Joni Mitchell: An Inspiration for People with Chronic Illness

Legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has been an inspiration to millions of people and particularly those who suffer from chronic illness or experience long-term disability.  You only have to look at comments on YouTube about her Blue Album to see how Joni has impacted the lives of so many people – people suffering from loss, grief, pain and stress and recalling the joyful moments and the feelings of hope when they heard her sing.   She has the ability to positively touch the lives of people of all ages, as evidenced by her triumphant performance of Both Sides Now at the 2024 Grammy Awards.  The recognition of her stellar career was reflected in her 10th Grammy Award that night and her earlier (2002) Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Joni’s health challenges and courage

The story of Joni’s health challenges and her positive approach to overcoming them is a source of inspiration in itself.  She had to learn to walk again after being diagnosed with polio in 1952 when she was 9 years old.  She suffered the painful and crippling effects of polio for 40 years, initially overcoming the disease in 1995, only to then experience “post-polio syndrome”.  If Joni had accepted the mantra of many medical practitioners about aging, she could have taken their advice “to lie down and die”, accepting one of the myths of aging.  Instead, she chose to seek alternative medicine options and to fight on.

On a number of occasions, Joni spoke about her experience of Morgellons disease which she described in 2010 as a “weird, incurable disease”.   The Mayo Clinic describes the disease as creating “a belief that parasites or fibers are emerging from the skin” and involving  an “intense itching and sores”.  The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in their 2012 report stated that the “skin lesions and/or disturbing skin sensations” along with “multi-system complaints” can result in a “significantly reduced health-related quality of life”.   Health problems reported by respondents to the research included chronic fatigue, overall poor health and cognitive deficits.   

Joni herself reported in 2014 that her immune system was severely taxed by the Morgellons disease which restricted her ability to fly and made touring impossible.  Her response to this debilitating disease was to say that she was not regretful about her condition but was enjoying the creative process away from singing – “painting, revisiting her music, prepping a four-act ballet or an upcoming collection of stories”.   This clearly reflects her indomitable spirit and her ability to focus on what she did have, not what she had lost.

Her resilience was again severely tested in 2015 when she suffered a brain aneurysm.   In an interview with Cameron Crowe in 2020, Joni stated that the aneurysm took more away from her than her polio – it “took away my speech and my ability to walk”.   Her ability to talk returned relatively quickly, but even at the time of this interview she still struggled to walk.  Doctors had advised her that she would “never walk again” but she stated categorically that she would walk again.  She indicated at the time, “I’m a fighter” (with Irish blood) and told herself, “Here I go again, another battle”.   

The aneurysm appeared to rob Joni of her singing voice, but in 2018 when some musical friends, including Elton John, turned up at her house for what had been famously called a “Joni Jam”, everyone was surprised and delighted when Joni joined in the singing with her “warm and familiar voice”.   Joni indicated that she was moved by the spirit of the group and stated that “I forgave myself for my lack of talent” (having “lost her soprano voice” and only being able to sing “a low alto”).  

Joni continued her fight against her chronic illnesses and, in 2023, made a triumphant return to concert singing in a three-hour Joni Jam organised by American singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile and involving friends such as Annie Lennox and Sarah McLachlan.   Joni’s life journey can be revisited through BBC Radio 4 Legend’s Podcast – seven episodes of the Joni Mitchell story.   Her journey into singing and songwriting can be reviewed through the Joni Jams Podcast which “goes album by album through Joni Mitchell’s entire discography”.

Reflection

During the most recent Creative Meetup, participants engaged in healing storytelling (in writing and orally) partly stimulated by Joni Mitchell’s song, Both Sides Now.  Joni’s emphasis on “I really don’t know clouds [music, love, life] at all” resonated with participants who shared their experiences of unintentional exclusion by others.

For some, the metaphors that we commonly used can exclude others whose experience differs, e.g., for people who are extremely “light sensitive”, metaphors such as “silver lining” or “let the bright side in” can contribute to their sense of isolation and exclusion.  For people who experience food sensitivity or allergies, metaphors such as “sweet as a mango” can be alienating.  For others, established traditions or practices such as enforced prayers as a child or Australia Day Celebrations can trigger memories of terror and/or loss.  As one participant noted, “Unless you are in my shoes, you don’t really know”.

The Creative Meetup hosted by the Health Story Collaborative provided ample evidence of the healing power of storytelling and the energy and insight generated by compassionate listeningJennifer Harris, the facilitator of the Meetup session on Zoom, introduced Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope” is the thing with feathers, and this led to a participant’s comment that “hope emerges from dark places” – sometimes, when there appears to be “no hope”.  As all participants in the HSC Meetup are people who are living with illness or disability or are carers, they were able to draw comfort, support and inspiration from Joni Mitchell’s struggle with ill-health.

