Open letter to God


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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!

Samskaras and Untangling Trauma


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Trauma. It is a loaded word that like everything, manifests in many different ways and for different reasons. Who knows why some people are traumatized by some things and others go unscathed? Psychotherapists such as Freud and Jung believed this has to do with the stable base that you did or didn’t have between pre-birth and aged five. Yogis believe it has to do with karma, that what you have put out into the world in past lives and this life comes back to you, eventually but inevitably. Of course, for most of us life seems more complicated than that, and past lives are not something that register routinely in the memory bank.

Whether it was an early experience, or something more recent that brings up a phantom of the past, no one tells you what the repercussions of trauma may be, and what is more, it is difficult to know what the triggers might be of any one given experience. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”, and it is safe to assume that the most of us have had one or two a few of those.

In yoga philosophy, there is a term called samskaras, which mean impressions, or grooves, that are left in the subconscious mind. It is as if our mind were a record, and the grooves, or samskaras determine what tune we will play. The samskaras colour our nature and how we act and react in the world.

In a way, we might consider that fascia in the body is a little bit like literal samskaras. Stressful experiences that we have can be stored in the fascia and create tensions and knots which impact how we inhabit our body, how we move, and even how we think and react. When we start to heat the tissue through movements such as yoga, or receiving bodywork like Rolfing, areas of the body that have been deeply held closed for any period of time begin to open, and the original experiences can present in any number of ways, including as anger, anxiety, fear, or grief.

Last year I underwent a rather massive surgery in the form of a liver transplant, and while I was not told I would be left traumatized, the eight weeks spent in the hospital post-operatively were riddled with the potential ‘distressing experiences’, not to mention the few years prior to the transplant in and out of the hospital. The human body is clever, and knows when to cloak and hold on to something for something for survival purposes, and when it is safe to unveil itself so healing can begin. I was in a yoga class the other day when at the beginning of class we were told to make an action with the arms that deeply affected an area that had been the centre of physical trauma during my hospital stay. Within five minutes into the class, I was reduced to a bucket of tears. Given my 56-day stay in the hospital with ongoing cannulation and daily blood tests, I already had an awareness of the tension and tightness in my forearms and have been having various sorts of alternative therapies to address it. Nevertheless, I was surprised at my sudden outburst (and a little embarrassed). It’s like my father used to say, ‘you never know what is going to have an impact on someone, you might say the sky is blue today and that just might be their trigger.’ Years later, I finally really get what he was trying to say.

Given that most of us have experienced some distressing or disturbing experience in life, how can we move through our day causing the least impact on those around us in a sensitive space? Here are a few suggestions:

-Never assume you know what someone else is experiencing. Even when we know a little bit about the circumstance, we never really know.

-Listen more, talk less. Trauma can feel chaotic and overwhelming. Give your friend space to speak, or not. Holding a space is about being present and compassionate with all there is.

-Don’t try to solve the problem or fix your friend. Empathize, instead of sympathize.

I was very fortunate to be in the class with a teacher who knew me and who said exactly the right thing. She told me she didn’t want me to be in any pain, and I should go do something nice for myself. Wise words, Helen Sylianou. Thank you.

A last note. Bodywork can be an amazing source for unleashing emotions and experiences that have been long held in the body and mind, that, when untreated can even lead to chronic pain or worse, disease. For those who have suffered deeply traumatic experiences, I recommend craniosacral therapy as a first stop. Noninvasive and gentle, craniosacral therapy aims to relax the body and fascial tissue into a state where it can begin to unwind itself, at the same time bringing balance and calm to the whole system. Once the body is ready, Rolfing is a more direct intervention into the tissue that can change the whole structure rather dramatically, but can be a more physically intense experience. These are the two methods that have has the most profound and transformative affect on me, and coincidentally, they are also now my two methods of practice.

 

Happy Six Month-Aversary, New Liver!


March 26 marks the 6 month mark of the biggest day of my life (besides being born and giving birth), the day of my liver transplant.

People ask me how I’ve been doing since then, and while I feel very blessed to be alive, by all accounts this time of recovery hasn’t been without great challenges and self-reflection. Nevertheless, I remain fascinated in the journey and what unfolds with each new day. My scar and the transience of life is the first thing I feel each morning and the last thing I remember before sleep.

It has been a long road, perhaps longer than an average recovery time, with many unexpected medical setbacks that have become the status quo of daily life. In a sense, this has been the easy part; it is a physical reality that requires some patience. Just last week the gauze from my long standing wound came off; daily I experience echoes of pain from the scarring and dissolvable stitches deep under the skin that have yet to dissolve. While I am exploring ways of retrieving my energy sources, I suppose the mental and emotional build up and descent post-surgery has left me learning to be more energy efficient and realistic in how I spend my time. My priorities have become clearer; I’m less apologetic about who I am as a person. I take time for the important things, like spending time with my son and listening to the subtleties of sound and messages embedded into daily life.

It is humbling to be practicing (not to mention teaching) yoga in a body that feels raw and in many ways ill-equipped. All the same, it is enriching, and inspiring to continue to be involved with that things I love, and that includes the human experience. As I hear the stories of other beautiful beings in daily passing, rarely do I hear of an experience of which I can’t relate. We are truly in this journey together.

Being unable to do some of the physical things I used to enjoy has been illuminating; it has highlighted other resources and activities I enjoy, such as re-igniting my passion to create music and art. Even though I don’t always feel skillful in my body, most of the time I do feel whole and complete within myself. Taking stock of, and celebrating the resources available at any given time has been a valuable practice that has helped me remain grateful.

The emotional aspect of healing has been the most challenging aspect of the past couple of months. Wading through my life has become a regular pastime; re-experiencing the important moments branded into my memory as well as recalling the events that have slipped away seems to be a high priority of accepting my life as it is now. I suppose when life’s slate is nearly wiped clean, there may be a knee jerk reaction to want to hold on to as much as possible; a re-attachment process to life.

One thing has become clear to me, and that is, it takes time. I had no idea just how much time my body and mind would need to process. We live in a digital age when our expectations of ourself and other seem to speed up. However, with time comes clarity, space and acceptance of any situation. There is an Irish proverb that says something like, ‘When God made time, he made enough.’ It is remembering this every moment that is the challenge and the joy!

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