A question that comes up a lot in healing modalities is “How long will this take?” When people ask this I feel a sense of sad frustration accompanied by some resignation and often more than a bit of astonished bafflement at the depth of urgency and disconnect usually implicit in the question. It comes from a place of ‘hurry up, body, let’s get this over with so I can get back to do, do, doing. I don’t have time for this or you’. People don’t mean, ‘how long will this take to heal?’, they mean, ‘how long will this inconvenience me?’
Here is a story to illustrate this:
I was working in onsite/chair massage at a local university and a young twenty year old came in for a 30 minute treatment/massage. One of the great things about massage therapy and bodywork is that we have time to hear people, to listen to their stories and what is going on with them. This woman had had a sports injury and then had gone back out to play before she was fully healed and had re-injured herself. She repeated this a couple of times. She was in acute and significant pain on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that this is an EXTREMELY common occurrence. Please substitute university, gender, and age as it applies. I explained to her what was wrong and what she needed to do to heal, including, and most importantly, taking a break from all high impact activities. She asked me how long it would take and when I told her that if she followed my treatment plan and gradually increased activity, it would take about six months, she exploded (predictively) in horror with, “Six months!!! I can’t do that!!!”. I gently reframed for her that six months in the context of her health for the rest of her life was barely a blip in her radar screen.
I call this the Pied Piper Syndrome. Briefly, the story of the Pied Piper recounts the events in a town overrun by rats. Personally, I think this alone gives you a sense of the imbalance already inherent in this community. Why don’t they have enough cats to deal with the rat population? In any event, along comes a Pied Piper and tells the community that he can rid them of the rat problem for three bags of gold. The townspeople are desperate and so agree. The Piper plays his pipe and all of the rats follow him. The music guides them into a crack in the mountain near by which closes after them, freeing the village of rats. However, when the Piper comes to collect, the leader of the village, in agreement with the community, refuses to pay. The Piper warns them 3 times and after they continue to refuse, the Piper begins a new tune and all of the village’s children follow him into a different crack in the mountain, (because he is not evil, after all), and now the town’s people have lost all of their children over three measly bags of gold.
This is how we have learned in our culture to treat our bodies, just like this village treated the Pied Piper. We want what we want now and we do not want to pay a fair price for it, so we end up paying more. A LOT more. We lose sleep, quality of life, our relationships with those around us and, ironically enough, our earning power. We also lose our ability to enjoy life and to age with grace and dignity. Pay the Piper. Give your body time to heal and so gain more riches. Take the long view.
This is a cultural phenomenon that has, at its roots, the underlying belief that our bodies are a commodity, separate from us and disposable. We literally treat our bodies like slaves. This is not hyperbole. Think about this: we do not allow our bodies to stop to eat when they need to, sleep when they need to, drink water when they need to, relieve themselves when they need to. We do not provide adequate or nutritious food. We push and push our bodies past what they can endure and then blame them when they can not go further. We whip and beat our bodies with our thoughts of anger, judgement and criticism. We do not pay our bodies a living wage, if we pay them at all. We put poisons of all sorts into our bodies and expect them to work and perform without fatigue or needs of any kind and when they finally cannot endure or adapt any longer we curse them and ask our healthcare providers, “Why is this happening to me? Why is my shoulder, leg, back…(fill in the blank) doing this? Can I just leave my (fill in the blank) here and come back when you’ve fixed it?” I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has literally said that last one to me.
Sadly, I am not exempt from this syndrome. I was born into this same global, dominant and dominating culture of ‘use thoughtlessly and then throw away. The bottom line is money’. I remember having a recurring dream in my thirties of my ‘bank account’ being overdrawn. I knew what it meant: that I was using more energy and resources than I could afford. I was not able to stop. I could not see a way to honor this dream and raise my daughter while owning and operating a business. Even knowing all I knew at that time and have learned since, I could not find an off ramp or even a slow lane. Even as I advocated for the bodies of my clients and did my best to walk my talk, I was not able to, in this culture, attend to my body’s need for care to the degree that would keep my ‘bank balance’ in the black.
Sadly, I am in good company. I have stories too numerous to recount, including several pregnant women who were working full time, caring for a toddler, married and running a household and when I asked them what they did for fitness they would tell me sheepishly, “I practice yoga three times a week…I should be doing more.” When I asked further, of course the yoga they meant was a very active, exercise based style. When I told them no, they should actually be doing less and maybe they could exchange one of those yoga sessions for a yin yoga or a calming, gentle practice of some kind they would go very quiet and often break into tears.
As with all cultural issues, the good news is the bad news: treating our body this way is a learned behavior and so can be unlearned. It is not easy, but I know we can change our evil, grasping ways and pay the Piper upfront. What does this mean? This means backing way off and treating our bodies as the sacred vessels they are and not as slaves. It means giving our bodies kindness, nutritious food, clean water and air, rest and sleep, and gentleness, lots and lots of tender gentleness. It means attending to our bodies and our psyches, which are not separate, with appreciation and friendliness. It means giving our bodies time, which, contrary to what we have been told, is NOT money. Time is sustainability, time is care, time is loving attention. It means that when your body ‘can’t sit at the computer for more that 4 hours without pain’ you say to yourself, “That sounds reasonable,” instead of “Fix me so I can sit in one position for 8+ hours without pain.”
We are a product of our culture, but, by the same token, our culture is a product of us. I am so thankful to the younger generations because, as with ALL younger generations they just will not tolerate the B.S. the older ones did. Less and less of us are willing to stiff the Piper. This is Good News. Let’s support each other to pay the Piper with gratitude, grace and good will. We can do this while we snuggle with our cats who naturally keep those rats at bay.
Image credit: Martha Boers/The Antique Lilac