Seeing the forest through the trees


 

dont-ignore-your-sufferingSuffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Life can sometimes feel unfair. Our actions, conscious or not, have the potential to fill us with regret, frustration, helplessness, even anger. Sometimes “bad” things happen to “good” people. It’s not unusual in these instances to wish we could turn back time, or to be fearful about what the future may hold; we may even look up to the heavens and ask why? When a seemingly unfortunate event unfolds, self-inflicted or not, physical or emotional, it is our perception and belief that makes us see it that way. We never really know why things happen as they do or what the result of it will be on our life. When we are dealt one of life’s blows, the only thing we can really control is how we choose to respond.

Whether it is human nature or cultural conditioning, often the first inclination is to assign blame and assume the role of an innocent victim. After all, pointing a finger brings an instant sense of gratification and resolve. Longer term, however, this approach begins to backfire when the ego tries to keep the memory of the event alive by retelling it over and over again rather than letting go of it.  Perhaps it’s because of this that those assuming the role of  ‘victim’  in their lives often end up unhappier than those who find a way to let go of the past and not to fixate on the future; those who find a way to ‘be here now’. When we learn to step back from the immediacy of emotion and become an observer, we diminish the context and drama of the story, and this tends to have a calming affect on the mind. The next step is in learning acceptance; instead of witnessing ourselves and our circumstances with a critical and judging eye, we can simply watch (this is called the sakshi in sanskrit, the silent witness). When we focus solely on our suffering, we miss out on the magic and the celebration that co-exists in the world in equal measure. A panoramic view is only available in its entirety from a distance, and we never truly know the length and purpose of a journey until it is complete.

There is a wonderful story from Satchidananda’s interpretation of the  Bhagavad Gita entitled The Living Gita. The story is about a yogi living in the hills of India with wife and only son. The army comes to the house one day and takes the son away to fight in a battle. The wife is terribly distraught and cries to her husband, ‘isn’t this awful, our only son taken from us!’ The yogi replies, ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’ Months go by, and one day the son returns home, and despite his wounded left, the wife is thrilled beyond belief. When she shares the joyous news to her husband, she says ‘ isn’t this wonderful?!’ The yogi once again responds, ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’ Within the course of a week, another knock at the door brings a messenger from the king’s palace to  inform the boy that since he cannot return to war with a wounded leg, he has been called to be the royal gardener. The palace is a long, long way away. The wife once again is left in despair, and looks for consolation from her husband. She says, ‘we may never see our son again, my heart is broken, isn’t yours?’ Again, he responds ‘I don’t know, we shall see’. Weeks pass, and a knock at the door reveals a messenger who has been sent by the royal palace. It has come to pass that the boy and the king’s daughter have fallen in love, and will wed in the coming days with the king’s blessing. As a result, the yogi and his wife have been invited to move permanently to the royal palace. It goes without saying that the wife is thrilled. She laughs, cries and sings with glee, turning to her husband and saying, ‘Our prayers have been answered! Our life is now happily complete.’ The yogi turns to his wife and says ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’

The practice of mindfulness in whatever form it takes, is one of being present, making space for all the shapes and forms of a magnificent landscape to unfold. We practice being focused and specific on a certain task or posture, yet we hold a larger understanding of the world in our periphery; one that we do not try to control or understand, but rather, one with which we can co-exist. This is not to say that moments of joyful celebration and deep despair are not important or meaningful; these are important points along life’s journey. The moment of understanding that both joyful celebration and deep despair come from the same source is a beautiful moment. Being present and beholding the entirety of a landscape as an observer while interacting, enjoying and participating in its creation — this is our great gift called Life.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Raw Fairies: The Story behind the Mini B Cleanse


10291694_10152074708161791_2897529945003820036_nRead the Raw Fairies full review
I’ve got to be honest. As a general rule, I don’t subscribe to detoxes or cleanses, having experimented with many ways of cleansing the body from the inside out, both naturopathic, and prescribed. When I was younger, I enjoyed the challenge, the observation of the mental shifts and changes, and the body’s ability to adapt and transform. I still am fascinated with the ladder two aspects, which is why, perhaps, I’ve stuck with this week’s ‘accidental’ cleanse.

