The Righting Reflex

So it’s been a month now and that has given me time to see the humor in what was a really embarrassing moment.  It was OU’s opening football game, and after missing all last year due to COVID, Jerry and I were excited to be back in Norman, and super excited for some football.  Jerry had gone to his seat ahead of me, as the game was about to start, while I stayed behind to chat with our grandson.  So by the time I got to our row, the stadium was filling up.  The Sooners have tried to squeeze as many people as possible into Memorial  Stadium, so the rows are VERY narrow.  I was making my way to my seat, trying not to step on the feet of the people who were already sitting, or knock over anyone’s drink or popcorn, when I felt the rubber sole of my shoe stick.  And that’s when I went down.  It wasn’t just a fall.  As Jerry says, it was a 10!  I went over the bench in front of me, grabbing the shoulder of a man innocently sitting minding his own business (and wearing a back brace!), and finally landed on my two artificial knees!  OUCH!  It was like landing on ground glass!  I know it only took a couple of seconds but it felt like slow motion.  Oh the thoughts that were running through my brain!  People gathered around me saying, “Don’t get up.”  Well don’t worry, at this point I’m hoping the ground will open and swallow me!  I managed to get up with a “Ta Da!” in a “stuck my landing” pose, but oh man, was I mortified!

It was this event that finally pushed me into scheduling a visit with my orthopedist, Dr. Keith Stanley.  I have been having some posture issues, as well as balance and walking problems. There are days when I feel like I need to re-learn how to walk.  After taking x-rays (there are problems), he sat down to talk, and that is when he used the dreaded A word.  Aging.  My spine is degenerating, my balance is not as good as it once was, and my reaction time is slower.  But here is the surprising part: my proprioceptors are wearing out.

I knew what Dr. Stanley was referencing because I studied proprioceptors in grad school, but for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, proprioceptors are the sensory receptors that help the body detect its own position in space.  For example, without proprioception you would be unable to touch your nose with your eyes closed, or to balance on one leg.  Proprioception provides feedback to the brain to enable you to detect whether you are walking on a hard or a soft surface.  It also allows our bodies to perform simultaneous actions without having to stop and think about each one separately, such as running down a football field, scanning for receivers, and throwing a pass.  

That was a bit of an “aha” moment for me, because I could recognize that yes, my proprioception is off.  And that is the last time I will use that word, but allow me to introduce another word that may be unfamiliar.  God in His wisdom created us with a righting reflex, also known as the labyrinthine righting reflex.   This reflex corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal upright position.  When I lost my balance and fell, the labyrinthine righting reflex helped me return to an upright position and regain equilibrium.  Humans are not alone in needing righting.  Airplanes and sailing vessels have what is known as a righting moment to help restore them to the correct attitude when they have listed or rotated off course.  

I wrote about this in my book, Season, and here is an excerpt.

I wonder how many of those righting moments in life have gone unheeded.  Those times where we have listed in the wrong direction and have not paid attention to our own righting instincts. We have gotten off course and can’t seem to find our direction.  We have missed our true north.

By looking back at your own unique life story and examining the critical events, you discover how the pieces fit together to define who you are and explain how you got to this point.  Often we see that some of our worst mistakes, our biggest regrets were actually righting reflexes to point us to our true north.  No one likes pain, but if we listen, pain is trying to tell us something.  If you put your hand on a hot stove, pain sensors send a message to your brain that causes you move your hand so you won’t burn your skin.  Similarly, painful life events are sending us a message that we need to move, to change course, to do something different.  We need to be righted.  Some of us learn quickly and can right ourselves with only a little discomfort.  Others of us need a great deal of pain before we finally wake up and decide to take action.  Sadly, some of us stay stuck in pain because we don’t know what to do or don’t think we have any power to change the situation.    

I believe our broken roads get us to the place we were destined to be, if we pay attention to the road signs along the way, the righting moments.  And by the way, God also gave us the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us, and to whisper in our ear when we get off track.  No matter how badly we mess things up, Jesus can use the most broken and damaged pieces of our lives and turn it into something beautiful.  He can turn trash into a treasure.  

I love the song by Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are

Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms

This much I know is true

That God blessed the broken road

That led me straight to you.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29: 11-13  (NIV).  

Author: Fran Carona, Ph.D.

I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and licensed clinical psychologist.

5 thoughts on “The Righting Reflex”

  1. I know the feeling. 2 replaced knees and a hip. It’s a struggle. Now I know the name of the problem. Aging is a challenge at times.

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  2. After two knee replacements, six screws in my shoulder, and a pin in my right foot, I wobbled and hesitated when I walked. Was an accident waiting for a place to happen. 19 months ago I began three weekly 30 minute sessions with a gifted personal trainer. Wow!! As my Jerry puts it, I no longer wobble, I glide. My posture is great, my stamina is way greater, and I have tons of strength and agility once more. I even have far less positional vertigo than in the past. Who knows why that is. I hope you might find someone who can help you like my trainer has helped me. Praying for you, dear friend.

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  3. I love that song!! It’s message and love how you relate it all into Truth!
    I did not know you fell?!?!?!!!!!
    Glad it was a 10❤️
    And with just the orthoscopic knee surgery lately I feel unbalanced and wobbly at times…..but he has already given me the back diagnosis and as I age
    it will get worse but I’m going to choose to keep trying to find a way to keep me going! I’m so sorry you fell but glad you are moving forward for help.
    Listen if we get to the walker stage we will make sure that our walkers are a perfect 10😃🥳❤️ It will encourage others heading our way!! 😁

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