Welcome to the blog of Suchita Vanessa Smith!

I was inspired to share my rich journey of living with the challenges and blessings of Pseudoachondroplasia (a condition with malformed joints afflicted by arthritis and dwarfism) when Ben, the son of a good friend, was diagnosed with a debilitating condition at the age of twenty. Immediately I felt a strong urge to share with him the vital insights I have learnt that have helped me find inner peace, good health and to live a full life.  And the chapters of a book came to me.  So I am writing my book “Little Body Huge Life” and while I continue editing, it is time to share some of it with the world.

Everyone I know has issues with their bodies, mine are just more obvious. Most people do not have a positive relationship with their body, whether it is weight issues, illness, disability or injury. Many who are blessed with a ‘normal’ healthy body just don’t like it or parts of it and they treat it accordingly. Many abuse their body by not taking proper care of it; by not eating well, not exercising enough and imbibing too many toxic substances and then are prone to illnesses, pain or decreased capacity in later life. This has bigger ramifications; as we treat our bodies so we treat mother earth.

20191108_140419With a degenerative condition hanging over me all my life I have had a strong motivation to take good care of my body, keeping it fit and healthy, to stave off the deterioration and a frightening future. What has helped the most has been a profound journey of coming to love and accept myself and the body I was born with, and a deeper journey of the spirit, of getting in touch with that vast part of me which is not the body. Living with the paradox ‘I am not the body but I am’ sums up my journey of taking good care of my body as well as connecting with my inner divine spirit that is untouched by any of my body issues. If I can learn to love and accept my less than perfect body, and myself, then you can too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

A NATURAL ISLAND IN THE MIDDLE OF SUBURBIA

On a cool Spring day I’m sitting surrounded by bush, marveling at the numbers of people out enjoying the wildflowers of Wireless Hill Park. Revisiting this suburban bushland reserve that is close to my heart, I’m thrilled there are so many visitors quietly strolling the paths.

In Wireless Hill Park

It’s become more popular since I worked here in my first job as an environmental officer in 1983.  I spent many hours wandering in this bush, immersing myself in every part, formulating plans to keep it protected.

Qualified but Unemployed

This job was really important for me. I was unemployed for eighteen months after I graduated.  I knew that one day there would be a demand for Environmental Scientists but there was no evidence in 1982. After four years completing my double science major in Biology and Environmental Science at Murdoch University, I was impatient to embark on my career, and start to make my way in the world.

But with the perennial problem of a new qualification and no experience and no jobs, it was a frustrating time.  Despite the boost to my confidence in attaining the demanding degree, after which I felt I could do anything I put my mind to, I was full of doubts about making it in the big wide world.  I longed for an opportunity to prove myself, if only I was given the chance.

But it was also a useful lesson in learning who I was without a career, without having a label that is socially acceptable, that has stayed with me since.

My First Job

While I applied for any remotely relevant jobs, and put a bit of flesh on the CV with marking essays and volunteer work with conservation groups, my first break came in 1983.  It was a bit of luck, and right place, right time.  The City of Melville had government funding to hire an unemployed Environmental Scientist for nine months and I was the only one on the books in the area.  I rang first to make my interviewer aware of how I looked, after unsuccessful attempts previously made me wonder if I was at a disadvantage.  I was thrilled to be offered the job. Finally!

My first boss Bruce, the manager of Parks and Gardens, was a good hearted man who was fair, approachable and respectful.  On my first day he talked of his ideas for changes to Wireless Hill Park.  Forty eight hectares of bushland on a hill in the middle of suburbia, it had miraculously survived clearing, fires and being developed for expensive housing.  ‘I thought we could install swathes of grass between sections of the bush, to increase the areas for picnics and recreation, opening up the fantastic vistas to the Swan River.’ 

As I nodded smiling slightly, my heart sank at the picture. I later formulated my response, not wanting to be too negative on our first day.  I approached him next day, ‘I understand you would like to extend the grassed areas from the centre for picnics but expanses of grass would be a disaster for the native species. They will die with the input of fertilizer and extra water, and get swamped by weeds if we carried out your vision.’  Though surprised, he took it well.  I continued ‘What’s needed is a management plan, making sure the rare remnant bush will be well managed and protected into the future, while also facilitating better access.’ 

He left me to it.  ‘I’m glad I brought you on board, and grateful we haven’t embarked on destroying the park.’

Firsts

There were a number of firsts. I was the first to complete the double major at Murdoch, which uniquely qualified me for the work.  I was the first environmental scientist employed by local government in WA, these days many Councils have them.  So the job meant pioneering management of bushland reserves and a whole new viewpoint at the Council, including assessing environmental issues in the planning stages of a project, not as an afterthought. 

It was the perfect place to start my career.  I was given free rein and respect to get on with the work as I saw fit, to manage the projects myself.  My learning curve steepened when I consulted experts in government departments and universities, generous with their knowledge.

Finding the Treasure

The primary work was to find out what was there.  I carried out the first extensive surveys of flora and fauna. It was daunting at the start, knowing very little, and progressively delving deeper into its details. The more I learnt about what a treasure trove it was, the more I felt privileged to make sure being an island in the middle of surburbia would not destroy it.

In my office, in my field work gear, surrounded by plant specimens, lists and books 1984

I collected and pressed samples of every plant in flower I found, and sent them to the WA Herbarium for identification.  When they returned with the names it was like a treasure day.  Matching plants I knew quite well by now with its name, working out how to pronounce the complicated words and then saying them out loud, learning what family they belonged to and so their connection with other species.  Every time I saw the plant in the park I repeated the name. At one stage I was so immersed in this sea of exotic Latin words I started dreaming them.  Dasypogon bromeliifolius was a favourite, a delight to roll off the tongue.  They identified 115 plants (not including orchids).

Dasypogon bromeliifolius

Years later I discovered that knowing the names of plants in one area in Western Australia means I can recognize their close relations.  It’s given me a good basic knowledge of many plants across W.A.

Over a year I watched fascinated as progressively different plants flowered and revealed themselves.  I remember the leap of joy when the first large red and white cone flower of the Menzies Banksia tree came out, after many months of seeing only the nondescript tree, with its long, spiky leaves.  I was thrilled to discover that the W.A. Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda) grew in the reserve when the first brilliant gold flowers emerged, and delighted in the thick growths of red and green kangaroo paws.

Twitcher friends from university helped identify the twenty six bird species. To set up simple traps for insects and small lizards (a jar buried in the ground with its opening at the surface) and small mammal traps, I had to work out how to get up and down from the ground on my own, an ability I had lost.  Fortunately a lightweight camp chair did the trick.  I discovered nine types of lizards, and no native mammals.

I watched the tourist buses arriving, with a flood of people pouring out, and many just lingered on the road, on the edges of the bush, not venturing any further.  In another first I conducted a survey of visitors and out of that came a clear need for better paths to make it easy to access the bush. 

My physical capacity was slowly deteriorating at twenty four, and the job was challenging.  But I was free to manage it as I liked, so I spread out the field work in small doses. Of course I overdid it many times, in my denial about my ability and desire to explore and get more work done.  

I loved to disappear into the thick of the bush, in my own world, exploring, learning. It was my favourite part of the job, but I often arrived back at the office exhausted from the field work. Dragging myself up the stairs, putting up an appearance that nothing was wrong, chatting to other staff, not wanting to let anyone know I was struggling, and collapsing in my chair for the rest of the day. 

