Today I am grateful that I have a spiritual practice.
I am going to spend a week in April working as a Support person at Quest for Life. I will be supporting the main counselors at a retreat called Healing Your Life. I will be helping to support people at a nurturing residential interactive group education program who are living with challenging emotions and who want to heal the past, build resilience for a better future and live wholeheartedly in the present. These people will be nurtured, nourished and restored with the confidence to embrace the world again. The 5-day residential program is conducted at the Quest for Life Centre in Bundanoon, in the beautiful Southern Highlands of NSW. The residential aspect of the retreats allows the clients to focus on their own life without distraction and learn valuable life skills and strategies for healing and peace. I thought it was timely to reflect about my own spiritual practice before working with these clients. It is not appropriate for me to ask these clients to practice spirituality in the same way I do but it is still useful for me to understand the practices that work for me. I articulated my own Spiritual Practice in a talk at an evening at Stuartholme last year. I have read my talk again this morning and I still agree with what I wrote last year.
I have posted it here for you to read if you want :
Good evening ladies and gentleman.
Thank you for asking me to speak tonight at this Evening of Spirituality. When I was deciding about what to speak about tonight I thought a good place to start was to try and put into words what I think what spirituality is. Spirituality is the condition of looking after the spirit. But what is the spirit? You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. I think it is a mystery. I can assure you even though I think it is a mystery I have done a lot of things to try and make my spirit better. I have a library of self help books and I have a long list of activities that I have tried to improve my spirit – journaling, yoga, floating, meditating, praying and the list goes on and on and on. I can tell you all that all these things I have done to improve my spirit do not make me resistant to bad things happening. Journaling doesn’t make me less angry when someone has got under my skin, yoga doesn’t make me able to deal with criticism without feeling hurt, meditating doesn’t make the traffic less heavy when I am running late and trying to get my daughter to her piano exam and praying doesn’t make me any less sad when someone is dying. I do believe however that having a spiritual practice helps you handle the hard stuff when it comes. I believe it allows me to have more compassion for myself and those around me. And back in 2015 I really needed it.
On a cold morning in June, 2015 I went out for a bike ride with my friends to Mt Glorious. It is a long climb to the top of the mountain, we all made it safely and stopped for the reward – a well-earned coffee.
A few minutes after our coffee I crashed my bike and was rushed to the Royal Brisbane Hospital due to my injuries. The descent was very steep and I lost control and crashed into a barrier. The only external injuries I had were a little graze on my knee.
When I came into Accident and Emergency that day I had been put into a neck brace at the sight of the accident and treated as if I had head and neck injuries. Once I came into Emergency I was taken for scans to assess the extent of my injuries. The scans showed that I had a belly full of blood, a renal artery that was bleeding and had no kidney attached and because of the amount of blood they were unaware if I was bleeding from other injuries. The staff had to make a decision quickly about what to do. I was taken to theatre and opened up from pretty much neck to knee. I had a kidney that was in pieces in my belly, a torn spleen, a bruised bowel, fractures in my back, a fractured arm, a punctured lung and, fractured ribs. I had my destroyed kidney removed, my spleen glued up, my bowel inspected and put back into my belly, my arm splinted, and a Band-Aid put on my knee. I spent a night in Intensive Care. Many of the medical people who looked after me have stressed that I could easily have died the morning of the 10th June. I then had three weeks recovering at the Royal. The care given to me that first morning saved my life and the care that was given to me the following three weeks allowed me to go back to living a normal life.
In the following months I had a number of other things happen. In the week after my discharge from hospital I couldn’t keep anything down and had to be readmitted to hospital. I had a suspected gut obstruction – a result of all the bruising to my bowel. I spent another week in hospital having this resolved. Then in the September I had to have a plate put in my arm as my fractured ulna did not fuse. Following that surgery I got a frozen shoulder. Then in February 2016 I had a breast lump removed. Although it was cancerous I luckily did not need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I thought I had had enough of hospitals by then. But by the September I had a lot of pain and limited movement in my right hip. My physiotherapist kept advising me that this needed follow up but I kept resisting. Eventually I had an MRI and discovered I had tears in both hips of the cartilage around the joint. Both related to the impact of my accident. I had the right hip operated on and the cartilage repaired. Luckily this was only an overnight stay in hospital and I now have no pain and almost full movement back in that hip.
