A Short Blog!
Several people have asked me recently whether I have been able to keep up my practice whilst being ill or if it was too much effort. It's a good question, not least because the last thing we want our mindfulness practice to become is a burden, something else we feel compelled to do, something we have to get right, so maybe there are times when we don't practice? When it feels like too much effort, or we want to avoid the thoughts that might come up if we sit in silence, it may seem easier to just put the practice on hold and wait until we feel better.
I was reminded of what Jon Kabat-Zinn said in 'Full Catastrophe Living', that we should do the practice every day whether we feel like it or not, as if our lives depended on it, because they do, in more ways than we can imagine.
Luckily, I belong to several meditation groups for teachers and also one for people recovering from autoimmune conditions, so I have a ready-made daily timetable in which I can participate as much or as little as time allows. It meant that I didn't need to think about what practice to do, I just turned up and joined in, often in bed, sometimes dosed up on codeine and morphine, sometimes more asleep than awake. I joined my daily shibashi class lying down initially just to watch, imagining my body moving, the muscles getting stronger, until I was able to join sitting up and then standing, but still only moving the left side of my body. Eventually I was able to remove my sling and start to move my right side.
This was painful and frustrating and usually ended with me in tears, but I have great teachers:
Brian Simpson, Tai Chi Grand Master, reminded me 'focus on what you can do, not what you can't do.'
Ashok Gupta, researcher and developer of the Amygdala and Insula Retraining Program taught me, 'do your best, forget the rest', and a lot about pacing myself.
Shamash Alidina, author and teacher, reminded me that self-compassion is key and that we need to remember not to 'do' acceptance but let it happen in its own time. Sometimes it is messy and sometimes it resembles resignation more than acceptance and that's ok. He also said, don't try to let go, but let go of trying.
There were also so many other lessons I learnt from my fellow meditators that I need to compile them properly when I have the energy as I have found them to be so valuable.
But I think the most valuable lesson, which I'd like to pass on, comes from Jon again: "Make sure you weave your parachute every day, rather than leave it to the time you have to jump out of the plane."
I definitely had to jump out the plane with this experience which has been physically and emotionally traumatic and will take many more months from which to recover fully, and I am eternally grateful to all the opportunities I had to learn how to weave my parachute, to those teachers who instilled in me the importance of regular practice, and to those who supported my practice whilst I was struggling with compassion and gentleness.
So the answer is yes, I did continue with daily practice - not in the way I had previously, it wasn't perfect, it didn't always make much sense, but without it I would have found the recovery process much harder. I am currently exceeding expectations for recovery and I'm convinced this is due to my daily sitting and movement practices.
Learn to congratulate yourself for turning up to practice when it's hard, but also remember to be kind when you are unable to. And weave your parachute every day that you can, so that when you really need it, it's there for you.
Here is a simple breath mantra you might like to use:
I accept my limitations, I release limiting beliefs.
This mantra can help us remember to allow ourselves to do less when we need to, to be realistic about our energy levels or available time, whilst recognising the need to notice and let go of outdated programming which limits and restricts us unnecessarily.
I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing many of you over the coming weeks,