Life givers – trees – a poem

Dream weavers, nest peepers,

mood lifters, time changers,

shadow shifters, light sifters,

softly whisper

to us.

Majestic giant memory keepers

reach out

with fronded fingers at their feet

and tickle our senses,

holding our secrets,

silently, expectantly

waiting for the two leggeds to remember.

We are the forest children,

wandering along their well worn paths

that lead us on a journey

back into ourselves.

Our woodland home.

Illness & Imperfection: Embracing Life’s Messiness

img_20181017_150619.jpg

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people, it will keep you cramped and insane your whole life”.

Anne Lamott

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’ve had to be. Illness, especially chronic illness, tends to put a spanner in the works of any life plans we may have concocted. It is, in reality, both an unhelpful & maladaptive personality trait to have, so why do we have it? Fear.

Perfectionism is fear tied up in a (neat) pretty little bow. It tricks us into feeling like we have some assemblance of control over our lives as we fumble around on this beautiful blue spinning rock called Earth. Brene Brown describes perfectionism wonderfully as armour against vulnerability. I get that, I really do, if there is one emotion I am very familiar with it is that of feeling vulnerable but life is much more pleasant without the ‘P’ word.

I was supposed to have a successful career as an occupational therapist after university, grow my family, care for my daughter, learn to drive, hike long trails & forge new paths through the adventure of life. It seems however that the universe wasn’t altogether aware of what was supposed to be happening.

The lack of control & role loss, the shame of being unproductive & the uncertainty I experienced with ill health was incredibly distressing. However I wonder now looking back, how many days did I lose to worry & stress? How many precious moments did I miss because I was fretting over the future? My life was far from perfect after all. Yet I made the classic move of what buddhists call shooting myself with a second arrow, over & over again. Buddha described how anytime we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. The first arrow is the actual negative event, which can cause pain. The second arrow is the suffering – or our reaction to the negative event & the way we emotionally respond. No doubt the moments I missed & energy I expended raging against my imperfect life are too numerous to count, I knew no better but as the wonderful Tara Brach writes, “when we learn to relax with imperfection we no longer lose our life to moments of fear”.

For my own sake & for the sake & health of my family I  had to learn to let go of the shoulds & supposed to’s. Trees & gardens are a wonderful lesson in this. Each autumn they shed so easily that which no longer serves them, making room for fresh new growth in the spring. I began to realise that my mind was like a garden & I had the power to grow resentment, anger & fear or I could plant seeds of compassion, love, joy, courage & hope.

It wasn’t & isn’t necessarily easy or straightforward. I often falter & weed pulling is a daily habit but I’m aware I have choice. That’s the point. The sweet spot. Whether or not I always make a kind choice is another matter. Eventually though I managed to let go of the feeling of shame that I carried around with me. Slowly replacing it with the belief that I was enough, am enough. None of us are defined by our illnesses or misfortunes.

There is a poem that I love by Padraig O’Tuama it reads, “the place of pain is the place of survival (and sometimes barely that)”.  In order to survive well we need to nurture ourselves with whatever gives our life meaning. Nature, music & friendship are some of the things of joy & value in my life; the things that help stitch me back together when I’m tattered & torn. In moments of struggle I like to step outside if I am able to. The Talmud has a lovely saying, “every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it whispering grow, grow, grow!”  – the whole world sacred ground & when I can sit & let the sun explore my face, I let go a little. When I can be still & open to my reality, I let go a little. Each moment an act of holiness as I welcome what is.

I still hope that pain will one day be less of a companion in my life but I’m learning to take the pain with me, into whatever future may unfold, one imperfect step at a time.

 

Claire Marsden @occulife

I’m a qualified occupational therapist with a passion for nature, mindfulness and well-being. I have a painful chronic illness that I’m learning to navigate life with, my second after recovering from a previous illness three years ago. I guess I’m a bit of an expert at living life with ill-health! I hope my thoughts will be of some use to people on their own journeys to well-being.

 

11 ways to bring the outdoors indoors when you have a chronic illness

“The art of life is our constant readjustment to our surroundings”

Kakuzo Okakura

Nature is food for my soul.

There are some days however when even with all the will in the world I cannot or could not get outside because pain or fatigue levels were just too severe. I had to learn to find ways to bring the outdoors indoors.

I’m sure many of you will already do some of these but I hope you will find some new ideas with which to fill your home and possibly spend some of your time doing depending on your pain, mood and fatigue levels.

