News / A Journey to Peace through Yoga

Golden Moment

Crisp air, sunshine, green grass, vegemite and apple sandwich on fresh white bread, freshly squeezed orange juice, … and my mother. I was the youngest, smallest, sickliest, runt of five children in a family in chaos and this was precious time alone with my mother with mental illness, who I had mostly experienced as not present. And the reason for this precious time was yet another bout of bronchitis.

I was a young child but this was already a recurring illness that had begun at the age of two with pneumonia. I cherished this space from the outside world, which already seemed scary, and this feeling of being nurtured and loved. Until recently there have been very few moments in my life to rival this exquisite golden moment of love.

What followed was a pattern; an internal battle between wanting to be strong to keep up with my siblings, to ’show them’, and being sick. Bronchitis became asthma, a near-fatal tick poisoning at 11, back pain, depression and anxiety, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, dangerous births and finally Multiple Sclerosis. I developed an identity as a ‘sick person’, that was my place in the order of life.

All this illness was woven with rowing, sailing, tennis, dancing, walking, natural birth, and, and, and … to prove I wasn’t the runt of the litter, any litter not just my family. I felt defiant independence that waxed with a crippling emotional dependence. A desperate need to be different and an equally desperate need to be loved. It was a rollercoaster, perhaps a physical expression of my mother’s bipolar disorder.

And underneath this physical battle lurked the increasing feeling of madness. A guilty secret that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even myself. My cover was arrogant calm, a demeanour that kept people at a distance, and the personal identity of a sick person who was doing her best. This madness manifested with my family, when I was premenstrual, post-natal anxiety that lasted long after the birth of my children and finally, clinical depression.

Yes, I had MS, yes, I was in a wheelchair, yes, my marriage was dissolving and I was facing an uncertain future but really, I had just run out of cover. I had exhausted my energy to not be mad, and I was in the open and exposed. This is where healing began.

As I reflect on my life, I can see the reality in the story. My illnesses were all diagnosed in the evidence-based medical world; I have brain scans, blood tests, ultrasounds, surgeries, hospital records and reports, there have been real traumas. Yet I can also see the story, in reality, they are inextricably entwined.

The story gave me an identity when I felt lost but it also interfered with my healing. I didn’t know how to be well. It also caused me inexplicable guilt; that I may have caused my illness or that it really may not have been real, that I have caused my own suffering and the suffering of my children.

The reality has caused me pain, disability and disadvantage, And as I have travelled my healing journey, I have swung between addressing the reality of physical illness and addressing the story of my mental and emotional identity.

I am now understanding that the key to my own healing, and possibly healing more generally, is to embrace the wholeness of my experience of life, in the cultural context I have grown. It is not reality or story, physical or mental, physical or emotional, physical or spiritual, it is ‘and’ – reality and story, physical and mental and emotional and spiritual healing.

I am learning the importance of progressing my whole self and embracing the technologies, both ancient and modern, that are available in modern western culture. We are embodied, social beings who experience life emotionally and mentally. We have histories that bring us both suffering and joy and impact on our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

Disruption to any aspect of our whole results in disruption to the whole hence healing requires a holistic approach. Healing the whole is what I bring to my students and clients. I have learned that the reality and the story are not independent, and there is no ‘wrong’ in this interlinking, it just is.

If we can remove fear and guilt from reality and story, we can allow both to be seen in their totality, with kindness and compassion.  The issues that are exposed by this gentle awareness can then be addressed, limiting wrongness and guilt, and ultimately reducing suffering.

For example, a client who has been suffering a chronic condition for three years will have grown an identity around being chronically ill. Without awareness, this identity may interfere with healing and create confusion and further suffering. With gentle, non-judgmental awareness she can notice the expression of this identity and manage her choices accordingly. Consequently, her whole being moves along the healing journey, with congruence across all layers of experience.

My golden moment of feeling nurtured in the context of suffering was formative. For a long time, I thought the lesson was to seek to be nurtured through suffering but now I understand the lesson is to look for joy and peace in the context of suffering. This is what I share with my students and clients.

