The Benefits of Positive Beliefs About Aging

In a previous post, I discussed the pervasive impact of negative beliefs about aging.  Highlighted in that discussion is the research evidence that negative age beliefs can impact every aspect of our aging process and our quality of life.  In that discussion, I drew on the work of Dr. Becca Levy, a pioneer in the area of successful aging and a world-renowned researcher and Yale Professor.  In her book, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Will Determine How Long and Well You Live, she contends that it is critical that we address ageism in our society both as individuals and as a collective.  

Becca has a section in the book where she identifies the widespread influence of ageism and calls for “an end to structural ageism” in education, Governmental systems, medicine, mental health, advertising and media, science and the arts.  Ageism prevents people from effectively adapting to the aging process, from taking proactive action to maintain their quality of life, from achieving their potential both mentally and physically, and from realising the benefits that can accrue with age.

The benefits of positive beliefs about aging

In her book, Becca draws on her own research and that of researchers worldwide to demonstrate the numerous benefits of positive age beliefs and illustrates these benefits with stories of outstanding achievements by numerous people in multiple fields of endeavour.  Ageism is based on the assumption that all people who are old experience decline in mental and physical capacity at the same rate and that this decline is inevitable.  Becca’s research and stories of individual achievements demonstrate that each of us can arrest decline, or at least reduce the rate of decline, in our capabilities as we age.  Our beliefs about aging are a key determinant of the choices we make and how long and well we live.

In providing research-based claims about the benefits of positive age beliefs, Becca identifies a number of findings that challenge prevailing myths about the aging process.  Her research demonstrates the following benefits of this positivity:

  • Pattern recognition improves with age so much so that neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, suggests that radiologists past 60-years old should be preferred to younger people for reading and interpreting X-Rays.  Daniel is the author of the book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives
  • Indigenous knowledge and memories held by elders in Indigenous communities that have been passed down in communities around the world to ensure the health and continuity of these communities such as in the Indigenous Australian culture.  This aspect of Indigenous aging was documented by anthropologist Margaret Mead in her book, Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap.
  • Functional health is enhanced by positive aging beliefs.  Becca demonstrates that her research and that of her colleagues disprove the assumption of the “stereotype of debility and decline” as the natural outcome of the aging process.  She draws on the example of Sister Madonna Buder, who at the age of 52 undertook her first triathlon with borrowed running shoes – now, at over 90 years old, she continues to compete and has completed in excess of 350 triathlons.  Sister Madonna’s view of aging is that it represents “wisdom and grace” and “opportunity”.
  • Irreplaceable knowledge and understanding can accrue to anyone in a specialised field with experience developed as they age.  Becca illustrates this by discussing the experience of a 75-year-old paediatrician called Jonas who had retired from clinical practice “when he was most skilled”.   A young colleague asked him for his opinion on what was ailing a baby because he could not work it out.  Jonas figured it out “right away”.  His young colleague had an instant insight and asked, “Teach me Doc, how’d you do that?”  Jonas now teaches “medical diagnosis” at a university and participates in group diagnoses of patients in a teaching hospital.  Jonas’s career transition highlights the opportunity for older people to make a significant contribution to society even after retirement – all that it requires is a positive view of aging and a willingness to make adaptions in their career role. Jonas has also acquired new interests and hobbies such as cultivating rare orchards, French cooking, close-up photography and amateur aviation. 
  • Mental health growth – during a placement at a psychiatric hospital, Becca found (contrary to her expectations) that more younger, adult patients suffered from mental illness than older patients and that the latter “can be successfully treated”.  Her own research, confirmed by others around the world, also showed that age beliefs heavily impact the nature and quantity of stressors experienced psychosomatically.  She found that positive age beliefs helped to mitigate the impact of stressors (even in PTSD cases), while negative age beliefs acted as a “barrier to mental health”.
  • Longevity – in a significant research study, Becca found that participants who held positive age beliefs “lived an average of 7.5 years longer” than those who held negative age beliefs. ` Other research has demonstrated that non-biological factors such as age beliefs (and social/cultural environments) “determine as much as 75% of our longevity”.
  • Creativity – contrary to the prevailing stereotype, “creativity often continues and even increases in later life”.  Throughout the book, Becca mentions people who achieved “their most creative work at an older age”, e.g., Matisse, Hitchcock, Einstein, Picasso, Bernstein, Lerman and Dickens.  She also noted that 65 is the average age of a Nobel Prize winner.  Becca also reported the comment of actress Doris Roberts that actresses/actors “get better and better in their craft as they get older”.  Michael Caine CBE is just one example.  Starring in 160 films over 8 decades, he produced an outstanding performance at age 90 in his last film before retirement, The Great Escaper.

In the above discussion of the benefits of positive beliefs about aging, I have only “scratched the surface” of Becca’s research and findings.  However, it is very clear that positive age beliefs can impact us in multiple, beneficial ways – opening up opportunity and the realisation of our true potential.

Reflection

I can relate to Jonas’s experience (recounted above) when applied to a recreational context rather than a professional one.  I have continued to play social tennis in my late seventies and recently I played a half-volley, drop shot that left my much younger partner “gobsmacked”.  He responded, “Wow, how did you do that? Can you teach me to do that shot?”  At the time, I just shrugged but felt like saying:

I can’t teach you as I have never learnt to do that shot – it was purely instinctive, as I was caught “in no man’s land”.  When you have achieved in tennis what I have done – played 10,000 sets of tennis over more than 60 years, practised Tai Chi for years (for balance and coordination), and spent numerous hours doing tennis drills – you, too, will be able to do instinctive tennis shots that surprise others (as well as yourself).

Becca’s comment that creativity can increase in later years also resonates strongly with me.  I started this blog in 2016 (at the age of 70) and have now written more than 740 posts on this blog alone (my fifth blog).  I have reduced my output from three posts per week to one post to enable space and time to conduct manager development workshops (hybrid mode) and to co-author a book with my colleague of 16 years (as our legacy to younger managers and organisational consultants).  I am finding that connections and patterns come to me more rapidly and profusely  as I read and write and I now write an average of 1,000 words per post (compared to the 300 words per post, I started with in 2016).

In her book, Becca recounts the comments of 69 year old creative dancer Liz Lerman who observed that as we grow old we “don’t need  to make major life change to activate creativity’.  In her view, “expanding our connections to people” can create life changes for us and spark renewed creativity.  I have certainly found this with my active participation in the Creative Meetups hosted by the Health Story Collaborative.  

Additionally, I am finding (in terms of creativity) that, as I age and reflect, I am writing more poems that are longer and more complex in structure and scope.  In three days, inspired by Kim Rosen’s book Saved by a Poem,  I have written three poems – previously I wrote four short poems over five years.   One of my recent poems relates to the theme of this blog post and its predecessor about negative age beliefs:

Beliefs About Aging

To be positive, is to see opportunities

To be negative, is to deny potentiality.

Positive age beliefs open new horizons

Negative beliefs hold us captive and inert.

Positivity is openness to reality

Negativity is a closed mindset.

In being positive

Our full potential is possible.

With a grateful heart

I live my positive beliefs.

Reflecting and writing poetry enables us to grow in mindfulness. We come to realise that negative beliefs hold us back.  Through mindfulness practices, we can grow in self-awareness, concentration, creativity and resourcefulness – we can become increasingly aware of what is around us each day and what it is possible to achieve.

