For a time, about two years – I began to wake up each morning with fists clenched tight. Not just clenched but the tendons in the lower part of the hands, between the fourth and the little fingers, hurting so much that my first feeling upon waking was pain.
OK, it was a stressful time. A bit of jaw clenching and tension in the rest of the body might be expected. But this seemed out of proportion; was I dreaming of fighting or fleeing from something and somehow forgetting those dreams immediately upon waking? No – often as not I did remember a bit of my dreams and they weren’t about that. I started meditating (long overdue) and although this definitely helped assuage my general anxiety, the balled fists and contracted pain in the hands didn’t abate.
I`’d had something not dissimilar before. Plantar fasciitis: if you’re unfamiliar with the condition it manifests mostly as pain in the soles of the feet caused by contractions in the hamstrings. A chiropractor diagnosed it and took great delight in forcibly stretching those tight hamstrings out and attempting to release the tension in them by jamming is thumb into them and digging a sort of trench in them with all the considerable force of his right arm.
He was a giant of a man, so to say this caused me to levitate from the table horizontally with a cry of “ooh yer bastard!” followed by a series of expletives delivered at the top of my lungs despite the proximity of would be patients in the adjacent waiting room (and this a Christian Conservative Texas town). My writhing and screaming clearly delighted my sadistic therapist for he only laughed, held me down and pressed harder. Later, he prescribed me a more human but complicated leg stretching exercise which I tried…but which didn’t really work.
However, something more practical occurred to me. Those who know me know that I spent many years on and off with the San, or Bushmen, of the Kalahari in Southern Africa. Hunter-gatherers, they spend much of their seated time squatting on the haunches, which seems to keep them flexible and youthful in their movement well into old age. It had been a long time, I realized, since I had spent time squatting like that – though I had spent hours in this position when with them – and had fallen out of the habit since my return to Western life. So I started squatting again, making sure I spent about a half hour a day minimum in this position. It worked. The plantar fasciitis went away.
Was that what I needed to do now – stretch my fingers and hands somehow? I tried, spent month trying. It made no difference. Was it age? Arthritis? But it wasn’t a bone thing or a joint thing.
Then I discovered something. Something that worked. Something, on the face of it anyway, quite outside the rational.
It was in the course of interviewing She Stewart, a cranio-sacral practitioner who works of horses and people, and who also specializes in understanding and releasing tense fascia, the half liquid, half solid membranes that keep all our bits in place and also allow them to slide around and maneuver within the body without becoming displaced…if that makes sense. We have two layers of fascia, Shea explained, an outer denser layer, and a deeper second layer that can be harder to reach. I felt a twinge in my gut. Was this what was wrong with my hands? Keeping the fascia flexible and hydrated was key, Shea went on.
Unbidden, a picture appeared in my mind. A river flowing through the body. The body as part of a wider river, flowing, liquid. As this picture developed, I felt something. The familiar tension and pain in my hands, my fingers lessening.
That night, I meditated. As I did so, lying down, eyes closed, drifting a little between sleeping and waking, the picture came again. A river, a river I was somehow part of, which flowed through me, the waters bubbling and cascading freely through my body, my arms, my hands.
I drifted to sleep.
Next morning. no pain on waking. I wondered, lying there, if I had simply woken more relaxed than usual. Tentatively, I tried stretching my fingers back. I won’t say there was no pain there when I stretched the fingers, no tension at all, but less. Much less.
So, lying there between sleeping and waking once more, I meditated once again. A river flowing through me, through my arms, my hands, I dropped to sleep once more.
When I woke again, I realized that the image had permeated my dream – a literal pun. On impulse, I tried something: it had been two years since I’d last been able to put my hands flat together, as if praying. I tried now. They slotted into position. Yes, with a little residual pain, a little resistance from within, but still…I concentrated on that mental image, the river flowing through my hands. They stretched a little further, the pain a little less.
All through that day I kept checking, scarcely able to believe it. My hands. They worked as they should.
That was over four weeks ago – four weeks before the time of writing. I`ve been mediating on that river of the hands ever since. Not only in meditation. At odd moments of the day, whenever the thought crosses my mind.
The river is still flowing. There`s a growing ease to the feeling. An ease that permeates – there’s that watery word again – through the rest of my body, the fascia somehow happier feeling. More joyful. Grateful to Shea for putting the image into my mind, to my mind for receiving the image, I keep putting my hands together to pray, the liquid running through them, bubbling, turning, flowing through and outward, towards the ocean of the spirit, the place from where the waters came.