My reflection on our Meetup is captured in the following Compassionate Listening poem that I wrote after our meeting:

Compassionate Listening

What you see is not what I see.

What you hear is not what I hear.

Your world is not my world.

Your feelings are your own.

I can’t know your reality.

I can only listen with compassion

… and openness to what is different for you.

I can learn to adopt a “don’t know” mindset.

As we grow in mindfulness through compassionate listening, reflection and sharing our story, we can deepen our self-awareness, cultivate openness and build resilience.

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Image by xiSerge 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.

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)

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.

Death, Dying and Grief

The Death, Love and Wisdom Summit was offered free from 12-16 October 2023 by Lions Roar and is now offered as an paid, upgrade option.  The Summit brought together 16 key leaders and teachers in the field of caring for the dying, handling grief and facing the reality of our own death.  The offerings included lessons learned from the dying, meditations and transformative processes.  Many of the presenters are also accomplished authors in how to deal with the end-of-life transition, our own death and that of others close to us.  Keynote addresses were provided by Joan Halifax, PhD, and Frank Ostaseski, Co-Founder of the Zen Hospice Project.

A perspective on death, dying and grief based on personal experience and academic research

The Summit provided a range of perspectives on end-of-life issues and offered insights from various hospice settings and research undertaken by the presenters.   Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, a bereaved mother and tenured Professor, spoke about traumatic grief arising from an unexpected event with catastrophic consequences.  She detailed the spiritual, emotional and somatic/physical symptoms of traumatic grief.  Joanne talked about the “grief umbrella” with each spoke representing a different feeling, e.g., anxiety, regret, anger, guilt, despair, or abandonment.   She explained, too, that grief can manifest in many forms on the physical level as inflammation and inhibited immune response, breathing and sleep disruption, trembling and headaches, or unpredictable, bottomless pain. 

Having experienced the death of Cheyenne (her fourth child who was still-born) and the associated totally, debilitating traumatic grief, Joanne established the MISS (Mothers in Sympathy and Support) Foundation that provides a wide range of support for those “grieving the death, or the impending death, of a child” – offering advocacy, counselling, research, education for caregivers and resources.  This initiative was motivated by the lack of support available for her own grieving process, the lack of understanding and empathy of the medical community who viewed grief as “pathological” and what she describes as “the social constraints on grief”. 

In a YouTube interview, Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne cites research that shows that social constraints are the “greatest predictor of poor psychological and physical outcomes” of the grieving process.  These constraints are reflected in implicit and explicit messaging such as “move on”, “don’t talk about it”, “get over it” or “go back to work”.  Another aspect of negative social influence is what Joanne describes as “toxic positivity” where people are encouraged to always choose happiness or joy (rather than face the reality and pain of the challenging emotions of grief).

Selah Model of Grief

Joanne promotes the Selah model of grief – which involves “fully inhabiting grief” by “being with” our grief, surrendering to our grief and transforming our grief into compassionate action.  In her video interview, Joanne indicated that she was able to be with her grief through frequent crying and commented that her 3 year old daughter showed more grief wisdom than many medical practitioners when she said. “It’s okay to cry Mummy because babies are not supposed to die”.

Joanne likened embracing grief to the progressive undertaking of a new yoga pose – where initially you have to reduce the time spent in the pose because of the pain experienced when challenging the muscles with a new position, but persistent practice gradually builds capacity to hold the pose longer and more capably.

Human-Animal Connection in the grieving process

Based on her own grieving experience and research from her studies, Joanne also advocated for the human-animal connection as a means of healing for grieving families after seeing the effect a horse rescued from abuse had on a grieving client.  After a fortuitous meeting with Dr. Rich Gorman, who was studying the idea of “therapeutic spaces” and the mutual therapeutic effects of bringing together humans and animals, Joanne established the Selah Carefarm, which today is home to more than 50 rescued animals and also a mixed  “community” of support for grieving families and individuals who travel from all around the world to be part of the mutuality of the Carefarm.

The healing processes for grief

Joanne is the author of Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and Heartbreaking, and she maintains that where there is love, grief is inevitable in the event of the loss of a loved one.  In the book, Joanne offers a process for creating the space ‘to integrate and honour our grief”.  Her follow-up book, Grieving is Loving: Compassionate Words for Bearing the Unbearable, provides quotations from the previous book together with new prose and poems from Joanne. 

