scars are beautiful.

photo by Melissa O’Hearn- July 08 (prior to surgery)


scar 1
(skär)
n.
1. A mark left on the skin after a surface injury or wound has healed.
2. A lingering sign of damage or injury, either mental or physical: nightmares, anxiety, and other enduring scars of wartime experiences.
3. Botany A mark indicating a former attachment, as of a leaf to a stem.
4. A mark, such as a dent, resulting from use or contact.
v. scarred, scar·ring, scars
v.tr.
1. To mark with a scar.
2. To leave lasting signs of damage on: a wretched childhood that scarred his psyche.
v.intr.
1. To form a scar: The pustule healed and scarred.
2. To become scarred: delicate skin that scars easily.
(from www.thefreedictionary.com)

Everyone is scarred in some way or another. Can’t get away from the fact that life brings opportunities for pain; physical and mental. Even prior to my mastectomy, my body was filled with scars that remind me of moments in time- the scar on my elbow of the time I flipped over the handlebars of my big sister’s 10 speed bike in my sassy turquoise swimsuit on the way to the swimming hole at Newman Lake; there’s a half inch line near my knee from an unfortunate shaving accident when I was sixteen; I have a funny mark near my shoulder from the time I walked up too close to the face of an unknown horse on a dare from a friend. I could go on. Life hurts sometimes, and it’s what we learn from the experiences and how we settle into the rest of our lives with the marks left as memory that matters.  

I believe that if we don’t tend to our big hurts or share the stories that belong to the large wounds in our lives, we are at risk of losing an important part of our identity. The essential task is to allow our scars or our wounds to be seen from time to time- to acknowledge that they exist and to believe that we’re still whole and beautiful despite them. And then, in time, the scars soften and become less apparent. We may even forget about them on occasion, only to be jolted into awareness upon a glance in the mirror (this is all too familiar to me) or by looking at an image from prior to the injury.

We are metaphorical scars from the moment we are literally cut from our mothers, leaving a stub of umbilical cord that eventually dies off like a scab, forming our bellybuttons. We enter the world, for the most part, bright red, gasping for breath, possibly screaming and seeking the comfort of the womb from which we just left. Into our adulthood, human beings are often searching for a way to be seen, heard, and understood. In the best of circumstances, we are nurtured and cared for, gently tended from oozing into a full blown disaster. And eventually, we work into our adulthood as manifestations of our past. We might continue to fester, or we might begin the trajectory of softening. Either way, the paths we take or the course of events in our lives inform the way in which we show up in the world. We could be jagged and angry, barely visible, or we could be a recognizable symbol of what we hope to represent in the world.

Our scars, emotional and physical, are what make us uniquely us. And this is what makes us more beautiful. Flawlessness does not exist, and thank God for that. The yoga studio where I study and teach often reminds students that “we are perfect and whole exactly as we are”- regardless of and including our scars, challenges, limitations, and emotional status. I don’t know about the perfection part, because I think perfection is overrated. But in the large scheme of things, who am I to say that imperfection can’t be the new perfection? “Perfect” can be large enough to hold it all; scars and all.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins–
The cosmos works by harmony of tensions, like the lyre and bow
And so it was I entered the broken world
Turning shadow into transient beauty–
Once upon a time, we knew the world from birth

The INTERSTICES of Terry Tempest Williams from Finding Beauty in a Broken World and T.S. Elliot “The Wasteland”

between two breaths

Observe your life, between two breaths.
Breath is a wind, both coming and going.
On this wind you have built your life-
but how will a castle rest on a cloud?

Avicenna

Lately I’ve been catching myself feeling the indentation of my mastectomy scars. This is less of a voluntary, thought-filled experience, and more of an unconscious exploration of a part of my body I’d felt disconnected from for some time; not unlike the way a tongue unconsciously makes its way to the opening where a tooth used to be- a way of filling a gap and soothing an empty space without focusing so much on the need for a new tooth. No matter how many times I’ve attempted to intentionally touch my scars or to look at my naked body in the mirror, it’s often felt forced and like looking at foreign territory- like this altered body isn’t quite mine (and in the big, spiritual picture, maybe it’s not….). Somehow, my hand has proven to be more competent at doing the work of exploring my scars without the complication of connecting to my brain.

If I think of cancer and the surgery and treatments as a rebirth rather than as a traumatic series of events that happened to me, then this time, just over three years from my diagnosis, is my cancer toddlerhood. I’m still learning how to fully engage in this body. I’m still exploring an altogether new landscape….and being in a yoga teacher practicum has forced me to push into that terrain and to engage parts of myself that I had buried years ago.

For nearly a year after undergoing a bi-lateral mastectomy, I wasn’t able to practice vigorous asana flow. I relied instead on dance as my physical practice. Dancing was wonderful and healing, especially in the midst of chemotherapy treatments, yet I missed engaging my upper body muscles and experiencing the meditative quality of flowing through sun salutations at rhythm with my breath. As I was able to reach and stretch and put more weight onto my arms, I slowly re-engaged with yoga.

My post treatment yoga practice started with floor poses and transitioned into standing poses at the rate a baby would learn to move from crawling to walking. In class, I often had the urge to squeal with joy for the ability to feel my body engaging in practice. My joy and the occasional moments of frustration have been reminders that this body of mine is ever changing, despite cancer and all of the cancer related issues that I’ve experienced.

Now, I take pure pleasure in noticing the quality of my breath in practice. I’m enjoying the ways my body has been feeling stronger and more physically capable of holding poses I’ve struggled with since recommitting to my practice. This is your body on truth, I continually tell myself. I can’t be anyone else. I will never be stronger or more beautiful than I am in this moment. Or the next. I am fine with where I am- Santosha- which is quite fabulous, when I consider the alternatives.