Psoas It Goes

Lying on the massage table I tried to quiet my mind and to focus on the massage therapist’s hands that were kneading deep into the muscles of my tight hamstrings. I slowly took some deep breaths to open up the pinched places. Closing my eyes, I did a sensory body scan from my tired legs and up through my abdomen, tracing where I knew the circuit of blood and fluid and energy flowed from my feet to my head.

I didn’t feel integrated. I felt like I was two halves that were bisected at my waist – the one half of my torso was weighted in my heavy, exhausted legs and the other half holding a brain that was threatening to float away like a balloon. And somewhere deep in my chest cavity lay a hidden heart, pumping steady and quiet.

And then I tried to visualize the elusive freeway traveling between those two halves, the dynamic systems of tendons and nerves, all the sticky strings that intricately knit my body together.

Our legs are connected to the upper torso though muscles and tendons attached to the pelvis primarily by two very small muscles named the psoas (sO-Az) and they reside deep within our core.They are the strong but elastic fibres that weave through our pelvic bones and actually adhere to the spine, up each vertebrae, joining our lower body with our upper torso.

These little psoas are the key players involved in the action of pumping and drawing blood and lymphatic fluid throughout our entire system and they are small but mighty.They are also connected to our diaphragm and so are a major conduit of our breath.

Which might explain the relationship of the psoas muscle to our involuntary “fight or flight” response. Because it is this stretchy band that is held in suspension, ready to act, to either gird us in holding firm during a confrontation or to activate us when our reflexes sense danger and tell us to run.

In our modern world with its fast pace and high stimulation our poor psoas are probably pretty overtaxed. We’re all on high alert so much of the time, overstimulated and reactive. We’re constantly burning our adrenal and nervous energy willy-nilly. We act like our core fuel will last forever in the same way we delude ourself that our Earth’s dwindling fossil fuels are limitless.

And it is often said that decisions are made with either the head or the heart. But it almost seems like it’s the psoas that is really handling our affairs, lying in the dark waiting for a summons to act.

Today my mind sifts through the stuff in my immediate future – moving back to Switzerland. And it occurs to me that like those little tendons I’m trying to stay flexible yet poised and ready.

My brain ruminates over the details of living abroad, troubleshooting how I’ll be a part of my daughter’s wedding, planning how I’ll see my son at Christmas. I try not to think about leaving my dad in the lurch since he had his knee replacement surgery.

And I worry about being lonely over there.

How to stay connected here at home and also to go away, the answers reside somewhere inside of me and I guess I just have to trust.

Because I know that our bodies are fundamentally made for this, they are designed for this flight or fight that is life. We are created specifically for these snarly dilemmas, we’re meant to spend ourselves in the tension and flexion of uncertainty.

I know that the extent to which I can control most events in my life is only in proportion to how able I am to be grounded in the spaces within me. In the muscles and tendons and bones, fibers and nerves and all of the miraculous electrical energy that transforms into spirit.

When I was a teenager I had a poster over my bed with a quote from theologian Harvey Cox that proclaimed in absolute caps Not To Decide Is To Decide. I think it was a Vietnam War peace slogan. But I remember thinking at the time that it was a nonnegotiable call to activism, an absolute denouncement of apathy and moral certainty.

But now I read those words differently. I believe that not to decide might actually be a bold decision to let go, to listen and to move into stillness. Not to decide might not be a negative act of defeat but a powerful and courageous decision to trust. A decision that demands every facet, every cell of our entire being.

And so it may be in my decision to leave or to stay home – Durham or Bern. Maybe I am only able to mine the answers if I choose to be present, to inhale and discover what’s true deep down in my core. To try not to force a response but to breathe deeply into the uncertainty first and then just try to go from there.

Today is the three-year anniversary of my mom’s death and I think of her and how she might approach things. One of the hard conversations that we used to have together was about death, she would often want to talk to me about what happens after we die. Through the years I saw her struggle with her faith because she was not a person who liked uncertainty.

She craved absolutes in the shadow of so many years of cancer but it never stopped her from completely embracing life. She always managed to find the balance between the here and now and the something neither of us could be sure of.

Mostly she was grateful, she just appreciated it all. And for me, I just want a little bit of that.

I want to fill the emptiness within me with her spirit, her gratitude and her generosity. And maybe because I took up a space deep within her body and am knit from the strands of her maternal fibre, I can imagine her spirit inside of me radiating through my own limbs and cradling my own heart and mind.

And today it feels like joy and it aches like loss but it completely fills me and makes me whole. And it reminds me that maybe our choices aren’t the things that really matter, maybe it’s the love that lies waiting for us in the darkness.

And when I close my eyes I visualize that place, it is absolute and abundant and it is poised and ready to serve.



4 thoughts on “Psoas It Goes

  1. My dearest Beth: You have connected words here like the muscles, tendons, and arteries are connected in our own bodies. You have done this so beautifully. Your profoundly personal observations speak to me today, especially today, as you reflect on your mother’s death.

    It is very quiet here at home today. I lingered in bed this morning remembering Judy lying there dead next to me three years ago. Fifty-five years in bed together, her little body next to mine, and then……… And then………And now………Then and now, connected.

    I must confess that a fantasy crawled in bed with me. Perhaps, three years ago, if I had pressed my lips against her lips and given her my breath, she might have opened her eyes, maybe still be alive today.

    Finally, I had to leave that fantasy in bed, so I went downstairs to fix breakfast, and then went off to the YWCA to tend to my knee. Once again, as you remind your readers, and that includes me, life finally requires dealing with one’s beloved body, often struggling for answers amidst life and death.

    Sent from my iPhone


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  2. Oh, Beth. What a moving bit of wisdom you have imparted here! It echoed my own struggles with my body and my soul. I wish so much I could fly over to see you in Switzerland for a few days. I would love to breathe in your presence after so long.

    Here’s a couple of echoes I remembered along the reading of your ELK Musings: First of all, when you talk about wanting to be like your mother so much, I remember what I learned from having this tiny speck of a scar on my cornea. It happened as a result of a childhood accident but it teaches me again and again about not being able to SEE those things in yourself. Because I can only see this speck in my peripheral vision, so when I try to study it more closely it moves away… of course! And every time it makes me laugh, especially on a clear blue-sky day. Some things we’re never able to see in ourselves, I think.

    Second thing: You dad did a sermon many years ago at St. John’s, in which he talked about how easy it is to seek what we can learn from God and the universe revealing things our minds and hearts. Naturally it challenged much of what I thought I knew from looking at Eastern religion and conscious-raising, etc.. Then he went on to say that what is equally powerful is the meaning that we place on things, which reveals so much about who we are. Again if we can’t see ourselves reflected in the love of our friends and family then we’re in real trouble. My hope for you is to be able to make at least one intentional friendship this time in Switzerland.

    An intentional friendship is one where you’re not necessarily an acquaintance at work, or from school, but someone we would not necessarily see on a regular basis. So if you have to go out of your way to see or hear from this friend it must require some intentional effort to do so. My best friend on the planet is the wise and wonderful Linda Randolph. We met by accident because her home was in a house where they each knew each other and started having regular bonfires in their backyard which backed up to mine. She’s 15 or 20 years younger than me, she doesn’t go to church anywhere, has a degree in Psychology from Eastern Michigan and is somewhat shy. Even with so little in common, we just clicked so hard one day that we have intentionally stayed in touch ever since then; it’s been several years now. She and I both understand each other so well that we b4ring the things lurking in the back of our minds into the front, and talk about. Sometimes it’s almost miraculous. *sigh*..

    I love you Beth and I love and admire you more as time goes by.


    You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. – Anne Lamott


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