My Dream Job

My confidence grew the longer I was there, the more I had to stand up for good environmental practice. The initial nine months was extended indefinitely, but after two and a half years, and producing plans for three reserves, I was ready to move on. Good environmental practice had started at the Council and I was satisfied I had made a contribution.

I ended up landing my dream job.   When a position was advertised with the state government Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), preparing management plans for national parks around Western Australia, I was ideally experienced to step up to the bigger scale.  The moment I read those first words ‘We are pleased to offer you…..´ instead of the usual ‘We regret…..’, I let out a loud scream and a ‘woo hoo!’ It was a huge milestone.

All these years later I am heartened that my pioneering work continues today. Wireless Hill Park, despite the weeds, fires, more visitors and orchid thieves, survives the suburban onslaught, and is a popular peaceful haven of wildflowers, bushland and picnicking.

In front of an old grass tree (Xanthorrea preisii) in Wireless Hill Park
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

THWARTED WUNDERLUST

Like everyone else, my travel plans have been cancelled this year.  For the first time in ten years I’m not going to Bali.

In one of my ‘If I was at Candidasa as planned now, I would have been having my morning coffee on my verandah, enjoying the view’ moments, I remembered back to my visit a couple of years ago.   That trip created a shift in my view point and I came home with grateful acceptance rather than being frustrated by my unfulfilled wanderlust.  It’s making being grounded during the pandemic easier.

FEBRUARY  2018

After booking my ticket to Bali, I notice I’m not feeling excited about it, though there are warm feelings about returning to my Bali family, and my peaceful bungalow by the ocean.

While it’s lovely to return to Bali for my thirtieth year, if I had the choice I would love to travel elsewhere: Asia, Ireland, Europe, New Zealand, so many places.

The Bucket List

World travel is on my bucket list.  With the possibility of paralysis of my arms and legs hanging over me from the delicate state of my neck, I have an urgency about attending to my bucket list while I still can.  Hopefully the paralysis will never come, and I’m living as though it won’t, but it might.

But while I long for travel adventures, I’m dependent on having a financially and physically able, compatible travel companion in foreign places.  I need assistance with navigating my way around new territory – negotiating cafes, speaking up for me when I’m not understood, steps, steep inclines, long walks, unknown bathrooms and toilets, reaching things and carrying luggage; all the elements of travelling.  A good strong man would be ideal, but he is no longer in my life.  My girlfriends are not as strong as they used to be and have little money to spare.  It’s a big undertaking for anyone to travel with me.

So for lack of any other choice here I am booking again to stay in Bali, which I can thankfully manage on my own with the support of my family, their staff, and the ‘wheelchair assist’ service of the airlines.

MAY 2018

I’m on the plane returning to Perth, feeling rejuvenated, nourished and happy.  What a full time I’ve had.  I haven’t rested and relaxed as much since I was in hospital for ten weeks with my fractured knee and femur saga nine years ago, and that doesn’t really count. I feel reborn after busy stressful years working on my book in between making a living, and supporting my elderly mother and sister.  Even my holidays in Bali have been spent working on my book.

I am heart filled after three weeks with various members of my Bali family and other friends I’ve made over the years. One by one I spent time with them as the well-oiled grapevine let them know I’m back.

Nyoman and Wayan

There is Nyoman whose big heart and generosity kept me coming back to the same homestay year after year, since 1988.  She and her sister Wayan took such wonderful care of the guests, cooking the best breakfast in Bali, and helping in many ways, with good humour, wisdom and love.  When I returned eight years ago, after an absence of a few years, fragile, still learning to walk again after my fractured knee saga, they cheerfully took care of all my needs and enabled me to stay for two months, while writing my book (see Writing this Book in Bali).

17760919_10212491757988602_2102401627984610165_o

Wayan bringing offerings from another ceremony

Nyoman is now probably in her seventies (she doesn’t know her birth date) and isn’t working at the bungalows anymore.  But she has insisted on making me the most delicious lunches, tasty authentic Balinese food made with love, delivered every day by her nephew.  Now I go to visit the family compound in her village.

Nyoman

Visiting Nyoman in her village

This year I was honoured guest at the cleansing ceremony for her elderly brother who died the week I arrived, and felt privileged to be part of an event that few tourists experience.

IMG_4822

With my Bali sisters at the ceremony in their home compound for a relative who died.

IMG_4837A

All in their best ceremony clothes, with the offerings they’ve been making for days.

IMG_4839A

This was a part of the ceremony where they drew smoke towards themselves

I miss hanging out with Nyoman on my verandah, she was a large part of my Bali experience.  It’s not the same staying for a couple of hours at her home.  Our conversations were of a different kind than I have with my friends.  Instead of “What have you been up to?” we’d sit companionably, our talking meandering over what is happening now, and today, family, life, money, birds, who bought what in the art shop (with the best English of all the family she served the customers), the moon (she always knew what phase it was in), learning Bahasa words.  We would just sit and be, and conversation, laughter and observations would float between us, and we’d cover a lot of territory.

One day four Japanese tourists walked past my bungalow to the ocean wall about twenty metres in front.  They proceeded to take masses of photos of themselves, posing with the ocean as backdrop.  It felt like they were on a stage, and Nyoman and I were the audience watching them pretend to be having a fabulous time, oblivious to us. We laughed together at the entertaining show.  She observed ‘They don’t see the ocean, the beauty, they only see themselves.’

Bali background

The view from my verandah – beautiful backdrop for selfies

Then there were her spicey scrambled eggs, cooked with garlic and mild chilli, she brought a bland food to life, and one of the reasons it was the best breakfast in Bali.  One day Nyoman said ‘Not spicey, only little spicey.’ Spluttering, coughing and reaching desperately for the water bottle, ‘Not spicey?  Not spicey?!  Nyoman, very very spicey!’  Her impeccable knowledge of spices failed her this one time, and she has never lived it down, it became an ongoing joke.  For years, every time I had eggs after that, she would say ‘Not spicey Nyoman’ and I would say ‘Mmm really?  Let me see!’  And we’d both laugh.

Made and Iluh at Segara Wangi Beachside Cottages

Made (pronounced ‘Marday’) inherited the sea side property as the eldest male, and with his wife Iluh, runs the bungalows, as well as an art shop.  They always give me a big welcome, a generous discount, and together with their staff take care of anything I need, I only have to ask.  They’ve enabled me to keep travelling, whether I have a companion or not.

I always try to contribute to their lives, not just by staying for a month, but help with computers, the net, social media, English wording for marketing, feedback on their businesses, anything that is needed.

This time they wanted my input about a menu for a coffee shop they want to open at their dining area for guests by the ocean.  Immediately my thoughts were “Oh no, not another Bali café serving the same food as everyone else”, which I said more diplomatically.

Trying to be a tourist

We made a delicious discovery while on our way home from another of our “Nyoman (my Bali name) we want to take you out. Have you been to Tirtagangga?” trips.  I’ve said it before, I’m a bad tourist, especially going to hot crowded places where I tire quickly (see Adventures at the Klung Kung Markets ). This time we were a party of nine, with five children and another sister.  The beauty of the water palace paled after twenty minutes of onslaught, though I enjoyed people watching from a perch in the shade.

IMG_4937

Tirtagangga Water Palace, another beautiful backdrop for photos

IMG_4925

IMG_4923

A shady spot to enjoy the view and people watching

After a delicious lunch in a road side café in busy Amlapura (the nearest big town), I was feeling drained, and happy to be finishing the excursion.

