Life Snuck Up When I Least Expected Her

I wasn’t paying attention. No, not really. Just taking one day at a time, alternatively planning and worrying about the next step. Then giving up and just living. Just doing it.

And then She snuck up on me. Unbidden. Unhidden.

Lying on my yoga mat in a class of eleven others and the teacher – ooh, already it’s sounding weirdly sacred – and I started to chuckle … quietly chuckle inwardly as we were in complete silence. In shivasana, the pose of Shiva, the god of destruction and renewal, the coffin pose, on our backs, relaxed and with closed eyes, I felt Life move into me. She smiled. I smiled. Then I chuckled. I still chuckle, a week later.

You see, I had done several personal development workshops as both participant and as facilitator. Often, in these, we are asked (or ask) to write down our perfect day. The step-by-step, minute-by-minute activities and feelings we would have in our perfect day.

Mine usually started at 5.30 am, rising in peace and curiosity, yoga from 6.00 to 7.00, my favourite breakfast, writing for an hour or more, coffee and chat with friend(s) from 10.00 to 11.00ish, lunch with my partner, an open afternoon in which I can choose work or play … and on it goes, with all the juicy, positive feelings in each moment.

When I wrote those perfect days, way back when, I hungered and thirsted for perfect days and they never happened. Then I got on with life, daily life, life with its ups and downs, trials and triumphs. Meaningless life, dutiful life, that served the purpose of filling the time between The Entrance and The Exit. It was joyful, sad, funny, stressful, calm, panicked and everything in between … just life, ordinary life for an ordinary person.

Then, as I lay in that coffin pose, emptying my mind of its ordinariness, an extraordinary little thing happened. I realised I was living my perfect day, every day. I didn’t always have coffee with a friend but I could have. I didn’t always have my favourite breakfast but I could have. I had slipped into my perfect day, unknowingly.

Life delivered my perfect day to me long before I realised She’d done it. She’d snuck up, handed me the perfect day and I’d gone on living, oblivious to the magic I’d eased into.

So, thanks for the day, Life. Thanks for it every day. My greatest act of gratitude, I imagine, is a heart-felt, belly-felt chuckle. How entirely unaware can we be? How grateful can I be? As chuckly grateful as I am every day. Perfect!

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My Inappropriate PTSD

“I’m sorry, I’m really sorry,” she said between convulsions of laughter, trying to hold retain professional pose. I kept assuring her it was okay and the laughter grabbed her again and she rocked and chortled and apologised between gasps and eye wiping. I kept assuring her it was fine, I was fine, laughter was okay. In fact, it was so good to have laughter around me, bouncing off the walls, as I’d had so little over the last few years.

Of course, one doesn’t expect to have one’s psychologist laughing uproariously at you but, well, it was damned good therapy for us both.

I was seeing her because I’d had to give up work. I just couldn’t cope with it any more. Years of abusive and callous bosses, heaped on top of sustained childhood abuse, and my cold, hard iceberg had finally melted.

She’d diagnosed me as “on the edge of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD)”, something that those in war zones suffer from. Mine was less intense than a soldier’s but lengthy – 50 years on and off. The childhood trauma went until I left home at eleven but it was still in my psyche. It was then added to with every visit home and with later actions from afar. The employers in New Zealand and England seemed to be a caring lot and it was a shock to come to Australia and to be treated so dismissively, so untrustingly, so inhumanly – so like I was as a child. I was back in my four-year-old body.

It all just rose up as one congealed lump of trauma around the same time I found out about the effects and treatments of PTSD, and when Anna, my wife, found a local psychologist who used a particular treatment for it – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

You see, trauma goes into our bodies and stays there, building up till we release it. Animals do it naturally – when they’ve had a fright, they will quiver till the trauma goes. They will then, typically, take three deep breaths and return to normal.

So, EMDR, developed by Francine Shapiro from 1987, helps the client to release the trauma through body movement … quite bizarre body movement at times, I discovered!

Humans are the same but appear to be unable to release the trauma with the quivering. We seem to need help with that or else hold on to the trauma, infecting every aspect of our lives – relationships, work, finances, sense of self worth, confidence, peace, happiness and so on.

There were pains in my stomach (upper and lower), burps, heavy breathing, shooting pains in the head, shivers up my spine, little men in my shoulders, pushing them apart, phlegm and coughing, air trying to escape but restricted by something in my throat – all manner of painful, weird and shivery feelings.

To the onlooker – my psychologist – I was undergoing immense pain, along with the most grotesque and comical facial expressions and bodily flailings. Though she’d treated many patients – ex-servicemen, prisoners and others – this was just the second time she’d been hit with uncontrolled fits of laughter.

It may be inappropriate in the psychology manuals for a psychologist to laugh at her patient but, for me, it was fine. In fact, it was great. My life had been a flat-line grey for the last six years, in Australia, and joy was a more than welcome intrusion in that pallid greyness.