Photo Credit: The photo incorporated in this post was by Steve Buissinne, aged 74, from South Africa.  He joined Pixabay in 2014 and has had 556 photos accepted, 148 of which have been singled out as “Editor’s Choice” – a sign of excellence.  His photos have been viewed 32.83 million times, resulting in 19.39 million downloads. Steve’s comment on his Pixabay site demonstrates his mindful awareness of the beauty that surrounds us:

Everything has beauty – photography teaches you to see it

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

The Transformative Elements of a Poem

In a previous post I discussed the transformative power of poetry.  In that post, I drew on Kim Rosen’s book, Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words, to illustrate personal transformations that have occurred through poetry, including that of the author and Maya Angelou.  Poetry has a special power to transcend our analytical mind and capture our deeper inner landscape.  It has a unique capacity to move people out of darkness into light, out of depression into contentment, out of loneliness into connection.  In a section of her book, The Anatomy of A Poem (Chapter 5), Kim explains the elements of a poem that generate this transformative power.  She links her discussion of the poetic elements to their psychophysical impact on an individual, while acknowledging that each person reacts to a poem differently and may change their reaction over time – rejection can turn into admiration.    

The anatomy of a poem

In discussing the elements of a poem that may contribute to personal transformation, Kim identifies four aspects that can influence our reaction – (1) breath, (2) drumbeat, (3) song, and (4) image.  These are discussed below to offer a sense of what they may look like and feel like:

  • Breath – our breathing can be impacted by the pattern and pace developed in a poem through rhythm, line length and phrasing.  Rhythm, for example, can create calmness or a sense of urgency.  Line length can be slow and ponderous or fast and staccato-like.  Phrasing can be regular or irregular with disruption to an established pattern by short statements or punctuation.  Surprise and challenge can change breathing patterns because they can pull us up from our habituated behaviours.
  • Drumbeat – the sense of a drum beating can flow from accentuated syllables followed by softer syllables or broken with pauses.  The rhythm of a poem can create a sound experience similar to that of a drumbeat.
  • Song – a sense of singing can be generated through repetition, rhyme, or rhythm or alliteration as in the repeated “r’s” in this sentence. Words themselves can conjure sounds and their own sound can be a reminder of a song or singing.  Resonance in a poem has a unique quality that can reverberate in the listener’s mind and body.  Kim also maintains that “rhythm creates entrainment” and entrainment, in turn, “creates passion and movement” – the whole person synchronizes with the poem’s rhythm.
  • Image – can be created by word-pictures, metaphor, exploring ambiguity or opposites, and challenging linearity or expectations.  Kim argues that “the body feels the images” – images that create sensations arising from both left-brain and right-brain activation.

While each component of an element (such as repetition, rhyme, or metaphor) can create an effect, it’s the unique combination of elements in a poem that can generate a transformational impact.  In a New Dimensions Radio podcast, Kim discusses her concept of the “anatomy of a poem” and describes poetry, in all its many forms, as medicine for the soul.

Reflection: A poem about tennis

My poem below was inspired by Kim’s discussion of the “anatomy of a poem”.  In writing the poem I was conscious of the transformative elements that Kim describes.  I did not actively try to incorporate all the elements but became aware as I wrote how Kim’s discussion and illustrations were influencing the shape of my poem, For the Love of Tennis:

For the Love of Tennis

I’m grateful to play tennis again

The slice, the serve, the stroke, the sound.

A different goal

Not to win every point

To play with appreciation

And create surprise.

I’m grateful I can run, bend, stretch and strain

So much I’ve taken for granted.

No longer annoyed at my mistakes

Gratitude that I have the chance to make them.

There are many components of the elements that Kim describes incorporated in my poem.  What immediately comes to mind is the alliteration achieved through the number of “s” letters/sounds present – slice, serve, stroke, sound, surprise, stretch, strain.  The word “sound” has its own resonance and each type of tennis stroke (e.g. slice or serve) conjures up a different sound.  The “strokes” together with “run, bend, stretch and strain” evoke images and conjure up a sense of movement.

There are components of challenge as well as surprise in the poem.  There are challenges to expectations (to play to win; being grateful for the chance to make mistakes) along with “surprise” that is reinforced by the word itself.  The goal of surprise arose from my need to change my own expectations of what I am able to achieve on a tennis court in my late 70’s.  To this day I am able to create shots that surprise my partners and/or opponents (e.g., a backhand, half-volley drop shot; a  topspin lob from corner to corner; an unplayable backhand slice; or a half-volley, backhand lob) – so this element of surprise is an achievable goal for me (since I have lost a lot of my strength, speed of reflexes and movement around the court).   Surprise, too, is present in the sudden change in line length and equally sudden return to a longer line – eliciting the sense of a “drumbeat”.

Permeating the poem is a strong sense of gratitude – that I am able to play tennis again (after a period of rehabilitation); that I have access to a tennis court, social tennis partners and the equipment and funds to play; that I have been coached, had practice partners and played numerous games of tennis with different players; that I can move (run, bend, stretch and strain); that I can play many different tennis shots and associated spins; that I have played tennis on different surfaces and on overseas courts in France, Port Moresby, England and New Zealand.  Finally, there is the personal challenge not to take these things for granted.

Tennis to me, like writing poetry, is one of the many ways to grow in mindfulness.  Through tennis, I develop my powers of concentration and my gratitude, creativity, resilience and resourcefulness. I also become more able to “be-in-the-moment”.

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Image by Carola68 Die Welt ist bunt…… from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

The Transformative Power of Poetry

I have just been reading Kim Rosen’s brilliant book, Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words.  I found it enlightening, stimulating and inspirational – opening up new areas for personal exploration.  Kim is a world-renowned poet, activist, an award-winning “spoken-word artist, and a teacher of self-inquiry.  She brings a rare openness, insight and compassion to her writing and numerous individual and community engagements.  Kim collaborated with cellist Jami Seber to create Feast of Losses, a unique merging of music and poetry.  The collaborative endeavour reflects the ambiguity of everyday life in today’s world – life and death, grief and joy, loss and gratitude.

Saved by a poem

In her book, Kim describes situations in her own life and that of significant other people where a poem has proved to be a source of insight, healing, support, and rescue from depression and/or suicide ideation.  At the age of 15, Kim experienced an awakening from what she describes as her insular life characterised by “distance, intelligence, and control”.  The poem, “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond” by E.E.Cummings, broke through her protective shell – a remarkable unfolding occurred through the “waves of sensation, emotion, and imagery” she experienced when reading the poem aloud.

Kim explains that the healing from poetry occurred for her not from writing poems but from “taking a poem deeply” into her heart and life and speaking it aloud.  She contends that the language of poetry is not a purely intellectual exercise but involves a holistic approach – engaging the whole person, their thoughts, emotions, spirit and body.  Poetry enables personal integration, reinforcing the mind-body connection, exposing our inner reality and its embodiment in our physical sensations.  It creates a sense of being vulnerable before a deeply profound truth that is difficult to deny.

Developing a relationship with a poem

Kim explains that sometimes we can seek out a poem for strength and support in a time of crisis – at other times a poem can seek us out.  We may initially resist a poem’s message but eventually if we persist, especially in reading it aloud, it will penetrate our defences.  She suggests that to take a poem into our life requires allowing the words to ignite our true essence – achieving an alignment of our “thoughts, words, and deeds with our heart’s wisdom and longing”.  