Made said “Nyoman do you want to visit the chocolate factory?’ My whole energy lifted with ‘chocolate’, which is for me, manna from heaven.  So we visited the local Dutch owned chocolate-making venture, along a winding track through coconut tree plantations.  Beautifully located on a quiet beach, it had a strange, deserted vibe, with only a few children around.  With unusual bamboo buildings, it looked like it was an inspired idea that had run out of steam.

But nothing wrong with the chocolate sauce, it was to die for. “Made, Iluh, with this chocolate sauce you can make an extra special ice cream sundae!”  Both their faces lit up and “Yes Nyoman, yes!”  Made immediately started asking about discounts for large orders, thinking he could sell the jars of the sauce in his café as well.

chocolate2)

Unusual designs at the deserted chocolate factory

Another touristing attempt

Another day Iluh asked if I’d like to visit her mother Wayan in a nearby traditional Aga village for the first time.  Tenganan is a major tourist attraction, which I visited on my first trip to Bali in 1988, but not since then.  Her mother is a craftswoman who weaves double ikat fabric, who learnt this complex craft from her mother, who learnt it from her mother, and so on for many generations.  They are trying to keep an ancient tradition alive and make a living.

IMG_4863A

Tenganan Village, buffalo are important!

We entered a long, old brick building, through a labyrinth of stalls, groaning with fabrics, sarongs and crafts, walking around women bent over looms on the floor, to the family’s small compound in the middle somewhere. With no natural light, a few fluorescent lights, and only small fans to slightly move the dense hot air, and low ceilings, it felt a bit claustrophobic.  I soon forgot it as I was awestruck by the intricate work involved in colouring threads from traditional dyes, in specific patterns, so when they are woven together they create an ikat pattern. The double ikat is even more complicated.

Hunched for hours each day over a small loom, it’s back-breaking work.  Serving a coffee and sweet treat, Wayan lamented that fewer tourists are buying the fabric. “They complain it is too expensive, but it can take two weeks to make a larger piece, and that is not including the dying of the threads.”  She may be the last of her line to carry on this tradition, as there are no younger family members interested.  ‘Do you know a younger person who could help you investigate online market places for handicrafts, so you aren’t reliant on passing trade?’ I suggested.  Belatedly realising I am expected to buy something, I was happy to support her work and chose a small blue ikat cloth.

IMG_4864

Wayan at the loom

IMG_4875

The natural dyes in the box, and the thread dyed in particular patterns for weaving

IMG_4901

My ikat

It gave me a fresh appreciation of Iluh’s cultural and creative heritage, informing her choice of goods for her shop, which includes many traditional fabrics.  She said ‘Sherly the dressmaker wants to put some of her clothes in my shop. What do you think?’  ‘I think it’s great to expand your range, and offer different products from the other shops.’  I replied.

This later sparked an idea, ‘Many people are trying to avoid plastic bags, and there could be a market for cotton, attractive bags for tourists. I haven’t seen any for sale.’ She immediately understood, “Oh yes plastic bags big problem.” I could see her creative mind ticking over. I don’t think she had ever thought of creating her own products, the possibility opened up for the first time.  When I returned the following year, plastic bags were partially banned in Bali and I bought out her collection of beautiful bags as gifts.

BALIBAGS

‘Why go around with a boring shopping bag when you can have one with style?’, say two women of style

Over my three weeks I had many interactions that were mutual exchanges of support, care and love with all the people I know in Bali; the dressmaker, the massage lady, the beautician, Wayan the fisherman, the sisters and cousins, the children, the aunties.  I spent money locally, gave money to family members who needed it, and brought gifts for everyone else (op shop clothes are a winner), while they made me clothes, relaxed my tight muscles, took me snorkeling and on other adventures, fetched the best chicken satay in the world and supported my stay.  Balinese are heart people, and they embrace another open heart.

As I reflected on all this mutual love and care on the plane home, it struck me that if I hadn’t been going to the same place in Bali for the past thirty years I would not be having such an enriching time.

Few tourists have my experience.  I know people who have been going to Bali regularly for longer than me, who have never been invited to one of the numerous family ceremonies or had my depth of experience of the everyday culture (and still I’m only scratching the surface).

My so-called misfortune of not being able to travel the world has had enormous rewards.  Realising this made me again grateful for what I am able to do, rather than wishing for something more.   It gave me a fresh appreciation for the richness of my life, even without my bucket list being fulfilled.

20191111_112715

Wanderlust appeased at Cradle Mountain Tasmania

My wanderlust was appeased by a Tasmanian adventure late last year, with my brave and intrepid friend Gitika, and my desire for more world travel diminished.

Now that travel is not something we can assume anymore, I’ll be so happy just to return to Bali.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

No Longer Hiding

I’m taken aback when I see this photo of me at the beach at age ten.  Around this time I had my big realisation of just how different I looked, which I wrote about in my blog (see ‘I’m That Different?‘).   The story details the moment I fully realised I am physically different.

With my family at our small beach house in Madora Bay,  I was walking back from the beach where the photo was taken, when my holiday friend said “You’ve got funny ankles.”  “No I don’t” I replied.  When she put her ankle next to mine, I could see she was right.  I had a swelling on the outside of the ankle she didn’t have.  A watershed moment, when somehow the blinds I’d been living with all my life came off, and I saw the raw reality.

I remember my reaction when I first saw this photo.  I was dismayed.  I could see my funny knees, elbows and ankles with new eyes, and I didn’t like them.  I felt self–conscious, ugly.

such22g

Since then whenever I’ve had a photo taken I’ve avoided being standing, so showing my height, and direct the photographer to shoot from the waist up, so most of me is not shown.

Fifty years of avoiding being seen in my full length body in photos.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH JUST TO WRITE A BOOK ANYMORE

Then I read on the Bookbaby.com blog “How much time should we spend on our author platform strategy?”  ‘What the hell are they talking about?’  Heart sinking, I read about all the social media platforms any aspiring author must be on.  It’s not enough just to write a good book any more, one must be one’s own promoter.  Even having a blog isn’t enough.

I recoil at the thought of being so out there, so exposed, for all to see, to gawp at.  And videos are out, my speech impediment makes me hard to understand.  No, no, not going there.  I value my privacy and my only social media is a personal Facebook page, with the profile photo obscured in an outline silhouetted in a Bali sunset.

But it plants a seed, and it gets me thinking, wondering.  What would I post?  What could I do?

Love and acceptance of my body is long settled but here is another layer, my old issue has surfaced and it’s time to re-examine it.  Time to face the next level of my raw reality and acceptance.

TIME TO STEP OUT AND BE PROUD OF ALL OF ME

This journey of getting a book published is a challenge to step out and be proud of all me.  I’ve happily hidden for a long time, a voice only on my radio show Full Circle, and behind the DJ desk at my Zorbas Dance Club.  Is it time to expose all of me and not hide away?

The change starts when I show up for the protests against the Roe 8 highway though local wetlands.  The image taken of little me with four police behind is powerful and shared on social media, and I’m happy it can be used for a good cause.

Roe8

Then when I’m sending submissions to a few publishers, I need a cover photo that shows my height and body clearly, so in an instant they can see what I’m about.  Of course I don’t have any full length photos.  So after a photo shoot with a friend’s brother who is a professional photographer, I have a long distance shot standing in the enormous doorway of an old building in Fremantle.   It will do.   The distance suits my reticence, though much of my personality and details can’t be seen.

