On the Devotion of Self

yo la espero y me envuelve,
y así tú, pan y luz
y sombra eres.

(Pablo Neruda, Oda y germinaciones)

 

I’ve talked about the slow viscous drip of winter before, but it lives within me too, permanently hollowed into my right shoulder. A hollow: an inch and a half wide, my labrum separated from bone. And another, my bicipital tendon dislocated above my rotator cuff. The dull roar of pain. If you’ve ever had an injury that involves the bone especially, you know: it’s a tender, unrelenting thing. I think of it like white noise. A crackle of static that dilutes my attention at any given moment. In this pain there is a meditation. And it sounds ridiculous or maybe even masochistic. But when you have to take slow, the passing of time boiled down into a series of motions, there’s a sort of transcendence. Something very quiet in that space despite the static. I don’t know what else to call it.

In the first weeks after starting physical therapy – before I really knew anything about the damage –  I felt like I had broken a wing. I lay face down on a table and practiced pulling my shoulder blades back, relax, back. This was the fundamental motion to be relearned. (Maybe if I flapped hard enough I would lift off the table and fly, I thought.) It was of course not my first time being injured; I’d dislocated my left shoulder a few months earlier. But it was my first time starting from scratch. Like I was learning somebody else’s right arm. It felt foreign in a way that was terrifying. And it was so noisy. The night I dislocated my other shoulder I had cradled it, refused to use it, carried myself defensively. But now it was like doing that all the time. The static in my head dialed up to eleven. Navigating my daily life was a minefield. And yet, in those simple motions, the relearning of the essentials, there was a quiet, a fluidity, a gracefulness, though it must have looked awkward. Each movement was so well calculated that I felt rooted in my self-awareness. As if I moved through a world meant just for me.

Perhaps it is a silly self-devotion, but I find it a devotional act nonetheless. I am so concretely settled within myself, and in my old friend my new shoulder, that I find meditation in my every movement. To learn oneself anew is an exercise in consciousness. It’s hardly romantic: it’s also an exercise in fear, and sadness, and in loss. When you permanently damage your shoulder at nineteen, of course there’s loss. In that inch-and-a-half hollow rests entire meditations of loss, that have lasted unendingly and worn down. Worn down to my unwinged back, to bone. A quiet place. A self-devotion. I pull my shoulder blades back. I am borne, anew.

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