What I learned – apart from releasing trauma and feeling better – is that we cannot prescribe appropriate and inappropriate responses. If we let ourselves go, without prescription, our natural responses are always appropriate and healing.

On fact, if we let ourselves go – as animals do when traumatised – and let the body shake out the trauma, we just might have more healthy humans and communities.

I quiver at the thought of the possibilities …

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The Meaning Is Not 42. It’s … 0

The question was, “What is the meaning of life?” The answer to the question is not 42. The answer is 0. The answer is zero. Nada. Zilch. Not anything. Nothing.

Life has no meaning, no reason whatsoever.

Life is an empty crystal bowl – empty and waiting for your input.

You invite friends around for coffee and need something to put the sugar in. You choose your crystal bowl and your friends exclaim, “What a beautiful sugar bowl!” Then it’s your child’s birthday and you fill your beautiful crystal bowl with sweets and people exclaim, “What a beautiful sweets bowl!” Then you’re entertaining guests for dinner and you use your crystal bowl for the dessert strawberries and your guests exclaim, “What a beautiful fruit bowl!”

The bowl, of itself, is simply a bowl full of nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not anything. Nothing. But you and your visitors define it by what you’ve popped in it. Like your beautiful crystal bowl, life is simply life, simply an emptiness into which you pop your meaning. Today your meaning is happiness, tomorrow it’s sadness, the next day it’s … well, it’s whatever you decide to pop in it.

  • If you think life is unsafe, it is unsafety that you have filled your bowl of life with.
  • If you think life is joyful, it is joy that you have filled your bowl of life with.
  • If you think the meaning of life is to be a good Christian or Buddhist then Christianity or Buddhism is what you have filled your bowl of life with.
  • If you think the meaning of life is to avenge your race’s or your culture’s persecutors, it is revenge that you have filled your bowl of life with.
  • If the meaning of your life is to rid the world of homosexuals, tyrants or skate-boarders, then it is that which you have filled your bowl of life with.
  • If the meaning of your life is to give compassion and love to underdogs, then it is love and compassion that you have filled your bowl of life with.

Some people are confronted, depressed and/or angry at finding that life is meaningless. However, a smile returns to their faces when they realise that their life is what they popped in there … and, therefore, they can change it! They are not stuck with a bowl of mud when they want a sugar bowl.

We’re all in the same empty bowl, a bowl called life. Our bowls just look different for we’ve each popped different things in them … some have pooped in their bowl and some have popped in it!

You can tell me the meaning you’ve popped into your bowl of life but I cannot see, touch, smell or taste that meaning. It has little impact on me. However, the meaning I’ve put into the bowl of life is important for me as I can sense it in every way and it’s with me every moment of my life. Yours is only before me when you tell me and when you go away, so does your meaning, to me.

So, like a previous blog – The Problem With The World … – we live in different worlds. The same empty, meaningless life but different worlds, depending on what meaning we’ve popped (or pooped) into our empty bowls.

So, our exercise – yes, I must take my own advice – is to simply observe what we have popped into our bowl of life. We don’t need to change it. We just observe. We’re disinterested onlookers, watching a pair of birds squabbling. We watch, smile, grimace and let what we see be there. Do nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Not anything. Nothing.

Try it. It’s fun!

Life Rejuvenated is available by clicking here.

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Yoga, Tea and Conversations with All

“It’s like a conversation with bodies,” Mabel explained when I asked her how she planned and remembered the full sequence of a yoga session. “I have practised it, over and over, and know how it feels for me. Then I must be present to you and your bodies. I observe how they’re moving and what these movements are saying to me. I might adjust my plan for there will be a group conversation, a group body request, to do this a little more, that a some less. Maybe add something I hadn’t planned.”

She started with practise, practise and more practise. It was so ingrained it became her. She became it. Then she let it go so, in a sense, it wasn’t about yoga. It wasn’t about the individual asanas (poses). It then became about the group’s silent and subtle request, a request she would not have heard had she not practised, had she not taken it past memory and into her very essence.

Without the strain and focus on memory, she could let herself be fully with us. She was beyond thinking. She was having a conversation just as you and I do with close friends over a coffee. No words are contrived or planned. They fall as the moment arises, as the conversation rises and falls, changes and loops back on itself.

Later in the session, Mabel told us about a tea ceremony she attended in Japan, this time last year. The older woman entered the room with a strong, gentle presence. She was there without fanfare yet fully the master of the room, quietly obedient to everyone. It was not so much that it was done in slow motion but that it was done in flow motion, as if the ladle directed her to pick it up, the leaves directed her to scoop and pour them, the water directed her to release it into the pot. It wasn’t about the tea any more. It wasn’t about the individual movements. It became a conversation with the implements, ingredients and the people in the room.

