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

A Few Small Theories about Managing Challenge


stormcloudI don’t know anyone that has not had to work through a challenge. I’m sure there are a few people out there that don’t think they’ve been dealt any big blows, and good on them. Perhaps this is due to their super-human ability to overcome difficulty, or maybe they have simply been very blessed. Nevertheless, eventually, but inevitably, life will catch up in some way or another, and throw in one or two presents to remind us of what it is all about.

There are small challenges and big challenges, but in essence, the only thing defining what is small and what is big is our perception, and that is based on what we have experienced in life to-date, first and second hand.

Theory Number 1: What you hear can and will affect you, if you let it.
When working with hardship, what other people say, including, friends, doctors, employers, and enemies alike, will change your perception about the challenge you are faced with, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes a kind word or suggestions may make what you are dealing with seem easier, or give you false hope. Other times we are met with unskilled communicators that leave a negative remark in vulnerable hands. In sanskrit, there is a term viveka, meaning discrimination. It is best to use this discrimination to filter out what side comments are useful, and which to simply let go of. At the end of the day, all these remarks should be handled with a grain of salt, or vairagyam, dispassion. No attachment, no re-play button on the message recorder. It may sound easier than it is, but truly, if you are holding on to something that is only increasing the challenge,  it is using up energy stores that you may need to get through the challenge ahead. Only you have the power to create a filter of what you let in to your world vision. Choose the helpful bits without getting too attached to them, and let the rest go.

Learn also, to discriminate fact from fiction, and stick with fact (and a pinch of dispassion). Even when a ‘fact’ is coming from a doctor or an employer, they are also doing the best they can to use their viveka and buddhi, sanskrit for intelligence, to communicate their best estimate or guess given the knowledge they have at the time. It doesn’t make it true, only true in their experience, which proves very important as they need something on which to base their work. An element of trust is involved, which is why it is so important to involve yourself in relationships based on reverence and trust.

Theory Number 2: The fear factor. Even fear is preferred to the unknown.
As a culture, we thrive on fear. In times of challenge and hardship, the mind craves a storyline that it can evolve and embellish; any hardship is nestled in a good strong dose of fear. It doesn’t take much looking around in the media to see that we gravitate to stories based on worst case scenarios, and celebrate those that overcome great risk, even when it ends in tragedy. The question is, if we didn’t have fear, how much sweeter would life be, and how much less painful would it feel when moving through our own cliff-hanger moments?

How do we manage fear? I can only say from my own experiences, having meaningful things to do goes a long way in sating the mind Whether it is taking up an instrument, caring for a friend, cooking, finding a good boxed set, or diving into work that you are passionate about, dwelling in fear speculation for too long is unhealthy. Am I recommending escaping the challenge rather than dealing with it? Yes, at least in small measures, I am. Making time to escape and finding small pleasures will help to renew energy stores you may need to face the challenge head on in those times when you can actually make decisions that make a difference. The moments in the evening or during slow points in the day when we tend to bury ourselves in fear and worry are not those moments.

The perception of the challenge at hand is only as large as the fear that is feeding it. A wise Buddhist master once said (and I paraphrase) ‘fear and hope are our two biggest mental obstacles. Fear leads to worry. Worry never solved anything. Why worry? If you have a problem, you can fix it instead of worry. If you have a problem and you can’t fix it? Don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway, just don’t hope it goes away. Hope? Hope leads to let down. Make hope a belief, then it will happen. Hope without belief is fear in disguise.’

Theory Number 3: Enjoy this one while you’ve got it. There will always be another.
It is widely understood that being in a time of difficulty leads one to want to be anywhere other than there at that moment. Learning to stay when times get tough is an important lesson. One challenge begets another, and while the size, form and circumstance may be different, when we learn to stay, the misconceptions and tethers of tension and adversary tend to fade away and we can see the situation more objectively. Life is a rich and diverse landscape, and the more we can accept there will be patches of rocky cliff line that tumble and open onto a soft, grass-feathered plain, the more we might be able to accept all of it in good measure. The preparation for the journey comes with discernment and intelligence, not fear and worry, about what lies ahead.

Theory Number 4: Get out of the mind and into the body.
Even when the mind is full and rife with worry, the body is available. The body is an enormous resource that we largely take for granted as a vehicle there to serve us, only to get from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, getting from point A to point B can be important, however, the body has an extraordinary ability to settle and to clear the mind. Taking even ten minutes a day to come back to the breath, to lie on the floor and link some simple movements to the inhale and exhale will bring great satisfaction and clarity. Moving the body with the breath gives the mind a focus that is not on the hardship at hand, and can be done in a way that is accessible to every body, whatever the limitations may be. The key here is to make each movement meaningful so that you are not just going through the ‘motions’ but you are really inquiring to how it feels to be in the body, what is happening when you move, even a finger? Undoubtedly you will find that you don’t just move the finger, but you might relate this particular movement up the arm, into the shoulder, the jaw, and so on. The body is an interrelated organism just as we are interconnected with all of life. These movements have the potential to unlock tension from within the body and bring about a new perspective to the mind. A mental shift is all it takes to make magic.

