I have received some of the best and most precious gifts. These gifts did not come in pretty, shiny wrapping paper with big fancy bows. They came in brown boxes with hard-to-remove tape. They came during one of the hardest times in my life. Through the health challenge I was faced with, I learned so many important things.
- I learned to s l o w d o w n
We live in a fast-paced world and for me, it was difficult to resist the excitement and adrenaline and too easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of constant activity. Sometimes I look back and wonder how lived without even being conscious of my own breath, my own heartbeat! It’s astonishing to me now. I was always ‘doing’; never simply being (unless I was totally exhausted!)
I’ve learned how vital it is to decelerate. I was missing so much before! Always in motion, life was merely a blur. Now I am much more awake! I pay attention. I often walk slowly; looking at the sky, the trees, the flowers. I watch squirrels outside my window. There is so much beauty all around! Just open your eyes!
And I make a more conscious effort to push the pause button throughout my day. Simply pausing to take a few moments to rest between activities can make a world of difference. In the morning, I unhurriedly eat breakfast while allowing my mind to remember dreams or invite insights. I take a bath rather than a quick shower. Before going to sleep, I take time just to relax and reflect on my day. Refusing to rush reduces stress and increases your effectiveness and creativity.
I suppose some people associate slow with boring but the truth is going slow actually makes life much richer and more colourful. Try taking your foot off the accelerator and see what happens!
- I learned the power of the breath
Breathing deeply became an essential tool for me to ease anxiety and deal with discomfort. Now I can’t imagine a day going by without consciously checking in with my breath at least several times. Taking a few deep breaths automatically pulls me back into the present–to awareness.
The breath is life force. It has the power to sooth and relax; to cleanse and heal. Breathing deeply is such a simple thing to do and it can create such positive changes in your body–it slows heart beat, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress and tension. Of course more oxygen equals more energy. And since deep breathing brings awareness, you are more likely to listen to your body when it is telling you to slow down, take a rest, drink some water.
This awareness can help improve your relationships, too. Imagine taking a deep breath before reacting with judgment or anger. When we are feeling strong emotions, we often end up holding our breath or shallow breathing from the chest. This only creates more tension. By breathing into the belly, feelings soften and lose their powerful grip.
- I learned how to listen to and connect to my body
I had the realization that up until this point in my life, I had basically been living in my head. Walking around like a robot, constantly absorbed in my own thoughts, consumed by my own ego, hardly even aware that my head was attached to a body! Perhaps sometimes pain and discomfort are just the body’s way of saying–HEY! I’m down here! Did you forget about me?–As anyone who has had a cold or a hangover knows, when your body is not in good condition, it quickly becomes the focus.
What a switch I have made here! I’m now very sensitive to how my body feels. I notice if I feel a little tired or if I didn’t quite get enough sleep. I can tell when I’m feeling a little stiff or tense. I’m aware when my body is feeling run down or is in need of a day of rest and recovery. I observe when my body is becoming too hot and it’s time to move into the shade. I even know when there are some emotions that I haven’t dealt with–I start to feel disconnected and have a hard time concentrating or enjoying the moment.
Not only does it warn me that something is out of balance but my body also tells me when it’s feeling great! It says–Today, I am very well! It’s a great day to do some writing, do some yoga, go for a long walk, go out with a friend. Get going, do what needs to be done and have some fun!–Knowing your body intimately, its strengths and its limitations, will help you live in health, wholeness, balance and harmony.
Living in the body makes it possible to live wholeheartedly. Have you ever noticed how children behave? They are almost always energetic, enthusiastic, sincere and authentic. They are not half in the present and half in their heads thinking about something that happened yesterday or planning for tomorrow. Children are totally present in their bodies! When they feel pain, they cry. When they feel excited, they run or scream. When they are sleepy, they take a nap. When they are happy, they laugh or cheer.
It’s unfortunate that we somehow overlook the wisdom of the body as we become adults. What I have found is that my body often knows something before my head does. Watch and listen for subtle signs–a slightly unsettled stomach, a tenseness in the shoulders, an ache on one side of your head, your heart beating faster than usual…anything that seems a little off. Pay attention to your bodies needs–is it thirsty, tired, in need of some fresh air or a relaxing massage? Does it need some quiet down time or some energizing exercise or perhaps a good cry? Pay attention and give your body what it needs! When you are good to your body, your body will be good to you!