Joanne encourages movement as part of the healing process for grief, e.g., dance, bare-foot hiking, running and yoga.  She maintains that there is a need to transform the energy of grief and this can be achieved through movement and creative outlets such as art and writing.  Joanne is a strong advocate, and daily practitioner, of meditating and expressing gratitude.  She offers more advice on How to Navigate the Path of Grief in a recent podcast interview.

Reflection

The Death, Love and Wisdom Summit provides a wide range of resources for dealing with grief.  The advice given by the experienced teachers and grief counsellors is very practical and readily implementable.

The Summit presentations reinforced the view that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can build our resilience and our compassion, and increase our ability to manage the challenging emotions and physical impairment that accompanies the grieving process.

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Image by 3345408 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.

Tina Turner’s Approach to Mindfulness

Allyson Pimentel, psychologist and meditation practitioner/teacher,  fittingly provides a meditation podcast titled, The Mindfulness Teachings of Tina Turner.   Allyson describes mindfulness as “a way of attending to your life as it unfolds” while bringing to this awareness an attitude of “openness, friendliness, and kindness” without judgment.  Associated with this, is a willingness “to be with things as they are”.

She maintains that the goal in practising meditation is not to master the art of meditation itself but to lead better lives day-to-day though our groundedness, compassion and wisdom.  We do this so that we can become “a force for good” in our family, in our work, in our community and in our daily interactions.  Allyson maintains that Tina Turner, who died at the age of 83 in May 2023, exemplified this broader goal and drew on mindfulness practices to be a positive influence in people’s lives.  Allyson viewed Tina as a personal hero who, in her view, embodied kindness, love, wisdom, resilience and creative talent.

Tina’s approach to personal transformation

In her book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, Tina explains her Buddhist approach and how she turned her life around after multiple “lifequakes” that threatened to derail her singing career and harm her mental wellbeing.  She explains in-depth that chanting enabled her to overcome adversity, develop resilience and realise happiness in her life.  Her ability to commune with nature from an early age enabled her to find her true home within, despite the turbulence and torment of her outer world.  Besides the vibrational energy and groundedness of chanting, Tina drew on the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism to transform and reframe her life.

Tina explains that this Buddhist approach, that places emphasis on engagement and social activism helped her to move beyond her comfort zone, to appreciate the connectedness of everything, to value diversity in nature and cultures and participate actively in the Beyond Music Project designed to use music as a way to respect and celebrate cultural diversity.

Tina saw experiencing adversity as a way to shape ourselves and build our resilience – in her words, adversity is not a bad thing in itself, it is how we use it that really matters.  She contended that adversity could build character, self-awareness, insight and a stronger sense of connection.  This perception aligns with the tenets of mindfulness that reinforce the view that while we have little in our life that we can control, we can control our response to what happens to us as well as around us.  Mitra Manesh in her podcast on responsibility contends that mindfulness builds our ability to respond to adversity and setbacks – she describes this outcome of mindfulness practice as developing our “response-ability”.

Tina explained in her book that all of life shapes us – the good, the bad and the ugly.  We become our transformed selves through the richness and diversity of our life experiences and by developing a constructive, creative and energetic response to whatever occurs.  She maintained in her eighties that she had no regrets – she had lived her life to the full, positively impacted numerous people all over the world and experienced deep happiness.

Reflection

Tina demonstrated in her life, music and her writing that as we grow in mindfulness we can overcome adversity, develop resilience, enrich our creativity and build the courage and sense of connectedness to take compassionate action.  Her life and music provide an invaluable legacy and a “ripple effect” that has the power to inspire others  to work to create a better world.

In her guided meditation podcast, Allyson draws on Tina’s core teachings to help us explore our connection with nature, the influence of our ancestors, our own legacy, and our present moment awareness.

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Image by Kanenori 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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

A  Reflection on Writing the Grow Mindfulness Blog

This reflection was stimulated by Haruki Murakami’s book, Novelist As A Vocation, in which he shares his origins as a writer, his approach to writing and some of the challenges he has had to deal with along the way.  The ideas he shares resonate strongly with my own experience of writing this blog, even though this is not a novel but a very different writing genre.  The fact that the blog involves creativity and the art of writing provides the common ground to explore Murakami’s experience and ideas.

The creative stimulus

Murakami begins a novel with a basic story that evolves as he introduces his characters – he explains, “In most cases, the characters who appear in my novels naturally emerge from the flow of my story”.  The stimulus for his story is something he has observed happening, specific behaviours of an individual or an incident in his own life.   Like Charles Dickens, he is a keen observer of behaviour –    he maintains that the stimulus for a story comes from glancing at a person’s appearance, “how they talk and act, their special characteristics”.  He notes, too, that it is not enough just to notice people that you like – you also need to notice those you dislike and try to understand why you feel this way about them.