  1. I filled my house with easy to look after plants and flowers. Wonderful scents, colours and shapes filled my bedroom and home. Succulents, cacti and peace lilies survived even my none green fingers. It’s wonderful to watch something grow, change and thrive even when we might not be. It also showed me that even though some days felt utterly monotonous there was change happening around me.cof

2. On a better day physically I had fun making terrariums. Again these are super easy to care for and a wonderful way to release some creativity. This is a very basic one but you can go as big and bold as you like! Here is my miniature rock climbing lady:

IMG_20181106_124213.jpg

  1. Sensory bowls. These are lovely and can follow the seasons or memories you would like to bring to life. Fill them with tactile beautiful objects. You can recapture the seaside with  seashells, fossils or sand. You could have an autumn dish filled with interesting finds – acorns, crisp coloured leaves or conkers. It can also be nice to add some drops of essential oil to the dish to add another element.
  1. Rainbow makers. These are so lovely and unassuming. Hang a crystal in a window that catches the sun and your room will be filled with the magic of hidden colours revealed.
  1. Art. I really enjoy original art and try every few years to save up and buy a piece. There are many galleries now which will allow you to pay monthly installments for pieces. Art from nature is wonderful, I particularly like lino and mono prints.
  1. Crafting. I find it really satisfying to create something whether or not what I produce is very good is by the by! You can craft things in rhythm  with the seasons from egg decorating at Easter, screen printing birthday cards in the summer  to making window collages with leaves in autumn or leaf inspired autumnal brooches. In winter you can make cards  or wreaths at Christmas time. There are so many options and each activity can be graded according to pain and strengths.IMG_20171130_195116.jpgIMG_20180801_120230.jpg
  1. Growing veg! You don’t need a garden or much energy to grow simple vegetables and herbs. Chard is delicious and particularly easy to grow as are herbs, just a little window box on your kitchen window sill, mix in some sunlight and water and you’re away!

cof

  1. Books. I love reading books about hiking trails, adventures in the great outdoors and nature. I get to live vicariously when the world feels out of bounds. If reading is too difficult either with concentration levels or pain I found sometimes that audio books were a good option. Here are some of my favourites:

mde

  1. Colours! My home is filled with the ochres of autumn, fiery red of sunsets and the cool greens of woodlands.
  1. Sounds of nature and music. It is so easy these days to be able to treat ourselves to the sounds of nature whether it’s waves crashing against rocks or the incredible sounds of a tropical jungle. All we have to do is go on online and open our ears. I also love classical pieces which invoke natural scenes and the sounds of landscapes.

11. Bird feeders. I purchased a bird feeder that sticks to the window  they are fantastic!           From my bed I could watch the nuthatches, bullfinches and robins all coming to fill           their beaks and bellies.

Nothing can replace having good health but these are some of the small ways I brought myself some comfort.  I wish you much love on your own journey to well-being

Claire Marsden @occulife

I’m a qualified occupational therapist with a passion for nature, mindfulness and well-being. I have a painful chronic illness that I’m learning to navigate life with, my second after recovering from a previous illness three years ago. I guess I’m a bit of an expert at living life with ill-health! I hope my thoughts will be of some use to people on their own journeys to well-being.

Awe; our secret weapon in the quest for well-being

g

We’ve all felt it, the moment as a child when the vastness and beauty of the night stars beheld you and momentarily  stole your breath, the intellectual jaw drop the first time you saw the vision of our tiny blue planet as seen from space or the feeling that was all-enveloping when you summited a mountain and were given the gift of vistas below.

Such grand and vast examples may be  what first springs to mind but feelings of awe can also be elicited by smaller events – the beauty of a tree as it is painted with the brush of autumn or the delicate light in a forest dappled with sun. As Aristotle once said, “in all things of nature there is something of the marvellous”.  Science too is taking note investigating awe and its impact on well-being and health. The Greater Good Science Centre (GGSC) at the University of California has recently published a white paper – The Science of Awe – and the results are fascinating.

But first what is awe? The authors at GGSC describe how  awe experiences can be characterized by two phenomena: “perceived vastness” and a “need for accommodation”, the need for accommodation being when a stimulus exceeds our expectations in some way. Hence my young daughter’s first observable moment of awe. At four years old we were walking into the park, not unusual, except this time nature captured her attention  –  she noticed a single tree aflame with the reds, golds and burnt umbers of autumn, she stopped dead in her tracks and simply and beautifully  exclaimed; “wow!”.

Awe – aka wow.

We have all hopefully experienced awe at some point in our lives and we know the scientific parameters of awe but how can it help you or I ? Well according to researchers at GGSC there are both psychological and social effects.

