I say ‘would have’ as unfortunately he never lived to celebrate this milestone birthday as he died of ‘the bends’ (decompression sickness) in a scuba diving accident when he was only 32 years old.
This post is about resilience, courage and my own journey to seeking (and becoming) more of my true self.
My brother’s death taught me about impermanence – the transitory nature of life and how we can’t take it for granted as we never know how much time we will have here.
Since he died 18 years ago, my own life has taken many twists and turns. It’s seen me get married and give birth to two wonderful boys. It’s observed me face and overcome illness (several debilitating episodes of fibromyalgia and other health challenges). Then experience the grief of watching my marriage crumble, leading me to learn a huge amount about relationships, communication and grace whilst trying to salvage something that had become unworkable and was beyond repair.
Life has witnessed me move to a new home and community and have to start over, becoming a single parent of my two tiny children and watch them grow into healthy, happy and thriving boys.
Although I felt burnt out at times, it all set me on an accelerated path of self-enquiry, teaching me to focus on priorities and create a firm foundation of happiness from within in order that I could create a new, empowered future.
I also gained immense awareness and understanding through facing these real-life challenges – my marriage breakdown and health issues led me to being mentored by world-class teachers and experts to learn about mindfulness, meditation and wellbeing and how to create conscious, loving relationships and establish authentic connection and communication with others. These insights are now an integral part of my work.
It’s a well known fact that we often acquire great wisdom through facing and overcoming adversity and this has certainly been true for me.
I also helped to nurse and care for my father in the last stage of his struggle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia which lasted for four years. I felt privileged to help tend and care for him in those last frail years when he became totally dependent, yet it also felt heart-breaking, watching the man that had given me life, lose his mind and his dignity and gradually fade from life on all levels.
Witnessing my father’s dramatic decline also encouraged me to learn more about the brain and the mind to find out how we can preserve and nurture the health of both of these vital aspects of who we are – which once lost or impaired, both have a huge impact on our quality of life.
Cultivating Joy and Resilience
Through these experiences, I came to realise that sometimes we have to move through the ‘darkness’ to find and appreciate the good in our lives (just as a flower has to grow through darkness and ‘dirt’ to reach the light). I discovered that as well as the powerful learning lesson that comes through overcoming life’s challenges, sometimes there’s even a silver lining.
That’s certainly been true in my case, as everything I’ve gone through has made me stronger and more resilient. I moved to a great new community, deepened existing friendships and created new connections and relationships where I felt fully accepted for being me – flaws and all! I learned to let my guard down and become more vulnerable by sharing my feelings and asking for help and support, rather than doing everything on my own (although I’m still guilty of this at times). Experiencing ‘loss’ on so many levels led me to seek and discover the true meaning of fulfilment and how to cultivate genuine and sustainable joy and inner peace. I’ve learned to love and honour all parts of myself and accept all aspects of my life, even those that I may not have wanted to happen.
As a result, my focus in life shifted more from what I was ‘doing’ to wanting to understand who I was ‘being’. I realised that one of the main lessons in life that we come here to learn is how to ‘be’ – to work out who we truly are and who we CHOOSE to be and then to go and live our lives in a way that is in alignment with that.
To come to deeply know ourselves and root our actions and choices in love and wholeness. It’s a powerful message that I bring through into my work with clients.
We can’t find lasting happiness and satisfaction ‘out there’ – it all has to start as an inside job and we have to cultivate a strong inner foundation within ourselves first.
This means that despite the inevitable changes in the external circumstances of our lives, we have that solid ‘come from’ to return to and can feel whole and peaceful from within, no matter what happens.
Living From The Inside-Out
In my own life, I’ve been working on that ‘inside job’ for the past 30 years… It’s no coincidence that one of my passions and a key part of my current work involves training and coaching others in the area of mindset and beliefs and demonstrating how our mindset permeates every aspect of life.
This interest stemmed from my own childhood experiences where I felt mainly valued by my family for what I looked like and what I achieved, rather than just for being me – a classic combination of early conditioning that can create perfectionism, limiting beliefs and a fixed mindset. When children are taught that love and self-worth are based on external approval, they then avoid certain situations where they might fail or engage in a relentless quest for perfection, rather than risk losing this approval.
Fortunately this fixed mindset didn’t affect every area of my life as I have an adventurous soul and love learning. However, it did mean that during my teenage years and early twenties, that despite enjoying academic, social and professional success, I still struggled at an inner level to know who I was and why I was here and to have a deep sense of my own self-worth. At some level, there was always a sense that I wasn’t good enough or I was flawed in some way which created a feeling of inner anxiety. It resulted in a decade-long eating disorder where my dysfunctional relationship with food and inner disquiet was all-consuming behind the scenes of my ‘public’ persona and life.
