Practising mindfulness is a process. It’s not about trying to get something, but about living and being, allowing the practice to unfold just as life does. There is no end point but that doesn’t mean we don’t make progress. Every so often, something happens that makes me realise just how far I have travelled. It’s a moment to acknowledge, to explore and to celebrate.
I had one of these moments last week. I received a phone call from a hospital I am under; could I attend a three month inpatient neuro-rehabilitation programme with less than two days notice? I have been on the waiting list for the last eighteen months. It’s the only treatment available in this country that I am yet to try. Places are like gold dust.
But two days notice to up and leave daily life for three months in hospital is a tall order for anyone. Factor in the extra challenges I face with my disability, the length of time it takes me to get things done whilst managing my condition, and it’s a tall order indeed.
I didn’t know what I would decide, but I felt surprisingly calm. I was able to take time to explore my options. I could look from different perspectives. I drew upon the broad, stable awareness I’ve cultivated in practising the open heart meditation. I maintained my grounding as I allowed thoughts and feelings to come and go. I was able to look in on the situation and see it for what it was, rather than flapping about in panic, which would have been understandable but unhelpful.
As I thought it through clearly, the reality emerged that I would have less than twenty-four hours to get ready. I knew that wasn’t long enough. I asserted my needs, requesting the weekend to prepare and make arrangements, and I left it in the hands of the hospital, comfortable with my decision.
This time it wasn’t to be. Although my treatment would have begun no later, the bed had to be filled. I continue on the waiting list, not knowing when the next call will come or how much notice I’ll be given, but I now feel confident that it will feel like a ripple in the water, rather than a wave crashing down on me. With the help of my mindfulness practice, I can respond rather than react.
There’s a lady in the bed opposite. She’s waiting patiently with such elegance and poise. Later today she is having surgery to remove a tumour from her brain. She’ll be awake during the operation. She’s been warned of possible complications; loss of function and changes in personality. She waits, calmly. “It’s okay for me,” she says, “this is a one-off. It’s you I feel for having an ongoing condition.”
There’s a lady in the bed alongside me. She’s been waiting for hours, days, for tests she desperately hopes will reveal answers. “I just want to know what’s wrong,” she says, jumping up every time someone approaches her bed. I don’t know what’s tormenting her more, the waiting or the unknown.
As for me, my bags are packed and I’m waiting to go home. My face lights up as I think of seeing my kitties and being in the peace and quiet of my little oasis. But here I find myself, waiting.Read More
I was becoming invisible, my body paling to the white sheets. As I lay on the hospital trolley, unable to move or speak, all I had was my mind. The strength of my thoughts and the images they created could take me anywhere. As I felt my heart sinking and tears pooling at my eyes I knew I needed to change direction. I focused on my breath. It gave me perspective. What was I feeling and where was it coming from? I felt utterly worthless. The actions, or lack of actions, by others during a time of acute illness in A&E had triggered an inner story; a deep seated belief that I knew to be untrue, yet at that moment I was compelled to believe.Read More
The cortical homunculus is a physical representation of our body in our brain. There are two types of these neurological ‘maps’; one for sensory pathways, the other for motor. The area a body part takes up on the map depends on how innervated it is, not how large. If our bodies actually looked like our brain’s representation, we would look very strange indeed. What these maps look like also varies from person to person as they are dependent on the information the brain receives. My hands probably have a larger representation than average due to my music and crafts, whilst my legs are likely to have a smaller representation than average as a result of the movement symptoms of my FND.Read More
George is a middle-aged man who lives in the States. He has a severe, progressive condition that affects all aspects of his day to day life, yet he is functioning on a higher level than many others with comparable disease. George practises mindfulness and is included as a case study in ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn. ‘Within the limits of his disease, he is actively meeting life’s challenges rather than sitting at home and bemoaning his fate. He takes each moment as it comes and figures out how he can work with it and stay relaxed and aware.’ An example of this is how George does the weekly grocery shop for himself and his wife. He takes his time. He rests. He asks for help when necessary. He gets the shopping packed into light bag loads which he is then able to lift from the trolley to the car. The daily tasks he completes in this way bring value and meaning to his life as he is able to contribute to the running of his household, whilst self-managing his condition. Read More
I move from side to side, shifting the centre of gravity in my chest, left, right, left, right. My knees bend softly, my feet start to lift up, left, right, left, right. I look ahead in the mirror, left, right, left, right. I hold the rail, the sturdy support, left, right, left, right. There’s an unfamiliar jolt beneath me; my body twists and I fall on my back. Read More
If you follow my blog regularly, you may have noticed I didn’t share a post last week. It was one of those weeks when unexpected stressors were being thrown at me quicker than I felt I could deal with them. We all have them. It can be any number of things; an illness, a difficult communication, something going wrong, an extra task coming your way when your diary’s already full. When the stressors start hurtling towards you, it can quickly become overwhelming. It can feel difficult to pick yourself up if the next knock blows before you’re fully upright. You feel thrown about by stress with a disconcerting lack of control.Read More
I embarked on Breathworks’ ‘Mindfulness for Health’ course with high hopes. I was already familiar with the wonderful work of Breathworks and I was eager to bring more of their techniques into my practice. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, my expectations were exceeded as I deepened my practice in a supportive and inspiring community. Read More
Have you ever been struck by how differently two people can view the same thing? How about considering how one person can see two very different points of view? It is so easy to get stuck in a particular mindset thinking there is only one way, but with an increase in psychological flexibility it’s possible to take a step back and consider alternative views. You might just discover all sorts of possibilities if you do.
I was feeling anxious about something recently; future hospital treatment, so it was understandable that I might feel apprehensive. I felt stuck. I’d lost control and jumped into the unknown. At least that’s what my thoughts were telling me. Prompted by the words of a wise doctor, I was reminded how those thoughts weren’t necessarily true. What might the alternative be? Could I flip it? Could I take charge and therefore feel in control? Could I express my wishes and assert my needs, making it less of an unknown? Yes, I could. The result was immediate and empowering. It felt like an entirely different situation. I was no longer stuck.
Our thoughts have a direct impact on our feelings, so it’s no surprise that a shift in perspective can bring a shift in feelings and an increased sense of well-being. The challenge is to see the alternative. We become so familiar with a particular point of view that our brains literally get used to activating certain neural pathways. The good news is that just like physical flexibility, psychological flexibility (being able to adapt to different situations and view alternative perspectives) can be increased. Learning something new, doing something differently and getting out of your comfort zone all help. You can read more about that here. It really is worth the effort.
“This is going to take some time,” I thought, as I was asked to draw my attention to the big toe of my left foot at the start of my first body scan meditation. I kept going though and was soon aware of tingling sensations in my feet I’d never noticed before. When I reached my lower back, a surge of warmth spread up my spine. By the end I was breathing with my entire body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I felt grounded, calm and peaceful, yet alert and awake.Read More