Open letter to God


buddha-jesus

Dear God,
It’s hard to believe this is the first official letter I have ever written to you. I’m sorry it took me so long to pen one until now, it’s just that I’ve been a little busy. No excuse, I know, and don’t worry, my mother didn’t put me up to it. I figured you were pretty busy anyway being God, and reading all your other fan mail. It’s the one year anniversary of my liver transplant on September 26th, so it seemed like a fitting time to write. After all, I have written to everyone else in my life as a sign of gratitude and respect, why not you? While I have revered you, thanked you, bowed down to you on multiple occasions and in your many forms, writing an open letter is a little different.

In any event , this is how I’ve chosen to express myself on this most auspicious, wonderful, blessed day of my life. You see, until the time I was diagnosed with my potentially life-terminating disease, I thought a lot of things in life weren’t fair. I thought there was a lot of injustice, and I had tremendous anger and sadness about that. It wasn’t all about me, either. On most days I just looked around me and chose to see the shadow side of the truth. The truth is, God, it’s pretty much like You’ve told me, out there. Life is dirty, and you’re either a spectator, isolated on the sidelines, keeping clean, but alone, or you gotta roll your sleeves up and jump into the shit (Your words, not mine). My disease became my shit pit, to do with what I chose.

The process of being told I was ill, then believing it, then becoming my illness, and eventually overcoming it has been the most transformational, heart-breaking and faith-making experience I’ve ever been through. I guess you knew it was exactly the kind of long-term assignment someone stubborn as myself would need to agree to jumping into the poop of life; to truly see the beauty, the play along with the sadness–to have faith in You.

I want to thank you for giving me this gift. The new organ is fabulous, but what I really mean is the gift of living with an illness, observing my physical demise, and the body’s miraculous ability to renew itself. It has given me a lifetime of reflection and perspective, an understanding about love, and a new respect for the temporality of all living creatures. This day and the scar I’ve been blessed with represent a potent reminder of the grace, as well as the terror of life; the delight and sadness, the abundance, the vibrancy, the loss, limitation and potential. It is reminder that life is something we are all a part of, and choosing to deny ourselves of the interdependence, to not roll our sleeves up and dive into the proverbial mud, is not only not sustainable as individuals or as a collective whole, it is suicide.

As difficult as moments in this year have been, I’m genuine in telling You that the darkest moments have been just as valuable as the most joyful. The reflection of both have been cast onto a mirror of vigilant awareness. While I’m continuing to learn and grow from the old experiences, new and unexpected experiences are bestowed on me each day. To be honest, even the distant past still seems fresh. My life appears jumbled as I seek chronology and definition to fading memories. I suppose when one teeters on the edge of death, the boundaries of time become blurred; time is, after all, a mere figment of our imagination. Without it, we are free! When time returns to frame our daily experience, I suppose the mind’s relationship with time itself can change.

The biggest lesson you have given me this year is the enormity of my own contribution in the life I lead. At my darkest moments, I can now identify the role I have played in making it so. Normally, it’s due to my own expectations of self and other, my insecurities; my inability to truly be present and patient in each moment. Even in times of discomfort, pain, and physical limitation, when my focus was to do the best I could to see the positive, to do the best I could for others and then for myself, those times were not as difficult as other times when seemingly nothing was awry except my fixation on a negative mindset towards something rather mundane.

The moments when I have surrendered, when I have given in to your Grace, whatever the circumstances may have been, are the moments that have been the sweetest. In these moments, I have been able to drop my own selfish needs and see you in everything. That’s when I have truly served some greater good, by connecting to something so much more than my individual limitation; by connecting to You.

Well God, I sure feel blessed and humbled and amazed at this whole process of life in a physical body with a limitless soul. I guess you know how easy it is for us embodied souls to get caught up in all the silly, day-to-day stuff. I am in the process of integration: integrating the mundane things with the bigger, Divine Plan, melding the past with the present, being of service while serving others. I can assure you, it will keep me happily busy for a while. You told me once that if you want someone to stay in your life, ask them. God, I love you. Please stay in my life*.

Loving Blessings of Gratitude to You* in all your many textured and colorful,( and less colorful) forms,

Your faithful, humble servant, Lizzie

*That means you. Yes, YOU!

______________________

My Year In Pictures:

Oct, 2 2013 One week after transplant. In critical condition.

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Oct 2, 2013. My 200+ abdominal staples. What you don’t see is the many more layers of stitching under the skin.

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Oct 10, 2013 My first received mail at the hospital.

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November, 2013 Stir Crazy, but unready to leave hospital due to a virus in the blood.

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December, 2013. Christmas Eve. Time to Celebrate.

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August, 2014. Joy-filled to be at home after two years of waiting.

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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.

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!

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