News / acceptance
Learning to live with a chronic illness involves finding joy in chaos.
I have been experiencing a tricky time recently, with a reactivation of symptoms, including my mental health, and the feeling of impending doom that is carried in the pocket of denial. Then last night I remembered that I wrote a book, in meditation, that was quite useful for people in this kind of crisis.
The chapter I read is called "The Gateway to Living", and describes a path and tools to living not existing that seemed to ease the angst I was feeling. It reminded me that even in times of suffering, we can choose to live rather than survive.
I offer the chapter, in the hope that it also will have some meaning for you.
The Gateway to LIving
Module 5 was the gateway to living rather than existing. It was now July and it was becoming clear my recovery was not going anywhere; in fact to the contrary, my condition was continuing to improve. Now I felt some obligation to do something with it and I had no idea what or how or even why.
However, my psychology was still in the mode of ‘existing’, even though I had given back my power chair and cancelled my disability allowance; in my mind I was still disabled.
In the medical crises of my life I had had an ambiguous relationship with death and through my mentoring with Andrew had discovered I was more afraid of living than dying, a little like the mortality version of being more afraid of success than failure (which I have also experienced). So now I needed to learn how to live, like a crawling baby learns how to walk – I think sometimes I still fall.
The reason module 5 was so integral in this process of learning to walk was twofold: firstly I felt like the practices worked on stimulating and unblocking the centre of dynamism and enthusiasm; and secondly it was the interim assessment: our opportunity to sit an assessment that would allow us to teach classes as student-teachers, if we passed.
The practices included action postures like the eagle, sitting spinal twist, warrior sequence and the cleansing breath, and as I practiced them over the next few months (and still today), they filled me with a strength and a courage to act as I had never experienced before.
The eagle locks at the base of the spine with legs crossed over and the thoracic spine with our arms crossed over, then builds up energy between using breath with the spinal wave and folding over from the hips. A few breaths in this folded, locked position, enables intense focus and stillness. Then in one graceful and powerful motion, unfold and unblock.
It releases energy into the whole body-mind complex, for me focusing on my dynamism centre and my heart.
Andrew demonstrated this posture in the module and I was in the front row. When he did the dynamic version, the unfolding was so potent that the person next to me screamed and jumped backwards a step and we all gasped. I am sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who wanted some of what he had.
The eagle has been with me ever since and whenever I perform this posture I feel such an infusion of power and strength, not to mention clarity and focus.
The sitting spinal twist is a posture I used to do with the television after Romper Room when I was three. I loved twisting my body into knots and still do. I first encountered it as an adult in Bellingen with a lovely yoga teacher who encouraged us to move our internal organs around, getting the twist in the lower back.
Learning the Dru version took the posture to a deeper level as I became aware of the twist as it moved up my spine, releasing tension gradually as each vertebra twisted around and the muscles around my spine released. Finally, to rest with my heart open was and remains beautiful. On return there always seems to be a sucking in at the heart.
This posture never ceases to make me feel energised and generous, while bringing a satisfied smile to my face. I have learnt, practice and teach a version of the Sitting Spinal Twist for anywhere you aren’t doing yoga (see Workplace Sitting Spinal Twist).
The Warrior sequence speaks for itself. Warrior 1, 2 and 3, together or in isolation, never cease to give me courage and strength when I think I have none. Somehow, even if my legs are shaky, I can relax into the warrior and feel strong; and if I am visualising, my posture becomes straighter and my head is held higher.
The cleansing breath just made my brain feel like it was in a brain version of a carwash – I so loved this practice I used to do it all the time when I first learned it (unfortunately perhaps too much as I strained my breathing muscles in the process). However, it did seem to clean my thoughts of some pretty limiting ideas of how I could live.
And, well, the interim assessment was a validation of my practice and my capacity to share this, perhaps more so than approval of my teaching skills.
I arrived at the module realising perhaps I had not done enough technical preparation. I knew the postures intimately and had visualised them, practiced them, read about them and written about them but I hadn’t studied them. And vitally, I hadn’t practiced teaching them.