It all started with my increasing frustration and impatience in getting to know my new body since my liver transplant. The liver is an amazing and important organ that performs over 500 daily functions, and is the master of digestion. Having spent my entire life with a digestive disease, by the time I was 40 I had gotten used to the feeling of being bloated, being asked regularly if I was ‘expecting’, and the daily shifts of clothes being a size too big or a size too small. When I went into liver failure, however, my digestive system shut down and nothing worked anymore. Effectively, my body went into starvation mode. Because of my friend Rhian Stephenson, I started juicing and using supplements to keep my weight up, and I believe it was this that enabled me to continue to function in the world, and to continue practicing and teaching yoga. At the same time, I cut gluten from my diet and was doing the best I could to maintain and ethical diet, despite my doctor’s insistence on eating meat.

After the transplant, the first weeks were spent chewing on ice and vomiting. Anything put in my mouth was too dry to eat (I had to literally remove the uneaten food by hand, there was just no saliva to help start the digestion process), and anything that went into my stomach was forced out very quickly due to the medications. Needless to say, I lost a lot of weight in those first weeks, even having gained 15 kilos of water weight overnight after the surgery. My body was like a sponge, spewing out water from its pours but not able to ingest any nutrition.

After three or four weeks, I started on Soyade Blueberry Yogurt. It saved my life. Despite my mother’s efforts to stuff me with anything she could, it was actually the Soyade and Elderflower water taken in copious amounts that slowly brought me back. From then on it was daily deliveries from the local Thai and Italian restaurants (many thanks to Ellen Walsh Moorman and Emma Henry who were both delivery girls and mealtime companions) that gave me the strength to get up out of bed and start walking the stairs everyday, and throughout the night.

By the time December came (three months after the transplant), I was back at home, practicing yoga, and even teaching a few classes. In January, I was back to teaching and practicing. Ambitious and perhaps premature, but this is the way it went.

Slowly I was transitioning from being underweight on a diet of white bread, peanut butter Kit Kats-anything I could stomach, to my old diet of juicing, blending and eating a primarily plant based diet. Every week in clinic, I weighed in and was given accolades for each kilo gained. It was too easy.

By March I had made a full transition, and was feeling, once again, that my weight was out of my control as I continued to watch the scales climb. I was eating a plant-based diet, juicing every morning and afternoon, and practicing yoga, yet my body continued to morph into its new shape. While my primary concern is to be healthy, which in the western world of medicine is gaged by bloodwork, blood pressure and weight, in all honestly, I began to feel a bit hopeless.

I enlisted my friend Jaro to help me by coming around once a week for personal training. I had tried going running a few times, but realized my liver and the stent inside my body still felt a bit raw when shaken up. With Jaro’s help, we are now getting my cardiovascular system and muscle memory in some kind of order, and it feels very good to use my body in a different way. Long gone are the days when I ran marathons, but I envision a day when I might participate in the transplant olympics, and even encourage them to bring yoga to the games, not as a competition, but as an exhibition. It gives me inspiration to run, skip and do press ups on the bench.

Nonetheless, my weight has stayed the same, and my clothes still don’t fit. I began to wonder if I would do a week of raw, vegan food controlled in portions, I would feel better in my body. Perhaps there would be a discovery in the portions of the meals or the combinations of foods within a given day.

Finally, I come to the part about Raw Fairies. A friend had mentioned to me she used this service from time to time to get back on track when she felt she’d been eating the wrong things or too much, and I decided to give myself a little treat by taking the guess work out of my meals for a week. I went to their website and found it a little complicated, but signed up for a week of food deliveries.

10384460_10152070253516791_7187113262191912401_nOn Monday, the doorbell rang at 7:30am and a kind man handed me a bag. I took it inside, and was pleasantly surprised with an array of juices, smoothies and salads. Even though I had hesitated in choosing the cleanse, I made the decision that morning to take it seriously and to follow the cleanse to the best of my ability.

I’m on day four, and while exhausted and achy, I am surviving. I have had a flew blips, indulging in coconut water on day two, and on day three treating myself to a few raw vegan tacos at Triyoga, but then, I have been teaching yoga classes and Rolfing people all week. I think on a cleanse one generally takes it easy, and I felt if I didn’t give myself a bit more to eat, it would both be unhealthy and unwise. Afterall, it wasn’t my intention to do a cleanse, but to see how much a normal, healthy portion is, and in what combinations the food are prepared and presented so that I might incorporate it into a sustainable daily diet. It was my hope that this in turn, would help me to come to terms with my new metabolism, which currently still seems like a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, it has been a very interesting psychological process so far, which I will go into more in my full review of Raw Fairies. One more day on the cleanse, but a lifetime of exploration and discovery.