My journey has taught me to understand the importance of care in the world of healing. The intersection of reality and story and the need to yoke all the layers of our experience into one intertwined peace – yoga.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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The Yoga of Skiing


Two years ago I was crying like a baby, gripped by fear, two months ago I skied my first black run with freedom and love. In this excerpt from the second edition of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, I describe using meditation to overcome fear.

I think the best way to illustrate not only the distance I have travelled in the last five years but also the impact of sharing my story, is to once again share – this time about sliding down the side of a mountain on two sticks of fibreglass with Nicola, still by my side, no longer on my lap.

Nicola and I arrived on the ski fields of Nagano, Japan, courtesy of a Christmas present from my partner, who had also booked us group lessons; kids for Nicola and growed up for me, both beginners. We were both feeling a shirt load of fear as we put on our ski boots for the first lesson.

A quick kiss and cuddle and off we went to our different classes. I have never been so bad at anything in my whole life! Each time I moved I fell and each time I fell, I had to be helped up – I just didn’t have the strength to get up, sooo disempowering.

I started down the slippery slope of comparison and identification with being crippled. “I am the worst in the class.” “Why did I think somebody like me could ski?” “How could I been so stupid?” And over and over again, “I have MS. Why did I think I could ski?” An hour and a half into my lesson, I baled and when I saw Nicola at lunch, discovered so had she. we both cried like babies.

My partner exchanged our group lessons for a fewer number of private lessons that we would have together (thank you!), and we could start in the afternoon of the next day. Nicola and I played in the snow all afternoon but my mind was filled with the undercurrent of every negative comparison I had ever held in my life – essentially I was less-than everyone at everything.

So in the early hours of the following morning, I meditated: meditated on being strong enough to get myself up when I fell, meditated on holding fear and courage in the same hand and meditated on joy.

And the next morning woke up, yoga-ed, dressed and meditated again, this time I realised that just being there was an extraordinary achievement and privilege, and I focused on gratitude for each moment. I set an intention to engage with each moment and learn as much as I could, rather than on how I was compared to other people, acknowledge my fear and ask any question that came into my mind, no matter how silly it seemed.

It’s funny how much this intention eased the pressure and fear. I felt light and very committed. This lightness and fear enabled me to support Nicola on the shuttle to the ski fields.

The lesson went well and the ski instructor was excellent (thank you, Henry). Nicola got it almost straight away and I was able to get myself up, lasted the whole two hours, found it difficult to coordinate the two sides of my body and discovered that I really was determined to learn as much as I could.

I was also bolstered by another instructor who, when I apologised for being in his way, said “never apologise for being a beginner”, and I didn’t after that. Another lesson and I was further along the way, and Nicola and I went down the beginners’ slope.

I loved watching her graceful turns but I was still feeling the lack of control that came from not being able to coordinate the two sides of my body. And somewhere along the line, I made a vow to share this journey so that it wasn’t just for me.

After more yoga and more meditation, this time focus on postures and visualisations to stimulate communication between the two sides of my brain, I went back to the Magic Carpet. This time I would just keep going down the magic carpet until I got it, no matter how many times it took.

First time I fell. Well, at least now I could get up. Second time and I turned right. The third time it clicked, both sides of my body working together, turning right and left. A few more times to make sure, visualising both sides of my brain working together, looking up and feeling it in my body.

On the ski lift with my partner, something I could never even have dreamt about, and then skiing down the slope with my daughter and my partner, actually skiing, not just snowploughing to the bottom – triumph! Again, after lunch.

More meditation and yoga, much more gratitude and the next day the ski instructor couldn’t believe how much I had improved in a day. I told him, I meditated and visualised but he decided my partner and friends were good teachers - which might also be true.

The next day, our last day in the ski fields we skied again but my legs and knees were getting tired and decided to have a short day on my skis, not wanting to push my luck. I felt such an extraordinary feeling of achievement for myself and pride for Nicola's achievement.