Tonight I want to talk to you about some of the things I have learnt in the last two years and what has been helpful and lifted my spirit during this time. I hope that by sharing these things with you all that you may be able to take something away from tonight that will make your life a little easier not only when times become tough but also in the good times or that you might be able to offer someone else some help in their tough times that makes their life a little easier.
I will break my talk into to parts – what I have learnt and what has worked for me.
What I have learnt about my human spirit:
Not to use the words – everything happens for a reason. Two years on I still hate the words – everything happens for a reason. Please try and refrain from ever saying that sentence to anyone. I still believe what happened to me on the 10th June, 2015 was an accident. There was no reason for it. It did not make my life better. It did not make my families life better. I do believe everyone experiences terrible things in their lives. I have come to appreciate that everyone experiences dark times in life. The experience of these dark times can break people but it can also illustrate how wonderful the good times are and that it is so important to love and cherish the special times. It is also important to integrate the event into your life and for me that means my life is different but still wonderful.
Mystery and miracles are real. In the last four months I have a much greater appreciation of the possibility that I could have died that day. In fact I do not understand how I could have had a renal artery that was bleeding into my belly for more than 45 minutes and that I am still here to talk about it. It does not make sense. Not everything in our lives can be explained. I love that there are unexplainable possibilities and that miracles are a reality.
I am lucky. I have read that chronic post‐surgical pain is common, can be severe and results in distress and disability for patients. I have none. I could suggest that the care I was given and the activities that I have engaged in post accident have caused me to have no pain but I really do not know. I would love to have a greater understanding of this and I would love to know what the recipe is for reducing chronic pain. I would love to be able to advise other people who have experienced trauma to replicate whatever it is that I have done that results in no pain. I believe there are a number of things that could have contributed to having no pain. These include good nutrition, experiencing lots of unconditional love, gentle exercise, meditation, having a grateful practice, having a wonderful Bowen therapist, having a wonderful chiropractor, having a wonderful physiotherapist, doing an Ayurveda detox, floating in a flotation tank regularly and singing regularly. This again illustrates the mystery of life.
The power of collective consciousness /prayer works. In the time I was unwell I had many people thinking of me, sending me messages of support, sending flowers and even praying. I felt a very real sense of comfort and of being cocooned by the care everyone was sending.
I believe in a higher being and I believe in angels. Again this is part of the magic and mystery of life. I believe there are many angels that walk among us on this planet. They don’t do grand things they just make the lives of those they come in contact with better. I do not believe in hell. The reason I don’t believe in hell is because I believe everyone deserves forgiveness. Perhaps for some people their hell is what happens to them on earth. I have been asked if I saw the light on that day in 2015. Nope I did not see the light – I instructed my husband to go home and do the washing. I have no idea what happens to us after we die but I do believe in eternal life. I am unaware what form that takes but I am absolutely sure we live on in those people that we have made a difference to. We may go to heaven but I truly believe our spirit lives on in others irrespective of the existence of heaven. For this reason I believe it is always best to be kind.
I have learnt I can achieve whatever I want to achieve. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I have finished a Graduate Diploma in Counselling. It has taken me a long time. The reason it has taken so long is because when I started I was determined to do my diploma in a way that would not impact my family life. It didn’t impact my family life. My study was then interrupted by my accident. I didn’t have the cognitive function to go back to it until this year. I have now finished!!!!! I eventually got there
I have learnt it is ok to cry. I cry a lot. It is ok to be devastatingly sad. When someone you love dies, when people are killed needlessly it is ok to cry and it is also ok to cry over the little stuff.
What has worked for me and lifted my spirit:
Having gratitude. My world shrank. I was damaged all down my left side and I am left-handed. I have journaled for years and couldn’t do this because of my injuries. I decided I would use my blog to record the five things I was grateful about each day. It was a useful tool. It communicated my progress to my friends and family and writing what I was grateful about kept me positive in the months I was recovering and it continues. My blog is called A Sprinkle of Gratitude. I can and sometimes am overwhelmed with the sadness of others and the terrible things human beings can do not only to our planet but also to each other. There were times in the last few years I could have become overwhelmed that my life was different to what I expected. Practicing gratitude made me look for the positive things. Practicing gratitude makes me realize that there is so much good in the world and that so many wonderful wonderful people exist and are working tirelessly to improve our planet and the lives of others.