Raw Fairies: The Mini B Cleanse Review


For the background on why Raw Fairies, why the Mini B Cleanse, check this out

On Monday I started the Raw Fairies Mini B Cleanse, five days of raw, vegan juices and food to help the body ‘detox’. While not a huge fan of the concept of detoxing (I am more inclined to champion a sustainable, daily diet for life) I nevertheless decided to give this one a try.

10384460_10152070253516791_7187113262191912401_nThe first day was a combination of juices, smoothies and food, and to be honest, I felt energized and full throughout the day. Raw Fairies’ sweet spot is in their sauces and dressings. They excel in putting exactly the right amount of each flavour to truly make the food and drink a delight. In addition to the plant nourishment, each day there are a number of large capsules to take at each mealtime, which I suppose is a part of the detox and nutrients needed to sustain oneself on so little. I also learned on day one that each day would be a bit less food, and a bit more juice.

 

10410555_10152073199726791_2973382044328269723_nDay two featured a delicious cacoa and banana breakfast shake, a large lunch salad of beetroot and red pepper, and a smaller dinnertime salad, with juices for mid-afternoon and late-evening snacks. After day two, I felt a bit hungry, but it was my headache that really got my attention.

 

 

10291694_10152074708161791_2897529945003820036_nBy day three, I felt exhausted. I did have a particularly long day ahead of me, starting with a 7:30am private yoga client, with a further three open level classes taught, finishing at 7:30pm in the evening, and it was because of all this activity that I felt a need to supplement the six 200ml containers provided by Raw Fairies with a supergreen juice at Triyoga (who in my opinion, offer delicious raw, vegan food if overpriced) and a number of Raw Vegan Tacos. By nighttime, I was passed out with an enormous headache by 9:30pm.

 

10409489_10152076550756791_1468600473617466168_n I awoke this morning feeling tired, but the headache was gone. Suprisingly, there was more food in my delivery bag, with two green smoothies for breakfast. The lunch salad looks delicious and while the fennel salad looks a little meager, I don’t have a need to be rigid, so long as I stay raw and vegan.

Day five will be another juice and smoothie day, which will complete the ‘cleanse’. I have to admit, I am surprised that I have stuck with it. It hasn’t been too difficult, though the fatigue has been the most unbearable aspect. However, the essence of the food is very good, and I would like to continue with a week of the normal menu, to see if it is shedding a light on a more sustainable way of living and eating on a plant based, raw diet. We all have individual needs, and it would be my hope that any food delivery service would attempt to personalize their service to the best of their ability. Afterall, the meager amount of food received doesn’t come cheap, and my primary interest is in educating myself. It is one thing to dine out at raw vegan cafes and make myself salads, raw hummous sandwiches on store-bought raw bread, but another to concoct delicious and nutritive meals day after day in my own kitchen. Any company that could educate through example would be doing the world a huge service.

Integration: Post Transplant Life Eight Months On


It’s hard to believe it has been eight months since my life changing operation; on September 26, 2013 I was given a second chance at life after receiving a liver transplant. Every day I thank God to have another day on this planet to explore, to grow and to provoke positive change in myself and others.

In a sense, the journey post-transplant has been the most challenging, but also perhaps the most interesting. While organ transplant in itself is a miracle that relies on the most cutting edge technology and highest standards of healthcare, in some ways, the healing has felt like a rather crude process. No one at the hospital mentioned the word ‘trauma‘ or the ramifications of putting the body and mind through such an invasive surgery, not to mention the time spent in hospital in some extreme situations with its repeated invasive procedures. It isn’t until the body recovers and is back at home that the mind can begin to process what has transpired, understand the transition in relationships, and move on to being in the present without fearing the future or fixating on the past.

At first, I was eager to escape as quickly as I could back to my old life, as if nothing had changed. Luckily, I quickly realized this was not sustainable, and as sadness, frustration and confusion set in after a month or two of being out of hospital, I could not understand why I wasn’t feeling grateful and positive every morning just to wake up alive?

