The key to acceptance ~ understand everything changes with time

Here is my piece featured on http://www.tinybuddha.com

“If you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” ~Byron Katie

I love this quote. Ironic, really, because when I first read it I was furious—furious with my reality and anyone who encouraged me to be accepting of it. In my mind to accept chronic illness was to accept defeat.

I had just been diagnosed with fibromyaglia, an incredibly painful condition that had me bedridden most days and unable to care for my then two-year-old daughter, never mind myself. My home became filled with carers, aids and adaptations.

Rather than starting a new career as a newly qualified occupational therapist, I was struggling instead with the fear of lifelong pain, the shame of unemployment, and the guilt of not being the active mother I so desperately wanted to be. I was in no mood to accept such circumstances in life.

So how did I move from a position of resistance to one of restoration? How can we find some wiggle room in situations that may feel utterly immobilizing? Well, chocolate and cake help, but what really started creating space for growth was the Buddhist notion of impermanence and the insight, acceptance, and mindfulness that flowed from that.

Impermanence is a universal law; every single thing is in flux. Take the British weather, for example. We know it’s unpredictable and always changing, so when we go on holiday here we often take boots and raincoats as well as sun cream and hats! We see this same principle mirrored in ourselves as we age. I remember a time when I was washing dishes and, in looking down at my hands, was taken aback at how much they resembled my mother’s. Soft lines and delicate wrinkles that had found a home on my skin stared back at me.

The deep realization that not a single person or thing is fixed and ultimately impermanent can cause some sadness and anxiety, but within this there is a freedom and hope.

The Glass is Already Broken

Someone once asked a well-known meditation master, Ajahn Chah, in a world where everything changes, how can there be happiness?

The teacher held up a drinking glass and with much compassion explained, “You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

When I read this and really let it sink into my bones, slowly, gently, something shifted. Though my ill health had initially caused so much loss and sadness, I was able to move from a place of “Why me?” to a “Why not me?” It cooled my rage, and the first shoots of acceptance began to show.

We will after all, all experience pain at some point in our lives. It is part of the package of being human. Accepting this can help ease the emotional suffering sometimes enmeshed within pain and encourage us to truly embrace and appreciate life’s pain-free moments, the pockets of joy.

Saying Hello to the Here of Our Circumstances

There is a wonderful story in Pádraig Ó Tuama’s book, In the Shelter, about a photojournalist who was returning to a tribe in Papua New Guinea where she had lived as a child. Within this tribe there was no word for hello. Instead, upon seeing someone you simply said, “You are here” and the response being equally clear was “Yes, I am.”

Isn’t that wonderful? Can we say hello to the here of our circumstances? No matter how dire or unfair they seem, if we can we’re better able to accept them. Acceptance is not defeat. It is an acknowledgment of the truth. Once we can accept where we are we can move forward with greater clarity, courage, and strength. It’s an opportunity to become unstuck, to experience well-being in the midst of our symptoms and well-being beyond our symptoms.

The Power of Mindfulness

Another thing that helped me get unstuck was mindfulness, which means conscious awareness of our moment-to-moment experience, without judgment. When I began to tentatively practice mindfulness each day I soon realized that my experience of pain was never static. It changed in its intensity and location, and ultimately had many flavors. Sometimes it was a stabbing or burning sensation, at other times a dull ache. I could observe how it felt in different parts of my body and how, like waves, it had a tendency to rise and fall. I was shown how my experience of chronic pain was, like the weather, ever changing.

I was finally able to whisper a faint hello to the pain and the emotions around it, to the here of my circumstances and the practice of listening became a sort of self-hospitality. I could welcome what is just as I would welcome a friend.

Within this I also saw the flip side of impermanence, the gift that nothing is set in stone. I was told I would always be in constant pain, but I knew my pain experience was fluid. I had occasional respite from it, even if it was just one hour a day, and with new pain knowledge and Buddhist principles I was learning to emotionally disengage from it.

Seven years after my devastating diagnosis I actually recovered from the pain of fibromyalgia. That was over three years ago, and I have never had to take pain medication for it since, but that’s another story.

As it stands I’m currently learning to navigate life with another painful chronic illness—hello, broken glass—but I’m much better able to live with it, sometimes even thrive despite of it, now that I understand the universal truth of impermanence and have nurtured the willingness to say hello to the here (albeit at times begrudgingly).

If a black mood does settle on me I try to take myself out for a mindful meander in nature.

When I can be still and behold a gyre of jackdaws, twisting and twirling like leaves caught in a breeze, it cuts through the chatter and noise, frets and fears. It’s a sweet balm for life’s concerns, and mindful moments like these, when there is peace in every breath and joy in every view, are sacred to me. They remind me that there is so much beauty in the world to balance the pain. It enables me to appreciate the present moment, helping to create the chance of a promising future.

Happiness is, after all, an inside job.

Practicing mindfulness, appreciating nature, and understanding impermanence are some of the things that have helped me—and could help you too. When we embrace what is, enjoy what we can, and accept that all things inevitably change, peace becomes possible.

A wednesday in winter

(a ten minute poetry challenge)

The robin that feeds at my window

whispers a hymn

and tentatively

I follow, stepping by streams

that seek no rest.

Cold stares from stones

betray my mind,

the fall has never been so welcome.

My body opens in weakness

as sundrops shine holy light

on my broken pieces with tender peace.

A communion of presence,

and a remembering of place.

Still, seen, sung into silence.

Resurrection; the ebb and flow

of natures song.

I go back to my window.

I am home again.

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 well worn paths

that lead us

on a journey

back into ourselves.

Our woodland home.

Illness & Imperfection: Embracing Life’s Messiness

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“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:

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  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:

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  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.