News / healing
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
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.
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?”