I had learnt so much about myself and my capacity to learn, and Nicola learnt the confidence that comes from facing down fear. Now I am honouring my vow to share my story. If I can accept being a beginner, ask questions, fall over and try
again, completely accept where I am in any given moment and be completely present, the possibilities for my life are endless.

And if I can accept myself, truly befriend myself then I can accept and befriend my circumstances, and then I can accept and befriend each person who crosses my path. I can welcome the full catastrophe of life with a clear mind and an open heart – I think this is peace.

I am still on the journey but I can look back and recognise that in this 24/7 workshop we call life, my spiral is ascending. A spark of the splendour that’s possible…

Order your copy of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, at www.splendouryoga.com, or go to Amazon to purchase your eBook. 

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An Impossible Day

Yesterday I had one of the most physically and emotionally satisfying days of my life. A day that would have been impossible even last year. I skied all day, from 8am to after 4pm, skied black runs, explored new runs on my own and exploded in a fall that resulted in skies flying and me tumbling and spinning down the slope some distance from my skis…and laughed. And I did it all in the company of friends.

In short, for a whole day I was a normal advanced, intermediate skier enjoying a beautiful day on the slopes with friends, on a beautiful winter’s day in Japan.

Except I’m not. I am someone with a degenerative chronic illness that attacks the central nervous system and has left me in a wheelchair on more than one occasion. I am also someone who has lived in fear for most of her life, fear that has precluded exploring the unknown and being in easy company with friends.

But on the walk back to our hotel I started to feel the familiar leg collapse that can herald the onset of MS. ‘no, it is just the snow crunching underneath my boot.’ Then the unmistakable ache from the right side of my sacrum down my right leg.

I focussed my whole attention on walking, perfectly balancing my skies on my shoulder to require the least amount of effort. Picking up my pace to get there and sit down…and save face (still saving face). I made it to the steps, got down the steps, unloaded my skis, sat down and went into a full-blown MS moment.

The pain, spasticity and dysfunction reminding me that MS is also a part of my story. For a moment, I felt defeated but then as I started the climb up Staircase Mountain, I realised, “I just skied a black run, I can climb stairs”. And I did, one twisted and painful step at a time.

I felt embarrassed to have been so disabled in front of friends who had never seen me like that but they were nothing but supportive, seeming to think no less of me for my disability. I felt emotional, grief for the illusion of greatness I had lost.

And then the tension in my body and mind was unwound with the warm waters of the hotel onsen and the soft presence of my partner. I began to understand that far from taking away any of the greatness of the day, this MS episode brought the remarkableness (it’s a word) of the day into crystal clarity.

MS revisiting took nothing away from what I had achieved it just put the achievements into context of the whole of me, making them...well…remarkable.  I began to remember every turn, every run, every explore with awe – “Wow, I really did this”. Gratitude like warm golden honey flowed through my awareness.

And then an even more remarkable thing happened, I began to look at my life from an internal perspective, without external reference points, no comparisons.  I began to feel my life from the inside.

I had grown up being the youngest and feeling the weakest, dumbest, maddest etc., comparing myself to everyone to find out where I ranked, always seeking external acknowledgement of worth, rather than feeling it for myself. So much so that for the most part it was invisible. That is, invisible until it wasn’t. Sadly, even friends, family and partners became competitors rather than fellow travellers on the journey of life.

Even over the last ten years of healing, writing and teaching I have not felt the worth of my journey, yet here I was in the bath, feeling my life. This MS moment was a gift, putting everything into place. I could feel the magnitude of my journey. I felt worth and love. And in doing so I felt worth and love in others’ lives.

So today I am feeling my life. Feeling grief and sadness, and so much love and gratitude for the people and events that have carried me to this place, particularly the ancient practices of yoga and my teachers that have facilitated my healing.

I am writing this in a café while my friends have gone skiing in another beautiful winter day in Japan. I have felt emotional while writing, sometimes to the point of tears, but no resentment of my friends, no comparison of their fate with mine. I have felt only appreciation and gratitude for their presence in my life.