Kim tells the story of when she lost all her investments and savings in a scam that left her unable to pay rent.  A friend offered her somewhere to stay and together they continuously read aloud the poem Kindness, created by Naomi Shihab Nye.  The poem seemed to find each of them independently before they shared lodging for a while.  Kim recounts how, after memorising the poem and repeatedly saying it aloud, she came to understand that the kindness referred to in the poem is not about kindness to others but the kindness others offer you when you have lost everything.  The opening words of the poem resonated deeply with her – Before you know what kindness is, you must lose things.  Kim experienced an incredible outpouring of kindness from others when she lost everything – offers of accommodation or financial support and many gifts (even a year’s supply of lattes).

Kim suggests that choosing to learn a poem by heart can be influenced by curiosity, desire for pleasure, love or a personal need arising from a crisis.    She also talks of the challenge from what she calls “the yoga of poetry”.  We might be attracted initially to a poem but its inherent challenge, intellectually and/or emotionally, may be off-putting.  The focal poem requires a degree of stretch, moving beyond our comfort zone or opening ourselves to new insights about ourself and/or others.  This yoga-like stretch can be achieved progressively by persisting with the poem, reading it aloud, committing it to memory and, where possible, sharing it with others.

Opening up to poetry

Kim describes the habit she developed of recording poems in a diary, both those she has written and poems by others.  She describes the resultant record as an Autobiography in Poems. She explains how each group of poems addressed a need at a particular point in her life, e.g. to challenge her “idealized image” of herself; facing chaotic feelings; and finding herself and her life purpose. 

Kim argues that we can access the transformative power of poetry by writing or reading poetry, joining a poetry writing group, reading poems aloud by ourself or in public presentations, reading poems with a group and/or recording poems that appeal to us in a diary (or on digital voice media).  She encourages us to explore poetry as a way of opening ourselves to the richness of our inner life, as well as our inhibitions.

Reflection

In her book, Kim describes how poetry saved Maya Angelou, after she had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend (at the age of seven) who was jailed and subsequently murdered.  Maya, feeling guilty for exposing her attacker and contributing to his death, became mute for six years.  During her silence, she memorised poems that appealed to her, including 60 Shakespearean sonnets.  Her school teacher (when Maya was 12 years of age) was aware that Maya was mute and loved poetry, so she challenged her by saying, “in order to love poetry, you must speak it”.  This led to Maya reciting a sonnet from Shakespeare – her first spoken words in six years. Maya went on to become a  world-famous author, poet and activist.  She also pioneered a unique autobiographical style in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Kim observes that poems “seemed to know me better than I knew myself” and often “reflected my deepest feelings more intimately than words alone can touch” – because what touches us through a poem Is “between and beyond” the actual words.  She maintains that poems can give voice to supressed feelings and longings that may be hidden from ourselves.  I found this personally when I wrote a poem called The Inflammatory Thread in My life after hearing William Stafford’s poem, The Way It Is, provided as a stimulus piece for our writer’s meetup group with the Health Story Collaborative.  Until I wrote the poem, I had not realised the extent of my frustration with my allergies and food sensitivities that were impacting what I could eat and drink and negatively affecting my relationships.   

Writing, reading, speaking or sharing poetry can help us to grow in mindfulness because these activities can develop deep insight, expose our inner landscape and strengthen our resolve and courage, along with inspiring us to emulate the compassionate action of others.

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Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

The Pervasive Impact of Negative Beliefs About Aging

Dr. Becca Levy, Yale professor and world leader in the psychology of aging successfully, has written a groundbreaking book that is brilliant in its conception and exhaustive in its research foundation.  The book is titled Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Will Determine How Long and Well You Live.   Becca draws on global research, undertaken by herself and colleagues in the field, to demonstrate that our age beliefs impact positively or negatively not only our physiology but also our mental health.  Negative age belief, perpetuated through the media and our social environment, can lead to mental and physical ill-health and a diminished quality of life.  In contrast, positive age beliefs can enable us to transcend the limitations of aging in terms of mental acuity, physical strength, flexibility and longevity.  Becca draws on numerous stories of people from all walks of life – artists, musicians, actors, athletes, carers, and health professionals – to illustrate the very real impact of beliefs about aging.

How our negative aging beliefs are formed

Becca demonstrates the impact of nursery rhymes and cartoons on the early formation of our age beliefs.  These typically negative portrayals of aging are further reinforced by social media, films, newspapers and everyday social conversations.  The pervasive marketing of a desirable body image and associated cosmetic propaganda (a Trillion-Dollar industry), have served to embed a negative image of aging in our psyche.   We now have “age-defying” skin treatments that remove wrinkles and make our skin glow, along with a pervasive negative stereotyping of menopause (loss of youthfulness, sexual drive, physical prowess and energy).

The impacts of negative age beliefs on institutions and individuals

The resultant negative age beliefs underpin the growth of ageism – “discrimination against older people because of negative and inaccurate stereotypes”.  This discrimination is reflected in institutional bias, in interpersonal communications and relationships, and self-talk/limiting behaviours.  Becca gives examples of institutional discrimination in employment, the acting and legal professions and hospital protocols.  She explains that her research confirms that many health professionals have negative age beliefs and act on them.  Our language in conversations can betray an ageist mindset, for example, when we talk about “having a senior moment” (Becca devotes a chapter to this phenomenon and highlights the amazing memory of deaf people and the role of memory in the oral transmission of indigenous knowledge).

The last mentioned arena of negative age beliefs, the intrapersonal, is difficult for an individual to realise and acknowledge.  Becca surprised herself by her ageist mindset when she suffered an injury while running in a charity event.  Despite her professional knowledge of aging, she immediately attributed the injury to her middle-aged body “succumbing – all too early – to the ravages of age”.  She assumed that her running days had come to a “premature end”.  It was only when her husband, a doctor, explained that she only had a “badly pulled muscle” that she was able to recognise and acknowledge the personal impact of her negative mindset about aging.  Like many people, Becca was shocked that ageism was influencing her own thinking.

I can relate to Becca’s personal injury story.  I was diagnosed with multilevel spinal degeneration, in part, as a result of playing tennis for more than 60 years, including many years at a competitive level.  My doctor told me that I would have to give up tennis because the injury was the result of “wear and tear”.  Initially, I put the degeneration down to aging (I was 76 years old at the time) and decided that my body was no longer able to cope with the rigours of tennis.  For some reason, unknown to me, I decided to seek a second opinion.  The second medical practitioner gave me a referral to an exercise physiologist who provided me with a series of progressively more challenging exercises over a period of six weeks.  By the end of this period, I was able to return to playing tennis and have been doing so for six months (I play social tennis weekly at night).  This brought home to me that a negative mindset about aging can actually prevent us from exploring and undertaking remedies for health issues. We can adopt a helpless frame of mind that impedes our chances of improving our health, physically and/or mentally. 

Reflection

Becca reveals through her research and storytelling that our negative age beliefs can influence our behaviours, our ability to recover from illness and injury, our quality of life, and life span.  It behoves us to become aware of the influence of ageism on us, to become conscious of our negative thought patterns and to be aware of our resultant limiting behaviours (including our willingness to seek ways of healing).