Several months have passed since this time of deep sadness. It was a time of guilt over what I put my loved ones through, guilt for not feeling wonderful to simply be alive. These days I am working on arriving at a place of acceptance. I have accepted that I did the best I could for my son given the circumstances, and I am actively listening to my own needs and to the needs of those around me, working to find a balance in my life. I have a new internal system that is working out its kinks, but it takes time. I am learning to live with a partial numbness in my torso under the remaining scar, and learning to let go of controlling my changing metabolism without holding judgments against my body.*

I’m exploring how to be in the world and with myself, as a human being rather than a human doing. How can I integrate my roles as a mother, wife, yogi and Rolfer, etc? Every day is a challenge and a joy.

We all are living with various containers: time, our bodies, our mental constructs. The more we can understand the nature of these containers, the more we can simplify and break down the divisions of the mind that no longer serve us. We can differentiate content versus container; we can clarify structure versus function; we can challenge what is fixed and what is changing. The more we can separate, the more we can integrate. When we integrate, we find unity in ourself, in others, in the world. Sounds well worth the journey to me.

*Only last week I learned from my doctor that every transplant patient gains weight. Apparently when one is in liver failure the body starves itself and as a survival mechanism after this experience the body clings to every calorie it can. This, in addition to my 67 year old liver means that my digestive process is wise, if not a little slow. Stay tuned for my upcoming week with Raw Fairies, a raw, vegan delivery service. I’ve been doing pretty well to eat healthfully on my own, but decided to give myself a gift and a little kick…It starts tomorrow!

a taste of home


Over the past few days of being in the hospital, my mind and emotions have stabilized as I acclimate to the lowered doses of pain medication and immuno-suppressants, but there has been a backdrop of frustration and tension in my body. I’m able to leave the hospital and go out to lunch or take a walk, and the other day I even spent two hours strolling around in Hampstead with my bestie, my mom. With my cannula hidden in my arm sleeve and drain bag of bile tucked up into my trousers, I felt as if I may have looked almost normal.

Yesterday I was told that the cytomegalovirus (CMV) has increased in my body instead of decreasing, meaning that the past 10 days of IV treatment didn’t work, and I wouldn’t be able to be discharged. Today they have increased the medication and with it has come more nausea and vomiting. Someone once told me that everything you put in your body has side effects, and I have never believed that more than now. With the 16+ medications I’m taking, the side effects become stifling to consider; for each medicine there may be 5 to 10 side effects that tend to counteract each other. With all this going on, it’s a miracle that I can feel any sense of normalcy at all, but I’m so happy in the moments that I do.

The plan is to measure my blood work again in two days time, but I will likely be in hospital another week depending on the CMV count which has been completely unpredictable until now.

I know it’s all going to work out in the end. At some point I will be discharged and go home and from there a new normalcy will  ensue. I also realize how lucky I am that my liver and kidneys are working, and that the CMV in my blood work it is not something more complicated or serious. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier though. Being stuck in the hospital for weeks and weeks without sight of an end is a mental whippersnapper.

In the scheme of things, one more week isn’t a lot of time; I’m surprised sometimes at how the weeks start to role into each other and even more surprised that the visitors keep coming. Without these wonderful moments of conversation and these glimpses of the outside world, it would be far more difficult to remain here day after day.

The biggest challenge at the moment is that I’m missing my son and feeling guilty about not being present in his every day life. It is difficult to remind myself that one more week is not going to traumatize him any more than what he’s already been through, which, based on how well he’s doing, doesn’t seem to have had a big impact. Every time he has visited or I’ve spoken with him on the phone he is smiling, in a good mood and incredibly loving and understanding of the situation. Today when he visited the hospital I invited him up onto my bed and he asked, “are you not in pain?” Then he reminded me he has to be careful and gentle, and not touch my belly. I am beyond grateful to my mother who taught him how to understand what was happening to me in the hospital and how he could prepare for my arrival home.

It’s hard to imagine what it will be like when I finally do return home, whenever that day comes. The time spent in the hospital has undoubtedly been beneficial, and with a little effort I will return to some semblance of a life which I hold so dear. To be able to tuck my son in at night and know with an element of certainty that he will wake me up and climb up in bed between my husband and I? It will be delightful; it will be perfect. Something deep within me, not always present, knows that things already are.

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