It was an impossible day where pleasure and pain were transformed into healing by the alchemy of presence. The possibility available now is greater peace in my mind and my relationship with the world.

Imagine this possibility in your life. What would that look like for you? What would it look like for the world if we lived with the possibility of self-worth derived from inner knowing rather than external indicators of value and status? If we didn’t need to prove our worth by better than others we would be capable of true compassion

I may or may not ski again but if I do it won't be to prove something, it will be for the sheer thrill of sliding down a mountain on sticks of fibreglass, in a beautiful environment alongside fellow travellers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Perfection ≠ happiness

“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.” A Journey to Peace through Yoga, Lynnette Dickinson.
I wrote these words in 2010 after a three-year odyssey through healing and transformation. There is truth in these words; truth that I have come back to again and again, each time with a deeper understanding, each time at a time of need.  

Of course, I had read this wisdom in other people’s books but until my own journey into and out of suffering I had not felt the experience, myself. And then I experienced this freedom twice but it wasn’t until I wrote about my journey that I found the depth of its truth in my memories and now I find it in my present, and again and again it frees me from fear and suffering.

The most dramatic demonstrations were in the times of highest suffering – in physical and emotional pain and dysfunction and finding bliss. The first time, at the beginning of my MS journey in a hospital in Britain, began my meditation practice as management tool for fear. The second, at the beginning of my journey with Dru in a wheelchair, began my healing journey of becoming a yoga and meditation teacher, walking and finding peace and love in my life.

When writing my journey, I discovered similar moments retrospectively and they become crucial in healing my past. I would be writing about an incident or symptom of great suffering and out of the middle would rise a pearl of joy or wisdom or love or beauty. This gave rise to one of my favourite sayings, “inside every oyster there is a pearl”, because it has become my truth.

I am human and hence a work in progress, so I also have “I’ll be happy when…” stories. These stories interfere with my equanimity, creating dissatisfaction – a wanting mind. Ultimately, I rediscover the wisdom of unconditional acceptance, equanimity returns and the joy settles a little deeper and with more stillness.

So recently while feeling overwhelmed by current circumstances at 2am (of course it was going to be 2am), I started to look forward to an idealised version of myself who was beatifically resting in gratitude and equanimity. But recently I’ve become a little wiser to my stories, and I realised I was falling back into “I’ll be happy when…I’m past the tricky bit and I can smile graciously”, and a thought came to me. ‘if then, why not now?’

Well, why not now? Why can’t I feel gratitude now? So, I began to focus on the sensation of gratitude (which is just love with a smile). Not gratitude for anything or anyone specifically, just the background sensation of gratitude. Gratitude filled my awareness completely and I became gratitude.

I had returned to the same place on the spiral but a few rungs higher, as my physiology seemed to change in some way. The days since have been lived, facing the same circumstances but with an underlying attitude of “love with a smile”. Life, decisions and relationships have been lived largely without overwhelm and with a very quick tool manage it when it arrives. Fear keeps leaving the building.

This is what I teach my students and clients, so it has been so gratifying to rediscover the wisdom as a felt experience; to know that this wisdom has a place in managing life, particularly in managing suffering and to know that I can share some tools to make it possible in your life as well as mine.

In 2010 I had discovered that joy and peace were the same, regardless of the circumstances in which they occurred, that “perfect” was an illusion and that this is a kind of freedom. My life continues to deliver me to this understanding as I ascend the spiral – arriving with suffering and emerging with peace and a deeper understanding to share.

So, if you’re reading this, I urge to find the joy in your life, right here right now as it is. Find it and then let seep through your whole being, saturate every molecule – become joy…and your life will be different, without changing a thing.

Then imagine what our society would be like if we apply this more broadly.  Children might find satisfaction and joy in the work and in themselves; patients might find recovery with more love; people with PTSD find their way back to peace: and our wanting mind could take a lie down. Imagine if we institutionalise peace.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

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