7 life lessons from back pain

I was all set to write another post on blogging a couple of weeks ago, when I threw my back out. Not for the first time…but this was unlike any other episode. Excruciating spasms. Unable to stand up on my own. Putting on socks? Forget it.

I’ve been thinking about a good friend who was in near-constant back pain for months. Most health care practitioners were unable to help, and she eventually had surgery. I remember meeting with her while she was struggling with pain. I see now that I was unable to be truly present with her. I wanted there to be a solution: I wanted her to discover the emotional root of her issue, the ‘why’ of it.

Artist: Maxine Noel

And now, as I write these words, I realize I don’t know the ‘why’ of my own pain, and how presumptuous it was to think I could know it for anyone else. But I have come to some insights about what this experience is teaching me personally.

Listening to my body’s warning signals: as mentioned, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown my back out. I’d had warning signs for years, and knew what I needed to do to prevent future pain from happening. But I always put it off. This time, my body made sure I was paying attention.

I am vulnerable: I never knew just how much I need my lower back. Now I need help with so much. I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones for assistance with the most simple of tasks. I’m not used to this, and it is humbling.

Which brings me to Gratitude: I am blessed that I have people in my life to help me, and who ask nothing in return. This is no small thing, and it’s probably the biggest gift of all.

Compassion: I think of all those who don’t have caring support. I see where I’ve missed opportunities to be compassionate and helpful. When we’re feeling good and healthy, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to be in pain, especially chronic pain. I wanted to fix my friend’s problem by helping her discover the emotional root, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to feel validated and understood for what she was feeling in that moment.

Meds can be a good thing: Is there an emotional root to my pain? Probably. Low back pain is suggested to indicate a lack of support. And I have felt that, for many years. But it’s interesting that the pain is also revealing to me the support I do have. Beyond the mind/body connection and my holistic practices, I’m grateful for the medication that’s reducing my pain. This is noteworthy, as I’ve always been somewhat anti-medication – you wouldn’t even find an Advil in my home – and had a bit of an ego about that.

I am not in control. I can play my part in my healing, but my body is on its own timeline and will recover at its own pace. This has required patience and surrender that I’m not accustomed to. Forcing anything is only going to set me back.

Self-care is a priority: I’ve never missed so much work, or relied on others to take care of me. I notice how guilty I feel about it. Thoughts that I’m a burden on others, that I’m taking ‘too long’ to get better, surface repeatedly. No one has given me this message. It’s been eye-opening to realize just how hard it is to take care of myself first.

This entire experience has been very humbling, and I’m learning to trust that my body knows what it’s doing, even when my mind objects. I’m thankful that I’ve had no choice but to slow down and listen.

autumnal reset

In my last post I wrote about ceremoniously burning all my journals, clearing out my stories to allow space for the new. I was about to go camping on Vancouver Island, and could think of no better place to send my diaries than into the flames of a campfire, out in nature and under the stars.

Alas, Mother Nature had other plans. Due to record-breaking wildfires in British Columbia, campfires were strictly banned all summer. The journal burning would have to wait.

My time away was soul nourishing. We spent three days camping near a small logging town on the northeast coast of the Island. I hadn’t been camping in years, and was a little anxious to be out of my comfort zone. This feeling didn’t lessen when we noticed fresh bear poop on our site. Fortunately I didn’t have any close encounters, though we did spot a young black bear twice, ambling down the beach in front of us.

Despite the bear presence, it didn’t take long for me to relax and appreciate the natural beauty surrounding me. The weather cooperated and the other campers made for chill, respectful neighbours. We also saw humpback whales and porpoises, which was amazing.The absence of technology was particularly soothing to my city-jangled brainwaves, allowing my mind to breathe.

After camping, it was off to beautiful Tofino, for the wedding of a close friend. It was a sweet few days, filled with lovely people, food, music, beer (oh so much beer), and laughter. It’s hard to formulate words for the entire experience; they can’t fully capture the magic of the moments. Neither could pictures, which is why I took so few.

The journey felt like a major reset, probably amplified by the solar eclipse that preceded it. But I don’t feel rested and rejuvenated; on the contrary, since my return I’ve been extremely fatigued and lacking motivation. Even when it comes to blogging. I’ve started and stopped this post so many times and it’s been frustrating. But maybe that’s part of the reset. It feels different from resistance or procrastination. There’s no point in forcing something that’s just not happening, even if it’s something we normally enjoy.

our camping spot

And now we’re emerging from the new moon into the Autumn equinox, another potent time to focus on what’s essential. Though city culture can be wonderfully stimulating, my time away – short as it was – made me realize I’m longing for more balance. Simplification. Less dependence on conveniences, and more self-sufficiency. How would I really like to live, and what practical steps can I take to make that happen? What does living harmoniously with nature – feeling connected, having a relationship – mean for me personally, and is my life reflecting that?

