our expectations and our judgments as best we can. Now is the time to trust the wisdom of her body and invite her “all knowing” to guide us. I remind her to feel the support, seen and unseen, that is here for her. I remind myself of this, as well.
After about twenty minutes, the tissues around the sacrum have softened and I feel the bones drop into my hand as they let go of their gripping. Hoping to gain space where the tumor is pushing against the nerve, I gently traction the sacrum towards her feet. Sharon reports that the pain has lessened and changed its character.
As I slide my hands out from under her body. I encourage her to roll onto her side to see if the change in position feels good. She does and says, “Yes, better.” I check in with my “all knowing”, asking, “What next?”
As I lie on the bed and snuggle up behind her I say, “This is unorthodox, but here I am!” She laughs and asks with pleasant surprise in her voice, “Are you going to snuggle me?” “I haven’t been snuggled in a while!”
I rest and relax into her, becoming a full body of warm support that “has her back.” I feel her soften into me and in a few minutes, I realize she is dozing. As I lie in stillness, I ground and fill myself with the nurturing, nourishing energy of the earth’s field and then expand my field to become a cocoon of loving energy holding my dear friend. I feel the boundaries between us dissolve as our fields unite.
When she moves, I check in with her and we decide to test her for the Garden Essences I brought for her. I administer three of the essences she tests positive for and a fourth that I am drawn to give her. We talk about the wisdom of nature and our gratitude for having been shown this way of co-creating with nature to facilitate healing the human form.
Sharon enjoys being read to, so I bring out the book of poetry by Jennifer Welwood I shared with her last Friday. I open the book randomly and read:
“Freer of our conditioning, we now meet with openness all that we had previously fled from. We discover that everything so met, without grasping or rejection, becomes a doorway to radiant being…”
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lies within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game;
To play it is purest delight–
To honor its form, true devotion.
As I walk out the door, she is sitting up on the bed smiling. I walk to my car sending my intention into the Holy Universe, “Today, I am enough.”