Cover photo3

Still resisting, it is the Fremantle Press seminar “The Business of Being a Writer” that tips me over the edge of surrender.  It’s made very clear that with publishing increasingly difficult and limited marketing budgets, and the availability of social media, authors have to do their own promotion, whether we self-publish or find a publisher.

Can I be bothered?  Will I just give up with the whole book?  Every time I ask this question the answer is “I can’t stop now, I’ve put too much into it, it’s too late to turn back, I have to finish it.”  It comes back to why I began, I’m buggered if I will be silenced by having no voice.  With my speech impediment, I may not be understood so well, but I can still express myself in writing. My journey of coming to love and accept myself and my body is unique but the struggles are universal.   I can still make a contribution to my community.

RETURN OF MY MOJO

I started the book in 2009, and it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  I thought writing was hard enough, but the editing, trying to mould the unwieldy 330 pages into a smaller, more palatable form, has been torture.  I’ve been stuck for months, not helped by rejections from five publishers.   But after seeking support, recently my mojo returned.  This book needs to be birthed.

PROJECT PHOTOS

On with my Author Platform Strategy and Project Photos.  My friend Mary takes photos when we are in the forested hills.  I don’t feel natural in front of the camera, I don’t know how to stand, how to relax.  I don’t like any of them.  It’s confronting to see my whole body shape, to see how I still walk bent over a little, despite all my work in the pool to stand straight.

Then I enlist local photographer and prolific social media poster Maria Wilson, and Diane Niyati to be my stylist, attempting to show my height clearly, which isn’t so easy.  Maria’s relaxed, ‘oh let’s just pop to South Beach and play around’ style helps me relax a bit more.  There’s a few photos I feel okay about, that I could use.  Progress.  Another step in the journey of loving and accepting my body.

P1013319-01

But it’s on my trip to Tasmania that a lot of my self-consciousness drops away.  Every time there is a photo opportunity I say “I think it’s time for Dave (as in Attenborough)” and my friend Gitika steps up in good cheer to take shots in beautiful places.  After twelve days, I’m more at ease.  I no longer have a reaction seeing a full body photo.

20191116_121413

So here I am with my Little Body Huge Life page on Facebook and Instagram (#littlebodyhugelife) and blog, sharing who I am and what I’ve learnt in my huge life in a little body.   Dragged here after 18 months of reluctance, it’s been a surprisingly positive experience, thanks to my dear friends with their generous hearts and words, and my social media group and mentor Amanda Kendle.   I’ve discovered I can be making a contribution to a more conscious world now, I don’t have to wait for my book to come out.  Thank you for coming on board.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Small Changes in Perspectives in a Pandemic

The morning after flying home to Fremantle from Melbourne on March 20 2020, I’m soon checking out my vegie tank.  Has anything survived ten days of unabated onslaught by the caterpillars?  Last time they left me with only stalks.   I’m happily surprised the kale hasn’t disappeared altogether, some leaves remain, so they’ll re-sprout.   Though no regrowth of the parsley, the baby lettuces have disappeared, and the baby rocket and spinach have hardly grown and are looking sick.

IMG_5721b

I have a new kind of enemy.  Small tan coloured butterflies (or are they moths?) whose eggs become tiny caterpillars that fold over part of the leaf, in which to grow and eat.  They are particularly partial to parsley, folding over the whole leaf and destroying all of them, but they also love rocket and kale.

The other enemy, the large caterpillars of the white butterflies, can eat a whole plant in one night.  After months of nurturing the growth, it comes as a blow. The defenses (netting) only work so much, the butterflies’ persistence means they still sometimes manage to find a way in. I’m used to eating holey leaves.

Gardening requires optimism in the face of adversity.

IMG_5719aI do my strangely enjoyable caterpillar meditation every day.  It requires careful attention.  Being well disguised, they are exactly the same colour as the leaf. Feeding them to the goldfish in the pond, who gobble them up in an instant, is most satisfying. It’s a win-win, the pest doesn’t go to waste. The other up-side is that my war with the voracious ones gets me out into my small garden more.

As I am doing my caterpillar meditation on day five of isolation I can’t believe how many continue to appear. The hordes keep coming.  My small battle suddenly takes on epic proportions.  These greens are important to me.  With all the local nurseries selling out of vegetable seedlings, nurturing the ones I have, becomes more significant.  It’s me against the tiny marauders.  I chuckle at my imagination going wild when life has dramatically simplified and quietened.  Yes my daily super smoothie will still be highly nutritious, but less so without the leafy greens.

My super smoothie has been a new development.  The nerve damage of my vocal cords and tongue, a result of degeneration in my neck, has affected my voice and clear speech, but also created difficulty swallowing sometimes.  Bits of food about the size of a sultana get stuck in my throat and are not easily dislodged unless I lie on my right side.

It’s made swallowing pills more difficult, especially large ones like calcium tablets, turmeric and fish oil capsules.  They taste revolting when the flavour seeps up from my throat for hours.  Then there is the flooding of saliva that happens in response.

Getting food stuck isn’t a big deal, compared to other issues we can have.  It isn’t harmful, but it’s annoying, and one more physical issue to deal with.

The student Speech Pathologists I see regularly recommend I try vitamising my breakfast combination.   After eating muesli, fruit and yoghurt for many years, I feel the usual reluctance of changing a habit I enjoy.  Not another adaptation!  Simple, easy, filling and nutritious, this breakfast has served me well for so long.

Is this really necessary?  Can I be bothered with the effort needed?  But after it happens repeatedly, I am ready to try something new.

Necessity drives change.

I manage to score a bullet machine from my sister and then try the muesli, fruit and yoghurt combination.  I’m pleasantly surprised by how tasty and filling it is.  And no food lodged in my throat!

But this is just the beginning of a whole new healthier me.

Since then I’ve been slowly experimenting with more ingredients as I become aware of their useful properties.  I add protein powder, chia seeds, fish oil and cooked turmeric (replacing the capsules), and a variety of seasonal fruit including pineapple, rockmelon, strawberries, pears, mandarins, apples, bananas, grapes; plus kelp flakes, frozen blue berries.  I no longer take supplements.

I never managed the five vegies a day recommendation (especially greens) so I threw in a few and was surprised they didn’t affect the taste.  Fresh and raw has the most goodness in my understanding. Depending on what has survived the marauders, I now add kale, English spinach, lettuce, parsley, broccoli and rosemary from my vegie tank, plus cucumber, celery, beetroot, capsicum and carrot.

IMG_5732ajpgAnd I don’t have the guilt sometimes indulging in unhealthy food (chocolate and chips are favourites) because I know the huge nutrient boost means I’m eating better than I ever have.  As an act of self-love I feel good doing it.

It’s the best defense against any virus.

Out of an apparent misfortune has come unexpected benefits.  Blessings from obstacles, again.

Now my super healthiness is threatened by a tiny caterpillar.  They are very skilled at hiding.  I can check for them in the morning, and that evening find more.   I can’t rest, because I know they are lurking in there.  Am I becoming a little too obsessed?

This is but one small aspect of changing life perspectives in isolation during a pandemic.  My battle to save my greens continues while around the world so many much larger heroic battles are being fought.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Adventures at the Klung Kung Markets

I’m sitting on a red plastic stool, surrounded by bolts of fabric five feet high.  So many colours and designs, so hard to choose.

I hadn’t expected to enjoy coming to the Klung Kung markets in Bali.  I’m not a good shopper, becoming tired easily and quickly disinterested.  Going to an outdoor, hot, noisy, crowded market is not my thing, and I’ve easily said “No thank you” in years previously.