Perhaps the idea of burning my journals was part of the drive to simplify. But since writing my post, I appreciate more fully the importance of honouring that journey before I let it go. This means taking the diaries out of the box. Putting them in order, lining them up, setting aside the uninterrupted time to read them.

I want to sit with all those uncomfortable emotions, giving them the attention they deserve. I can then release them with peace. And who knows, I might find unremembered moments of joy in those words. Maybe the biggest gem I will discover is the compassion for the person who wrote them.

This Autumnal reset feels like incubation and integration. The plug is being pulled on so many things, and we are waiting patiently as life organizes itself to respond to a new frequency…trusting, as best we can, that life is lovingly responding in these very uncertain times where no one knows what’s going to happen next.

As the days get shorter and cooler, and the leaves turn colour, I’m grateful to be where am, laying low and letting nature do her thing.

new shoots in the dark

In my part of the world, summer has taken a while to show up. It’s now here in full force: temperatures are high, and wildfires are burning all over the province. A smoky haze envelops my city, where there should be blue sky. Tonight is a full moon, and later this month a total solar eclipse, partially visible from where I live.

What does all this mean? Nothing, maybe. At one time I would’ve written about this as a chance to burn away what no longer serves us individually and collectively. The heat is kicking up tension, the smoke obscuring the path, the full moon marking the opportunity for completion.

Perhaps this is true, but I can’t say anything with certainty. On one hand it seems things are too unpredictable, on the other I feel completely stagnated. I’m noticing a chronic, underlying disgruntlement, triggered more often these days. I am impatient and anxious much of the time.

a smoky, hazy sky

It’s been on my radar to write an updated ‘About’ page. Mystic, wanderer, tantric, yogi… would I still describe myself this way? Possibly. But these words have formed an identity, an image, that no longer fits. Defining myself as ‘spiritual’, however earnest and sincere my intentions, has also – in some ways – disconnected me from others.

For a long time, I perceived the dominant, external reality as negative, and feared that focusing on this negative would only reinforce it, thus bringing more of it into my life. (The Law of Attraction.) I didn’t watch the news, and I unplugged from most social media. It was important to focus on the light.

But did it make me a happier person? No.

Because resisting something only strengthens it.

Because fearing negativity, and suppressing that fear, takes a lot of energy.

Because we are all connected, and living in a bubble doesn’t work.

Thanks to Leigh for sharing a recent Oprah interview with author and speaker Charles Eisenstein. Oprah and Charles discuss that hate is a ‘bodyguard’ for grief. The low-level suffering many of us experience is due to profound disconnection from our communities. Everything that’s happening to the world is happening to us….and we’ve numbed ourselves to the feeling – the knowing – that we’re all connected.

If we are evolving into a more conscious and empathic species, it’s important to know what’s going on with the rest of humanity. I want my feet on the ground, aware of what’s happening on (and to) the planet. I want my eyes opened where I’ve previously shielded them. We hold light where we can; but we also allow ourselves to feel the darkness. This can open the doors to empathy.

We’re all co-writers in this planetary script. Oprah and Charles discuss that we will hold on to our stories the hardest just before they completely collapse. This is happening on a mass scale. Where do I see my own beliefs playing out on the global stage? My stories have shaped my life, and it’s difficult to let some of them go. But they hold a me-against-the-world slant, and I don’t want to tell that tale anymore.

No matter who we are, we’ve inherited ancestral beliefs, religious conditioning, tribal fears and shames, and a collective worldview that for the most part stems from division and separation. Creating a new story is a massive undertaking.

I know so many kind and caring people who do their best to live in integrity and harmony with the natural world. They work hard every day to live by their values and take personal responsibility for their actions. I am inspired by them, and want to learn more from them. They give me hope that seeds of empathy and compassion are being planted in what appears to be the darkest of days.

Perhaps this moon is indeed a fortuitous time to end one chapter and begin writing the next.

they throw darts, you throw flowers

The world feels intense these days, and I am grateful for the little things. It never ceases to amaze me how simple interactions with strangers can lift my spirits immensely.

I was reminded of the words in this post’s title last weekend, when I bought my mom some beautiful flowers from Whole Foods. As I carried the bouquet on the bus to see her, I felt strangely, pleasantly disarmed. People around me seemed to smile more. An older woman commented on the flowers, and I responded that they were for my mother’s birthday. The woman’s whole being seemed to perk up. I should carry around flowers more often, I thought.

birthday flowers

birthday flowers

A couple of weeks before that, my city was hit with a big snowstorm. We are a city unaccustomed to snow, and walking up a steep hill early one Saturday morning, I passed several people shovelling their icy, slushy sidewalks. I smiled and thanked each of them for making it easier to walk, as many of us pedestrians had been slipping and sliding everywhere. Some of them, I could tell, were a little caught off guard.