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and mindfulness practices such as meditation, we can become more aware of our thought processes and their impact and develop increased self-awareness, including knowledge of our habituated behaviours.   Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield teach us about The Power of Awareness developed through mindfulness meditation.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

Life After Death and Spirit Communication

Mark Anthony, JD, has written a landmark book covering life after death and spirit communication.   The book draws on his research, personal experience, stories of other people and quantum physics.  The stories that Mark reports in detail are drawn from people who recount their Near death Experience (NDE) or their Shared Death Experience (SDE) as well as the stories that arise in his work as a “spirit medium”.  Mark is described as a “psychic explorer” and is known as the Psychic Lawyer®, being an experienced, Oxford-educated trial lawyer.  

He conducts “spirit communication sessions” face-to-face around the world and live on television and radio.  His goal is to enable people who have lost a loved one to  better manage their grief through receiving assurances from the person’s spirit on the Other Side. Mark’s book incorporating the latest science and illustrative stories is titled, The Afterlife Frequency: The Scientific Proof of Spiritual Contact and How That Awareness Will Change Your Life.

Life after death – the survival of consciousness

Quantum physics has demonstrated that everything in our world, including our blood cells and beach sand, are made up of quanta, “subatomic particles of electromagnetic energy”.  Einstein maintained that “everything is energy”.  The Law of the Conservation of Energy states that “energy can neither be created or destroyed”.   Since everything is made up of quanta, Mark contends that “everything is energetically connected”.

Consciousness, often referred to as the “soul” (our individuality shaped by our experiences, personality, knowledge and other attributes) is described by physicists as “the quantum electromagnetic field within the brain”.    In his Afterlife Frequency book, Mark explains how he developed the concept of the electromagnetic soul, drawing on history ranging from 4,000 years old Hindu beliefs, through Leonardo Da Vinci’s scientific research, Buddhism beliefs, the work of Sir Isaac Newton and the present-day research of Dr. Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona. 

Given that energy cannot be destroyed but only “transformed from one form to another”, Mark and world leading scientists, contend that as we are energetic beings, “the energy of life transcends physical death”.  The electromagnetic soul thus lives on after death and exists in another dimension at a higher energy frequency, no longer constrained by the limitations of the human body.  Mark affirms that the electromagnetic soul is neither created by the brain nor extinguished on its death. He draws on an analogy developed by Professor Hans-Peter Durr of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics to argue that “at death the electromagnetic soul is uploaded to a higher frequency” and joins what he terms “collective consciousness”.

Spirit Communication

Mark makes the significant point that spirit communication does not come in a direct form like text messaging.  Sometimes the message is received in the form of metaphors, feelings, images or symbols.  This means that interpretation of the message may not be immediately available to the medium or to the person for whom the message is intended.  Mark explains that the understanding of the message by the intended recipient may take hours, days or even years.  Eventually, at an appropriate time, the meaning in the message becomes clear as the associations connected to the message are identified and understood.  Mark gives examples of this time lapse in understanding by people for whom he has performed “readings”.

Mark contends that despite the fact that we are not all mediums like him (who is a fourth-generation medium), we are each able to communicate with spirits.  He explains that the pineal gland in the body, also called the “psychic gland”, enables us to receive higher frequency transmissions.  As Mark explains because we all have the same “physical apparatus”, “everybody has the ability to have a psychic experience”.

Barriers to spirit communication

In a chapter titled The No, No, No, Syndrome, Mark identifies a number of barriers that people create that effectively block spirit communication.   He draws on many examples experienced during his spirit communication workshops or phone calls to explain the nature and impact of these barriers.  For example, people may be so anxious or fearful that their thinking becomes clouded; they may be so emotive (wanting a communication desperately and subsumed by grief) that their emotional state acts as a “deflector” of the spirit communication; or they may overthink or “hyper-analyse” the message during the communication.  Mark argues that feeling should predominate during the communication, analysis should come after the message is received.  He suggests that inviting not demanding, and feeling not analysing, is the way to effectively receive spirit communication.  Spirit communication also requires patience because messages received can have multiple levels of meaning.

How to become receptive to spirit communication

Mark maintains that we can each develop what he calls spiritual situation awareness so that we are “capable of getting in sync with afterlife frequency”.  This awareness enables us to detect spirit communication in the form of “signs” and be able to interpret and act on them.

He suggests that one of the easiest ways to develop the requisite awareness is to begin by paying attention to our immediate world through our senses, what Jon Zabat-Kinn calls Coming to Our Senses. We can start by listening to sounds in our immediate environment and then expand our attention to take in sights, smells, tastes and touch.  Through this process we can eventually develop natural awareness and what Mark calls situation awareness, a trait highly developed by emergency services personnel.

Mark contends that we can take our awareness to a higher level moving beyond awareness of our physical environment to awareness of “what is happening around us energetically”, what he terms spirit situational awareness.  He proposes a 4-part technique that builds spiritual situational awareness over time.   The technique he describes in his Afterlife Frequency book is called the RAFT Technique:

  • Recognize  
  • Accept
  • Feel
  • Trust

Mark maintains that with practice we can develop unconscious competence in recognizing, accepting, feeling and trusting the signs and messages received through spirit communication.  We can also progressively remove the blockages that would otherwise interfere with the communication and our understanding of what is being communicated.   Mark explains that practice is necessary because we can unwittingly block the “energetic impulse” communicated by a spirit which would, without the blockage, create a connection to the electromagnetic field of our brain.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop our natural awareness, our spirit situational awareness and our receptivity to spirit communication if we choose to do so.   Mindfulness with its focus on paying attention purposefully, can enrich our lives on many dimensions – physical, psychological and spiritual.  The benefits of mindfulness are far-reaching and encompass the totality of human experience.

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Image by Đức Tình Ngô from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Covid-19: The Invisible Link

There has been a lot written lately about Long Covid and its differential impacts on individual’s health.  More recently research has highlighted a connection between Covid-19 and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.  It is important at the outset to reinforce the need to consult a medical practitioner for treatment of individual health symptoms.  We can too easily make assumptions about what is occurring for us if we go it alone.   For example, I assumed that my numb feet were the result of peripheral neuropathy caused by Long Covid.  When I consulted my medical practitioner, I  discovered, through the X-Ray that he requested, that my assumption was wrong – the actual problem was multi-level spinal degeneration.   However, it is important to consult practitioners who are open to multiple explanations of chronic symptoms, such as those induced by allergies and food sensitivities.  Often, this may involve a medical practitioner who has a holistic perspective and/or is  qualified in functional medicine.

I recently participated in a Creative Meetup conducted by Health Story Collaborative.  During the meeting, Diane Kane responded to a discussion by a number of participants who were experiencing Long Covid symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, brain fog, and allergies.  When I mentioned my ongoing battle with food sensitivities and allergies, Diane shared some information about Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).  She explained that her website is a research hub for MCAS.  On the website, Diane shares her own extended patient story as well as research resources including a video presentation on MCAS by Dr. Larence B. Alfin, author of Never Bet Against Occam: Mast Cell Activation Disease and the Modern Epidemics of Chronic Illness and Medical Complexity.

What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?

Dr. Kelly McCann in a video podcast interview explains that mast cells are a key part of our normal immune system.  Their role is to watch for invaders that would cause injury to our bodies.  They reside everywhere in our bodies from our head to our feet, and typically live in areas of our body that are at our interface with the environment, e.g. our skin, our blood vessels and our nerves.

Mast cells are responsible for delivering chemical messengers, called “mediators”, such as cytokine and histamine, that produce an inflammatory response to the perceived invader, e.g. a virus, environmental chemicals, mold, or the flu.  Kelly points out that research has shown that mast cells play a major role in the “cytokine storm” that causes an inflammatory response to Covid-19.  If the “foreign invader” is overcome (e.g. we recover from Covid or the flu), “everything quiets back down again” and ‘inflammation goes away”.