But when Iluh, one of my Balinese sisters, invites me to go with her to the markets, I find myself pausing and then saying “Yes, thank you.”  Iluh has an art shop on the street front of the bungalows and often goes to markets for stock.

I’ve had a quiet two weeks so far on my annual stay at Iluh’s family bungalows at Candidasa in east Bali  (https://www.facebook.com/segarawangibeachfrontcottages/).  Apart from a half day excursion with my friend Paula and the family to Amed, a quiet coastal town popular for its diving, I’ve had a peaceful existence.  Starting with Bali coffee and a swim in the pool, then delicious breakfast, maybe a massage or facial, or a luxurious hair wash at the salon next door, or a snorkeling trip, reading, a delicious locally cooked lunch brought to my bungalow, some more reading, Bintang time watching the sunset and dinner out with Paula or brought to me.  Serious relaxing, doing nothing, life simplified.  Each trip to Bali, with this deep resting of body and mind, I return home a new woman.

Breakfast

But too much of even paradise gets boring and I enjoy spicing up my leisure.  Given my response to Iluh’s invitation, evidently I’m up for another adventure.  I worry I’ll have too much standing around, but I figure, when I’m tired, I can find somewhere to sit and watch the world, one of the best pastimes in travelling.

I’m a terrible tourist.  Visiting a tourist site with hundreds of others, in the heat and hassle, is not my idea of a good time, more like hell. I end up hot and exhausted, wondering if it was worth the effort. Besides in my thirty years of staying at Candidasa I have been to many of the attractions of East Bali.  While I enjoy bursts of exploring, I prefer to immerse myself in a place, with the people, as a far more enriching travel experience.  But my Bali family are wonderful hosts and are always wanting to take me somewhere, hence the invitation to the markets.

32207642_1780597741983731_5308425289745825792AKlung Kung is about a 45 minute drive from Candidasa, the next major town on the way to Denpasar.  I travelled through it on my way to Candidasa, in my first twenty years, back in the days before the dual carriage road directly along the coast was built, cutting the travel time by about an hour.  Iluh decides the other markets at Amlapura, the next big town to the north east, which are closer and cheaper, has too many stairs, so, with only two steps, this is the one for me.  She is attuned to my special needs.

Made (‘marday’), owner of the bungalows and husband of Iluh, and his sister Nyoman are along for the ride. They stop at a sports wear shop to buy gear for their new fitness regime of a morning walk and yoga. Since I was here a year ago I’m happy to see that all three are embracing a healthier lifestyle, less sugar, they’ve replaced sweet drinks with water, and more exercise.

Made (marday) sensibly settles himself for a coffee at a small stall, and we sisters enter the market building (not outdoors after all). I am pleasantly surprised.  It isn’t crowded or noisy and not so hot. This is my kind of market. The lovely women at the stall we spend an hour at, tell us it is only crowded on the weekends.

And oh the array of wonderful batiks and other traditional Balinese fabrics, such a variety of designs, creativity everywhere.  I say to Iluh in my pidgin English, as we enter “Ooh, problem, problem. So much wonderful material, wow! Ooh there’s too much!”  She smiles.  And it’s all available by the metre, which I’ve never seen.

Possibilities, ideas start to germinate.  Stall after stall, the colours, the designs, so rich and interesting and appealing.  I love Balinese creativity, their eye for colour and design is extraordinary.

But I don’t need more clothes.  The last two weeks I’ve had a wonderful time being my own designer with my dressmaker Sherly in Candidasa. Clothing my unique body in style is possible at the prices charged in Bali, and before that in India, where I discovered the wonderful world of cheap tailoring and amazing fabrics in 1989.

I’m loving the new additions to my wardrobe, despite my famous last words two months ago “I don’t need any more clothes so won’t get any made this year”. It was the new mid-season dressing gown that was my undoing.  After twelve years of wear, my light wool “happy coat”, as the tailor in Sanur called it, holes were beginning to appear, and it’s not a good look when staying with others.  It’s now or another year before I can produce another one.  With no similar light wools available in local shops, what else can I use?  My creative juices start flowing.

Inspiration comes when I remember the thick cotton shawl from India, with a rich pattern of turquoise, gold and dark blue, which my friend Shazar gave me. I’ve got the basis, but I have to go into temptation territory because the shawl is only enough for the body, and in search of good cotton for sleeves, I make my first visit to Woven Textile Stories.  I’ve been following the owner on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wovenstoriesofficial/), and her adventures in India searching out beautiful hand-made, ethically sourced fabrics.   Her photos are full of vivid colours.  Oh the temptation of a glorious array of natural textiles and every shade of colour.  I have to succumb.

My new pants, fabric from Woven Textile Stories.  Photo by Maria Wilson.

After all the effort and cost to produce them, I wear many of my creations to death. My friend Nims says “Those old skirts you wear around the house are worn thin, isn’t it time for new ones?”  So when I venture to the main local fabric shop for the trims and lining of the dressing gown, temptation and possibilities bombard my senses. Ideas crystallise and I have fabric for new pants, new skirts, and new white shirts.  Half my luggage is taken up with fabric.

Sitting overwhelmed by the choices available at the Klung Kung markets, I’m thinking “I’ve just had all these clothes made, I really don’t need any more. I’m working on having less stuff in my life, not more.  And these traditional Balinese designs I’ve stayed away from, they feel a bit old school to wear at home.”  But now I’m here, brought especially by my Bali family, who I discover aren’t buying anything for themselves, I’m feeling an obligation to buy something.  I figure having patterned tops of unique designs that match my plain pants and skirts, will expand my possibilities, I can use more of what I have. How sensible of me.

After deliberation with my Bali sisters, I decide on three new pieces of fabric, and, in another first, having a new sarong made to fit while I wait (even though I don’t need another sarong either).  As we walk out laughing and join Made for a coffee, I realise I’ve had a rare experience in enjoying shopping.  While sipping the strong coffee I’m offered a little pyramid-shaped sweet I’ve never tried.  As I bite into it, out gushes its sweet nectar-like centre, all over my chin and down to my top.  Iluh smiles and puts a whole one in her mouth, “Ah that’s how you do it!” The explosion happens in the mouth, not down one’s chin.  Many new experiences on this adventure.

On our way home we stop at their favourite warung (café) for bakso, a soup with meatballs (chicken or beef).  Despite my many visits to Bali I’ve never tried bakso and it’s delicious.  Eating what the locals consider the best version of their food is high on my list of excellent experiences while travelling.  Same as the chicken satay at a warung popular with locals near Candidasa.  My mouth waters just thinking about the charcoal flavoured, super rich peanut sauce with a hint of heat from chilli, it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. And it costs one dollar for a serve. The local food is far more interesting, more spicey than the bland food served to tourists.

My rewarding trip to Klung Klung is another lesson about being open, not staying stuck in a fixed position, not closing off to invitations or opportunities that at first I may balk at. To try to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’.  Though I will still say ‘no thanks’ to going to big ceremonies, which are hot, physically demanding, go for many hours, noisy, uncomfortable, not that interesting and did I mention hot?  I could have stuck with my usual response of “No thank you, markets aren’t my thing.”  But instead I had a rich and interesting day, with new sensual delights, and bonding with my Bali family.

Ah! Now for more rest and relaxation, soaking up the ocean views.

