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Pain and Back (Part 2)

The conversation at the edge of the water-hole between the young man and his old friend continued.

“So, life was wonderful and you felt positive and optimistic after coming out of that old, dark relationship?”

“Yes, until March 1999 when I crashed. Literally; I didn’t notice a small dent on the cycle track as I headed home on my roller blades at dusk. Falling backwards, I kicked my left knee with my right skate and fractured the top of my tibia.

As I lay on a bridge over the river Maas in The Netherlands, a mum, dad and two small daughters came to my aid. Their images were strange, out of focus. But here’s where my ego took center stage. They offered to call an ambulance and that kindness reminded of the pulmonary embolism that invaded my body back in 1994 after an operation to fix a torn Achilles tendon. I hesitated.

Isn’t it wonderful how the ego serves to protect? There was no way I would go to hospital despite its insistence that I should’ve been in intensive care. Laying in pain, I fought the ego and asked the family to guide me home. Surrounding a stranger with love, they helped me stand and with my left leg off the ground, wheeled me two-hundred meters to our door. I never saw them again but can’t shake the feeling they were meant to be there on that unusually warm spring evening.

I went to the hospital the next day after a sleepless night and left with a hip to toe cast with a six-week prescription. I’d had countless sporting injuries before and was slightly happy with this one because work paid me to recover at home with my amazing family and their unfaltering love and light.

Then darkness fell. I didn’t recover as expected and by the time our second son arrived seventeen months later, I was sitting in a wheelchair. A doctor told us to expect no recovery or exit from the wheelchair, and only high doses of opiates would manage the pain. I felt like an outsider to this world, looking in from a distance while our infants grew into toddlers, started school . . .didn’t understand what was happening. The medication placed an uncomfortable blanket over the pain, made me weak and vulnerable. The ego ran riot; everything was about me. I tuned inward into a hostile environment, rarely and only briefly would my true self pop up for air.

My family shared their unconditional love our friends rallied, and during one of those clean air moments, I knew the doctor wasn’t right. My soul shouted and for once I heard the distant wake-up call. But, many more dark days followed, my pay went to half and after twelve months down to zero and we were forced back to the UK. The most painful decision we ever had to make.

Even though we had a second daughter by this time, the world felt like a very exclusive place and I wasn’t a member of the club. Not to mention the pain my partner and our eldest daughter felt. That scared me most of all and silent tears, kept hidden from view, tumbled in frustration and, dare I say it? Self-pity; it was all my fault. There was no bigger picture; I loved my partner and our children but had no love for myself. On the scale of 0 to 100, I vibrated below 20.

The medication wasn’t working, the treatments failed, I developed migraine headaches and with this came more medication. A physiotherapist refused to treat me because I was too sensitive, the pain was too great. Go to this clinic, go to that, no time in the day to do anything but respond to the pain.

A grumpy old man, under forty-five. A leading neurology professor in the UK couldn’t find a cure. Why would he? Nobody could. I was a lost cause living under my blanket of darkness and negativity, surrounded by the love of my family.

Occasionally positive distractions fell into my lap and learning took place. I recognized fifteen years ago where I needed to be today, but health, psychological setbacks and medical interventions and misleading diagnoses kept popping up. Each time they did, new learning took place, and I grew. The light beckoned once more; it had only asked that I consider a few things; including what it felt like to be told that I had MS which was later disproved by one doctor, reasserted by another and disputed by me.

Something odd happened in 2005 when we managed a five-week road trip to the south of France from our home in the north of England. A long trip, over 1400 kilometers each way and, it should have been outside my reach. Regardless of the pain determination became a strong ally. The further south we traveled the lower the pain became. There was no logic to this; it was just the way it was, and I didn’t stop to question the accompanying light.

We bounced back and forth every summer for the next eight years. I looked forward to the respite the holidays brought to the painful existence I suffered during the rest of the year. It didn’t seem logical but deep-down, it didn’t matter.

Most of all, the light forced me back to events before 1995. A theme that festered on my mind. Something, and please don’t ask me to explain, told me to forgive myself for what I became. Also, to forgive the other for allowing her to lead and be led by me into that place of pain and misery buried beneath excuses. It’s strange to think I worked in a caring profession but didn’t do such a great job of caring for myself.

