27 June, 2017

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford. Rodale Books, 2006

Published in 2006, Waking is 48 year old Matthew Sanford’s memoir of his healing journey.

In a catastrophic car accident in Minnesota in 1978, Matthew, who was 13 at the time, suffered so many injuries he wasn’t expected to survive. Aside from the spinal injury, which left him with paraplegia, most of his physical damage eventually healed or was repaired. The book chronicles Matthew’s discoveries, especially that “there is healing other than healing to walk again”, his realisations around the power of his mind and its intention, and his engagement with yoga leading to a career as a yoga teacher.

Although written some twenty-five years after the accident, Matthew’s descriptions of his pain and terror at the time, his disorientation, sense of imprisonment and isolation, are fresh and confronting. Why did hospital staff make so many assumptions about his state of mind and capacity to understand? Why so little compassion for him? I was especially struck by his experience of the woeful communication skills of doctors and rehabilitation staff.

Finding our unique road back to being ourselves after a life-changing injury is rarely straightforward. Matthew doesn’t shy away from describing his struggles, false starts and setbacks, not lessened by his resilience, sunny nature, and sharp mind. He was 25 when he finally met the yoga teacher willing to recognise his wholeness, who was the catalyst for his reconnecting with his whole body. Matthew had felt helpless to counter the approach of medical and health care professionals, who divided his paralysed body into the parts above and below the lesion, addressing themselves only to the top bit. Thus, when he finally met a person curious and ready immediately to reengage with Matthew as a whole man with a whole body, it came as a deeply moving and heartening revelation.

his book provides meaningful reading for people with spinal injuries as well as for family members, and for rehabilitation staff too I dare say. Since publishing this book, Matthew has gone on to create other resources, including a wheelchair yoga DVD, which I have been enjoying. Here is his website, where all the resources can be ordered from one place.

This review was written by Hillary Ash. Hillary is a social worker and counsellor in private practice. She has been living with quadriplegia since 1986.


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