IMG_2786

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hit a Brick Wall, Turn Left

When my speech first started deteriorating in early 2005, I hoped it was a temporary glitch and I had no idea that within four years I would lose most of my voice and clear speech. While I was managing to live a full life despite my bad joints, the growth of a bone spur in my neck impinging on the nerves of my tongue and vocal cords came out of left field. It meant that I could no longer continue with the career I loved, producing and presenting my radio show, Full Circle on RTRFM, exploring consciousness, spirituality and wellbeing. For fifteen years I felt like I was doing what I was born to do, and so I thought I would be continuing for a very long time.  But it was not to be.

fullcircle5

Then my voice suddenly got much worse in all the stress of my fracture sagas and I was left with just a whisper.  During my long rehabilitation I was asking the same question I asked when I leapt off the cliff from my environmental science career. “What now? What work could I be doing next? What else could I be doing with my life?”  Writing this book was part of the answer but I needed to create an income in a new way somehow, within my new set of limitations of a reduced voice and little mobility.  I was basically unemployable, but I didn’t want to ‘retire’ at age fifty, defeated by my new limitations. I wanted to continue to contribute to my community and make an income through my own enterprise.  There is nothing limited in my mind, my awareness or technical skills, and so I kept with the question of “What else can I do?”

Then my ninety one year old father died suddenly, and I offered to make a slideshow for the funeral. I found that all the skills I had learnt from fifteen years in the media – audio editing and mixing, Photoshop and video editing – all came together to produce a tribute to my father. It was such a powerful thing to do, to channel my grief into doing something sacred that honoured him, and do justice to the man he was. We chose Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to go with the photos and video, given he loved classical music and nature, which lifted the slideshow into a touching, moving experience. It added a whole other dimension to the funeral service, and brought to life the eulogy my sister gave, and conveyed what words could not.  It also gave space for reflection and remembering at such an important time.

I showed the slideshow to my friend Gitika who said “You know, you could make a business out of this.  When my mother died I would have loved to have had someone make something special like this for her.” I was dismissive of the idea at first, uncomfortable about making money from people’s grief. But when I kept asking “What can I do to make a living?” the idea wouldn’t go away, especially when I realized slideshows can be used for any special occasion (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries) and events and business promotion on websites and Facebook.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed perfect for me. I could do it from the comfort of home, sitting at my computer, and it is sacred and creative work, which is what I like to do the most. There is a sense of rightness, that it is a culmination of many of the skills I learnt over the past fifteen years, so it has some poetic justice about it, and it feels like the idea was blessed by my father.

logosmall5

So I developed a business called Celebrate a Life on DVD.  It doesn’t take long for people to get used to my speech, which is improving with the help of Speech Pathologists, and they are mostly able to understand me.  Even though I lose a few customers from our first phone call, I have many happy customers both from Perth Western Australia where I live, and around the world. The slideshows unfailingly add a moving experience to any occasion, where people laugh and cry, and share the life story of someone they care about.  It is rewarding work.

Facebook montage8

Hitting a brick wall of an obstacle doesn’t mean a dead end, it means we just have to think laterally and we may be surprised at what new direction will unfold.

http://www.celebratealifedvd.com.au/index.htm

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blessings from Obstacles and Challenges – Discovering My Own Hydro-Yoga

In the midst of hard times unexpected blessings often appear, and they are all the sweeter because they bring light into the difficulties.  After my fractured knee, its replacement and then fractured femur saga, resulting in ten weeks in hospital, I had to learn to walk again.  It was months before I could return to swimming, so my only option was hydrotherapy, with Kevin my long time Orthopaedic Physiotherapist.  I worked on my overall fitness after being immobile for so long, coercing my stiff knee to bend, building up the faded leg muscles that had been diminished from weeks of no use and learning how to walk as normally as possible.  For the first few months, until I could drive myself, I was reliant on a community transport service and my three times a week didn’t feel enough. I made the most of those visits and worked hard in my one hour with plenty of walking, kicking and toning exercises.

One day after a couple of months when I entered the pool I realized I was deeply weary.  While a sign of improvement, of becoming stronger, because I was able to be more active, I easily overdid it.  I felt aches all over with many of tight spots, especially in my neck.  Too tired to launch into my usual vigorous walking, instead I listened to what was needed, to stop.  With my shoulders supported by the railing in my favourite corner at the shallow end, I closed my eyes and let my body hang.  Ahhhh!  I let out a big sigh.  It felt so good just to rest and be suspended in the warm water, when everything felt like such an effort. After a while of blissful hanging, the sore bits were crying out, needing some relief.  As I tuned into them, I responded with small twists of my torso, while stretching a leg, one way and then the other, gently and slowly.  After so much physical hardship suddenly my body felt really good.  The experience felt like a wonderful tonic, nourishing and revitalizing of both body and spirit, but at the same time difficult as I came face to face with uncomfortable spots which were not easily silenced.  I was pleased later when I felt some relief in my recalcitrant neck, it wasn’t so sore. What a revelation, not only did it feel wonderful, it had already had a powerful effect.  Here was a whole new level of self care.

I was excited when next in the pool, to explore further, and I took time to hang, twist, stretch, breathe and experiment with the possibilities before I progressed into the more serious exercising.  As I slowly twisted my hips, there came a gentle satisfying clunk in my neck, and a little tension relieved, but not from any pressure pushing my neck, but as a by-product of the stretch of the hips. Then an extended stretch from my hips to my toes, awakening muscles long unnoticed, in my buttocks and down my legs, allowing new options for how I stand and move. It felt sensual and deeply respectful of the innate wisdom of my body to do these new movements.

13906769_1140059749399402_8761641397010942102_nA

What came out of this is what I call my own personal ‘hydro-yoga’, a slow release of tight spots that has had long term benefits.  Prior to this, I was beginning to think that I was just going to have to get used to discomfort in my neck and more headaches.  It was probably an aging thing.  But after a few months of regular hydro-yoga, the ‘aging thing’ reversed and the pain eased.  My neck is still tight, but I have been able to stave off most of the intense stuff, headaches are now rare, and so live more comfortably.  I love that my hydro-yoga is not something I am reliant on anyone else to help me with.  It is my own intimate exploration with my body, of subtle moves that have a big effect.  It adds to my reservoir of engendering feeling positive about my body, loving it, tuning in.   I continue to this day, and I have added more fun and joy with a waterproof mp3 player, so now I dance, groove and stretch to music.  I would not have discovered this wonderful new therapy if I hadn’t had all the misfortune that landed me back at hydrotherapy, and it is a blessing in my life.

I call it a kind of yoga, with its long slow stretching and breathing, which reminds me of the yoga I attempted in my twenties.  I was keen to try because it is a body-based spiritual path, to see if it could be helpful.  My first attempts didn’t go well, I wasn’t able to do the positions properly and it felt too hard.  I came out feeling excluded and frustrated at yet another limitation and mightily discouraged, so gave up.

I tried again about a year later with the encouragement of American Sandesh, who was teaching yoga in Fremantle.  It was quite a different experience, which is a credit to his skill as a teacher.  Instead of leaving me to try to work out how to do a position, and feeling like I was an extra burden, as the first teacher had, Sandesh said “Let me first see to the others and then I will come to you.”  Then we worked out together how I could best adapt the posture for my capabilities, then he would keep checking back in.  So the whole time he included me, and never made me feel I was a hassle, in fact he seemed happy to have me in the class.  That inclusion made all the difference, encouraging me to persevere.