The true master, it seems, has practised, practised and practised and, having gone beyond memory, is no longer aware of their own actions. Through the complete mastery of the art, the art itself then takes us to the presence of others, to the wishes of others, to the conversations of others.

The master becomes so much the master that she is now the servant of all. The circle is complete.

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The Guilty Rest

“You need to move out of your comfort zone,” he said and I wondered why. “Because you can’t just stay where you are.” I wondered again. “Well, what’s the purpose if we’re not here to evolve?”

“So, the label on the box when you were born said he must evolve, did it?” I asked, curious.

“Well, not really …”

“So, is it etched in the sky or the soles of your feet that you must eternally change and move out of whatever comfort zone you’re in?”

“No, but you can’t stay where you are, can you?”

“Why not?”

“Well, you just can’t.”

We can’t just stay in our comfort zones and yet, when we do, there’s no bolt of lightening through our heart, the earth doesn’t stop spinning and the sun comes up tomorrow.

In yoga – as in life – there are yang sessions and there are yin sessions.

Yang sessions are about extending ourselves, pushing ourselves beyond present limits. Yang sessions can be sweaty, aerobic (lots of panting) and we generally move from asana (pose) to asana to asana in quick succession, constantly on the move.

Yin sessions are about accepting ourselves as we are, about discovering where we’re at and acknowledging that. In an hour we might do six to ten asanas, holding each for a longer time, being with the extent of our bodies, being present to our limits and melting into the peace that comes with that.

And, yes, there is this current fad of getting out of our comfort zones and, if we’re not, there’s something wrong with us. Like all fads, though, it will fade.

There’s value in extending ourselves, learning new talents, discovering new lands, overcoming fears. Huge value.

However, if we’re constantly doing that, we’re always on edge, always at tipping point, always slightly off balance. It’s exciting, intoxicating and it can be addictive.

Remember, though, the reason for addictions is to avoid the inner (and illusory) fears and guilts that we carry everywhere with us. We can run but we can’t hide – they follow us from womb to tomb.

We need the excitement at times and we need to come back to balance – yin and yang.

The most fearful thing for a human is to be placed in solitary confinement with no sensory input – a dark and soundproof room.

And yes, deprived of outer input, we can still and own our inner fears. We can befriend and release them.

The way of stillness gives us balance, acceptance and maturity and a greater strength with which to slay all those dragons out there.

You see, even God had a rest on the seventh day. Why not us?

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Through The Hoop Of Pain

If I ever wake up without pain, I know I’m dead,” he said, laughing at his joke. We all smiled and chuckled along but Mark, a fit sixty-year-old, hit a nerve for we either looked at each other and nodded or looked away altogether. Mark was joking and severely honest at the same time.

This is a world of pain and insanity and we all get to wake to it every day … till we don’t. There’s a thousand mental, financial, emotional and physical pains we can choose from and no one escapes them all.

But we do get through them, in our uniquely simlar ways. There’s a thousand pills and remedies, physical and mental exercises and another thousand diversions.

Mahatma Gandhi said that if you want to relieve your pain, reach out and help someone else with theirs. There’s diversion in service, diversion in addictions, diversion in work and social activities.

Among other things, I teach Risk Management and there are three different strategies – transference, elimination and reduction.

We can transfer a fire risk by taking out fire insurance and transferring the risk to the insurance company. We can eliminate the risk of a tsunami by moving our premises to the middle of Australia. We can reduce the risk of people slipping on a wet floor by putting warning signs.

However, we cannot eliminate or transfer our personal pains – well, not really – so all we’ve got left is reduction in some form.

Of course, we can try elimination with a hip or knee replacement, plastic surgery or eye laser surgery. Elimination can work but there are risks … and, sometimes, the remedy is worse than the pain.

We can try to eliminate the risk of rejection by not submitting another manuscript, by not even writing another manuscript, by hiding in our cave and living smaller. However, that fear clings to us. It doesn’t go. It just appears to go as we pretend to hide it.

We can transfer guilt by blaming others but that doesn’t work – we just increase our guilt by feeling guilty about the blaming and we also lose a friend.

So, in the end, all we’ve got left is reduction. Meditate, focus on the breath, don’t focus on the problem, think of other things, think happy thoughts, think peaceful thoughts, keep the mind either busy or empty – anything to reduce the pain. Take the pills, exercise harder, work harder, study more, travel more, have more fun, spend more money, busy, busy, on anything but the pain.

There’s a diversion for everyone.

However, there is a fourth remedy we can use – acceptance. In business we call this self-insurance. We take the risk.

As I move into a standing pose, on one leg, the pain in my knee intensifies. Without knee cartilage, it’s bone scraping on bone and it’s not my original knee design. However, as I gently lift my other knee behind me, more pressure on the standing knee, the pain doesn’t increase. It remains constant. As I come to balance, my smile spreads as the pain dissipates down my leg and into the earth. It stays away until I need to bend my knee and bring my other leg down again.