I exercise. It was very hard after the accident to exercise so I had to change my goals. Prior to the accident my goal was to do an event that was 225km of cycling in less than 12 hours at an event called The Peaks down in Northern NSW. After the accident the goal became walking around the ward at the Royal Brisbane Hospital once. The way I exercise has changed. When I was young I did not do much exercise at all because I always felt that I was not good enough. After having my children I discovered a love of exercising and I loved how good I felt with all those good endorphins flowing. Once I started cycling I discovered a world of like-mindedpeople and an endless number of wonderful places to explore on my bike. I think I also became focused on the end result and I always worried that I was not going to keep up on the next ride instead of purely appreciating the ride. The last two years have reminded me that the present moment is what is important and that whatever exercise I am doing and whatever pace I am doing is perfectly enjoyable.
I make spaces in my day. We have so many ways of staying connected- computers, ipads, phones and television. Many of us use all these devices at once. By disconnecting regularly I have allowed my mind to be clearer and less cluttered. My aim is to have a device free day once a week – I haven’t got there yet but I am working on it. Until I manage a device free day a week I meditate. Meditation works for me. I meditate because I think it is important to have some way of creating space in my day. Meditating allows me to create a little bit of space and to be truly in the present. I always dedicate my meditation practice to being a better and kinder person for the benefit of all living things. I love thinking that there are many many other people doing the same thing at the same time all trying to be better and calmer which hopefully means humanity is evolving to be a little bit better.
I look after myself. I believe it is important to invest time in yourself. This includes body, mind, and spirit. The body needs to be fuelled properly with nutritious food, clean water and exercise. This all needs to be done in a balanced way. The mind needs to be cared for properly. This also needs to be in a balanced way – for example interesting conversation, intellectual pursuits such as reading or study and times to allow the mind to be clear such as meditation and rest. The spirit also needs to be cared for. By this I mean engage in activities that give your life meaning – this may be meaningful work, going to church, creative activities such as painting, or spending time in nature. Whatever it is that fills you up make sure you are doing enough of it. Again after my accident my world shrank – I couldn’t do very much stuff so I had to get fulfilment from things like sitting outside in the sunshine and enjoying the view.
I accept help. After the accident a lovely man sat my husband down and said don’t be a hero. I know you will want to manage on your own. Don’t. Accept the help people offer. My husband took this advice. He allowed our community to help us. We didn’t have to cook a meal for nine weeks. This gave my husband the energy to concentrate on other things like giving the children emotional support, cleaning the house and managing to do all the washing. The community of The Gap and all our friends and family were incredible. I am sure that is part of the reason I recovered so well – not only did we eat incredibly nutritious food all through that time but also I know I was surrounded continuously with love and care.
I have a team. We all need people we can laugh with. Laughter fills us up. We also need people we can cry with. Sometimes we can’t manage on our own and we need help. When that is the case get help. There are so many people out there to help you – find a good GP, find a good psychologist, phone a friend or phone many of the help lines that are open 24 hours a day. It is perfectly ok to ask for help.
I believe I am enough and I think small. I believe I have something to offer the world, which no one else can offer. I believe if I make one person’s life just a little bit better that I have contributed to our world being a better place. I stand up for what I believe in, I love my family and friends and I try and always be kind.
Thank you for listening to me tonight. I want to remind you all that there are always going to be times where your health is compromised or you are dealing with sadness.
As Mark Twain said: “What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other. There is always going to be suffering. It’s how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you.”
I believe the more connected we are as communities and the more support and love we can show each other as humans the easier these times will be to bear. I believe that what our spirituality is all about. I hope you can leave here tonight with the aim of enjoying the present moment just a little bit more because you never know what life will throw at you or your loved ones in the next instant and always having more compassion for yourself and others in the process.
Until next time