27459397_1985993378321611_6589195710169458555_n

Mostly I could only manage a poor adaptation of a pose.  I wondered if I was getting any benefit from only doing half the posture.  Often I pushed too much trying to achieve a semblance of what everyone else was doing, and ended up in pain.  I came out of the class keenly feeling the lesser ability of my body, and my issues of differentness and exclusion arose. I also felt some resentment at these fellow students taking for granted their flexibility, being able to do so easily what I could not. It upset me to confront again and again what I couldn’t do, and I often ended up feeling dejected and discouraged. One day I got to the stage of again feeling frustration at only being able to do a fraction of a posture, and how wrong it felt to try to push my body into positions it didn’t like, and compromise a pose so much there seemed little point doing it. I decided, despite Sandesh’s patient and sensitive teaching, that yoga was not my path.  I didn’t need all the negatives associated with it. I gave it my best shot with a really good teacher, and if couldn’t do it with him, I couldn’t full stop, so was able to leave it with no regrets.

Twenty five years later I’ve evolved my own personal yoga in water that works for me.  It’s not complicated or extensive in range, just simple slow twisting and stretching that helps loosen my tight muscles and tissues, and this has meant less pain and greater ease. It feels like a miracle, helping me reverse some effects of aging on my joints.

EXTRA NOTE  I decided it was a good time to post this latest addition to my blog because on January 24 2018, Sandesh, now Sam Weinstein, passed away suddenly.  After my classes with him he went on to run the Home of Yoga School and the Family Nurturing Centre with his wife Sydel.  The profound effects they have had were obvious at his death celebration when hundreds of his community gathered to grieve his loss, and honour and celebrate him.  One person can make a huge positive difference.

27336222_1985993434988272_4022561498850874407_n

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Wheelchair for Travelling – Acceptance is the Path to Inner Peace

By the time I was at the end of my ten month trip around Asia, when I was thirty one, having to walk distances with luggage at airports and stand for long periods in customs and check in queues, were making travelling an ordeal.  I’d end up in agony and devastatingly exhausted, and I still had to get transport, sort out my accommodation and eat, while dealing with the challenges of being in a strange new place.  The alternative however was to go ‘wheelchair assist’ and I resisted this as long as I could. Similar to how I saw getting a walking stick, having to use a wheelchair was crossing another line towards an outward acknowledgement of my disability I did not want to cross (see Taman ). Even if it was only in airports, I did not want to be seen in a wheelchair.  I felt there was a stigma to it in others’ eyes, and my pride would not let me go there.  I couldn’t accept what felt like an unacceptable option.

Three months later I had resigned from my Environmental Science job and was about to head off to the Poona ashram again.  I began dreading the journey, I couldn’t bear to go through the hardships of so much standing and walking. I had to face the fact that I couldn’t travel as I had, in fact I could not keep travelling if I did not use a wheelchair.  I saw I had no choice. Coming to the point of no choice often helps us move through our denial and pride. Oh the relief when I finally accepted this was what I needed to do and I gave it a go.  A whole new world of easy airport travel opened up, and as a bonus it was wonderful to be met by a lovely helpful person.  They wheeled me past all the queues, presented my documents and money if needed, they hauled my luggage off the conveyor belts, and onto a trolley and then took me out to my transport. I was through in thirty minutes.  No stress, no pain and no ordeal.

It was weird the first time being in a wheelchair in a very public place. I didn’t feel I belonged because I could still walk, like I was an impostor. As we zipped along I felt more stares than usual, though that could have been my imagination.  But then I thought “These are not people I know. What does it matter what they think?” Especially when I was experiencing the benefits of breezing through the airport effortlessly, to get caught up with what strangers thought, seemed silly and irrelevant.  Dented pride was a small price to pay for the liberation in the ease of travelling.

And I discovered there are some advantages to having a disability.  All those travellers stuck in queues for hours at an airport, and I sailed past them and was out into my transport before they had reached the front of their first queue. “Ha ha! Take that all you able bodied people, I’m cruising here.” I thought to myself.

This was an important breakthrough because it opened the door to being able to continue to travel, even on my own. If only I had accepted the reality earlier I would have saved myself much suffering.  Like many of us, my stubbornness, denial and pride have cost me a lot in my life, whereas acceptance has given me everything.

wheelchair

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

State of Mind – Attitudes and Choices

The Power of Persistence

I’ve learnt valuable lessons about the power of persistence. If we want to fulfill our goals and make changes in our life we need persistence.

I was driving to interview a meditation teacher from New Zealand for my radio program Full Circle, feeling tired after ten years struggling to produce a weekly two hour radio show on my own with no money.  Listening to an interview on the radio, with an author of a book about the secrets of success, the question was “What is the single most important ingredient for success?”. I was thinking “A great idea, passion, vision etc.” and was surprised when he answered “Persistence”.  The best idea or talent in the world is not much use if we don’t persist in developing them, whatever the challenges. Because of one thing we can be certain, there will be obstacles in the way. Often we hear speakers extolling the virtues of following our dreams, yet I rarely hear mentioned the need for determination and hard work to overcome the barriers that will inevitably arise.  It felt like a message for me at just the right time, and it gave me the impetus to continue with my crazy life of following my bliss despite the challenges.

About a year after my knee and femur fractures I tried walking to the beach, and by the time I reached the water I was tired and in pain, and in no fit state to have much of a swim.  With disappointment I figured that my days of ocean swimming were probably over.  I was deeply saddened, given that the sea has been one of the joys of my life, all my life.

IMG_2583AAA

 

Meanwhile I continued to swim at the local pool four times a week, plus hydrotherapy and working on my walking technique and changing habits with Julie my Feldenkrais practitioner.  One of my main focuses was building up the strength of my legs.  I kicked many miles of the pool, working the injured leg with its wasted muscles, with the aim of achieving the best my body could be, whatever that might be. During summer a few years later I gave going to the beach a go, at the encouragement of my two regular beach and coffee buddies Nirmala and Niyati.  To my delight I was able to manage it all, even the walk up hill on sand, without needing assistance.  There were no ill effects, no pain, no fatigue and so many positives from swimming in the ocean and enjoying coffee and catching up with my wise, fun friends.  I was amazed at how far I’d come.  My persistent effort over four years enabled me to wind back my degeneration clock and, rather than keeping going downhill physically as would be expected as I age, I improved.  It is about persisting every day, whether we see results or not, but just keeping going.

IMG_5492a

More recently, since having my second knee replacement and hip revision surgeries, I have been working on changing my twenty year habit of bending over from the hips, after my surgeon freed up tight groin tissue. I am able now to stand straight with some effort, but if I am tired or not paying attention, I regress to my old posture.  Every time I’m in the pool I am practising standing straight and that transfers to remembering during my day. I know it will take time to make this change, so I just keep at it, encouraged by my lessons in persistence.

Then I had another breakthrough at hydrotherapy when several different exercises I’ve been doing for months came together to create something new.  Tina Turner was playing on the sound system, louder than the usual background level, and when an old favourite ‘Nutbush City Limits’ came on.  I just had to dance in the freedom of the water.  I was in heaven, as all the years of not being free to dance disappeared.  While I couldn’t get too carried away in the class, I found a rhythm in a kind of walking/dancing/twisting.  Somehow I started using the muscles on the back of my legs in a new way. I kept going for the whole song, exploring this novel way of moving.  While I’ve been using my back thigh muscles for kicking for many years, I didn’t know I wasn’t engaging them in walking.  But when I experimented out of the water, suddenly I had at least double more power in my propulsion.  It has made a huge difference in my life, I am able to walk further, freeing me from some limitations.  It is a miracle as a result of a brilliant surgeon, persistence and Tina Turner. I am overjoyed.  Persistence is a great power

IMG_2695

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Spirit Can Soar Wherever We Are

A major turning point, at age twenty four, in my journey of dealing with my deteriorating physical capacity brought me to experience a significant realization.  I don’t need to go anywhere, do anything and I can feel my essence. I can come home to myself and feel contented just sitting and being anywhere.  Our spirit can soar wherever we are, and doesn’t need to be dependent on anything on the outside.  Of course if we happen to be in a beautiful natural landscape, then coming home is all the easier.  When you can no longer go anywhere you want, this is an important realization.  It changed how I dealt with being able to do less and less.

