In the last couple of months, I’ve struggled with a strange ailment. My right shoulder and right side of my neck were hurting and my range of motion became severely limited. I got massages and tried all manner of stretches to loosen it up, to no avail.
Turns out, what was wrong was not a tear or arthritis in a joint, but rather a neurological hiccup. The nerves along my collarbone were not firing properly, which means that my bicep and neck were forced to do the work that the shoulder should have been doing, causing both to tighten up.
One session with a massage therapist was especially striking. She asked me to turn my head slightly and draw a small circle in the air with my chin. Turning to the left, it was easy and created a nice neck stretch. Turning to the right, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that it hurt, but rather I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to make the circle, finally inscribing a weak sort of diagonal nod in the air. Something so simple was completely unavailable to me and I didn’t even realize it. But once I knew it, I chafed with the lack and the pernicious thought: What else “isn’t there”?
When did I lose the flexibility in my back?
Which emotions have faded from disuse? Worse, am I simply missing certain ways of feeling?
What key piece of insight (or even basic understanding) am I laboring without?
Those parts of my life that are unbalanced and unsatisfactory — do they represent a character flaw, laziness or a simple lack of effective communication? Where am I going about the business of living using the wrong muscles?
A few laser treatments and some simple physical therapy reactivated the nerves and my shoulder function is much restored. But I’m still gingerly feeling my way through life, reaching out with my senses and my emotions, searching out those places where I’m stunted and incomplete, reminding myself to be gentle, start small, and practice, practice, practice.