They found that awe :

  • can create a diminished sense of self – meaning focus is shifted away from our own concerns
  • makes people more humble, “awe led to self-diminishment, which in turn gave rise to humility.”
  • expands the perception of time , which for the study participants meant they were then more willing than other people to volunteer their time to help others, to prefer experiential purchases over material ones, and reported greater satisfaction with their lives.
  • connectedness – awe helped people feel more connected to other people, and to humanity as a whole.
  • encouraged a positive mood and well-being
  • linked to better physical health – awe promoted healthier levels of cytokines. High levels of cytokines are associated with poor health and disease, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and depression
  • increased life satisfaction and decreased materialism , participants who recalled an awe experience placed less value on money than did participants who recalled happy or neutral experiences, and viewing awe-inducing images reduced the effort people were willing to put into getting money

Awe – it’s pretty awesome!

So how can we help manifest more of this marvellously magical  mood? One word – nature. Awe is when nature puts her best dress on and dances like no-one’s watching. She is our invitation into awe and available to all, the sick and the healthy. So much so that researchers found using virtual reality to showcase awe inspiring landscapes yielded many positive results – participants did not have to physically be in the landscape to benefit from it. From an occupational therapy perspective as-well as a personal one I find this very exciting. It also drew my mind back to the  ‘five ways to mental well-being’ from the government office for science, in particular their call to ‘take notice’ and to ‘catch sight of the beautiful’.

I do however feel most alive and find most meaning when I am physically out in nature, even if I am simply sitting in the garden. Having a chronic illness means that sometimes the closest I come to living life on the edge is using my mobile phone in the bath but I can and do experience awe when I am able to take a slow stroll in the woods near my home – when trees tremble with the first touch of autumn and leaves float down like confetti welcoming me into their home, then like a small child I am in awe. So what are you waiting for? Bend your heart towards nature and let awe welcome you home.

Claire Marsden @occulife

I’m a qualified occupational therapist with a passion for nature, mindfulness and well-being. I have a painful chronic illness that I’m learning to navigate life with, my second after recovering from a previous illness three years ago. I guess I’m a bit of an expert at living life with ill-health! I hope my thoughts will be of some use to people on their own journeys to well-being.

The outdoors – medicine for the mind

tod

In my mind’s eye I see an image of the sun’s rays rising to meet a masiff, hungry shafts of dawn- light falling on granite blades of mountain and moss. I too am eager to set foot and boot and bone on it and in it, to set my senses on nature. It is in nature that I feel truly hushed, seen, found and grounded. Like the solid timeless rocks of mountainscapes which resist erosion so well, so too can we, by being in nature, resist the ever increasing pace and force of modern life which so often seems to leave us wanting, and for those with a disability frequently discriminates against. Yet an illness or disability does not have to separate us from our inheritance.

Walking is my axis mundi. There is a freedom on the trail, labels disappear and job titles are tossed aside, we are hikers, explorers, adventurers, equals. I haven’t always being physically able to take part in hiking however. Between the age of 28 and 35 I spent most of my days in my home crippled by excruciating pain from which I was told I would never recover. The 500 pain killers I took each month only served to give me a window of perhaps two hours a day with which to spend time with my young daughter and husband. There was no pressure to ‘make the most of it’, honestly!

So what to do in times like this ? Well sometimes when we are unable to venture out into nature we need to bring the outdoors indoors. I started to live vicariously through artists, writers and musicians. Some would argue, as the narrator in Proust’s, ‘the prisoner’ espoused that, “the only true voyage of discovery…would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others and to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds”. I don’t completely agree with this but it did temporarily satiate the desire to escape my restrictive reality.

However when, as often happened, pain levels were too high to read or even listen to an audio book I found simply gazing out of my bedroom window onto the ever changing scene of woodland and wildlife brought me to a place of momentary peace and restoration.

Fast forward a few years and with some luck, lots of hard work and perseverance I healed from that illness and spent 3 lovely years walking locally, wild swimming and easing back into the world. Yet after planning (to attempt) a long distance hike I’ve found myself again diagnosed with another painful chronic illness – none of us has a monopoly on health I angrily told myself. So now I find I’m falling back on my occupational therapy training (not to be confused with occupational health) adapting activities, grading, finding a way to incorporate my meaningful occupation of walking in nature, into my current circumstance and with some mindfulness, creativity and patience, like John Muir counselled, I am able to make sure a few of the paths I take in life are dirt.

 

Claire Marsden @occulife

I’m a qualified occupational therapist with a passion for nature, mindfulness and well-being. I have a painful chronic illness that I’m learning to navigate life with, my second after recovering from a previous illness three years ago. I guess I’m a bit of an expert at living life with ill-health! I hope my thoughts will be of some use to people on their own journeys to well-being.