Earlier that morning I’d been cursing the snow…but as I arrived at my coffeeshop, I realized I’d just had 5 or 6 conversations that I normally wouldn’t have. Usually I am wearing my headphones, immersed in my own world. It seemed the snow was showing me something very important. Look around. The opportunity to connect is everywhere.

After all these interactions, I felt really good. My spirit was flooded with a surge of energy. We might think that, in these heavy and chaotic times, we need big actions to effect change. But maybe the simplest connections are those that produce miracles. Who knows what quantum shifts might occur if everyone smiled at, or initiated pleasant conversation with, at least one stranger per day? Anything could be the tipping point.

They throw darts, you throw flowers. These words were repeated several times during a Landmark seminar I attended a few years ago. It’s easier said than done to live this way. It takes a lot to not strike back when we’re provoked. But with daily practice we might become more comfortable with throwing flowers in dark days.

And now I’m reminded of another Whole Foods moment. (Yes, I spend a lot of time there.) The barista making my coffee looked down and smiled serenely when I asked her how her morning was going. “It’s the greatest day ever,” she said. Her words were so calm, so quietly confident, that I really believed her. All day I repeated to myself, It’s the greatest day ever. And you know what? I had a great day. She had somehow convinced me in her undramatic certainty.

I beamed when I saw her a few weeks later, as we passed each other walking across one of my favourite bridges. Whatever she’d meant that morning, it had a positive effect.

Never underestimate the power of words in life’s most seemingly mundane situations…

I’m gonna go smile at a stranger now.

a compassionate february

I have been waiting for February. February feels like fresh air and moving forward. Not ‘moving forward’ as in doing a bunch of things; in fact, as I write these words, I feel utterly exhausted. I can barely grasp the gravity of what’s happening in the U.S., and the tragedy of the Quebec mosque shootings. It’s all slammed me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Which is why I’m taking extra care to be aware of, and conserve, my energy as much as possible. 2016 brought into sharp focus the consequences of not honouring my energy. So much of my attention was directed outward, and I felt the severe financial, emotional, and spiritual impact. What I thought made me feel good was actually draining my life force, slowly but surely. By the end of 2016, I was running on empty.

It’s hard to imagine 2017 being more intense than last year – but it likely will be. How are we going to handle it? I don’t tune in to social media or the news, but that’s not necessarily the solution. This isn’t a time to bury my head in the sand. (It wouldn’t work anyway; I’d still feel what’s going on globally. We are interconnected.)

purple-tulips

January was about wrapping up loose ends and completing, or moving forward with, projects and commitments I’d procrastinated on. At times it felt like a bit of a slog…but I’m glad I took care of these things, because the more I clear the energetic cobwebs, the greater space I have within. And the better equipped I am to handle what 2017 will bring. The good, the bad, and the ugly/beautiful.

On another note – or maybe it’s completely related – I recently attended some mental health training sessions as part of my new job. Though I registered in these courses to assist those I work with, the training unexpectedly helped me on a very personal level. Not only did I come away with a greater empathy and understanding for those with mental health issues, I felt self-compassion and insight into my own journey.

We never know what’s going on in someone’s interior world. Our assumptions, wounds, and projections are so strong that we can completely miss the humanity in another (and in ourselves). These past few weeks I’ve realized that I often assume others are ‘okay’, when maybe they’re really not. This all feels very timely and relevant to the world stage.

Many of us are grieving. Collective healing begins with self-compassion; when we acknowledge our own vulnerability, we recognize it in those around us. Compassion dissolves our hardened walls. When we cut out the superfluous ’stuff’ of our lives, we draw on our inner resources and share them with others. We become creative in totally new ways…creative with people, love, and relationships. We become leaders in our own lives.

Reaching out to others is courageous; it’s much more comfortable to stay in our cozy little spaces. But withdrawal and isolation won’t work. Our survival as a species – if that’s what we want – hinges on the awareness that we need each other, now more than ever. Baby steps quickly become leaps and bounds. Compassion is the way.

I wish everyone a peaceful February.

year of the jellyfish

It’s my 4th WordPress anniversary this week, and since we’re in a New Year month, it seems fitting to re-blog my very first post from 2013.

I had the sense, back then, that a new world was opening up. And now, 4 years later, with friends made around the world and so many stories shared, I have a newfound appreciation for those early words.

