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Peace Whispering - 15th September 2018

There is no better time than now to commit ourselves to create more peace in our lives. Peace Whispering will show you how you can get more peace in your life and why it’s so important in our modern world.
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The Gateway to Living

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.


Workplace Sitting Spinal Twist

  • 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

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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 Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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Mental health – when we fall off the trapeze we need a safety net

Mental health across Australian society is in crisis, yet government funding for the community services that support mental wellbeing has been reduced, partly due to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Simultaneously, philanthropy has reduced for both general and special interest community groups, the assumption being that the NDIS will pay for everything that Medicare doesn’t.

Sadly, this isn’t the case, with the groups most affected being the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in our society: Indigenous Australians and people suffering mental illness.

I have experienced the issues relating to mental health from multiple perspectives. I watched my mother struggle with bipolar through her life, her suffering was accentuated by the medicalisation of her condition that didn't allow her to have a life that walked alongside her mental illness.

The stigma associated with mental didn’t allow her condition to be discussed or even acknowledge that we might also be suffering. There was little safety net or support structure for her or us and the shame was palpable.

I have experienced clinical depression in a more enlightened time. I was funded to have talking therapy. My children and husband -as carers, were supported by community organisations specifically funded by government and philanthropy, to provide this safety net.

I even received funding which enabled me to engage with yoga and meditation teacher training, which was ultimately my saviour physically, emotionally and spiritually.  In the last nine years alone this has saved thousands of dollars in care, pharmaceuticals and medical consultations. My suffering and the suffering of my family has been drastically reduced, while massively contributing to society through my teaching and and writing.

I now teach therapeutic yoga and meditation, and give private yoga therapy for people experiencing mental illness, PTSD and chronic conditions, in the community sector.

My fear is that the current user pays, evidence-based environment being created by the NDIS is the beginning of a return to the bad old days of the medicalisation of mental health. Medicalisation works with equipment, medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but doesn't provide the safety net of community. Treatment without community is a problem.

We need a vital community sector that offers a whole range of services. People from marginalised communities are the least likely to enter into the rigorous and protracted process of NDIS application. They are also most likely to understate the impact of their illness, and therefore most likely to be rejected by NDIS criteria.

And then, even if they are accepted there needs to be the services available that enable them to walk with their illness, and possibly even overcome its dominance over their lives.

The community service sector plays the role of mother, nurturer and carer in our society. It provides the safety net that family and society used to play, unconditional support when the proverbial faeces hit the fan, regardless of your status in society. This is as important for working Australians as it is for people who qualify for a disability pension or a disability parking ticket.

For people suffering mental illness these services include crisis accommodation, access to rehabilitation programs, counselling, financial planning, telephone support, support groups, hang out locations, access to technology, sport & recreation, arts, massage, volunteering opportunities, education and information services, carer nurturing and respite, and most importantly, community services at their best provide an understanding ear for people experiencing crisis, a place for people to land in the midst of their storm.

These services are both therapeutic and preventative and are not offered by the NDIS or Medicare. They are essential for maintaining mental health, preventing mental illness and responding to crisis that can affect any stratum of our society. They provide the care that balances with treatment and equipment – contentment is not just about having the right medical equipment and drugs.

We need to provide a vital and comprehensive safety net for people if and when they fall off the trapeze of modern life. Research shows that mental health is supported by holistically engaging in life; connection with other humans, purpose, nutrition, physical exercise, creative expression, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness. The evidence suggests that these ‘lifestyle’ factors are not luxuries but essential in recovering and maintaining good mental health.

Yet our peak funding bodies are funding and advocating awareness campaigns, pharmaceutical and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)solutions, whilst reducing funding for small community sector organisations that provide lifestyle support, on the basis they are not evidence based.

I know from my own experience that pharmaceuticals can be part of the solution for anxiety and depression. Zoloft opened a space in my dark and cloudy mind for the sun to shine through, enabling me to find more sustainable solutions for my mental health. I could see and then engage in the possibilities of my life when the medication had calmed the dogs breakfast that was my mind; and medication is essential for the management of mental illnesses.

Similarly, (CBT) is very effective for some people, but only one of several evidence based talking therapies that can help people reframe their mental landscape. And even in this current wave of domestic violence, relationship counselling or therapy is not funded by any publicly accessible pathway. The psychologist who helped me to see the light in 2006 would no longer be funded under the current arrangements and I would have needed to travel an hour into Canberra in a wheelchair and find $150-200 a session – not very likely.

I have been servicing this sector since 2009, and have watched the funding for the safety net services dwindle, staff become burnt out and clients suffer as “luxury” services they depended on to maintain wellbeing, disappeared.

Many of my students claim that the classes I deliver are the most effective solutions for improving and maintain both physical and mental health but if they have to make money they become unsustainable. I have already lost one class and others are threatened because students are unable to pay for a service that used to be free. Many are either not registered for the NDIS, have applied and been rejected or are still waiting for their package.

Recovering and maintaining mental health in a modern society requires all the resources we have available to us and to enable this requires honest and open collaboration between all the stakeholders and a vital and viable community safety net. We are a like a huge and complicated family and a family needs a mother that loves unconditionally and is always available to catch the falling trapeze artists.

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 Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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Depression - Look up and out

In this modern world where pressure to be perfect is high and new heights of sadness are displayed through our media on a daily basis, we need to share our experiences of suffering and the tools that help us to manage and even move through suffering.
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