However, for some people mast cells become over-active, “hyper-vigilant” and hyper-responsive” – a condition identified as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).  What happens then is that our body “misperceives things”, some of which are actually good for us, e.g. healthy foods.  Hence, we can end up with food sensitivities and allergies (to things like smells, chemicals and some foods).  Kelly makes the point that because of the pervasiveness of mast cells in our body, “anything in our body could present as a mass cell activation symptom”, e.g. brain fog.

Kelly explains that Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is “a spectrum” – ranging from mild to extreme.  A key feature of MACS is that over time, without intervention, there will be an “escalation in the inflammatory or allergic symptoms” of an individual.  The inflammatory response can be exacerbated by what Kelly calls “hits”, e.g. a virus, sustained exposure to mould, or a tick bite (leading to Lyme Disease).  For example, the progression of mast cell activation syndrome could be signalled by the worsening of food sensitivities for an individual.    

Diane’s personal health story

Diane created her website as a means of education and advocacy about the independent science research being conducted on mast cell activation syndrome.  Her own story is really about the extreme end of the spectrum of MCAS and is one of resilience, persistence and hope – a great source of inspiration for anyone experiencing MCAS symptoms.  Diane’s multi-dimensional health problems persisted over 46 years.  Despite visiting 80 consulting doctors and undergoing “extensive evaluations” at 15 major hospitals and suffering multiple anaphylaxis attacks over 20 years, she was not diagnosed with MCAS until 2017 when she visited Dr. Ali Rezale of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Dr. Rezale and Dr. Alfin are working with Diane to improve her health overall.  In the meantime, Diane is working on writing a book titled, The MCAS and Covid-19 Theory: A Multidimensional Epigenetic Phenomenon.   As an experienced medical researcher and author who suffered long-term symptoms of MCAS, she is well-qualified to document her story and the growing body of relevant scientific research.  Diane provides draft copies of early chapters of her book on her advocacy website. 

My health story

I have experienced multiple “hits” as described by Dr. Kelly McCann.  Having had asthma as a child, I am prone to respiratory problems and allergic reactions.  While I overcame the asthma by the time I was 12 years old, since then I have contracted pneumonia three times, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) three times and Covid-19 in 2021.   In 2017, I experienced major eczema covering my whole body, following 8-weeks of intensive antibiotics to heal an infected leg (resulting from an operation to remove a melanoma).   Since then I have experienced continuous food sensitivities and allergy which are increasing in breadth and depth to the point that there are very limited things I can eat or drink without negative side effects. 

Dr. Kelly McCann explains that there are two things going on with MCAS – a trigger(s) and reaction(s).  Both need to be addressed.  In terms of food triggers, I can relate to Dr. Kelly McCann’s comment that she was gluten-free, dairy-free and unable to eat a long list of foods.  As Kelly suggests in her presentation, I have been undertaking an elimination process trying to identify specific foods (especially those high in histamine or salicylates) that cause aggravation of my symptoms so that I can remove them from my diet. 

In regard to reactions, Kelly argues that there is a need to dampen the hyperactivity of the immune response.  My naturopath, Dr. Mark Shoring, agrees with a tentative diagnosis of MCAS in my case, and recommended initially a course in Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), a herb identified by Mt Sinai Health System in New York as being “used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat allergies, infections, inflammation, cancer, and headaches”.  This treatment, along with Turmeric, is designed to dampen down my hyperactive immune response. So, my somatic strategies, at the moment, include identifying and eliminating aggravating foods and drinks while simultaneously calming the inflammatory response of my immune system.

Mind-body connection and healing practices

Kelly maintains that she experiences the influence of the mind-body connection everyday in her clinic when working with patients.   She points out that the impact of mind-body connections is developed through our early family and developmental experiences.  Unfortunately, we are often prone to misperceive these experiences or develop false beliefs that lead to emotional problems such as low self-esteem and emotional dysregulation.  She argues that we have to envisage the health challenge confronting people with MCAS in terms of a three-legged stool – Mast Cell Activation, Limbic System Activation (our emotional centre) and Vagus Nerve Dysfunction (the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system).

Kelly mentions a number of practices that can help retrain the limbic system to get our “mental/emotional loops” and habituated behaviour under control, e.g. Dynamic Neural Retraining System, the Gupta Program and Cathleen King’s Primal Trust Program.

Vagus Nerve Dysfunction can lead to people with MCAS becoming stuck in fight/flight/freeze behaviour which can impede healing.  Kelly maintains that the approach required here is stimulation of the vagus nerve to help people to get “back into parasympathetic rest and digest”.  She suggests approaches to achieve restoration of balance, e.g. breathing exercises, meditation and devices such as EmWave, HeartMath and Rezzimax.  Kelly mentioned that she uses mind-body techniques in her clinical practice when the person she is treating is receptive to these approaches.

Reflection

I think it is important to remember that MCAS impacts each individual differently.  The impacts are influenced by our biology and the number and severity of what Kelly calls “hits”.   There are so many confounding variables involved that self-diagnosis is likely to mislead us.  However, this should not stop us from being proactive, e.g. identifying and reducing or eliminating our triggers.  Actively seeking to grow in mindfulness can help us to stimulate the vagus nerve, activate our relaxation response and overcome negative thoughts.

Reading about Diane’s experience prompted me to revisit my naturopath and discuss his diagnosis of my food sensitivity and allergy experience.  He explained that his recommended treatment approach was based on the assumption that I was experiencing MCAS.

During one of my Creative Meetups, also attended by Diane, we listened to a reading of William Stafford’s poem, The Way It Is.  Listening to this poem and the subsequent discussion in the Meetup group prompted me to write a poem about my food sensitivities and allergy:

The Inflammatory Thread in My Life

There are many things I can’t eat
fruit, gluten, dairy and red meat.
I feel left out that I can’t share
even with delicious family fare.
I crave something sweet
but the cost is too steep.
Hives and rashes make me really itchy
legs and feet are shamefully icky.
Wine is off the table, not that I am unable
it’s the swollen ankle, that renders me unstable.
The endless cycle of elimination
to discover the source of inflammation.
It’s harder to share a meal with my wife
what I’ve done for forty years of my life.
Covid-19 has a long arm
it’s still doing me harm.
Almond croissants are my passion
a loss of consciousness my reaction.
Butter was a food sensitivity
It’s now a dangerous allergy.
Food and drink are tainted rewards
a mindset change to move forward.
It’s a long journey with a clear destination
It takes patience, perseverance and dedication.

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This post is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to replace personal medical advice provided by a trained medical practitioner.  Please seek advice from a qualified professional before deciding on treatments for yourself or other members of your family.

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Image by Ingo Jakubke from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

Recovering from the Shock of a Relationship Breakup

Dr. Michael Acton, psychologist and relationship expert, spoke about the shock of a relationship breakup at the 2023 Mental Health Super Summit.  He suggested that a relationship breakup is like a car wreck – there is not only shock but also confusion. 

The natural and common reaction is to leap into another relationship for comfort and support.  Loss of a relationship can be very disorientating and incredibly disturbing.  People lose a sense of who they are while others in their relationship circle no longer know how to relate to them (particularly when they only knew the individual as part of a couple).    Some people in the circle choose avoidance, a few offer emotional support.