- I learned what I truly value
Living life in the fast lane, it can be easy to forget what is really important. We dash off to work, run to get groceries, go to parties with our friends, try to squeeze in a work out. We worry about having enough money, fret over a few grey hairs, get annoyed by traffic, complain about an uncooperative coworker. We can get wrapped up in the day-to-day maze of activities and worries and fail to remember some of the most precious gifts.
For me, health has become my number one priority. Every day I make sure to eat healthy, get proper rest and sleep and do my best to honour my body’s needs. I’ve learned to treat my body like a temple–this is where I live, where I connect with my inner essence. With good health, everything is possible. Without it, life can be a real struggle. Don’t take your health for granted–not for one day or one minute. Being healthy can be your natural state if you live consciously and live in balance.
My second priority is people. My relationships with people–with my spouse, my family, my friends, people I work with, children I care for–this is what really matters. I didn’t see the importance of the people in my life before (probably because I was too scared of real connections). I thought it was easier to ‘do it by myself’–being in control, not depending on anyone and not having anyone depending on me. But that was just a lie I told myself to protect my heart against hurt. There’s no doubt for me now–connecting with people in deep and meaningful ways is what makes life feel abundant and overflowing.
Third on my list of priorities is authentic self-expression. To me, this is how life goes from being good to being amazing. Sharing my true self with the world is what brings me lasting satisfaction and fulfillment. Whether it’s through dancing or writing or even singing a silly song, expressing myself is how my internal world becomes connected to the external world.
- I learned how to have more compassion and humility
When I felt invincible, I didn’t care about people who were weak or poor or unhealthy. I was so self-centred. I only cared about me, getting what I wanted, doing what I wanted to do. Egoism is a dangerous thing. If the ego is controlling you, you have an overinflated sense of pride, importance and arrogance. You don’t want anything to burst your bubble so you avoid people who show you everything you are afraid of–having to reveal your weaknesses, your flaws, your insecurities.
Learning that I was indeed merely mortal, definitely burst my bubble and brought me down to a different level. I realized that I was a human being who was vulnerable–a fact that my ego had tried to hard to hide for decades. It’s a terrifying and yet ultimately liberating reality. Once you see that you are no better and no worse than everyone else, you no longer have to try and hide yourself or prove yourself.
I still catch my ego in fear and distress when I see someone who is sick or homeless or just plain mean. At times like these, I am making a conscious effort to send out wishes for health, happiness, peace and well-being. When we start to see that we are all in this together, all just trying to do our best, then we can begin to feel compassion for our fellow humans.
- I learned about my own strength
Ironically, it wasn’t until I had experienced being weak that I discovered how strong I really was on the inside. It took an inner fortitude to get through some of the roughest days. Keeping a strong mind by repeating positive affirmations or reminding myself that–This too shall pass–was essential.
Besides finding my inner strength, I realized how physically powerful I was, too. I fought through fatigue. It wasn’t always fun but I didn’t die. I was capable of digging deep for that energy I needed to get to the end of the day or the end of the week. I actually surprised myself! Wow! I didn’t know I had that in me!
You never really know how strong-willed and tough you are until you are pushed to your limits. You are stronger than you think and more powerful than you know. Always remember that.
- I learned to voice my needs and say NO!
I used to think that the simple solution was to be a pushover. Even if my needs were going unmet or my boundaries were being crossed, I thought if I just kept quiet and went along with things, didn’t rock the boat, then everything would be fine. I believed that rocking the boat would most certainly have disastrous results. Boy was I wrong!
When my body was literally screaming at me to speak up for myself, it became impossible not to listen. I had to say NO. I later realized that saying yes really had no meaning if I wasn’t able to say no. Words I had heard years before echoed in my ears–You can’t say fully YES until you can say fully NO. I now deeply understood what this meant.
Although this remains to be one of my biggest challenges, I am so grateful that I am now at least aware of the times when I am going against my heart’s desire or my body’s needs. I know I will continue to grow and get better at simply saying NO without the guilt.
- I learned to accept what is
Some things you cannot change. You have two choices. You can either: 1) Accept things as they are. or 2) Resist the reality of what is. IT IS really as simple as that. Option one will bring you peace and serenity. Option two will cause you frustration, confusion and pain.
Thinking about how bad something is only makes it seem twice as bad. Our temptation is to grumble and whine when a situation is not to our liking. But try this for a change: instead of letting your mind go off on its pity party–oh, this is sooo bad–try just sitting still for a moment and noticing what’s going on. Just notice and observe. As soon as you can be present and clear, you can start to see a glimpse of what is actually there without the dramatic inner monologue. Perhaps you will see that things are not so awful. Maybe you will even spot some beauty or wonder in the situation.
Happy New Year!