In each yoga pose, my body resists the initial outreach, the initial stretch, and then, as I allow myself to relax into that resistance, it dissipates.

The same with life. The same with change.

The first day of school was an exciting and fearful experience. Scary, unnerving, embarrassing and disorienting and I could have chosen elimination by never going back. But I returned. We all returned and, each day, the discomfort eased, we got used to the strangeness and routine and, eventually, we got to enjoy it … or, at least, to fall easily into the routine. That initial resistance dissipated.

The things we’re most passionate about often carry the most fear, especially the first time. That first parachute jump, first business, first recital, first book submission, first date, first everything. But we dive through that fear like circus lion through the hoop of fire and, soon, we don’t notice the fire – just the exhilaration of flying free on the other side.

Sir Laurence Olivier said he never didn’t feel stage fright and he was thankful for the ever-present fear. The stage fright kept him present to his every performance, second by second, and he embraced the fear. It helped him excel.

Richard Branson always says yes to a new project, even when he has no idea how to accomplish it. There’s fear in every YES and he continues through it, accomplishing more than most of us.

So, whether it’s a mental, financial, emotional or physical pain, a fourth way is acceptance. Walk into the pain, the fear, anger, depression, loneliness, guilt, anxiety, regret … walk into them all and watch them dissipate into the earth and see what we can accomplish!

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Slap the water, skin the snake!

“At this point you may feel a need to move,” she said as we ‘stood’ in shoulder stand, back of heads and shoulders on the yoga mat, body and feet reaching for the sky. At this point was five minutes in and we had another five to go. People were starting to wobble, to get pins and needles in their legs, to lose feeling in their feet, to feel strain in necks and backs, to become short of breath. At this point you may feel a need to move! What an understatement!

“You may feel a need to move,” she continued. “Feel that need, acknowledge that need and choose not to act on it, unless you are feeling pain.”

Yes, we are constantly moving from discomfort, aren’t we? Constantly shifting in the car or lounge seat, constantly adjusting the heating or air conditioning, opening and shutting windows, fiddling with drapes and blinds, changing diets, changing remedies, changing houses, changing jobs, changing partners, changing countries, changing philosophies and allegiances.

This world is one of discomfort and it has us constantly on the move … if we so choose.

Back in the olden days – back when teenagers moved and phones didn’t – doctors had us resting our injured and strained limbs till they got better. Nowadays there’s more of a move to get injured and disabled patients out of bed and back into movement – moving through discomfort through to health.

In yoga, we put ourselves into positions of discomfort (not pain) and stay there till we assimilate it. It might be touching our toes, arching our backs, balancing on one leg or whatever. As we move into the pose (asana) our body rebels. It tells us – quietly or loudly – that it’s uncomfortable. As we stay there the rebellion quietens. Sometimes it feels as if our skin is slipping over our muscles as the body lets go, as the asana deepens.

The snake may be uncomfortable as it sheds its skin but it continues. For a time it is more vulnerable, as we all are through a bout of change. But it soon becomes a bigger, brighter and stronger snake.

As we allow discomfort to be, it dissipates and we move forward. We move deeper.

For the last ten minutes of today’s session, as is usual, we lay on our backs in shivasana – the pose of Shiva, Goddess of Death – or coffin pose. With the rain outside there was a constant gush of water from a broken down-pipe, a constant gush of water that could have disturbed my silent meditation.

Rather than trying to blank out that potentially annoying sound, I chose to move into discomfort. I chose to put my full attention on that splugging sound. I moved myself into it so fully that I became the plunging, rushing, spraying, crashing water. My body was as a corpse and my mind was rushing down that rusty old pipe, splashing with abandon into the air and onto the ground below. Over and over. I was the water in the pipe, the water in the air, the water hitting the ground.

I was the water everywhere, all the time, and soon realised that water is the toughest thing we know. We can slap it, drop it, slash it, burn it, freeze it and, whatever we do, it continues to be water. It disperses and reforms. It freezes and returns to water. It is steam and reforms back to water.

I realised it and became it. I saw how indestructible I was – how we all are. We survive abuse, condemnation, smoking, alcoholism, bad eating, dangerous sports, inappropriate jobs, demeaning relationships, loneliness and all other forms of self-abuse and other-abuse upon ourselves. And here we are, still gurgling down the pipe of life, reasonably intact and always able to reform ourselves to that which we never ceased to be.

Enjoy a moment of discomfort. Allow it to settle, dissipate and then open us up to a bigger, brighter, stronger you!

And, in moments of doubt, slap some water and see how it crumbles to pieces … or doesn’t! That water is you, me and all of us. Slapped about and we’re still us.

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