After a little cramming with my yoga buddy, I decided to just do what I do in my head, but aloud, and hope for the best. For the second time in the yoga course (and possibly my life), I turned myself inside out and spoke what I had only internalised until then.
It was quite bizarre and feels vaguely pretentious, but strangely it felt comfortable; for those moments of teaching my ‘class’, I felt like a yoga teacher even though I was just sharing what I did in my head. I got the first glimpse that maybe I could do this.
Over the next few months, I started a small class and began to teach. I had shared bits with my maths students but now I started to actually teach full hour and a half classes.
- Sitting with your buttocks on the edge of your chair and your spine straight and relaxed.
- Breathe out and engage core stability.
- Breathe in and lengthen through your spine, lifting your breastbone and raising your right arm to shoulder height (or your own comfort level).
- As you breathe out, cross your left hand over to the outside of your right thigh and begin twisting you lower spine then middle spine to the right until your right arm reaches the back of the chair.
- Rest as you breathe in.
- Breathe out and use your arm to lever your upper body around into the twist a little further.
- If it is comfortable, stay in the twist for a few breaths before returning to the centre on an in-breath.
- Repeat to the other side.
This stretches the muscles of the back, and neck, opening the muscles of the chest, while massaging your abdominal organs and improving digestion. Fab on many fronts!A Journey to Peace through Yoga, Lynnette Dickinson
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.
Public health policy desperately needs to re-frame its recommendations regarding the management of chronic pain or we will drown under escalating healthcare costs and effects of the increased consumption of prescription pain pharmaceuticals.
Add to this the treatment of associated depression and anxiety with antidepressants/anti-anxiety medications and people with chronic pain end up taking a cocktail of very powerful psychoactive chemicals, all funded by our public and private health system.
But there is another way…
Two weeks ago, on the slopes of Naeba Snow Resort in Yuzawa, Japan, I began developing a migraine. It was not a normal headache, with pain in the temples and ache across the forehead but a change in the pressure of my skull, altered balance and vision, sensitivity sound and light, breath becoming laboured and the deep ache that begins at the base of my skull.
At the time, I was on a ski lift, on the way to the top of an intermediate ski slope and there was only one way down from there, or at least one preferred way of going down. So, I began to consciously relax my body and breath, taking my awareness inside my body. Meditation was the Ace up my sleeve.
I found the muscles that were holding tension and released the tension with my out-breath. instantly felt my mind become more spacious and the migraine begin to soften, as I focussed my attention on the back of my skull.
Now the more difficult stage of skiing down the slope.
Skiing is still relatively new to me, not yet in automatic body memory. I only learnt to ski two years ago, as a 49-year-old person with MS, so every run still contains a certain amount of wonder and trepidation. The normal unknowns of skiing combined with the extra ingredient of not knowing if any of my limbs or faculties would spontaneously fail.
So, standing at the top of the slope, I once again slowed my breath and awakened all my senses. I centred, pointed my skis down the slope and skied. I stopped thinking about getting to the bottom and simply focussed on the present moment, this turn and the next.
When I got to the bottom I felt elated. Not only the best skiing I had done up to that point but for the whole run I hadn’t been aware of the burgeoning disturbance in my Central Nervous System (CNS).
I retired to the nearest café and within half an hour my symptoms slowly returned. I decided to withdraw into meditation for the afternoon to see if I could kick this migraine while my daughter and partner returned to the slopes.
Adjusting my posture again, my breath slowed as I relaxed through my body and withdrew my focus from the outside world. I brought my attention to my brain and consciously created space with my inhalation and softened my attention with my exhalation. Then went inside the pain, focussing on dissolving the inflammation with my breath.
This is how the next hour and a half passed – sitting in a busy café in stillness, dissolving the pain and inflammation in my head with my breath. People came and went, I was aware of their conversation but my choice was to focus my attention inward. One of the terms we use to describe the state of meditation is relaxed alertness and this perfectly describes my mind state during this hour and a half.
By the time my daughter and partner returned my symptoms had diminished considerably. I felt relaxed and at peace. I was still very conscious of keeping myself centred with my breath and my posture but contrary to the predictable path of a migraine, my symptoms further reduced through the evening. I woke the next morning with a crystal clear central nervous system.
