I am lying on a long, soft table in a dimly lit room, faint music humming in the background. It is just a few days after my meeting with the minister, and now Lucy, a craniosacral healer, stands barefoot at the side of my table. When I crack open my eyes I glimpse her sometimes moving her hands a few inches above my body. Sometimes, as we murmur our conversation, she stands cradling my ankles or skull so tenderly they could be made of fine gossamer. She is tall and youthful with a crinkly-eyed smile. Our words drift into the air around us.
This’ll be pretty woo-woo, Jeannie warned me when she gave me this session for Christmas. But she urged me to go.
I have told Lucy about my disease, filled out her lengthy intake forms. Now, beginning our healing session, she asks me to envision a place where I want to be. A place, she says, where I feel safe and calm and whole.
My Peace Corps village materializes in my mind. I have been thinking of it more and more in recent months. I miss its quiet, easy pace; the packs of laughing children; the way women curtsey deeply when they meet on the road, clasping hands in long, snapping handshakes as they greet each other. How are you? How is home? How is your family? How is work? How is the farm? Fine, fine, everyone is fine, everything is fine.
In my mind, I walk into my village now. Not as I am today, on this soft table with this disease, but as I was the last time I entered it: healthy, strong, young, able to eat anything, unworried about the distance to the nearest hospital.
Beneath my sandaled feet, I feel the red clay mud of the road. Tea trucks have carved deep trenches and potholes, and I hop and slip over them, my strong legs easily navigating the slick mud, my long skirt lifted in one hand. Lush forest lines the road. Swaying banana leaves, climbing vines, trees bursting with green vibrance. A line of black army ants marches across my path, because this is the rainy season, the season when I last saw this place, and thunderclouds swell in the distance across the blue sky, bright whites and forbidding grays heralding afternoon storms. To my left rises the hill where I live, a smaller road cutting up it toward the school and my house, past the carpenters sawing away in the sun, past the grain mill and the mud brick homes. Opposite that hill, on my right, the first dukas appear, simple wooden kiosks with their tidy piles of rice and beans, tomatoes and onions and, on lucky days, a couple blue packets of spaghetti. Shopkeepers preside in the cool darkness behind counters, barely visible from the sunlit road. Or they sit off to the side, fanning pots over fires, cooking lunch. They grin and wave at me, or curtsey a greeting–Kamwene–and I pause in my tracks to curtsey back, sinking low for several seconds. Chickens peck their way around clumps of grass. A dog lies panting in the shade near the carpenters’ bench.
Lying on my table in Lucy’s office, picturing this scene, longing fills my chest till it aches. It is longing to be there in my village, and also longing to be there in that body, without the undercurrent of fear that has become my dark shadow.
I explain what I am feeling to Lucy.
Tell me more about your fear, she says. She is holding my feet. Her hands feel warm and soothing through my socks.
It’s always there, now, I say. Fear of my disease progressing, or even just of the next flare–I never know when it’s going to happen. It’s scary to know that I’ll be in pain and I don’t know when. I can’t control it at all. I’m afraid of it never getting better, that I’ll always be this limited. That I can’t ever go back to Africa.
Cradling my ankles and toes, Lucy says visualizing myself the way I have–whole, pain-free, disease-free–is an important part of healing. My breath slows as she speaks. Lately, whenever I begin to panic about never returning to my village, the only antidote I can find is to tell myself firmly that I will go back. In those moments, when I tell myself that, I inexplicably feel that it is true. That I will go back. That it simply has to be so.
Now, Lucy says, I want to talk about energy. Can you describe for me how you think energy should travel in your body?
I tell her what I learned in Kung Fu long ago. Our chi, our life force, is housed in our lower abdomen, the center of breath and energy. Life radiates outward from there to all the limbs and beyond.
Good. And how is the energy moving in your body, right now?
I furrow my brow. It feels as though everything is curled tightly around my stomach and intestines, I say. After all, my disease is located in exactly the same place as the chi center.
Yes, she says. Now, imagine shifting that energy flow. Try to reverse it.
I take slow, steady breaths, or try to. They come out somewhat ragged. I have been crying. Each time I try to picture my gut relaxing and my energy flowing outwards, I feel an inner brittleness, like my midsection is only held together with glue and popsicle sticks.
As you do this, Lucy says, you can call on whoever you need to help you.
I picture my Kung Fu teachers. I imagine them standing nearby, over Lucy’s shoulder. Once, after a slow-paced breathing exercise, Sifu Chris had me feel the palms of his hands. They were burning hot. He was controlling his chi, moving the energy outward from his center. He would know how to do what I am trying to do.
I attempt again to relax my clenched belly.
How does that feel? Lucy asks.
Vulnerable, I say. And draining. Like there isn’t much energy to radiate.
That turning outward toward the world, that radiating out, that’s an important part of healing, she says. You might think you should wait till you’re all better before you reconnect with the world, but you can start reconnecting now.
As she says this, I feel a spike of elation, because actually, I have been reconnecting lately. As my energy has increased in the last couple months, I have been eager to make up for lost time. I’ve begun contacting potential employers, and volunteering more, and reaching out more to friends.
But gently, and slowly, Lucy says. Listening to your body along the way.
My elation dissipates. That is the thing I haven’t always been good at.
I want you to talk to your intestines, she says. Aloud, or in your mind. Listen for what they have to say back to you. Just play with this for a few minutes. Have a little conversation.
Feeling silly, I obey, in my mind.
I imagine communicating with that soft, vulnerable place in my center. It will be okay, I think to that place, although I am not sure I believe myself.
Better to be honest. I’ll do my best to protect you, I offer.
What would my intestines say back? All I feel is that clenched feeling. Maybe: We are afraid.
Afraid of what? I ask.
Afraid you won’t protect us.
I am silenced by this thought.
We are trying to heal, they say. They would maybe say.
I know, I think. But have I really understood this till now? For the past year, I have mostly felt frustrated with my body, trapped by my symptoms, as if my immune system and colon have betrayed me. I realize that even though we are supposed to be on the same team, I haven’t always seen it that way.
I am beginning to cry again. I will protect you, I think. I promise. I’ll listen to you more. I’ll take it slow. I feel as though I am pleading with a lover for a second chance.
An image comes to mind: myself, proceeding in life, picking my career and ambitions up like I have been starting to do, but with one hand resting gently on my chi center. On my gut. Constantly checking in.
Lucy asks me how it’s going. I tell her, and she is encouraging. Yes, she says as I talk. Good, she says.
My palm rests on my belly now. It rises and falls with my breath. My center feels more relaxed.
I smile. I just had a funny thought, I say, wiping my tear-streaked face with the back of my free hand. I’ve always wanted to be more connected to myself, and to God. But I never thought that connection would happen through my colon. It’s not as transcendent as I would have thought. But it’s like, God is literally inside me.
We laugh. It is indeed a funny thought. And maybe true.