By Niyati Evers
A little girl in South Africa let me know my pain had become my identity when she stopped using my name and called me “the lady with the broken back.”
My Known Way of Being
I’d struggled with severe back pain for many years, but I would not allow it to hold me back. Even if getting into a taxi made me cry. Even if the only way to get to my hotel room was by sliding along the walls. Even if I had to call a doctor to come inject me with painkillers just to cope.
That was my known way of being, what we in Processwork call our primary identity. I was someone who never gave up. This also meant I marginalized my pain; I refused to listen to my body or bow to its limitations. I learned early in life not to need support from other people.
The Limit of Will Power
But my strong will couldn’t overcome the pain I lived with. One night in 2008, I finally gave in. I was lying in my hotel room during a corporate seminar, my knees on a stack of pillows, painkillers strewn all over the mattress. I hadn’t prayed since childhood, but that night, I found myself praying.
“Please God, whoever or whatever you are,” I whispered into the empty room, “I can no longer live on my will power alone. Please take over.”
The next morning I couldn’t get up from the breakfast table. I willed my feet to lift off the ground, but I was no longer able to walk. Here it was, the emergence of what we call a Secondary Process: a new and in my case very unknown way of being. I was forced to seek and accept help from others.
A friend took hold of me, put my arms around her shoulders, and dragged me into a taxi to see a doctor. During the drive I kept wiggling my toes, repeating: “I can wiggle my toes, I am not paralyzed. I can wiggle my toes, I am not paralyzed.”
The doctor told me I needed total bed rest. My primary identity kicked in immediately:
“I can’t do that,” I told the doctor, “I am flying to America in two days.”
The doctor looked me straight in the eye. “If you get on an overseas flight in this condition, they will carry you out on a stretcher and you will never walk again.”
My Childhood Dream
In an early childhood dream, I’m riding my bike when a wall suddenly appears in front of me. I wake up right as I crash into the wall.
In Processwork, we believe our childhood dreams carry themes that run like rivers through our lives, recurring again and again in different forms. I had run into the wall of my childhood dream, and just like in my dream, I woke up. I realized my prayers had been answered: a bigger will had taken over and now forced me to listen to it.
While I recovered, my spine had to be completely straight. I couldn’t read or work on my computer. I had to seek and accept help. Another dear friend took me into his home. He looked after me for months as I lay flat with my knees on a stack of pillows.
During those months, I reconnected to the transcendent joy I’d glimpsed on the spiritual quests of my twenties. As I opened to receive love from other human beings, my heart softened. People said they’d never seen me so radiant, even though I still shuffled through the house, barely able to lift my right foot, dragging my left leg behind me. In spite of the incredible physical pain, I felt I was making love with the divine.
I am convinced this process prepared me for the deep, open-hearted relationship I now enjoy with my partner Robert.
My Symptom and Sexuality
When I allow my primary identity to push, my back transforms into the wall of my childhood dream; the pain becomes debilitating to the point where I cannot have sex. My back injury forces me to listen to my sensitivity, to slow down and relate from the inside out. I have to ask for what I need, for how and where I need to be touched. I have to communicate my limitations and boundaries and express my desires for tender connection. All of which is very secondary for me! Only when I surrender to my body’s signals am I able to relax into arousal.
From here I can explore the dynamics of my back injury on the playground of sexuality. Even when a symptom is objectively real, in what Processwork calls Consensus Reality, there is a dreaming process in the background. When we unfold a disturbing symptom during sexual play, we can tap deep into its true gifts and meaning. Within my debilitating back injury I access a powerful energy, unaffected by pain.
The overall process of my back injury is about surrender to a greater power. Things that turn me on or off sexually all mirror that process. My will power serves me great in many areas of life, but sexually, being the one “on top” or “in control” is no good for me.
As I consciously play at being Robert’s servant and give him control of the show (for the duration of our sexual play), I follow my dreaming process; I surrender to a greater power.
Through this we both experience profound levels of intimacy and transcendence. The “lady with the broken back” recedes and I become Snake Woman. Robert and I flow in movement, sound, love, joy, playfulness and connection. Our power and surrender dance together in ecstatic oneness.
I Needed to Break
In a way, the little girl in South Africa was right. I was the “lady with the broken back.” Life broke me because something in me needed to break. Living on will power was a hubris in me that needed to be humbled. It is through that ‘broken-openness’ I have surrendered to a deeper wisdom and love.
As Rumi says: “only from the heart can you touch the sky”.
Niyati and Robert will be leading a workshop; Alchemy of Eros: An Erotic Journey of Intimacy, Pleasure and Transformation, at the Processwork Institute, October 19th-21st,
By Niyati Evers, MAPW
Niyati Evers is originally from Amsterdam, where she facilitated Tantric workshops during her twenties. In 1998, Niyati moved to South Africa, where she lived for 14 years and worked with race and gender dynamics. She completed her Masters in Process Work at the Process Work Institute in Portland. Niyati and Robert have an international therapy practice called Alchemy of Eros. Together, they facilitate workshops in the realms of relationships, sexuality and intimacy. She is working on a book about her experiences growing up in Amsterdam as part of the “second generation” of Holocaust survivors and living in post-Apartheid South Africa.
This post is an edited version of one published on Niyati and Robert’s website.