This is what I recommend: When you talk about a symptom, make it the pain instead of my pain–the pain in my head, the pain in my stomach, or the pain in my back. At the same time, you should own your body parts–that is, my head, my stomach, or my back. But don’t say my arthritis, my multiple sclerosis, or my Parkinson’s disease. When you do, you’re just solidifying dysfunction as being a part of you.
–Dr. Darren Weissman, The Infinite Power of Love & Gratitude
The other day I winced during physical therapy, not so much because my PT was rolling a hard stick (cleverly deemed The Stick) down my IT band like a rolling pin on cold dough, but because of what she said to another patient: You’ll want to bend toward your bad leg.
“Your bad leg,” eh? After all this time, I’m still mentally editing other people’s words. How about that.
I have the tendency of being overly cautious when phrasing certain things. Stuck between two religions as a young girl, I balked at both and became superstitious for a spell, careful to form my wishes as air-tight as I possibly could. No way was I going to be the fool who accidentally conjured up a frog instead of a cute boy to kiss. (I got neither.) Since that time, I learned about cause and effect in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism; we make causes with every thought, word and action we create, and every cause has an effect. Between that former practice and my current one, I sometimes get tongue-tied trying to word certain things in the best possible way.
A big chunk of my life was spent dissecting words for a living. Being a cookbook editor meant I had to read recipes from a couple of perspectives: the chef who wrote the recipe into words and the home cook who would be turning those words back into food. I had a strict mentor who invited me to delve deeper, taking nothing for granted. If we used “whisk,” for example, would that lead the cook to pick up an actual whisk to do the deed? I believed so until we brought a few office workers into the test kitchen to prepare some recipes. Sure enough, we had a spoon-whisker in our crowd, to the smug satisfaction of my boss.
Words divorced themselves from me a couple of years ago. When I lost that position, it was the beginning of a strange time for cookbooks and publishing in general. Books started to compete against the many forms of web recipes. Language in general seems to have taken a hit over the past few years, hasn’t it? More and more I found myself putting away my editing eyes, tolerating the lol’s and lack of punctuation that we see in status updates and text messages. Similar to the result of some bad breakups, I ran into the arms of something else, leading me to the tangible power of massage therapy.
But my estranged words found me anyway. As I dug into my anatomy books, I was led to books such as Dr. Darren Weissman’s The Power of Infinite Love & Gratitude. In it, he writes about neural-linguistic programming, or NLP, which asserts that the language we use has great impact on our nervous system. Owning pain, my arthritis or my bad back sends a message to the body. It correlates with the law of cause and effect, too. What are we putting out there? Who or what is listening? How can we be sure the result will be as innocuous as we assume? Circling back to my PT and how she so casually phrased her directive, I’m wondering if I should try to catch and correct her the next time I hear something like that. The physical therapy facility is a healing environment, after all.
The other week I wrote a bit on pain and how some people deal with it so bravely. It may not always be that simple, though. In comparing notes with my sister about back pain (notice I didn’t write our back pain), I realized that she’s lived with it for so long, she’s almost taken pride in it. I worried that pain has become part of her identity. And maybe it has; that seems only natural when it’s been such a big part of her life for so many years. But then she said something that gave me hope. I see this pain as a guest that’s overstayed its welcome. I laughed. Maybe it’s finally time for it to go. And maybe she’s ready for what happens after that departure. As for me, I’m slowly getting to the bottom of why my healing, resilient back happens to hurt me right now. One carefully selected word, one PT exercise at a time, I will get there.