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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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