Michael likens the impact of a relationship breakup to being “lost in a dark tunnel”.  He suggests that disorientating shock occurs even for a person initiating a breakup.  The initiator can be frozen by indecision, alternating between “staying’ and “leaving”.  Indecision can then permeate every aspect of their life and especially their work environment and work tasks.

Michael provides specific advice for people in a toxic and narcissistic relationship in his book, Learning How to Leave: A Practical Guide.  The book is designed to empower sufferers of abuse from toxic relationships whether they are in an intimate relationship, a business relationship or in a family where domestic violence or coercive control exists.

Michael also maintains that grief models such as that of Elisabeth Kubler Ross are not adequate to describe the shock of a relationship breakup.  Unlike the loss of a loved one through death, a relationship breakup means that the other party still retains “agency” and can continue or initiate abuse physically, emotionally and/or financially. 

Physical violence can be threatened by well-meaning relatives of the separated partner.  The separated partner can also control mutual funds, or “take them (their former partner) to the cleaners”. One of the more emotionally exacting and potentially damaging action the separated partner can take is to withhold access to their jointly conceived children.

Michael is currently working on a book with a new model to address relationship breakups, Fork in the Road (available in 2024). 

Jelena Dokic’s relationship breakup

In a previous post, I discussed the physical abuse Jelena suffered at the hands of her father and the coercive control he exercised over her and her mother.  What was the greatest shock for Jelena was the sudden breakup of her relationship with her partner of 19 years, Tin Bilic.   In 2021, Tin, who was with his father in Croatia at the time, announced by a FaceTime call just before Christmas Day that, “We are done”.  Jelena describes the shock, pain and hurt she suffered as a result in her second memoir, Fearless: Finding the Power to Thrive

The shock of the breakup with Tin left Jelena in disbelief – she could not comprehend why the breakup occurred (no explanation was given).  There were no precursor major fights.  The shock of the relationship breakup was intensified because Tin had been “her rock” since 2002 – he stood by her at her lowest point in 2005 when she was “overweight, depressed, bankrupt and on the verge of ending her life”.

Jelena described Tin as the kindest person she had ever known (taking after his mother who had been a real support for Jelena with her kindness, respect, belief and model behaviour).  The permanent separation occurred after five months of temporary separation occasioned by Tin having to support his father who was in grief following the death of his wife Slavia in 2019.  The  uncertainty and trauma being experienced by Jelena at the time were compounded by the extended COVID lockdown in Melbourne..

Recovery from trauma: Jelena Dokic

Jelena acknowledges that she is still a “work-in-progress” following the multiple traumatic events she experienced in her life.  However, she has been able to overcome the disabling effects of trauma and has established herself in a new career as an international Tennis Commentator, author and public speaker. 

Jelena has been proactive in dealing with her trauma.  Following her relationship breakup with Tin, she sought therapy from a psychologist and he has proven to be a “lifesaver”.  Additionally, she identified a range of factors that helped her on her healing journey:

  • Supportive people – In Jelena’s early years as a junior tennis player, Lesley Bowrey was a tremendous support showing her kindness, belief and respect (while sharing a strong “work ethic”).  Tin himself and his mother, Slavia, were kindness personified and helped Jelena restore her self-belief.  Tom Woodbridge provided tireless support for her transition to author and Commentator and provided emotional support following her breakup with Tin.  Jelena frequently acknowledges the positive influence on her healing of the supportive people in her life.
  • Daily morning routine –  Jelena described the “mindful pause” that she takes for 45 minutes each morning. This routine involves stopping, savouring a cup of coffee, and admiring nature, especially the sunrises.  She learnt from Slavia to savour the “simple things in life”. 
  • Expressing gratitude – Jelena is very conscious of the research that demonstrates the healing effects of gratitude.  She writes in her gratitude journal on a weekly basis about the things in her life that she is grateful for (and re-reads the journal daily to remind herself of these blessings).  She also writes on a post-it note each week identifying three things that she is grateful for (and displays the note on her fridge as a reminder).  Jelena maintains that “practising gratitude brings calmness and joy to my mind and my life”.
  • Writing and public speaking – Jelena reiterates the healing power of storytelling and credits her storytelling in her memoirs as a major factor in her trauma recovery.  She notes in her memoirs that her storytelling in her public talks and presentations is not only healing for her but also for others who are experiencing trauma. This vicarious benefit is reinforced every time she meets people in public who have read her memoirs or listened to her talks.
  • Practising kindness – Jelena has a whole section in her Fearless memoir on “happiness, healing and kindness”.  She emphasises the power of kindness to “change lives and the world”.  Jelena acknowledges that she has had to teach herself how to be kind to others and to herself (given the family violence she experienced and the devastating impact on her self-esteem and self-love).
  • Empathy – Jelena in her generosity has used her resources and contacts to advocate for sufferers-survivors who have experienced what she has gone through – child abuse, body-shaming, family violence, social media trolling, eating disorders, and mental health issues.
  • Meditation and mindfulness – Jelena indicated that she practices meditation to achieve calmness and overcome anxiety.  Her other practices such as her “morning pause”, walking in nature, connecting to animals in a sanctuary, all contribute to her capacity to grow in mindfulness.  In many ways, Jelena puts into practice the principles for happiness and resilience promulgated by Hugh Van Cuylenburg in The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness (G.E.M.).

Reflection

Jelena provides a source of inspiration for many people through her storytelling and her courage to work on her healing from trauma.  She demonstrates that as we grow in mindfulness we can shed our negative self-image, develop compassion and overcome life’s challenges.   We can learn to overcome our maladaptive responses and restore our self-image. 

The Health Story Collaborative provides the resources, encouragement and support to help you to write and share your health story.  I have found the free, monthly Creative Meetups (Writing for Expression and Healing) to be a very supportive and inspiring group who are proactive in oral and written storytelling to improve their health and overall wellbeing.  The group is non-hierarchical involving people with different levels of writing ability and a variety of health issues (including trauma-related illnesses and Long-COVID induced disabilities).

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Image by Avi Chomotovski from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

The Demeaning Power of Coercive Control

During the recent 2023 Mental Health Super Summit Dr. Richard Hill explained the concept of “coercive control”, how it manifests and its devastating effects on children and adults.  This is a form of insidious, creeping control over another by a perpetrator (usually a parent or partner) that Richard describes as “a slow whittle”.  He drew on the definition of Dr. Emma Katz, a world authority in the area, to explain that coercive control involves the progressive “controlling of somebody else’s whole life”.   It takes away their normal autonomy and sense of freedom.  The control that is exercised is “wide-ranging and persistent”.  If the controlled person resists or refuses to conform they are punished.  The net result is that the controlled person lives a constrained way of life to avoid punishment.  

In her book, Coercive Control in Children’s and Mother’s Lives, Emma explains that children and adult survivors even after they are able to break free from the perpetrator must engage in a “sustained battle for safety and recovery”.  Through her research with many victims-survivors, she has become convinced that support and “professional Interventions” are needed to facilitate healing and recovery.

Richard explained that the perpetrator of coercive control keeps the controlled person “off balance”, continuously confuses them and progressively isolates them from others (in part, so that they can’t tell others what is happening to them).  He argues that the controlled person can begin to question their own sanity (because of “gaslighting”) and loses both self-esteem and self-determination.  Even when they are able to flee, they may fear for their safety because of stalking by the perpetrator who may continue to engage in “post-separation abuse”.