I was in the jarrah forest for the weekend, outside the small timber town of Dwellingup, with a few friends having a reunion of sorts.  Ray, Dave and I had met one memorable night at The Loaded Dog tavern in Northbridge close to Perth city, a few years previously.  The Loaded Dog was a small intimate venue with live music and a dynamic Sunday session which attracted an interesting mix of alternative types of people.  My university friend Sue and I were regulars. Ray was a good looking man with long dark hair, warm wise blue eyes, a gorgeous smile and a look of a native American about him.  Dave was a funny, crazy New Zealander, with long curly blond hair and beard with bright blue sparkling eyes that would often bulge in humour.  Sue and Ray were seated on bar stools next to each other and starting chatting, and we all hit it off.  We laughed and laughed together as we progressed to the local food hall for some tasty Indian food for dinner.  Things might have ended there but Sue’s attraction to Ray meant she was keen to accept their invitation to come and stay with them at the modest riverside home they shared near Mandurah.  From that meeting came lasting, life changing friendships.  We joked these are our only friendships that ever came from meeting at a bar.

A few years later Dave had moved to a bush block with a Nissan hut converted into a small cosy home.  Ray and I, and his new partner Naveena, had been seeing each other in Fremantle, but none of us had seen Dave for about a year.

img_2715a

We arrived late Friday afternoon and after a night full of partying, laughter and fun, the next morning after a leisurely breakfast, Dave was keen to show us his land.  We all loved being in nature and sharing it with each other so we were keen to explore the surrounding forest.  It was a beautiful, balmy spring day.  I started out in high spirits, happy to be hanging out with good friends in the forest.  But it turned out to be difficult terrain.   We went up and down paths on quite steep slopes, often covered in gravel, which made it slippery and hazardous as we wove out way through trees and wildflowers.  From the time we headed off, I had to keep watching the ground, so I didn’t slip on the gravel slopes, or trip over the many possible hazards, and navigate safely.  I was given a hand up and down the slopes but they were still a real stretch.  In natural areas I am always navigating my way with a keen eye on the easiest route, up this step or smaller slope or around this tree and also watching out for any logs or rocks of the right height for stopping for a sit.  This time I only found one sitting spot, a wobbly bank of gravel.  I started feeling pain in my hips and legs about four hundred metres in, and then came the tiredness.  All of my attention after half an hour was on my aches, and then my focus became making it back to the house as best I could, step by step.  I wearily slumped into a chair when we arrived back, feeling a deep pain in my hips, legs and lower back.  I kept it all to myself, I didn’t share with my friends how tough it had been but Ray years later told me they could see.

When finally the pain had subsided some, I realized I hadn’t been able to appreciate or imbibe the forest.  In fact I had missed it, because all of my focus was on looking at the ground, and the aches and just getting through the walk.  This was another of those times when I pushed myself beyond my new limits, and suffered the consequence of pain and terrible fatigue.  These were at a level that grabbed my attention.  They jolted me into realizing ’Ah, I can’t do that kind of walking anymore, it is too much for me, it’s too hard, this is a new limit”.  In what became a repeating experience when I dramatically hit my limits over the proceeding years, I realized I would have to be more careful what I got myself into and not go blindly into terrain that was now beyond me (see also Misadventure in Gilli Nanguu).  Then came sadness at what this new limit meant, that more wild places were now impossible for me to access.

The next day when everyone else was heading out for another walk, I opted to stay on Dave’s verandah.  No more physical endurance battles for me that weekend.  I decided I would sit instead in comfort, on a big old lounge chair on the wooden verandah with my feet up, and enjoy the view of the forest from there, and that would have to be enough. For a while I felt keenly this new limitation that meant I had to stay behind, missing out on whatever adventures my friends were having together. Like most of us, I hate missing out.  All the feelings I felt as a teenager came back, frustration at my limitation, anger at the injustice of it and I had some resentment at the ease with which my friends could do whatever they wanted.  At the centre of it all was grief at this new loss merging with all my other losses. But I was also pleased that I was looking after myself, and choosing to be gentle rather than pushing myself again.

img_2713a

Then the power of nature started weaving its magic within me, with the sounds of the birds and wind in the trees.  After about half an hour the turning point came. I discovered the well of plenty lying in what could appear to be misfortune. I began to see more of what was around me, and so my attention was diverted from ‘poor me’. There was so much to look at and enjoy.  The forest, along with other five acre properties, had been logged many times but it was still rich with many jarrah and marri trees, birds, reptiles, insects and kangaroos amongst the forest and the undergrowth of shrubs. I started observing more detail in each of the trees, how they were shaped, the line of the branches, the variations of greens of the leaves and the changing sky behind them.  I watched the myriad of birds and what exactly they were doing, what they were eating, how they flitted from branch and bush, and so I became more immersed in the world around me. I relaxed more into the comfort of the chair and the experience, and I was just floating, observing, feeling my sadness and enjoying the peace, thinking about the fun I was having with my friends.  Then came a great relief that I wasn’t out walking, that I was in no pain, I was comfortable, and I was still able to enjoy communing with nature around me. The relief from not feeling any more pain was so strong I think it heightened my joy. I was so happy with my choice to stay back.

Previous to this I would have felt like I was missing the wildness the others would be imbibing.  I was a bit of a purist and it felt like a consolation prize to only be in the tamed nature. But I realized the contentment I was feeling from being surrounded by forest, even though it had been altered, was the same that I experienced when I was out in the wilds.  I had always thought that the effect on me was more powerful in pure wild nature, but I discovered it wasn’t so.  In fact I was feeling much more connection with my surrounds than I had the day before when all I could experience was the aches.

I felt the joy of simply sitting and being somewhere beautiful, without needing to be walking in the forest with my friends, without needing to do anything else, and feeling at peace and at home in myself.  That’s when I realised I didn’t have to go anywhere to feel that.  The contrast was very clear.  I felt so relieved not to be pushing myself with walking and feeling pain.  Instead I was in bliss just sitting doing nothing, enjoying the view.  It helped that I’d been learning meditation.  It came more easily being able just to sit and be, content being where I was, without needing to do or say anything.

When Dave, Ray and Naveena came back after a couple of hours I could give them a big happy smile, for I hadn’t missed out.  I had had a wonderful sojourn on my own, going nowhere but soaring nonetheless.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this realization was to change the quality of my life.  It has allowed me to more easily find contentment, wherever I am or whatever I am able to do.  I’m not dependent on feeling at peace by what I can do and where I can go.  This is a great liberation.  As I have been able to do less, finding contentment just sitting and being, has meant that rather than a diminishing of my life from not being able to walk far or stand for long, and not being able to interact with the world as much, I have found a richness in whatever is in front of me.  Now when I go away on holidays I am a happy woman with a verandah with a view, I have no need to go adventuring.  Time and again I have experienced the truth that our spirit can soar wherever we are.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment