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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.