Like Murakami, my stimulus for a blog post is typically an interaction that I have had, a behaviour I have observed in my organisational consulting/manager development work, a current experience that I am having or something I have read or heard.  I often draw inspiration for a blog post from listening to a podcast, reading an article, or participating in a Summit or Conference.  I typically focus on current issues such as Long Covid, trauma, mental health and working from home – all the time exploring the linkages with mindfulness and mindfulness practices.

The role of characters/ stimulators

Interestingly, Murakami maintains that he does not start out with a highly developed character or group of characters.  He contends that characters emerge as he begins to write and becomes captured by the creative process that he enjoys immensely.  He goes so far as to say that “characters take on a life of their own”, even leading the novelist to an “unexpected destination”.

I can relate to these comments about characters by substituting the concept of the “stimulator” – the author, podcaster, interviewee or presenter who stimulates my creative endeavour to write a blog post about their ideas, actions or perspectives.  As the blog post emerges through my writing, the line of discussion or argument can take an unexpected turn as I often start out without a firm idea of where a blog post will end up.  For example, in my latest blog post I wrote about nurture by nature and stewardship of nature in our immediate environment and ended up where I least expected.

When I started out writing, these two aspects (nurture and stewardship) were discrete elements in my mind and that of the “stimulator”.  However, as I progressed with writing the post, I decided to add the ideas of Costa Georgiadis from his book, Costa’s World, as a way of reinforcing the message of the reciprocal relationship with nature – nurture and stewardship.  However, through Costa’s influence, I ended up changing my perspective and began to understand that by stewarding nature we are simultaneously opening ourselves up to nurturing by nature (e.g. restoration of peace and calm, stimulation of wonder and awe).  I came to understand that nurture and stewardship are not necessarily discrete activities (although they may be in certain circumstances).  Costa’s World is the bible for my current composting and gardening activities.

Drawing on stored memories

Murakami states that the characters he employs in his novel are not real people (and definitely not himself) but represent an amalgam of characters drawn from stored memories of people, experiences and places.  He weaves elements of different people into any one character to give them life and meaning in the context of what he is writing about.  He may draw directly on his own experience relevant to the topic but it is often well disguised.

When I write a blog post, I draw on my stored memory of what I have written previously (not just my current blog) and books/novels/memoirs I have read that reinforce some aspect of what I am writing about (or, alternatively that put forward a contrary view).  The blog post then tends to take on a life of its own and can arrive at a different place to what I intended at the outset.  Sometimes I will even incorporate poetry or songs (especially mantra meditations) if they add to, or reinforce, the overall message – there are many occasions, synchronistically, where a song I am listening to reinforces where I am up to in writing a blog post (I typically listen to mantra meditations as I write).  Examples of this are Alexa Chellun’s Healing Song and Metamorphosis by Lulu & Mischka.

Criticism and compliments

Murakami discusses one lesson that he has learnt as a professional writer – no matter what he writes or how long it is, someone will criticise his work.  He concluded that it was best to ignore these adverse comments and just “write what I want to write, in the way I want to write it”.  I can concur in this view because there is no way that you can please everyone.  This approach creates a unique sense of freedom (unlike the constrictions of academic writing!).

Murakami also noted that “people of different age groups” seem to be reading his novels – e.g. parents encourage children to read his books (or vice versa).  Compliments from people acknowledge the difference that his writing has made in their lives and hearing these comments “really cheers him up”.  I too really appreciate the compliment when people comment positively on my blog posts and/or seek a link to what they are working on that is relevant to the topic of my post.

Gestation and the creative process

Murakami adopts the discipline of daily writing because this enables creativity to flow.  He also employs a daily fitness routine which includes running (and sometimes marathons) – he maintains that you have to be fit to write for extended periods and physical activity stimulates the brain. 

Gestation for my blog posts begins with reading (e.g. Tina Turner’s book), listening to a podcast (e.g. Life Through Transitions by Jon DeWaal) or watching a video (e.g. the video interview with Susan Bolt).  I usually take notes and record any connections with something else I have written or remember – this enables me to expand my thinking beyond the original stimulus (and the stimulator’s perspective).   Typically, I will let my subconscious mind work on the topic overnight and begin afresh the next morning (being a “morning person”, I write best in the early mornings). I find that this gestation process usually leads to the emergence of a structure for my blog post and unearthing of connections that I had not previously thought of – these connections become “top-of-mind” rather than staying submerged.  I also try to keep fit through walking, Tai Chi and physical exercises designed to redress my spinal degeneration

Reflection

Murakami maintains that each person has to find their own style of writing, whether they are writing a novel, an essay or a short story.  The same is true of writing a blog – the writer’s life experience and perspectives, as well as the focus of the blog, influence the nature and structure of the writing process.