Reading that first post, it’s clear that I was feeling hope and relief in shedding some long-held beliefs; something had shifted within, and it was palpable. Looking back now, it’s like the stage was being set for me to discover just how deeply ingrained these beliefs were in me, and in my family, culture, and ancestry. These past few years have been about diving down, exploring, and uprooting.

I also see that my journey has taken on a new dimension since 2013: self-compassion, humility, and forgiveness have grown. I’ve learned that spirituality is not all ‘love and light’, and that spending time in the muck is an essential part of healing. Also, after years of resisting, I’m becoming much more comfortable with silence. Stillness speaks volumes.

Happy Anniversary, Happy 2017, and Happy Year of the Rooster! No doubt this upcoming year will be monumental. My intentions? To breathe, meditate, feel all my feelings, and remember I’m not alone. And oh yeah, to blog. 😉

Sat Nam, Namaste, Aloha. Thank you for reading!

alohaleya

jellyfish Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

a few years ago a relative told me i reminded her of a jellyfish.  i was confused and she explained: she saw me as translucent, a pearly bubble ready to burst with all the colour and potential and goodness inside me.  she said i couldn’t see it, but she could.  it was a sweet conversation and one i remember once in a while.

maybe it’s all the end-of-2012 talk, but lately i’m beginning to feel those colours emerging.

something has shifted. like i’m breathing a sigh of relief. like i made it to the other side of something. i don’t feel quite so intensely compressed, like i’m a tube of toothpaste and someone is trying squeeze every last bit out.   although everything looks the same, something unseen and profound feels to have taken place.

i can’t hold onto anything anymore. i can’t blame anyone anymore. i…

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stillness in solstice snow

A few days ago, it snowed in my hometown. Since this is a rare occasion, my city was thrown into complete chaos. Streets weren’t plowed, buses stopped running, people were slipping and sliding everywhere…I made it halfway to work and gave up, turning around and heading straight home. (Most of my colleagues did the same thing.)

Given that it was the first day of Mercury Retrograde, and Winter Solstice was approaching, I relished the opportunity to stay cozy indoors, enjoying the peace and silence of a random Monday off.

snow sure makes the mountains look pretty

snow sure makes the mountains look pretty

The previous weekend, I’d gone to a party where I met the one person who actually enjoyed 2016. Everyone else I know is happy to see this year go. It’s been a time of major life changes, wake-up calls, and dispelling of illusions all around. A hugely pivotal year, yes. But not necessarily the most pleasant.

What have I gleaned from 2016? That 2017 will not be about straining or efforting to make things happen. I want to enjoy what I have created so far, trusting that I’ve made appropriate decisions for myself, and knowing that there’s nothing to fix. I want to relax into what is, right here right now.

The great thing about 2016 is that I was forced to pare down my life in many ways – especially financially. That, and my break with social media, allowed me to see where I’d been spending my energy, i.e., starving myself through over-consumption. Without such distractions, I began spending more time in silence. I realized just how difficult silence was for me, and how much I craved it.

Many of us know the running commentary that comes with meditation. The inner critic, the monkey mind, the myriad of voices we’ve heard throughout our lives, all re-playing the same old tapes. They relentlessly question my choices, convinced there is something better I could/should be experiencing.

Because we (in the western world) seem to have so much opportunity, freedom, and information at our fingertips, we can drive ourselves crazy looking for what’s more desirable than what we have right now. (Especially if we’re comparing ourselves to others on social media, just sayin’.)

These past few years, I received many of the things I asked for. And I then let them go, in search for something new-and-improved. Though I’m very grateful for the ability to create new experiences, I see that I was plagued by chronic restlessness and dissatisfaction. I couldn’t be fully present with my creations, because I was already onto the next thing. The seeds didn’t have time to germinate.

It was fear. Fear that I’d made the wrong decision (even as I told myself there was no such thing). Fear of being stuck. Fear that I was missing out on my true home, true career, true relationship. Fear that I didn’t deserve what I asked for, and couldn’t hold on to good things. Fear of imperfection. I demanded perfection in my outer circumstances, because I couldn’t accept imperfection in myself.

and my window looks pretty too

and my window looks pretty too

My surprise day off, a gift from the snow god/dess, was heavenly because I experienced prolonged peace and quiet for the first time in a long time. I’ve been having more of these moments lately…glimpses of relief, however brief, from habitual thoughts, worries, and stresses. Plans and action are good and necessary. But this is what I want to cultivate.

Love…compassion…breath…here is the fertile space for creation. Good things – maybe the best things – come from being still with life as it is right now. Maybe nothing needs to change; I can allow what’s already here to emerge in its full bloom and depth. The ‘doing’ then happens on its own. It’s a beautiful symbiosis.

Happy New Year, indeed. ❤