During the whole afternoon and evening, I had taken two paracetamol tablets. I took them after the worst symptoms had passed, more as a prophylactic against further symptoms occurring while I was walking around in the snow trying to find food.
Chronic pain conditions, including migraine, are costing our health systems millions of dollars a year – increasing prescription of powerful pharmaceuticals, lost productivity, increased mental health issues related to the experience of pain and the side-effects of pain medication.
Prescription pain medications are becoming an increasing cause of addiction and death across the US and Australia as doctors use stronger drugs and off-label prescriptions in a desperate attempt to manage escalating rates of chronic pain in our communities. Added to this is the increased risk of liver and gastrointestinal damage, cognitive damage and autoimmune conditions.
Patients want a life without pain and doctors want to provide a solution but as my story demonstrates, drugs are not the only solution.
I have arthritis, three prolapsed discs in my spine and Multiple Sclerosis and I occasionally take a couple of paracetamol when the pain is at its worse and I know I will need to function in the world – three health conditions involving chronic pain and a net cost to the public health system of…well…zero. And my practice not only helps my pain management but also manages my mental health, which directly benefits my family, further reducing cost to the communoty.
Mine is not an isolated story. My clients also report that the meditation and relaxation I teach is a much better pain management tool than conventional pharmaceuticals alone. Some clients combine meditation with pharmaceuticals, often reducing their dependence on pain meds and some have been able to stop their prescription medications altogether, keeping them around just in case.
Added to this anecdotal evidence is an increasing body of independent evidence from respected academic institutions to support an integrated medical approach to chronic pain management. Therapeutic Yoga, meditation, relaxation, tai chi, hypnotherapy, massage and acupuncture have all been shown to have an equal or better impact on patients’ experience of pain as pharmaceuticals.
Pain clinics are emerging in capital cities, offering a range of treatments for pain management (including mindfulness, massage and hypnotherapy) but too often these clinics are private and expensive, out of the reach of the average person. When the services are available through public health, they are usually funded for short courses which simply doesn’t support individuals developing a sustainable personal practice.
Imagine a trip to your local GP for pain and you leave with a prescription for mild pain meds and a referral to multidisciplinary clinic, offering meditation, relaxation, gentle yoga, tai chi, hypnotherapy, therapeutic massage and acupuncture. Everything designed to support the development of your own long term pain management practice.
This approach would not only help to manage your pain but would also support your whole wellbeing, mentally and physically. My story shows this is can be a reality if we personally and publicly take the leap.
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.
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.
“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.
“Peace is not a place you land and unpack.” Petrea King, Quest for Life 2016.
… and neither is Recovery.
“In stages, the impossible becomes possible.” T.V.K. Desikachar
Recovery from any adversity, whether illness, drug addiction, trauma, mental health disturbance, grief, disaster or major life change, is a process that is ongoing. We don't wake up one day cured rather we continually make progress along the path of recovery.
In my own recovery process, I have often felt like I have been ascending a spiral, often returning to the similar issues but at a higher or deeper level of resolution. This appears across all the layers of my experiences and I often don't notice until I am moving out of an experience and may need to reflect back on the last rung on the spiral to get perspective and prevent being disheartened.
Yet over and over again, my students and clients ask why it is taking them so long, wondering if there is something wrong with them or they are doing something wrong. Our society seems to think that recovery from trauma, illness, grief or any kind of life-change happens in distinct stages within a distinct time-frame (usually within 12months), and then we move on.
There have been many occasions when people, having read my book, heard my story or even been taught by me during a particularly well phase, will have expected me to be cured and if I fall off this perch they will be distressed and disappointed on my behalf…and perhaps theirs.
I am always moved by people’s concern for my wellbeing and reassure people that I have chronic illnesses that I manage not cure. I manage with the tools I teach and that even if I don't come out of this particular exacerbation, I will continue to live in peace which for me is what it’s all about and if I do come out, it will be at a higher place than I was before.
You see, this the reality for those of us who have suffered some form of trauma or major life change is that recovery is ongoing and comes in waves. For many of us the greatest recovery comes from the inner peace gained from the acceptance of our present situation and this too is ongoing.