As I reflect on my life and my reading/listening/viewing, I am able to grow in mindfulness.  Like Murakami, I can attain a deeper level of self-awareness and new perspectives while enhancing my capacity to think and write.  Examples of my growing sense of self-awareness include my discussion of resentment and blind spots.

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Image by Cindy Lever 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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Developing a Reciprocal Relationship with Nature – Nurture and Stewardship

In the recent Nature Summit, Roshi Joan Halifax –writer, teacher, artist and activist – stressed the need for a reciprocal relationship with nature.  She suggests that too often mindfulness practitioners focus only on the nurture that they can obtain from nature but overlook the “imperative to steward where we are’ – to look after, and care for, nature in our immediate environment.  Joan contends that this reciprocal relationship is critical in our current challenging times when we are confronted by the devastation of climate change simultaneously with the ongoing global erosion of mental health.

Experiencing nurture in nature

Joan mentioned that she is “restored in the natural world” but not in the “constructed world” of cities.  However, she counsels against despising or devaluing the constructed world.   Nature surrounds us wherever we are.  Joan mentioned seeing a hawk nesting on the edge of a building in New York and visiting Central Park.  While these experiences of nature in the built environment are part of restoring our spirit, the depth of nurture achieved through immersion in the natural environment is of a different order and more pervasive and lasting.

Joan explains that in nature we can recapture the silence that the busy world of today has taken from us – we can access the power of stillness and silence to cultivate our creativity and our resilience.  Joan describes her mindful practice in the mountains of “just sitting in choiceless awareness” and gaining the restorative benefits of nature through this goal-less approach.  She explains how she sees mountains as “places of meditation’ and has learned to value “solitude in nature”.

Joan discussed how her work through the Nomads Clinic (a form of socially engaged Buddhism she established in 1980) brought her into contact not only with the Himalayas but also the people of remote places such as Nepal and Tibet.  She describes the Himalayan mountains as “very raw, very tough, very dangerous” and the people of these remote communities as “fantastic people, very robust, with a wonderful sense of humour”.  She acknowledges that the mountains and the mountain people have taught her much about “humour and resilience”.

Many mindfulness authors such as Louie Schwartzberg highlight the power of nature to stimulate wonder and awe in us.  Louie, in his Wonder & Awe podcast, shares the recent research of Michelle Shiota, that demonstrates that we become “better thinkers when we are feeling awe”.  In his talks and films, Louie stresses that nature induces healing and helps us to develop a sense of gratitude and appreciation that lead to happiness, health and profound joy.

Pamela Anderson, in her memoir Love, Pamela, describes nature as her friend and teacher. She states that she is “always curious and wants to know what nature is trying to teach” because to her “everything is a clue or a sign”.  Nature had always been a part of her life growing up on Vancouver Island and for her birthday each year she asked her two boys to volunteer with her at the California Wildlife Center – which involved cleaning birdcages and feeding birds and squirrels.   In line with this work Pamela and her family cared for a possum as well as pelicans and seals, even undertaking a marine mammal rescue course together.  

At one stage in her performing career she was exhausted in “mind, body and soul” and decided to spend a month reconnecting with her adult sons in Malibu and with nature.  She found that connecting with nature (including during her five-mile daily walks), along with  Pilates, enabled her to reconnect with her body and detox both physically and emotionally.  When she was at Café Sénéquier at Port de Saint Tropez in France (where she went to recover from an abusive relationship), she watched the sunrises and yachts in the harbour, while “luxuriating in my own blossoming life” – nature again elicits gratitude and appreciation.

There are many ways to engage the nurturing power of nature, to understand and appreciate our interconnectedness with nature and deepen our relationship with nature.  Louie Schwartzberg reminds us that we are able to widen and deepen our perspective on nature beyond our unique childhood experience and understanding.  One way to do this is to adopt the mindset of stewardship of nature.

Stewardship of nature

Joan Halifax stressed the “moral responsibility” to undertake stewardship of our immediate natural environment – in her words, “to steward, protect and restore”.  She argues that it is important to plant diverse species because diversity is “essential for the health of any ecosystem or social system”.  Her interviewer and founder of the Nature Summit, Mark Coleman, stated that we are currently experiencing “a painful time of degradation, loss of species and places that we love”.

Stewardship can involve many different environmental caring actions such as:

  1. Composting
  2. Planting trees
  3. Caring for pot plans (both exterior and interior plants)
  4. Growing herbs
  5. Planting native trees that attract birds and bees
  6. Providing shelter for birds and possums
  7. Creating gardens of diverse species
  8. Trimming dead leaves or branches
  9. Enriching our soil
  10. Cultivating worm farms
  11. Conscious consumption.

