Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Calling

Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance; and there is only the dance. --T.S. Eliot

People always say "follow your heart," but it was my body that led me to the career that became my life's work. I wasn't one of the lucky ones that knew what they wanted to do from the time they could speak. I think most of us are still looking for our "calling," or have given up looking, and settled for whatever pays the mortgage and gives us two weeks' vacation every year--I can't blame anyone for that, because I did something similar for years. For myself, I'd already graduated with a degree in creative writing, which I loved. There's nothing more satisfying than churning out a new poem or short story or blogservation on whatever is uppermost in my mind that day. And it gave me the chance to make the world my playground. It was my way of settling.

But my true calling, my entry into the world of Rolfing, came about because my body demanded attention. Childhood injuries and accidents--a broken leg on the ski slopes at 3 years old that meant re-learning how to walk, numerous falls from my horse, landing on my head while jumping on the trampoline in our backyard, etc--left me in chronic pain by the time I hit my early 20's. And nothing seemed to help. I sought relief through chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and loads of ibuprofen. It was all temporary. If anything it only held back a rising wave of symptoms: I began to suffer constant neck pain, daily migraines, and sharp, stabbing nerve pain beneath my shoulder blades. My early 30's found me dependent on ibuprofen and alcohol to get through the day. I still exercised, but everything I did involved bolts of pain shooting through my head, neck and upper back.

I first heard about Rolfing from my mother, who mentioned it several times over the course of a year or so. I ignored her at first, because of course I'd never heard of it anywhere else, and who ever listens to their mom? Weird word, anyway: Rolfing. It sounded like somebody was going to throw up on me. But eventually I tried it out of desperation--just one session--seeking relief. I told the Rolfer about my neck and back pain, but he spent most of the session working on my chest and my ribcage, and a little time in my arms--what the hell was he doing? was the question that kept reverberating through my confused brain. But after I paid him and drove off, promising myself I'd never come back, a strange sense of openness, freedom and relief coursed through my entire being. I realized I was breathing, truly breathing deeply and effortlessly, for the first time in years. My head sat atop my neck, and my neck atop my shoulders, without strain. I was overwhelmed. I had to pull off the freeway, get out of the car and walk around, to make sure I wasn't losing my mind. Breathing. Just breathing.

Still, it took several years before I decided to go to Rolfing school. I kept writing and waiting tables, and I didn't go back for another session until I'd moved a couple more times, back and forth between Anchorage and Austin, and traveled to Africa and Europe and India. I was on the run. I resisted my calling, refusing to hear it for what it was; after all I was already doing something I loved, which allowed me to travel the world, and to stay several steps ahead of my true self, which was crying out for something deeper and more fulfilling than what I was doing. I was having fun, freewheeling it all over the globe. But when the migraines started in again, this time worse--numbing half my body and striking me periodically blind--I finally hit the wall. I applied to Rolfing school and packed myself off to Boulder, Colorado, for school in 2008.

It hasn't been easy. It hasn't even always been fun. Rolfing has put me on uncertain ground. I never know what's coming in the door on any given day, or how I will respond to what people bring to the table. Clients have presented me with challenges I never thought I'd face. I've worked with finely-tuned athletes, circus performers, opera singers, exotic dancers, cage fighters, weekend warriors, professional weightlifters, infants, pregnant mothers, and people dying of cancer. My oldest client was 89, my youngest barely two months old. Every single day this work puts me in the trenches, demands my best, and if I don't take care of myself like a professional, then I can't show up for my clients and give them the attention and care they deserve. But if I do show up, then each person has something to teach me, so that I'm constantly learning. This is the beauty of working on uncertain ground: if you are willing to admit that you don't know, then there is so much to be learned. Writing, my first profession, is the same way. I never know, when I sit down with my laptop or a pad of paper, what exactly is going to show up on the page. I just have the tools. The rest is--well, magic. It's a dance. It's a process of learning to be still enough so that the magic can show up. That's all you can ever do. Everything else revolves around that still point. You must give it precedence before all the other beautiful, crazy, miraculous, mundane shit can fall into line.

So it is in work, and so it is in life. Be still, the scripture says, and know that I am god. Or perhaps just: be still, and know. The rest is merely noise. It will dissipate, the more familiar you become with stillness. And then the dance will begin.




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