“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” —Ovid
I have spent most of my life fighting pain. To the point that I don’t really know what it feels like to not have the sensation of pain buzzing around in the periphery of my consciousness. I say “fighting pain,” because it’s literally been a fight for my joints by my muscles. This is something I’ve only noticed recently, in the course of some intensive deep tissue massage work and by using foam rollers on the stubbornly tense muscles of my arms and legs.
The very structure of my body has been shaped by its own attempts to thwart joint pain. I’ve activated muscles in my thighs and calves that guide my knees when I walk, muscles in my upper arms that adjust the way my elbows bend, muscles in my forearms that restrict the movement of my wrists. These muscles are thick and ropey, unexpectedly tight. It is as though my body has developed its own internal splints. I notice that these muscles are in a state of hyper-tension all the time, not just when they’re in use. They are vigilant for me, even when I am not aware of it. My body has been trying to protect me, but it can only do so much.
As I try to convince these helpful muscles to relax, because they have now begun to overcompensate and cause pain, I am reminded of something my father told me once. He said that if I was ever in a car accident and knew I has going to be hit, that I should go limp, like a rag doll. That my inclination would be to tense up, but that this would ultimately result in more damage to my body. It’s like holding a cup of coffee in a moving vehicle—you have to make your arm soft and let the cup move with the movements of the road (or water, or air… and the liquid!) rather than against them.
Which makes me wonder: How can I “go limp” in the face of pain more often? Can I do it in response to any negative feelings or sensations? Maybe this is a kind of picking one’s battles; knowing when to tense up and when to go limp; knowing when your opponent is looking for resistance or looking for passivity; being the water rather than the stone.