Costa Georgiadis in his book, Costa’s World, suggests that we take up gardening “for the soil, the soul and the suburbs” – in his view, nurture through nature and stewardship of nature are not discrete activities, they occur together.  He encourages us to be mindful of our immediate environment and get to know our microenvironment.

Pamela Anderson stressed her sense of being responsible for stewardship of nature in her home environment.  She luxuriates in her garden developed when she returned to Vancouver Island in her latter years.  Her first garden involving “five thousand feet of roses and vegetables” (planted by seed by herself) grew impressively.  She developed solar energy, a sustainable water management system and set about “re-wilding” her property – a concept involving complementing the natural environment and protecting what already exists. She immersed herself in her “Garden of Eden” and the “salty, earthy fragrance” of the sea.  Pamela attests to Costa’s perspective that nurture and stewardship go hand in hand and complement and reinforce each other.

Reflection

In his book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zin urges us to develop mindfulness through our senses.  He talks of the immediacy of our external environment – the soundscape, the touchscape, the tastescape, the smellscape and the sightscape.  Joan Halifax reminds us that nature provides the whole sensory experience – we can hear birds, touch plants, smell aromas from trees, taste native fruits, see the beauty and wonders of nature and feel the strength of the wind and the pressure on our bodies.

By spending time in nature and stewarding our immediate natural environment, we can grow in mindfulness and experience happiness and joy, peace and tranquility, gratitude and resilience.  Nature has many gifts to offer but it needs to be visited and cared for.  Micah Mortali offers ways to connect with nature in his book, Rewilding: Meditations, Practices and Skills for Awakening in Nature.

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Image by AndreasAux 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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Managing Transitions with Mindfulness

In a previous post I explored the use of storytelling as a way to manage life transitions.  In this post I want to discuss a story of personal transition shared by Peggy Farah, mindfulness teacher and licensed physiotherapist.   Peggy was interviewed by Jon Waal on his Life Through Transitions podcast (Episode 48).  Her focus in the interview is tuning into your body using mindfulness as a way to manage life transitions.  She initially started her more than 20 years working with emotional and mental health by supporting children and youth who were dealing with grief, loss or critical illness – all extreme life transitions that are described by Bruce Feiler as “lifequakes”. 

Beneath Peggy’s competence as a therapist was a private struggle with “body image” – she was disgusted with her body (despite dieting) and had a “difficult relationship with food”.  It was as if she disowned her body and continuously retreated into her thoughts, becoming lost in cognitive processes – avoiding having to confront her challenging relationship with her body.  It was during her Masters study of Psychotherapy and Spirituality that she was able to use mindfulness to “reclaim her body”.

As part of her postgraduate studies, Peggy had explored the concept of “presence” and discovered the merits of Eastern religions, especially Buddhism.  She was also introduced to the numerous documented benefits of mindfulness which she describes as “deep noticing” in a way that is non-judgmental.  This opened up the possibility of overcoming her own negative self-evaluation and time spent in her “monkey brain” – in Buddhist philosophy, the concept of “monkey mind” relates to restlessness, disorder and lack of control.

Mindfulness to manage transitions

From her reading, Peggy came to understand that mindfulness could provide her with an “emotional breather”, could actually enable her to “press pause” in her debilitating negative thinking pattern.   She decided to re-focus her Masters thesis on herself undertaking a heuristic study (where she was both the researcher and subject of her research).  Her aim was to apply the principles of mindfulness and presence to her negative relationship with her own body and food so that she could gain “self-acceptance” – a fundamental outcome of mindfulness.

Interestingly, Peggy’s route to mindfulness was through her body – being present in the moment through her body (our body is always in the moment, in the “here and now” – it’s our minds that persist in exploring the past or the future).  She was able to become grounded by focusing on her feet on the floor, her body on the chair, and getting in touch with the physical sensations of her body (a process that involves a “body scan”).  She adopted “mindful eating” practices – the opposite to her previous behaviour.  She expanded her mindfulness practices to daily observation and journalling and engaging in “micro-practices”.   She became aware that the more you practise mindfulness, the more often “spontaneous mindfulness’ occurs in your daily life – you suddenly feel more present in everyday events, such as when observing a flower or leaf.

As she continued her mindfulness practise and her Master’s research on what was happening for her, she began to experience the documented benefits of mindfulness – increased joy and compassion, greater awareness (of self, others and nature), and “deepened relationships”.   She changed from being a “wound-up” Type A senior manager caught up in endless daily tasks to someone who became “anchored in the moment”.   She was able to spontaneously appreciate the shape and beauty of a leaf, to achieve real “presence” when doing yoga, and be really present to her family at the dinner table.   Previously, yoga became a catalyst for negative  self-comparison – comparing her body to that of others participating in practice on the mat.