So, if we accept this to be true, if we accept that recovery is ongoing, how do we support ourselves and each other through this process?
Firstly, find a practice that improves your wellness and maintain a regular practice, even after the initial flush of recovery. It seems to be fairly common nature for us to find a practice that makes us feel better only to let it go when we start to feel better. The best way to stay out of the hole is to keep doing whatever it was that got you out of the hole.
And if you fall off the wagon and find yourself in a hole again, Give yourself a break releasing as much guilt as you can because you're human. go back to the Same ladder and start climbing again.
Find a support team and give them permission to keep you accountable. This might be a coach or a counsellor, a yoga teacher, therapist or trusted friend. Choose wisely, not because they will take you out and get you pissed but because you know they will respectfully keep you honest.
It is a friend, colleague, partner or family member the first step is to listen. Stop what you're doing, make a cup of tea and listen. Ask questions – what has helped before, how would like me to support you, would you like me to come with you? Questions that invite the person to consider and find their own wisdom and path. Set an example in your own behaviour. Things not to do: nag and remind them they've been here before - They know, already!!!
The most important things I have learned about recovery is that it is not a place you land and unpack. It happens in stages and requires resilience, acceptance and forgiveness. Whether it is yourself in recovery or someone you care for, it takes time, is ongoing and is often more more about finding peace where you are right now than finding a cure.
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 Part 1 and Part 2, and be inspired.
Join me on my 21-day experiment to road-test a felt experience of gratitude.
Gratitude has been attributed with some pretty powerful guns in the world of personal and professional transformation, and once again I find myself curious about the veracity of these claims. Is it really the magic bullet of happiness?
The underlying philosophy of Gratitude’s power is that when we focus on our lack, that’s what we notice and hence that’s what we attract, consequently we are always left wanting which leads to consuming more to fill up the perceived deficit. Conversely, when we feel grateful for what we have our focus becomes one of abundance and that’s what we attract, and because we are already abundant we consume less because there is no deficit.
So, that’s the theory but does it really work? Can practicing gratitude really reduce our consumption of stuff, food, spirituality and religion, and relationships? Can gratitude increase our contentment with our life? Perhaps even with ourselves? Can it really attract success? And if gratitude is a powerful tool for happiness, can it be learnt and practiced.
These are the sorts of questions I started to ask when I finished my experiment with love. I felt incredibly grateful for the lessons I had learnt and the practice I had established, while becoming acutely aware of the times I didn’t respond with love and I the times I didn’t feel content. Simultaneously I started to see “gratitude” everywhere. I couldn’t open my Facebook feed without one modern day guru or another blogging the importance of gratitude, my own yoga tradition sprewking gratitude and a recurring memory of an NLP teacher selling fridge magnets that said “attitude of gratitude”.
It was Christmas – a time of the year when consumerism and gluttony spreads their wings and go wild in a duet of massive proportions. At the same time I was preparing the second edition of my book for publishing as an eBook.
21-Days of Love had created an incredible level of resilience and tolerance to the vagaries of life and Christmas, and my usual Christmas depression was surprisingly somnolent. A good time to put the book out into the world again. A fevered weekend before Christmas with my partner putting the final pieces together and finally pressing “Publish” late on Sunday afternoon. Waves of relief, gratitude, happiness, jubilation and more than slight disbelief flowed with the bubbles of a bottle of Moet we had been saving for a special occasion.
What followed was an even more fevered three days of Facebooking, emailing and texting everyone I knew, had ever known, might one day know or have not yet heard of to invite them to download a free copy of my eBook to register it as a thing on Amazon. Initially it was so exciting and fun, as I started to watch the figures rise and moved to the top of my free categories in the US, UK and Australia.
And then it shifted. All the focus on figures and subscription rates etc. changed my attitude from a game to comparison, competition and stress and anxiety. Abundance and celebration became lack, and I began to think about the people who didn’t download or unsubscribed to my newsletter.
Fortunately I had my 21-Days of Love behind me and I noticed the difference. Fortunately I looked around my life and ‘saw’ it all again, with the sensation of love.
