In this excerpt from my book, A Journey to Peace through Yoga, I discuss the possible interpretations of my journey from wheelchair to wellness and offer my interpretation. My recovery is an ongoing journey, as I continue to find aspects of my life that are transforming.
So, what does my story mean?
As I come to the close of this chapter of my journey I am wondering how my story will be interpreted by those who read it.
I am aware there are sceptics who will not give any significance to my yoga and meditation practice and dismiss my recovery as just another chapter in the story of MS – the mystery disease, nothing more remarkable than a spontaneous remission.
There are those who will say it’s a miracle or that I must be extraordinary.
So now I ask to ask myself.
“How do I interpret my journey? What does it mean for me?”
The honest answer is that I believe I am reconfiguring my energy system. For two and a half years I have devoted most of my daily thoughts to striving for the highest I was capable of at the time. I have used the power of my mind to visualise yoga, meditate, chant ancient mantras of light, relax and transform my daily experience of life.
I haven’t been perfect. I have made mistakes in the way I relate to people and community; I have been very human, and these moments of perceived failure have caused me excruciating emotional pain. What I have done is maintain the original intention to move toward freedom and that intention planted the seed for a tree of transformation that is still growing.
I have practiced every day, sometimes all day and all night; eating, cooking, watching TV, interacting with my children, waiting in queues, on public transport, in my car, in hospital beds, at rock concerts, at work and at home.
It’s not a miracle in the sense that I went to sleep one day and woke up cured the next; and I’m not extraordinary in the sense of being particularly gifted in any way. I have just worked very hard.
The techniques I have used are based in ancient practice and anyone can learn to use them.
What I’ve learnt from my practice is that everything the body does is sending messages to your mind and everything your mind does is sending messages to your body and spirit. The mind, body and spirit are in constant interaction.
In a balanced and integrated system, this interaction is harmonic, producing a beautiful composition called wellbeing, which I’ve also discovered doesn’t necessarily mean injury or disability free. We have all heard of people with permanent disability, chronic illness or sometimes even terminal illness who radiate wellness; and I have even experienced it myself. It simply means, within the constraints of their physical condition, that person has found harmony and balance.
My goal was peace of mind, and so bit by bit I have dismantled limiting beliefs and thought patterns, each time finding renewed physical wellbeing.
I haven’t cured MS. Every day I experience symptoms to remind me of the damage to my CNS, but I have cleared away years of accumulated emotional debris, enabling me to access the world of energy beyond material structure.
When I began, I didn’t expect to get out of my wheelchair let alone do cartwheels, and as my relapse in 2009 has shown me, I am still a breath away from returning. The peace I found while in a wheelchair, in a hospital bed and now on legs, is accessible to anyone who is willing to spend some time each day in stillness and surrender to the circumstances of their lives, as they are.
The most valuable consequence of my journey into stillness is the effect it has on the people around me, most noticeably my children. I have been taught when any individual takes a step toward their own personal harmony that it will ripple out into the world around them. My experience over the last five years is an expression of this philosophy.
As I have grown, my parenting has improved. I react less, listen more and love more. I need to be right less and give guidance only when asked, instructing less when I think they ‘should’.
In the broader world, the more I accept myself and become conscious of my own dark corners and idiosyncratic behaviours, the more accepting I am of those I meet. I react less, criticise less and look at conflict as an opportunity to learn something more about myself. The result is greater harmony in my relationships with the world around me, something I feel on a daily basis.
And the most valuable gift is surrender.
Through 2009, I experienced both pain and pleasure; triumph and perceived failure. I felt a crippling envy of those who were able to go on retreat or travel to pursue their spirituality or even have a holiday; debilitating angst, anger and betrayal as well as joy and love.
But as the trees in Canberra began to grow green and the flowers to blossom, I reflected on the previous few months, almost like a witness to my own life and its outcomes, and learned what might be the most valuable lesson of my journey – deep surrender.
I have grown and learned and let go of attachments as a result of each life experience, good and bad. My peace of mind has expanded and my wellbeing deepened, and as it has all occurred in the context of my everyday life, there is no fear of it disappearing when I return to my life.
I have watched people return from retreat and seen the same light in their eyes as I have felt in my own. Their step is no lighter than my own, their love of life no greater.
Ultimately, I have realised good and bad are the same; either way we grow and learn or stagnate, depending on our attitude. I have learned, from my own experience, to look for the lesson in even the smallest of moments and feel gratitude for all experiences, and this has given me freedom from dependence on my life being perfect.
Sometimes life seems far from perfect, sometimes life just is and that’s enough. My lesson is to surrender to what is; embrace what is and what happens next is joy. A little bubbling well of joy that is increasingly close to the surface, arising in the most unlikely of places.
Perhaps for me, this is the essence of my journey, a simple nine letter word beginning with s – surrender. There are no boundaries, nothing to defend, so surrender; surrender to the present and everything else vanishes.
“Letting go of everything, with your whole heart take refuge in Me, for I will free you of everything that causes you pain. There is no need for fear or worry.”
My favourite verse from the Gita has become a mantra for me. I chant the Sanskrit every day. ‘Me’ can be God (in whatever form you worship), the void, your higher self or simply the present moment. Allow your mind to be so open and accepting of the person or the events right in front of you, that past and future yearnings become irrelevant.
Oh, and yes, I can cartwheel on a good day.