“Thank you God. If this is it, thank you so much for what you’ve given me. I am so very grateful. However, if You see fit to allow me to live and to recover from this, I will do the very best that I possibly know how to, to make the very most of the rest of my life.”
These are the words (as precisely as I can remember) that I said silently as I lay on the side of the road after my accident, my eyes to the sky, not knowing when I’d be found or if I’d even live. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in those times when we are brought to our brink – physically or emotionally – that our instinct is to call out to something greater than ourselves, however defined for us?
Since my spinal cord injury accident I have had the time and opportunity, but most of all the desire, to examine who it is I am, and where I want to go in my life. I have, as part of this journey, found myself more receptive to the exploration of deeper parts of myself, those that make me who I most essentially am. In my quest to seek the highest understanding I can, I have taken time to study, to think, to look at my own experience and to talk with friends, family, co-workers, as well as counselors.
My process of learning has led me back to an image from my youth, to the Greenville, South Carolina YMCA where I began swimming. On the front wall of the Y was a large emblem, a triangle representing three distinct parts of the Self: Mind, Body and Spirit. Honest reflection reveals that my life prior to the spinal cord injury accident focused on two of these three parts: the Body and Mind.
I’ve spoken about my youth as a swimmer, the time and energy I devoted to training and competition. I have always felt grateful for the genes, circumstances and people that allowed for my successes in the pool. Since those years I have been diligent in trying to maintain the highest level of fitness possible. Body is a component of the Self that has played an unquestionably large role in my life.
On the other hand, the majority of my adulthood has been spent focused on the Mind, first through academics and then through the pursuit of my career, which demands ongoing learning and mental exercise. Medicine mandates a great sense of acuity, focus and attention to detail. My chosen profession has made me a man of science, one who appreciates the scientific method and believes in the importance of inquiry, innovation and scientific progress. It has forced me, on a regular basis, to stretch my thinking, to wonder at complexities and possibilities and to seek out answers. I have ultimately grown and benefited from the work I do, and I am grateful for it beyond measure.
During my self-exploration, I have come to realize that the part of me that received the least attention and care through the years, was my spiritual nature. I am not speaking here of religion. I have been a Christian my whole life and I believe in many of the tenets of my faith, but I realize too that a large part of my religious background is cultural, and if my culture had been different, so may have my religion. With this in mind I separate the religious from the spiritual, defining the spiritual as my uniquely personal relationship to the greater whole, to God, to that which permeates and transcends. During my recovery I came not only to understand this force with my head, but to feel it with my whole being, as energy passing through me, in the midst of prayer and during my craniosacral sessions with Debbie Tindle.
I have come to understand this force as and originating with God. I absolutely believe that after my accident and throughout my recovery God was there looking out for me, and is always there. And for some unknown reason this benevolent and intelligent force has seen fit to allow me to get to points further in life than I would have ever dreamed possible. It is my fervent belief that I am not special in any way in this…God, this force and energy, is with and within us all.
I’m still in the middle of my learning, as I believe we all always are, but when I imagine once again that triangle hanging on the wall in the YMCA, I feel that I am moving toward greater wholeness, simply by opening myself to all aspects of my being, giving time and attention to each. I know I would not be where I am today – including having the ability to walk and perform surgery – if it were not for that mysterious, indelible power which guided me academically, introducing me to the marvels and potentials of science, and athletically, building in me a reservoir of strength, self-discipline and focus. All of it – mind, body and spirit – are intertwined, working together with exquisite precision and balance.
For me, not only has the physical recovery that I have gained since my accident been extremely enjoyed and appreciated but the personal growth that has occurred has increased my overall wholeness and fullness of being. My quest now is to encourage, allow and improve integration of all components of my Self, especially the spiritual. This journey of growth has been for me a part of the “miraculous” aspect of the entire experience.
I encourage you to imagine that triangle for a moment and ask: Which aspect of my being do I give the most attention? Which the least? Then come up with one way you can give more attention and time to that which requires it for your overall balance.