I made a decision to stop watching the figures, stop sending emails and texts and Facebook posts, and feel thankful for each copy downloaded and each message of encouragement.
Do you know what happened? My mind instantly relaxed, it felt like a physical opening in the cortex of my brain – literally. My breathing slowed and deepened, a smile slowly spread across my face and I enjoyed a beautiful Christmas with my family, once again feeling grateful for the abundance of love in my life.
Since then I have ‘played’ with gratitude and noticed that even random acts of gratitude have an impact on my life. So, let’s have a more rigorous test of the power of an Attitude of Gratitude.
Stage 1 Daily Random Acts of Gratitude.
- Get comfortable in your favourite place (you might like to light a candle but this is optional).
- Do some movement to open your chest (even rolling your shoulders is enough, first one at a time, then both together, slowly and mindfully).
- Take a few moments to become aware of your breath, allow the breath in and allow it to leave.
- Invite the out breath to lengthen.
- So, what does gratitude feel like? Take a moment to remember something for which you already feel gratitude then let the sensation of gratitude flow through your mind and body.
- When you are ready, create the intention to feel gratitude for at least one thing in your day.
- Allow the events of your day to play across the screen of your mind with this intention of gratitude in your awareness. Remember that is what you here for, not mulling over particular events or interactions, you are here to find something to thank.
- If you have had a particularly stressful day or you are dealing with difficult life circumstances it might initially be difficult to find something but stick with the intention and something will arise, even if it is as mundane as having clothes on your body.
- You may find you start a flood of gratitude or you may find that a drop is all you can manage – whatever you manage is enough.
- Gratitude practice is great to do every night before going to bed because it puts your mind into a more positive space before sleep and is very relaxing, even after a stressful day.
Stage 2 Attitude of Gratitude practice.
Another gratitude practice that I have yet to road-test consistently is to appreciate what is working in the different aspects of my life, so once I have established my Daily Random Acts of Gratitude practice, I will start a more systematic approach to gratitude. I will find something in every aspect of my life that is working.
- Gratitude for existing – each day I continue to breathe brings more opportunity live and love (“I breathe in and feel life, I breathe out and feel grateful”).
- Gratitude for the food I have eaten today – even if it wasn’t the healthiest or the most delicious or even not enough, it was food that sustained me through the day.
- Gratitude for your shelter – whatever shelter I have is still shelter.
- Gratitude for my friends and family – every interaction with another person is an opportunity for me to feel connection.
- Gratitude for my financials – this is a tricky one for me and I will focus on gratitude for the tasks that are compensated for with money and every cent that comes through my hands.
- Gratitude for my jobs – I feel grateful that each job I do is an opportunity to express my purpose and contribute to my financials.
- Gratitude for my purpose – this is another tricky one for me because sometimes my ego feels a little embarrassed by my purpose and sometimes hide from it, so I will practice feeling grateful for my purpose.
- Gratitude for the resources to fulfil my purpose – again tricky because I have a background of scarcity so I will consciously look for the moments I have expressed my purpose in my day and let flow the golden bubbles of gratitude (which me luck here, folks).
- Gratitude for success – the hardest one of all for me as biggest cloud over my parade is the belief in my own failure, so I will root through each day and find my successes! (I will, I promise).
Once again I will carry out my practice every day for 21 days, an attempt to embed the habit of a felt experience of gratitude.
Following on from the personal success of writing everyday during my 21 Days of Love, I am committing to writing every day and publishing on my website, then sharing on Facebook.
Today is Day 1, I will write tomorrow.
Thank you with love,
How can we celebrate abundance without indulging in and celebrating conspicuous consumption? Is feeling abundant about feeling safe? If so, can we feel safe and abundant with what we have now?
In the yogic calendar it has recently been an auspicious time to celebrate abundance in all aspects of life – health, food, relationships, wealth, purpose and life itself. A mind that is resting in abundance is content and safe, perhaps even joyful. Everywhere they look there is enough, beauty and life in plenty. yet it is easy to slip into a wanting mind when thinking about abundance and confusing ‘abundance’ with excess, focusing only on material wealth and ‘more’. Perhaps we will feel safer if we feel more abundant.