That relationship wasn’t the only debt I needed to pay. Thoughts of constructs in my mind embedded long ago danced their dark tangos. Ask for forgiveness, forgive, move on became a mantra as childhood models of reality crumbled, no longer reality, serving nothing. Was this karmic debt demanding repayment? Surely not all this pain if there’s such a thing as Divine love? I asked for forgiveness, forgave, moved on. I visualized the source of my memories, went face to face with confusion, pain and doubt.

There was another subtle shift too. I took treatments, took the love my family unconditionally gave, until one day I realised that I needed to start giving instead of taking. I became for giving and although it was a long painful process of self-analysis before I could begin to move forward. I forgave myself for the pain my selfishness had brought about in others.

Picture the most stunning sunrise you can. Now, imagine creating minds-eye views of your own painful events and confusing models of reality. Only by doing that would it be possible to ask those concerned for forgiveness and forgive everything that forced me off my divine path into an abyss.

People often say, ‘forgive and forget.’ Through doing just that, slowly things changed. Grounding myself in the present I moved forward. Drawn to writing, speaking and enabling, today, the light is infinite. I’m travelling and guided to the place of my destiny with gifts meant for sharing, not burying in a well of self-pity.

Occasionally, I caught glimpses of my personal power while I was sick, and I knew I needed to live a different life. All I needed was to stay positive and loving, focused, balanced and at peace within. Easy to say, acutely painful to achieve.

A telephone conversation with a stranger informed me I am a healer and, this wasn’t the first time I heard this. That was back in 1995. He blew away the good news though by explaining that while I could heal, I couldn’t heal myself. I believed him. The journey might have been different had I chosen to believe I can heal myself. We all can; as tough as it may seem, we have a choice. We are limitless souls with free-will living in human form.

A psychotherapist* summed up where I am today,

Spiritual work focuses more on what is intrinsically right: how we have infinite resources at the core of our nature that we can cultivate to live more expansively. If psychological work thins the clouds, spiritual work invokes the sun. *

I was in darkness rediscovered the light and despite clouds cast over my life that light never leaves. It’s where I and all of us are meant to be. The learning didn’t follow a curve, rather a series of vertical leaps and the hands of the universe never left my back.

So, if I am to sum up three things you might take away from my beautiful and continuing journey; they are these:

As dark as it may get, the light is always there. The Universe has your back.

If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anybody. Reach out for peace, love and happiness.

Trust your intuition (Divine Wise-Self); it knows what you need. Be patient, listen and pay special attention if you’re sent a wake-up call.

My experiences may have written stains on the lives of my wonderful partner and our beautiful family. I hope not, rather, I hope I will have left them lessons and a road map that shows how the choices we make can lead to a life of disruption and pain. That has been my path, not theirs although they have blessed and crossed mine. I thought everything was about me when we should follow entirely different paths. Sometimes though, our paths are intricately woven on singular threads.

I ride my mountain bike once more and ski as though the skis never left my feet. My body has healed, my spirit is no longer a shadow of its true self.

The young man took a breath and absently wiped away a tear as he turned to his friend; who had gone. He left with the sunset, reminding the young man that the sun would rise again the next day and every day after.

*Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood

Not the latest fad or new-age fashion

Mindfulness is not the latest fad or new-age fashion. It’s been around for thousands of years. The scope of this post is not to explore origins, rather, how mindfulness works and what can be done to maintain positive mindful practice.

It’s like a diet in some senses; if you don’t do it, there won’t be any benefits.

I noticed considerable argument surrounding a UK television programme on social media regarding how mindfulness can be used to alleviate problems associated with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some say it can, some say not. I wonder how many of the “not” camp reside in the pharmaceuticals industry?

So, there you go. I’ve just blown my cover. I am proudly a member of the “yes it can” camp.  But don’t forget what I said; use it or lose it!

That’s a challenge with most children, young adults and adults alike. Generally, we’re brought up not living mindfully. For the greater part of our lives, we react to events. Worrying about what we did or didn’t do in the past and about what the future will bring, or not. Doing that we lose our attachment to the present moment. One of my favourite sayings is, “life is right now, in this moment.” This is mindfulness.

It’s about noticing what is happening right now in this moment.

Having awareness of what your body senses. Feeling emotions in your body, through positive or negative sensations. Noticing what’s happening in your mind.

What happens when you start noticing these experiences?

Awareness of what’s happening around you will enable deeper focus, and attention to your own senses will develop improvement in many aspects of life.