Penny graduated with her Master’s degree in 2012 and it was not long after this achievement that she moved into her private psychotherapy practice, where, among other services she shares her own experience and learning to enable clients to heal their relationship with their body and food (thus overcoming “emotional and binge eating, chronic dieting, negative body image”).  Peggy also offers anyone a free 12-session, self-help course that she describes as the Deeper Cravings Path™ – a path to achieving a “true connection with your body and develop a peaceful relationship with food”.

Reflection

Peggy has achieved a number of significant life transitions including moving from a person who disowned her own body (despite externally recognised therapeutic competence) to “body reclamation” and self-acceptance; from an overworked and highly stressed senior manager to a calming influence in her private practice helping others achieve creative life transitions.  Peggy now sees her body as “an avenue to return to myself”.  She is living evidence of the transformative effect of mindfulness practice.

Peggy asserts that her achievements to date do not mean that she no longer encounters personal challenges or that she will be free from “lifequakes” in the future.  What it does mean is that she now has the ability to drop into her body when feeling stressed and to take an “emotional breather” and “press pause” in her negative thinking pattern.  Her interviewer, Jon De Waal, reminds us that “every thought we have carries an emotional charge”.  Thus mindfulness practice by suspending or reducing our thinking provides us with a refuge from life’s challenges.

In my current life transition from a competent and active tennis player to a person in rehabilitation for spinal degeneration, I can take inspiration from Peggy’s journey and storytelling.  As I grow in mindfulness, I can experience gratitude for the many positives in my life, persist in the process of rehabilitation and creatively develop a new identity and life story

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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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Managing Life Transitions through Storytelling

Many writers and podcasters highlight the challenges involved in life transitions.  Some focus on specific transitions such as aging, menopause for women, or transitions precipitated by organisational change.  Their discussions frequently highlight the need to reframe specific transitions such as aging or job loss as periods of growth and creativity rather than decline – this means changing our mindset and our narrative about these transitional periods.  As William and Susan Bridges point out in their book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, many people become stuck in the “endings” phase of transitions because they focus solely on what is being lost, rather than appreciating the potentiality of “new beginnings”.

Bruce Feiler, in his TED Talk©, The Secret to Mastering Life’s Transitions, contends that one of the core problems people have in managing life’s transitions is that they have a linear mindset, a perception that life is always “onwards and upwards” with a predictable forward-moving pattern – schooling, job, home purchase, marriage, and children, and career promotion.  We are thus ill-prepared for “setbacks” or deviations that occur through job loss, ill-health, loss of a partner, or physical disability.  Bruce, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a new father of twin girls, suggests that when we are “side-tracked” or things go “offtrack”, we can feel as though we are “living life out of order” – living a life that is totally unexpected.  In his TED Talk© and his book, Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at any Age, Bruce maintains that life is a series of “disruptors” and some of these are “lifequakes” that involve massive change and demand managing the transition to a new state. 

The role of storytelling in managing life transitions

Bruce, along with many other writers, podcasters and public speakers, offers tips for managing life transitions that we encounter.  He maintains that a key to transition is to explore our “life story” – this is the narrative we create about our own life. The solution to mastering transitions is often in our own narrative – false assumptions, self-deceits, delusions or denials (e.g. “it can’t happen to me”!).  Bruce maintains that a life transition, especially a “lifequake”, is an invitation to “revisit, rewrite and retell our life story”.  He offers a catalyst for this process through his Life Story Online Interview which provides an interactive form for reflection on, and  recording of, our personal narrative.  Bruce’s insights on life transitions have been gained through his own life experiences as well as through over 1,000 interviews with people about their life story.

Jon DeWaal, in his TED Talk©, Two Factors that Make or Break Every Messy Life Transition, stresses the need, when exploring our life story and the associated narrative, to adopt two practices to ensure that the exploration leads to a constructive outcome.  Firstly, he contends that we need to be honest with ourselves – to own up to our own part in contributing to our side track or offtrack experience.  This requires deep reflection, total honesty, self-awareness and avoidance of the tendency to blame others rather than look at ourselves.  Associated with this is what he calls “community support” – not the gentle, warm kind that confirms our invalid self-assessment, but the kind that offers “supportive challenge” which makes us confront our weaknesses, unfounded assumptions or persistent mistakes/oversight.  Jon is a learning facilitator and life transition guide at Liminal Space – a team of transition experts who can help us grow and thrive through difficult transitions.  Jon is also the creator of the podcast, Life Through Transitions, drawing ideas and inspiration from interviewees who have been able to make life’s “formative transitions” into opportunities for personal transformation.