Modern self-help gurus often refer to abundance by adding zeroes to your income or multiplying your income by a factor of two or three, or even exponentially. So tempting to think we need more in order to feel abundant; that if we add those zeroes or have that perfect house (or mansion) or car or fashion items, we will feel abundant.
Unfortunately what so often happens is that we feel less, tricked on to the endless treadmill of chasing that ’more’ that will make us feel safe. And the abundance that was supposed to make us feel safe becomes a cause of fear of the consequences if loose our abundance. How will we feel safe if our abundance is taken away from us?
So if our constant rush towards ‘more’ arises out of a need to feel safe, how do we step out of the ‘wanting mind’ and into an appreciation of the abundance that already exists in our lives? Gratitude and Generosity.
Gratitude for what we have now is the key to feeling abundant and we can train ourselves in feeling gratitude in the same way we can train ourselves in any other attitude or skill – practice.
Imagine how differently you would feel about your life if you looked upon your circumstances with gratitude, appreciating the aspects of your life rather than complaining? You would feel abundant. Then if you want to change an aspect of your circumstances you can do so by choice instead of compulsion. You switch from being reactive to proactive, from wanting to plenty and fearful to safe. Out of this generosity naturally arises.
Practice gratitude in all the key aspects of your life
It is true that there are sets of circumstances for which it is difficult to feel gratitude, and I have been in some of them, but even in those times if I stopped to feel a moment of gratitude for a beautiful rainbow or flower, or see the beautiful smile in someone’s eyes, that moment of beauty and gratitude gave me peace. It brought my mind to rest for that moment which washed over the rest of my life and enabled me to live.
The gratitude practice
Take time each morning and each night to feel gratitude for:
- Your life.
- The food that you eat - even it is not your ideal version of food, you can feel grateful for having food and your capacity to discern ideal food and how amazing that that’s even possible.
- Your health - in the case of chronic or acute illness this can be difficult and I have found that focussing on the bits that are working helps and flows in to the bits that aren’t doing so well.
- The relationships in your life - if there are problematic relationships in your life, look for the lessons and learn them in gratitude, and if that’s not possible look for beauty and let your gratitude for beauty wash over you.
- Roof over your head - if you have one you have plenty to be thankful for, even if it is not your ideal version and seeing every roof as something to appreciate is a lot more peaceful than wanting more.
- Career/purpose/contribution - this can be problematic for those of us who think we need to have a grand purpose but haven’t found it yet, perhaps start with feeling gratitude for what you are doing in the world, now.
- Goal or intention, no matter how small e.g. my goal today is to feel grateful - feeling gratitude for even having a goal or intention, even if you haven’t yet fulfilled it, simply having one with gratitude gets you out of bed to clean your teeth and reveal goals you may not even know you had.
- Adequate means to fulfil your goal (the means may not always be material) - sometimes you may not be aware of the means, you may not see the means in your current but feeling gratitude for means you do have at your disposal is a great place to start.
- For your whole life.
- And then watch yourself becoming more generous to yourself and those around you, effortlessly.
- Allow gratitude for beauty and the bits that are working to wash over the bits that are tricky.
- Use your breath for each aspect – “I breathe in and notice, I breathe out and feel gratitude”.
- When you catch yourself complaining, wanting or feeling like an aspect of your circumstance isn’t enough, find gratitude and notice how your feeling of abundance shifts and your mind becomes smoother.
I look forward to hearing of your experiences with gratitude
Remember, if you want to feel abundance in your life begin with feeling gratitude for life as it is now – you will naturally feel more abundant and safe, and generosity will flow effortlessly.
Have you ever been sailing along triumphantly, feeling like you have a handle on this boat called life when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, an ancient grief rises from the depths of your ocean and threatens to swamp your boat with a tsunami of suffering? This happened to me last night.
I returned home from an amazing five days of preparation and teaching on a Dru Meditation Teacher Training module, feeling elated and inspired. I was finally realising my skill as a teacher and mentor, in a way I had not been able to understand previously, and the students were on their journey to stillness. My boat was sailing smoothly, the ocean of my consciousness was smooth and the sky was blue.