Even seeking assistance from the law is fraught with risk and difficulty for victims-survivors of perpetrators of coercive control.  In her book, Women, Intimate Partner Violence and the Law, Heather Douglas (drawing on case studies) explains that perpetrators often use the law against their victims, and that victims-survivors require very high levels of “endurance, tenacity and patience” to obtain help and protection through the law.  She highlights “the failure of the legal system to provide safety for women and children” on many occasions.

Jess Hill, Richard’s daughter, in her well-researched book, See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence, supports the view that “abuse is often reinforced by the justice system they trust to protect them” as victims-of domestic violence.  She suggests that instead of questioning why a woman didn’t leave her abusive partner, we should be asking, “Why did he do it?”. She offers ways forward to reduce the abuse and fear resulting from domestic violence that is so prevalent in Australian homes.

Jelena Dokic’s experience – a classic example of coercive control by a parent

In a previous post, I spoke of the physical abuse suffered by Jelena Dokic at the hands of her father, Damir Dokic.  Jelena, in her second memoir, Fearless: Finding the Power to Survive, also details what amounts to coercive control by her father – “wide-ranging and persistent control”.  Her father used physical punishment to control her behaviour (e.g. punishing her for not winning).  He restricted her access to people and attempted to isolate her.  He continuously called her demeaning names such as “cow” and “whore” and took control of her money, demanding she sign over her winnings and savings.  Her father also took all her trophies and sold them.  On one occasion, he publicly smashed a crystal runners-up trophy because Jelena did not win the tennis competition.

Jelena escaped from her family in 2002 (aged 19 years).  Despite this break away, she suffered post-separation abuse of her freedom. She was effectively stalked by her father and mother.  They would turn up unannounced at WTA events she was competing in and try to coax her to “return home”.  WTA security protected Jelena and refused entry to her father.  However, during the US Open in 2003, her mother turned up at her hotel and insisted that she sign over the family home in Florida to her father. 

In the previous post, I also described how Jelena was coached and supported by Australian tennis great Lesley Bowrey in her younger years, achieving outstanding success as a junior on the global stage.  Lesley believed in Jelena and what she could achieve and showed her respect and kindness – a stark contrast to the behaviour of her father.  However, eventually, her father insisted that she sack Lesley as her coach which shattered Jelena’s “happy world” and left her devastated. 

The continuous belittling, dismissing her achievements and pervasive control took its toll on Jelena’s mental health and she suffered from a loss of self-esteem and a feeling of “not being good enough”.  She felt trapped by her father despite being physically separated from him.  She experienced “thoughts of suicide” because she could see no way out of her traumatic situation (her “entrapment”).

Coercive Control of Jelena’s mother

Jelena and her mother, Ljiljana Dokic, were estranged because her daughter felt that her mother had failed to help and protect her against her father’s physical abuse and coercive control and the trauma she experienced.  However, in her Fearless memoir, Jelena explained that they had restored their relationship after she found it in herself to forgive her mother for her lack of protection.  She came to understand that her mother too suffered at the hands of her father.  She was also beaten into submission and suffered coercive control. 

Jelena’s father made all the key decisions impacting her mother.  He determined where they lived, controlled all the money (mainly Jelena’s winnings) and forced her to undertake unpleasant tasks against her will.  Jelena’s mother was forced to work to provide herself with some independent income. 

Reflection

In her memoir, Jelena acknowledged that she had not forgiven her father for his physical abuse and coercive control.  She had come to realise that her mother too was controlled by him and Jelena was able to find a level of forgiveness towards her mother following this realisation.

In an earlier post, I provided a reflection process for dealing with resentment and anger. It facilitates looking at what was happening for the other person in a conflict/abuse situation.  Among other things, it asks you to think about what was happening for the other person in terms of self-esteem and identity.  It also requires you to think about the pressures and stresses experienced by the other person, including their life experiences and familial influences.  As Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey suggest, an important question is, “What Happened to You?”.

By adopting the other person’s perspective, you are better able to be empathetic and find forgiveness.  Jelena was able to do this in relation to her mother, but not her father. Understanding and forgiveness may come with an appreciation of the influences that shaped her father’s life, including poverty and living in war-torn Croatia as a parent and partner, becoming a refugee in Australia and being beaten by his parents as a child.  Jelena’s hurt and pain at the hands (and mind) of her father are deep and will take a lifetime to heal.

As we grow in mindfulness, through reflection on our own life and significant formative events, we can appreciate the positive people and events in our life that helped to shape who we are and what we have achieved.  Jelena’s story, recorded in her memoirs, is a great source of inspiration for overcoming life’s challenges and appreciating what we do have.

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Image by Myléne from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

Fearlessly Sharing Your Story: Jelena Dokic’s Exhortation

Jelena Dokic shared her story of paternal abuse in the second of her memoirs, Fearless: Finding the Power to Thrive.  Her no holds barred account is disarmingly honest but replete with positivity and gratitude. 

Jelena indicated that she first gave a glimpse of her family situation in an interview with journalist Jessica Halloran, who subsequently co-authored her two memoirs.  The first memoir, Unbreakable, told of her challenges as a refugee from Yugoslavia, her life of poverty and the brutality of her father, Damir Dokic.

The first physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father was when she was six years old.  He slapped her hard in the face three times because she had laughed and joked with her tennis coach.  In Damir’s view, tennis was not for enjoyment but sheer hard work that had to be taken seriously.  Beyond that first abuse, she suffered continuous beatings as a teenager, especially when she lost a game.  Jelena often played with bruises all over her body.  On one occasion he beat her unconscious with a shoe.

Jelena highlighted in her memoirs the fear and physical suffering she experienced at the hands of her father.  She explained in detail how his behaviour diminished her self-esteem and intensified her sense of shame. Despite her trauma from this physical abuse, Jelena became one of the greatest Australian female tennis players, reaching the rank of number 4 in the world in singles.  She was noted for her nerve and fearlessness on court and her ability to fight back when behind in a match – a resilience born of combating her trauma.

The power of storytelling

Jelena discussed her personal battle with shame when trying to share her story.  From the interview with Jessica to her Fearless memoir, she had progressively revealed more about her life and personal challenges. In the process she has become a very strong advocate for the healing power of storytelling.  Jelena indicated that not only was she able to heal from her trauma through storytelling but she found that other people drew inspiration and healing from her personal battles and her capacity to rise above them.

Jelena used her memoirs to tell her story with increasing levels of disclosure.  She found too that her book tours and public presentations enabled her to share more about her life and how she dealt with her trauma, which often left her feeling helpless, anxious, depressed and exhausted.

Jelena has continued to do public presentations to share her story and the positive value of her storytelling  has been reinforced by the number of people who have expressed gratitude for her talks.  She strongly advocates for people to share their stories of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

In Fearless, Jelena has a section on the “the power of story” and reinforces the positive changes that can accrue from narrative therapy (offered by her psychologist).  She states that through storytelling she moved from a victim mindset to “survivor”.  Her story suggests that she became a “victor”.  Jelena continuously encourages people experiencing trauma to speak up:

I have said it many times in this book speaking up creates change, saves lives.

The healing effects of social support

In a section on “having the right people around you”, Jelena highlighted the importance of supportive people (social support) for the process of healing from trauma.  Her earliest positive experience was being coached by Australian tennis great, Lesley Bowrey, who she described as a “no-nonsense, fair, tough coach with the warmest heart”.  Jelena appreciated Lesley’s strong work ethic, a shared trait that was a source of mutual admiration. 