Improved focus can advance sports, educational or musical achievements for example. Any high-achiever will tell you that. Read about how great athletes prepare for a race. It’s not just about being physically fit. Mindfulness can help reach higher examination grades too. We always do better when we pay direct attention to our life-activities.

Noticing what’s happening around you, can help you to calm down when you’re sad, angry or frustrated. Mindfulness helps you deal with difficult emotions and can lift a dark mood. It can even assist recovery from chronic illnesses or addiction. I have my own evidence for that through personal experience which you can read about or listen to elsewhere. We will come to that.

Humans are pretty good at judging and reacting too. Think about it. How often have you seen somebody dive in and take apart a person or group because of something they’ve said or done? Here’s another aspect of mindfulness; without judgement and staying neutral yet maintaining curiosity.

That sounds tricky doesn’t it? It’s not as tough as it sounds but we may be carrying some baggage from our lives that makes it seem difficult at first. Once we parcel that baggage and learn to put it into our experience boxes and move on, it’s not so difficult.

So, if I could show you the space where mindfulness resides, I would point to this great quote from Stephen R. Covey’s bestseller, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Covey talked about Viktor Frankl, a famous psychiatrist imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during WW II

“They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.” 

We all have that freedom or power to choose how we respond to any situation the moment it arises. It’s how we respond that matters.

How does mindfulness work?

When someone says something we don’t like to hear, we react. Sometimes we say something and wish to retract it as soon as it’s spoken. Or we are knocked down by the emotion caused by an event.

Mindfulness helps us create space between emotions and actions. We learn to deal with positive and negative experiences more calmly and by making better decisions.

If we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings, we respond positively and, without hurting our own or the feelings of others. Sometimes life packs hard punches. Practising mindfulness gives us the ability to recover faster and move on.

So, mindfulness works with the daily ups and downs of life and can also lead to outstanding results with major events such as chronic illness as I have proved to myself along with countless others.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave you hanging on a statement like that, but I will for now and until I get back to you, I encourage you to seek more information with an open mind. There’s plenty out there.

Additionally, I’m involved with a project called, “Courage To Connect” where you can read about part of my journey into mindful living and those of several other authors. Watch out for more information.

Peace, Love and Light,


I Changed My Name

The old man sat on a low wall at the edge of a pine forest, staring into the trees, apparently searching.

“Don’t worry about me, my young friend. Tell your story, I’m listening.”

The younger man didn’t look so sure. Such was the look of concentration on his old friends’ face. Still, he joined him on the wall and told his story.

“Pre-teens, I thought my childhood was no different to my peers. But it was, and I didn’t realize until my teenage years; why would I? Yes, a few things showed during our childhood but nothing of great note, at least nothing I understood. All that changed as I matured. My parents were not so careful with their words and I saw things myself. It’s a pity that the version of events around me originated on supposition, hearsay and even the church people followed. My inherited world view was not right, and I set about fixing it with limited tools.

My best childhood friend and his siblings lived in the dark, to thrive or not. Mum gave them no attention I ever saw, only orders to leave the house, “go out and play.” Dad was never there, he worked at British Aerospace. a respectable and well-paid place of employment. They split up and mum moved away with the children. My best friend disappeared from my life. It hurt.

I saw him again ten years later. Stood at a bar drinking alone. I didn’t recognize him at first. When I did, he had little to say except, “I’m a bin man, I collect the garbage.” I think that was true in more ways than his employment situation. He had an older sister by exactly one year. They shared the same birthday on the last day of October. Estranged from his younger brother who I remembered as the kid who always yearned for kindness. He put his arm in a wasp nest to get our attention one day. A few years later he took his life.

Where was my friend? He was the one with joy and hope in his heart. Not there at that bar with a beer in his hand. That was somebody else.

A few years earlier and a rare occasion, he invited me to dinner. We had sausages and chips. I think I was seven or eight. That meal was the best, and I was excited to tell my family all about it when I got home. Mum and nana were not impressed. I was a catholic and had eaten meat on a Friday. I sinned and would have to go to confession the next day. I didn’t understand why my friend, a protestant could eat meat and I couldn’t. That’s just the way it was.

Filled with dread at attending confession, and petrified of priests and nuns. They could sentence me to hell if they chose. “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not,” still echoes through my mind when I think about them.

Christmas day was a time of great joy. Home was like a toy store. At least until we turned thirteen when toys became new clothes. The time for play stopped, and the focus turned to the future. “What will you be when you grow up? British Aerospace pays well, and it’s a great place to work. You should aim for that. It won’t be difficult to get a mortgage on the wages they pay.”