Then part way through a conversation triggered by an English television drama, the grief monster rose from the depths and began rocking my boat with a suffering I thought I had already resolved. A wave of sadness rose in front of me and seemed like an insurmountable mountain that was going to engulf me. Then another thought, ‘I thought I had dealt with this’, sprang a leak in the bottom of my boat.
After some moments of feeling the beginnings of drowning, I remembered that in the past my suffering has been released in layers when I was ready to hold the pain, and maybe this time was no different. It was a deeper, causal aspect of the very familiar issue I was seeing here not the same old same old, and may be the previous five days of practicing the eight limbs of yoga, including a shirt-load of meditation, created the space in my awareness to releasing this particular thought pattern. I was able to use my tools to navigate the tsunami and over time the grief monster dissolved – ‘it’s not my fault … it’s not anyone’s fault … it just is’.
Today I am again sailing freely on a smooth ocean in a clear blue sky and feeling very grateful for this opportunity to let go of this layer of suffering and embrace the truth I keep learning – it just is. I am also grateful that I have learnt tools that I can use to facilitate this letting go and am in a position to share them with other people.
We have all experienced traumatic events that leave traces of recurring grief long after the event itself has become a memory. Unresolved grief can have many negative effects on our lives. At the very least we unconsciously create negative patterns that impact on our relationships and our life decisions; at worst, our grief becomes the seed for disease, sometimes life threatening.
The good news is that when you are ready to let go of your grief, there are tools to help you to part the clouds and the let the sunshine through.
I’d like to share three simple tools to help dissolve your grief monsters when they threaten to swamp your boat.
First is the Gesture of Letting Go that I shared in a series of tips for living life that I wrote for Dru Australia, called Dru Tips for Life,. It is a simple yet profound practice from the Dru publication, the Dance between Joy and Pain, by Dr Mansukh Patel and Rita Goswami.
Gesture of Letting Go
- Come into a comfortable sitting position with your back aligned.
- Bend your arms at the elbow so your arms are at a ninety degree angle, with palms facing up.
- Allow the source of your grief to sit in the open palms of your hands.
- Breathe in and lengthen through your spine.
- Breathe out while raising your palms to face behind you, with the intention to ‘let go’ of your grief.
- Hold this position for 1-2 minutes with your eyes closed, imagining your lungs filling with white light, with each breath.
- When you are ready, lower your palms, and sit quietly with your eyes closed and your hands folded gently in your lap.
- Rest in silence for a few moments before moving back into your life.
Shedding your Coat
The second tool is a visualisation that came to during a time of suffering and one I have since used often since and found useful. I hope Shedding your Coat might come in handy for you too.
- When you arrive at the essence of this version of your grief monster, visualise it as coat resting on your shoulders.
- When you are ready to release the grief, visualise lifting the collar of the coat off your shoulders and shed the coat on to the ground behind you before going forward and leaving the coat behind you.
Opposite Sides of the Coin
- Ask yourself, “What is the belief I have formed from this suffering?”
- Allow the belief to arise and observe it from a distance.
- Watch the belief and notice the emotions, sensations and images that arise.
- Then allow the opposite belief to arise in your awareness and observe any emotions, sensations and images that may arise from that opposite belief.
- Invite your awareness to flow smoothly between the two opposites, observing each one before returning to the other, in your own time.
- When you are ready, hold the two beliefs simultaneously in the hand of your awareness, and notice what happens.
- There is no right outcome for this process but it helps to put your thoughts into perspective. They may dissolve or a new solution may arise or it may remind you that you are not just your mind.
Choose the tool you feel most comfortable with, knowing it is most effective when you practice it regularly, at the same time each day when have a few moments of peace in your life. You may even find your sea becomes smoother with each practice.
PS: remember, when you are ready to let go of your grief, find yourself a few minutes of peace in your day and practice the Gesture of Letting Go, Shedding your Coat or Opposite Sides of the Coin.
If you would like to receive Drutips for Life into your mailbox on a regular basis, go to www.dru.com.au and register.