Lesley showed kindness and an unshakeable belief in Jelena which became a profound source of happiness for her.  While Lesley was her coach, she won the Junior US Open, reached World Number 1 Junior and won the Hoffman Cup with Mark Philippoussis

Jelena waxes lyrical about the unconditional support provided by Tod Woodbridge in her transition from tennis retirement to commentator.  He had encouraged her to write the Unbreakable memoir and mentored her “tirelessly” about the process of commentating tennis matches.

Jelena also mentioned the very positive influence of her psychologist who helped her explore the impact of her trauma on her thoughts and behaviour and to challenge false beliefs about herself.  Her psychologist supported her to progressively make changes in her life to initiate and sustain the healing process.

Reflection

The physical abuse Jelena experienced was demoralising and exhausting.  Jelena showed tremendous courage to share her story, seek social support, work with a therapist and eventually overcome her fears and loss of self-esteem.  She is now very much a role model for dealing with trauma and an encouragement to many people worldwide.

As we grow in mindfulness through our own efforts to increase our awareness of the impact of significant events in our life, we can develop deeper personal insight and the courage to take the actions necessary to achieve personal healing.

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Image by brian teh from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

On Death and Dying

Elise Esther Hearst, in her novel exposing the day-to-day reality of people experiencing inter-generational trauma, makes the unequivocal statement in the title of her book, One day we’re all going to die.   This is an undeniable aspect of the human condition.  Buddhists remind us of the impermanence of everything and the need to prepare ourselves for the inevitable reality of our dying and death.  They strongly urge us to savour the preciousness of life and nature and to meditate on death.

The recent Death and Wisdom Summit offered free recently is now available on a paid, upgrade basis.  During the Summit, a number of presenters addressed the issue of preparing for dying and death.  They shared the lessons from their own research and work in the hospice arena and in providing grief counselling.  One of the keynote speakers Frank Ostaseski, author of The Five Invitations: Discover What Death Can Teach Us About Living Life Fully, spoke of the similarities between dying and meditation.

Similarities between the dying process and meditation

In an interview with Steve Heilig, Frank shared his lessons about living from accompanying over 1,000 people in the dying process. In the Death and Wisdom Summit, he focused on sharing his personal insights into the similarities between the dying process and meditation or other spiritual practices such as retreats.  Frank, himself, had been a meditation practitioner over many years.

Frank identified the following aspects as similarities between the dying process and meditation:

  1. Withdrawal from daily life – there is a peeling back of identity and a re-focus on the present moment and experience.  Roles and ego identity are stripped away – the face we present to the world is no longer needed or relevant.  In dying, as with meditation, distractions are reduced, habituated responses removed and other parts of our life are left behind, including our wide circle of friends.  We are either left alone or engage, sometimes silently, with an intimate few.
  2. Breaking down of conventional boundaries – there is a move away from duality towards wholeness.  Elements previously experienced as separate are gradually integrated – such as mind and body, I and  others.  On a different level, the barrier between persona (projected or perceived ideal image) and the shadow (the unconscious, emotional blind spot) is broken down.  So someone who is normally gentle and soft-spoken can suddenly appear as aggressive and loud (or vice versa).  The shadow can emerge from behind the mask as the unconscious seeps into conscious life.
  3. Increasing silence and appreciation of being silent – there is new-found comfort with, and valuing of, silence.  People can experience a coma-like state before dying and, as a result, savour the silence.  Frank noted, for example, that one person who emerged from a brief coma before dying stated, “If I had known that quiet was so beautiful, I would have spent a lot more time in silence”.  There is a gradual process of “turning down the noise” – both the external interactions and the internal dialogue.  There is an emergent clarity about our inner landscape.
  4. The realisation of ordinariness – the progressive acceptance that we are all subject to the human condition, there is awareness that there is a naturally occurring “unfolding” of causes and conditions.  This leads to humility and a sense that we are “no better or worse than anyone else” – we are all conditioned by our humanity and its fragility, its foibles and its impermanence.  It can lead to the breaking down of “constructed protection” that results in “self-limiting identity”, thus allowing a fuller, more humane identity to emerge.
  5. Emergence of a state of “not knowing” – a recognition that our fixed ideas about ourself, other people and the world around us are limited and limiting.  Not knowing frees us to embrace the unknown and the uncertainty of death.  Frank notes that “we all carry stories about our death” and these not only “shape the way we die” but also can shape how we live and love.  Self-stories can blind us and their progressive release in meditation and dying can create openness to emergent possibilities.
  6. Surrender – flows from “not knowing” and often follows a state of exhaustion.  Frank describes it as a form of expansion, moving beyond our limiting self-stories to a “kind of spaciousness”.  It is beyond struggling, beyond fighting with ourselves and our death and beyond acceptance. 

Frank was adamant that “surrender” was not the same as “acceptance” and was “infinitely deeper than acceptance”.  He explained that having been mentored by Elisabeth Kubler Ross he was convinced that many people, including those working with the dying, misunderstood what she was talking about in her book, On Death and Dying, when she identified the “five states of dying” – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  He maintained, that contrary to popular belief, Elisabeth never saw the stages as linear or sequential, but sought to identify some of the defence mechanisms employed by people who were dying.   Frank also explained that later in her life, Elisabeth mentioned to him that she had come to realise that the “five stages” did not represent the full picture of the dying process.  Part of Frank’s unique contribution to our understanding of the dying process is his elaboration of the stage of “surrender”.

According to Frank, “acceptance” is a conscious act of “letting go”  – removing attachment to, or constraint by, objects, people or false ideas.  He suggests that, in contrast, surrender is an “effortless, easeful, non-doing” state that enables realisation of our basic nature without internal or external interference.  He likens it to the experience of “time standing still” that some people experience in a car accident situation.  In grappling to find the words to describe “surrender” fully, Frank resorted to telling the story of his near-death experience in a whirlpool while rafting in the Grand Canyon and how surrender followed exhaustion.  He provides further elucidation of this elusive concept in his podcast, Surrendering to Death.

Frank maintained that we could develop qualities that enable us to be more ready to achieve the state of “surrender’ when dying.  He suggests, for example, that a sense of wonder and awe, religious conviction, love or confidence in our acquired wisdom (achieved through mindfulness), can “engender surrender”.   He further likens “surrender” to an initiation process involving prioritising the essential over the dispensable.  Frank stated that our natural reaction is to resist and fight death through fear, but that “the essential is so magnetising, the surrender so compelling, that fear does not stop us”.

Reflection

Frank provides a very strong exhortation.  He maintains that it is a “ridiculous gamble’ to assume that when dying “we will have the physical strength, emotional stability, the mental clarity to do the work of a lifetime”.  He argues that NOW is the time for personal transformation – to grow in mindfulness through meditation, silence, developing wonder and awe, cultivating love and compassionate action and strengthening belief. 

In the process we can let go of limiting self-stories, misconceptions about death and dying, attachment to externalities, and fear of losing control.  We can develop a “not knowing” state, realise the reality of our human condition and our own ordinariness and increase our sense of connectedness to nature and others.

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach provide a Power of Awareness Course online with 21 hours of teaching. The Course helps you to develop a daily practice of mindfulness mediation and provides ways for you to sustain this practice. It enables you to live life more fully, break free of self-limiting thoughts, increase your sense of wonder and joy and enrich your relationships at home and at work.

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Image by Nicky from Pixabay.com

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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