“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of of the heart.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
I read this Pema Chodron book several years ago, and her image of armor has stuck with me. I’ve tried to take off my armor along and along, and during my cancer journey, I was especially aware of the armor I have – the stuff that needs to come off if I am to be open and loving and happy. But I find that I take off armor, and then put it back on, or put on a new piece.
It sure seems to be an ongoing process. I can tell I’m armoring up when I feel my heart space close and my shoulders tighten to protect it. So I try to breathe into it, to let my heart space open and to be receptive. But because I had breast cancer and the surgery was actually close to my heart space, I could feel myself protecting that heart area during the past year or so.
I became especially aware of that yesterday when I went back to my surgeon for my seventh (yes, seventh!) aspiration of the seroma that formed where the surgeon cut out the tissue of and around the cancerous tumor. After my surgery and during the second round of chemo and then radiation, I knew I was hunching my shoulders, protecting that wounded area. I’ve consciously tried to open up, to hold my shoulders back, to do some yoga to stretch my chest so that I can stand straight and not hunched over. But the pain after yesterday’s seroma aspiration made it clear to me that I had actually been hunching over because it physically hurts to stand up straight. That standing straight stretches the literally wounded area and makes it hurt.
Which takes me back to my word for the year, “nurture.” I realize that I need to nurture myself even as I take off my armor. And maybe my feeling physical pain is connected with letting myself feel emotional and spiritual pain.
Or maybe pain is pain, no matter the source. If I can take off the armor and let the softness of my heart be unimprisoned, be open, be receptive, maybe my physical healing will be more complete.
I’m going to let myself hunch over and protect this tender area until it’s not so sore, and then I’ll work on taking off armor little by little, standing straight, stretching, opening. Maybe this way I can nurture myself and also grow and open when the time is right.
After all, flowers know when to bloom – and don’t do their blooming all at once. They know to stay in a bud at the beginning, and only when the weather is warm and nurturing do they open up completely. I’m thinking that coming spring will be good timing for me.
For opening, for taking off some armor.