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How to use physical injury as an opportunity for spiritual growth

INJURY
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Little did I know my usual morning run would be so enlightening.

I stepped outside on a frigid morning, with the wind chill below 20. As I took off on my usual Wednesday morning run, I did so with added hesitation. The previous Saturday, at the very end of a long trail run, I had twisted my right ankle pretty badly on a root hidden beneath the fallen leaves. It was painful and hard to walk the rest of the day, and although the time that followed brought an improved gait, I was still unsure about how my leg would handle a run, especially a longer one.

But it wasn’t the first time this had happened, and each time before, increased time and movement brought about a full recovery. So, on this particular day, after a few minutes walking, I decided to take off at a reasonable pace.

Initially, I was pleased that the pain was bearable and that nothing seemed to be significantly uncomfortable or interfering with my typical running pose. As I settled into the run, I was quickly reminded of a previous lesson I learned years prior when recovering from the same injury. On this run, I had relied too much on my lower calf to compensate for my twisted ankle, and suddenly I felt a tear in that area that left me in a worse place. So, as I settled into my current run, I reminded myself that I needed to endure a certain level of pain in trusting that my foot and ankle could manage this, so that I didn’t compromise other healthy areas of my leg.

As the run continued, I felt acutely aware of different sensations and changes in my ankle and foot, but I also found myself increasingly grateful for the unseen strength all around (and even in) the affected area that was allowing me to move as I was. Although I had long been someone who anxiously searched for physical weaknesses, on this particular morning I chose to focus more of my energy and attention on the areas that remained strong and pain free.

As I did this, I noticed a gradual sense of peace emerge, and an awareness that my initial reservations about the run were gradually subsiding. The discomfort continued to some degree, and at times I noticed different pulling or stretching sensations, but these were subsumed by the awareness of the remarkable strength inherent in the infinitesimal tissue that my naked eye could not see.

As my run entered the final stretch, and I wrapped around Central High School in celebration of Whom I knew was most “central” in my life, I became acutely thankful that I had kept the covenant that morning, and accepted the physical and spiritual challenges even though I so wanted to turn the alarm off and go back to bed. Like so many times before, I was reminded that “not being afraid” always started with a willful resolution to directly encounter our fears, sometimes in the cold, foreboding darkness.

Most days, all of us are recovering from some type of injury. Although sometimes physical in nature, often the injuries we experience are of a social and/or intrapsychic form. Like my early morning run, there is often a desire to avoid a direct examination, or confrontation, with the issues at hand. In doing so, we’re afraid that the pain will only increase and the complications will get worse. Yet so often, avoidance of these situations never allows us to experience a greater awareness and healing that only comes when we move towards, not away, from what ails us most.

Still, even when we do directly address the hurts and injuries we have felt from others, we often seek only to notice or point out the pain and the weaknesses, or rely too much on other aids (such as medication), and become almost oblivious to all the positive, strengthening aspects inherent in the situation as a whole. Just like my tendency to obsess on what might be going wrong with my foot, or depend too much on other parts of my leg, we as human beings often focus on pain and perceived wrongs in a particular situation, and miss out on all the ways that we’ve been supported along the way.

Doing this doesn’t change that a hurt has occurred. My ankle had twisted quite nicely on that root a few days prior. But even greater than the injury was the incredible healing and supportive properties that went into effect almost instantaneously after I felt the pain. Doctors may tell us to use pain meds and ice to reduce the swelling. But that can make us indifferent to the fact that swelling is necessary for recovery to occur. So it is in our relationships —  to get where we want to go, sometimes things get bigger and worse before they get better, as anyone knows hours and even days after a twisted ankle has occurred.

Still, all of this involves a certain degree of prudence and clear cognizance regarding our goal of authentic healing. I knew with my ankle that running hard out of the gate could have resulted in more serious pain and harm. In my desire to be healed quickly, this impatient approach could have landed me in an opposite place. Similarly, in the long run, it’s clear that our will has to be moderated with acute awareness, of both what is wrong and what is so right. Otherwise, every step will be one of greater injury and apprehension instead of one of growing strength and healing. Which was why this particular morning, instead of setting out for my usual destination, just as we so often do in confronting social and intrapsychic hurts and pains, I knew that the movement forward ― at any pace or place ― was what I most needed.

We all want full recovery and healing in our lives, and in our minds this often involves reaching a particular destination or agreement. But in setting our sights solely on a target, it can be easy to wonder why a particular pain keeps reemerging, seemingly reminding us that getting to where we want to go may not in fact be the goal we should seek. Instead, it’s the direct, prudent movement towards our fears and insecurities that enables the healing in mystical ways, in an unseen dimension where our weaknesses are transformed into hidden powers that have always been there.

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