For the last three weeks, I’ve been dutifully reminding myself of inspiring words I’ve read over the years in defense of failure. Failure, some say, is essential to discovery, creativity, openness. Without risk there is no progress, and with risk comes the possibility of disappointment, and the occasional flop.
Yes. Okay. I get it. Still, the message does little to ease the fears that punctured my spirit in the wake of a recent hiking accident that left me with a broken elbow and a fractured mood. I’m raging against the heckling taunts of my own many voices--the voice that wonders how many falls it is going to take for me to learn to walk with awareness as well as vigor. The voice that asks if perhaps it’s time to give up this insistence on pushing back against the cautions of age. A voice that wails in anguish and the one strikes back with righteous indignation at a teacher who fails to remember her own teachings.
Over and over I play out the scene: 6 am on a bright Tucson morning I’m in a group of early risers heading out for an 8-mile walk into the Sabino Canyon. Two guides from Canyon Ranch resort accompanied us and set a brisk pace. Uncertainty assailed me almost immediately. I did this walk the first time 20 years ago and have returned over the years to savor the rewards it delivers—a great workout in a spectacular setting. But would I still be able to keep up the pace? Was I pushing my luck? By 20 minutes out, I was secure in my body. A steady rhythm had settled into steps and breath. I don’t know when my focus drifted. I didn’t notice the rock, partially submerged in the loose gravel of the path.
The fall jolted me to the core, hurling me into a murky funk of self-castigation, grief, uncertainty. This is my third broken bone in five years. What does it mean, this relentless cycle that stops me in my tracks? What does it bode for the future? What further losses does aging hold? Ten years of treatment for osteoporosis has done little more than slow the deterioration. Yet, I refuse to view myself as “fragile.” Refuse to take the easy path.
In the days immediately following the fall, I strolled the grounds of the resort with cautious steps. On previous visits, I hadn’t noticed the stone at the edge of a mediation trail—a large rock carved with a message that brought my heart into my throat: “I will be gentle with myself.” Imagine! “I will be gentle with myself.” A personal vow meant not only for me--there must be others who suffer these internal wars, the roiling clash of anger, fear and aspiration.
I'm not sure yet what it means to be gentle with myself. Neither the elbow nor my spirit has fully recovered. But I find comfort in the goal. I credit the stone with giving me courage to share the voices and fears that attack my peace of mind. The stone affirms that I’m not alone in seeking the salve of gentleness.
As I begin to restore range of motion in my arm with gentle flexing and stretching, I imagine that I am restoring as well some flexibility in my approach to life’s ups and downs.
In Healing Walks for Hard Times, I interviewed author Dan Baker who wrote a book about resiliency in the face of disappointment and despair. What happy people know, Baker says, is that they can’t be happy all the time. Bad things happen in life. Sorrows, falls, failures. But when we realize that ups and downs are part of every life, we hold the key to resiliency. It’s another call for gentleness. Another of my own teachings to remember: “I will be gentle with myself.”
Read more of Dan Baker’s insights about resiliency in Week Six of Healing Walks for Hard Times. Sign up above to stay posted on my walks and my recoveries with new blog entries sent directly to your email inbox. Confirm your subscription on an email you'll be sent.