Dr. Annie Brewster, MD, and journalist Rachel Zimmerman, in their book, The Healing Power of Storytelling, focus on the personal narrative as a way to “navigate illness, trauma and loss”.  Annie shares her own life experiences and transitions and, together with her co-author, offers specific guidance in the process of using storytelling for healing.  She is also the founder of the Healing Story Collaborative which provides shared stories and resources through a collaborative blog – processes that are open to anyone to engage with personal storytelling for the purpose of healing.

Reflection

We are continuously controlled by the narrative in our head and this is particularly true in times of significant life transitions.  We can become embroiled in negative self-stories, get stuck in the endings phase or be blind to the creative options open to us in a life transition.  We need to break this destructive cycle especially when confronted with what Bruce describes as a “lifequake”.

Using reflective storytelling, meditation and other related practices enables us to grow in mindfulness and can help us to increase our self-awareness and insight, to have the courage to move beyond our “comfort zone” and to creatively explore options to manage difficult life transitions and move forward to a new personal identity and reality.

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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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Feeling Free through Mindfulness

Allyson Pimentel recently facilitated a guided meditation podcast on the theme, Mindfulness and Feeling Free – one of the many weekly Hammer meditations offered through MARC.   Allyson is a very experienced meditation teacher and is highly qualified in Human Development and Psychology.  Her interests include helping people to achieve positive mental health and social justice activism.   

Allyson explains at the outset that mindfulness involves paying attention purposefully on the present moment (not on the future or the past as these can lead to anxiety or depression).  This paying attention is done with kindness towards ourselves and others and with an openness that enables us to accept what is, while having the courage and compassion to address toxic situations.

Allyson reminds us that mindfulness now represents the intersection of ancient traditions (such as Buddhism) with the new (e.g. neuroscience investigations such as those undertaken by MARC, the Mindful Awareness Research Center).  These two macro streams of thinking and practice have merged to enable us to explore our inner landscape, improve our quality of life and assist us to show up in our life and our everyday context.

Achieving freedom through mindfulness

Allyson contends that mindfulness can liberate us from ways of seeing the world, ourselves and others that are self-limiting and potentially injurious.  Our reality is very much influenced by our thoughts which can constrain us and leave us stuck in habituated patterns of behaviour.  We can become immersed in negative thoughts and be captured by the “inner critic” that devalues who we are and what we have achieved.

Through mindfulness we can increase our awareness of negative and disabling self-beliefs and free ourselves from the chains of “victimhood”.  As Dr. Edith Eger points out, we can choose freedom over victimhood. Mindfulness enables us to become aware of how our victim mentality is shaping our worldview, our interpersonal relationships and our mental health.  Increasingly, research into the benefits of mindfulness reinforce the view that gratitude, savouring what we are and have through mindful awareness, can serve as an antidote to negativity and challenging emotions such as anger, resentment and envy.

Guided meditation

In guiding our approach to developing freedom through mindfulness, Allyson suggests that we identify a firmly held belief that is holding us back (it does not have to be something of massive import, but a simple belief that negatively impacts in some way where we are at in this moment).  She leads us through a meditation process that enables us to identify the way this belief constrains our view of ourselves, our interactions with others and our options for addressing our current dissatisfaction, delusion or distress.

During the meditation, I found that I wanted to focus on my recurring belief that my recently diagnosed “multi-level spinal degeneration” cannot be redressed thus impacting my willingness to undertake a range of healing modalities.  Associated with this is the belief that I will never be able  play tennis again, despite assurances to the contrary from a number of my healing practitioners.  The guided meditation helped me to restore my belief in the body’s capacity to heal itself and to strengthen my motivation to earnestly undertake a range of alternative healing modalities that have proven successful in the past in reversing the disabling impact of spinal degeneration.

Reflection

In introducing her guided meditation, Allyson reminds us that as we grow in mindfulness we are building our resilience and renewing our commitment to persist with mindfulness practices (a commitment that works very much through the power of the psychological principle of “self-efficacy”).

Resilience is important when we encounter challenging situations that stretch our capacity to deal with the potentially negative outcomes of the situation.  Mindfulness helps us to change our perspective on obstacles to personal growth and health and to view them as a means to grow in insight and wisdom.   Allyson quotes the following saying that invites us to view our everyday experiences as opportunities for growth:

“Grow through what we go through.”

Mindfulness practices deepen our self-awareness, enhance our curiosity about ourselves and others, opens up the window of opportunity, heightens our ability to shape our intentions and strengthens our resolve to make a difference in our own lives and that of others.

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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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.