I didn’t much like the sound of that, but I did what they said and got the dream job. I didn’t like it and after five years, I quit to go travelling. I planned to leave on the first of September and found myself homeless and living in a spare room at a friend of a friend’s house two months before the planned start of my new life. Nobody at home would speak; they said I had let them down. That was a tough pill to swallow.

A few short years before I bought the plane ticket to my freedom, late in my final year at school, I watched as a man, dead from a heart attack was carried off the train I waited to board. I can’t explain why I experienced such a wonderful explosion of light and joy as I watched. Then there was a switch. Listening to other people gossiping about how sad the situation was, I heard somebody say the mans’ name was Stephen. He was fifty years old and had worked at British Aerospace.

Following that, I insisted people called me Steve and vowed that my fate would not follow Stephen’s. No disrespect intended.

I became a volunteer youth worker. OK, I was only sixteen so, I worked with pre-teens. I loved that work and knew it would play a huge part in my future. Excited about this, I took the idea I should go to college to my parents. To prepare for a university degree. They said, “no.” I had a job at Aerospace and I would take it.

The trade union rescued me a year after I started when I became the youngest ever representative. Responsible for looking after protecting the rights of my colleagues. That didn’t go so well with the management. I was ‘advised’ to quit voluntary youth work and the union if I wanted to realise a bright future with the company.

I left to travel after my twenty-first birthday and couldn’t believe the well wishes, gifts and tears given openly by my colleagues. It still brings a lump to my throat when I think about it. What happened during my travels is another story and you know my friend that I went to university. I became a qualified community and youth worker and the first in my family to get a university degree. Even though it was not supposed to be for the likes of us.”

The old man pulled his attention away from the forest and a beautiful bright smile beamed.

“You challenged many familial models of reality that had passed through the generations and paved the way for others to follow similar paths. Look at you now, you did what people thought impossible. You have grown beyond recognition and all because you had the courage and conviction to follow your heart.

Don’t be complacent though. You never know when one of those outdated models of reality will come back into your life. Be vigilant my young friend and always follow your intuition. It knows where you need to go.

Modern Appliances

“Do you remember that scene in the kitchen at your home when you were seven years old?”

“Funny you should mention that my friend. It came in a dream a few days ago. I had forgotten it until then. Now I remember it as though it were yesterday; fifty years ago yesterday.”

“Don’t keep me waiting my young friend.”

The younger man laughed and looked back into his past to the scene featuring his mother and younger sisters. Just tall enough to lean on the ‘twin-tub’ washing machine. He stared out of the window at the blue sky and sunshine reflecting from the windows of the houses on the new estate. Mother was laying down rules, rules that would become integral to his being.

“I can’t remember those rules, but I know they are in here somewhere.” He tapped his chest. “The problem is, the world has changed and most of those rules have become obsolete. They became so many years ago and I know I deleted a few because doing so brought about conflict and ill-feeling. Mother, I’m afraid, took things personally, she didn’t see the big picture that became my life and the path I had to follow.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, my belief going to confession was an unnecessary ritual. I used to invent sins I’d committed, so I had something to offer the priest. Also, I objected going to High Mass on a Sunday. Delivered in Latin, I didn’t understand a word.”

“So, you didn’t like the church?”

“It wasn’t as simple as that. The priests and nuns frightened me; they wielded terrible power to strike me down to the depths of hell for my blasphemous thoughts. Thoughts that left an indelible stain on my soul.”

“Do you still feel that way?”

The young man laughed again, with much humour.

“No, no, far from it. I see every place of worship as a sanctuary where we can reach out to our higher selves. I know my childhood thoughts have left no permanent marks on my soul. I am as I am.”

“What are these other rules you mentioned?”

“There lies a problem. I remember adult discussions about work that no longer hold true. Debate about how life should run. You know? Get a good education, work for a local employer, get married, have children, work more, retire, die.

People still live this way because they don’t want to question the status quo. It’s not how we’re supposed to live. There is no individual blueprint globally available.”

“That’s a bold statement.”

“Perhaps, but only for those who follow the path of another rather than the path of their soul.”

“Please continue my young friend.”

“Sorry, I’m looking forward to getting back to my work. Later perhaps.

The young man walked through the light, whistling a joyful tune, sending waves of love and gratitude in his wake.

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