Thankfully, I made an amazing recovery when I moved abroad at 25 to work as an Adventure Tour Leader. Living and working in a number of different cultures (Egypt, India and Europe) was very refreshing – there was less emphasis on appearance and ‘external’ measures of success and I felt deeply valued for who I was as a person, not just for what I looked like or what I did. Additionally, my job and the unfamiliar environment involved stretching myself beyond my ‘comfort zone’ every single day so I really was embracing and using a growth mindset!
The physical nature of my work (leading small groups of up to 20 people on cultural, adventure and hiking tours) also required me to be present to what was arising and have to deal with it ‘in the moment’ which was another factor that helped me to quickly come back into a healthy and healed relationship with myself, my body and food.
The result was that my appetite for food and life changed – living in those rich and ancient cultures, where I was often immersed in nature and experiencing a more ‘primitive’ way of living had helped me gain clarity about what really matters.
My new craving was to live a life where I could feel authentic and ‘whole’. I’d healed my relationship with my body and food and was no longer using anything to numb myself out with emotionally but instead, those experiences fuelled an insatiable quest to find and live my purpose and to learn more about the mind-body-spirit connection that exists within all of us.
This began an in-depth journey of personal enquiry and extensive studies and training into health, happiness and wellbeing, which still continues to this day.
Loss and Illness
This returns me back to my reflections about my brother. Often when we lose someone, it’s not just the person that we mourn, but also our relationship to them and the aspect of ourselves that dies with them.
Shortly before he died, I lived with my brother for several months, while completing my Masters Degree. It was during that time that I developed fibromyalgia (a chronic condition causing extreme muscular pain and fatigue) which at one point threatened to compromise (or end) my promising career.
I saw a lot of consultants and specialists and tried (and trained in) multiple treatments and wellbeing and healing modalities to get better and as a result I did overcome my illness. I’ve had a few flare-ups since but each time I’ve managed to recover. Even though it’s a chronic condition, I now KNOW that my body can get better and the pain and symptoms are temporary and usually a sign of my body’s wisdom telling me to slow down and change how I’m viewing or responding to life in some way. These experiences also helped me to fine tune my intuition and instinct which helps to guide my decision-making.
I also believe I was able to recover as I made a conscious choice not to identify with or be ‘defined by’ an illness and it encouraged me to delve even deeper into my quest for wellbeing and heal whatever within me had made me susceptible to the condition in the first place.
I still miss my brother dearly, even though he’s been gone many years. We were very close and he encouraged me in my life and career and supported me through many of the difficult times during my younger years. After his death, I realised the silver lining from my own illness – as it allowed me to spend some extra precious months living with him while I recovered. Even though 18 years have passed, I still miss his warmth, friendship and humour and also feel sad that my sons missed out on knowing him as an Uncle and having him as a significant male mentor in their life.
Asking Powerful Questions
When facing these challenging times of grief and difficulty in my life, I’ve found it helpful to ask powerful questions so that I could focus on what mattered and then make a conscious choice to let go of the rest.
This has meant cultivating faith in the unknown – often surrendering the need to ‘control’ an outcome and learning to trust that the universe has a bigger plan for me. To understand that I am at choice in terms of how I respond to things and how I create my world and my reality and it’s how I am ‘being’ in the world that determines and influences how I experience life and what it brings to me. This helps me to focus on attracting the things that I DO want into my life, rather than what I don’t want!
Questions that I keep asking myself include:
– Is this who I am?
– Is this who I choose to be?
– What’s my purpose for being here?
– What’s important to me?
– What do I intend to do about that?
Shining this powerful torch on myself and seeking the meaning behind why I’m here and why I’ve experienced what I’ve experienced led me to find my own answers and uncover what’s true for me.
It’s encouraged me to be courageous and share what I’ve learned with others and make a decision to be accountable – to act with integrity and serve powerfully in the world through my choices, words and actions.
Asking these questions means we get to be REAL and authentic and start to have laser focus on why we are here living this one precious life. To take the decision to make our life and our time here really count. Not to fritter it away or squander who we are and what we came here to do.
Practising Gratitude and Awareness
Even in those bleakest moments, I’ve always found plenty to be grateful for – whether that was a cuddle from my sons and cherishing the wonderful gift of being a parent, or the thoughtful care of a nurse and all the hospital team who diligently served my father. Or the daily awe and wonder that I get from observing nature – even if that’s glancing out of my window as I’m working and watching the kaleidoscope of weather patterns occurring – it’s just about practising awareness and to keep coming back to this moment and remembering that I have a choice about who I want to be and how I want to be.
This wasn’t meant to be such a long or personal post! But it’s ended up touching on a lot of themes that are important to me. Hopefully from reading my reflections, it may allow you to pause and feel into where you are, who you are being and what you are grateful for in your own life.
If you’d like help with your own path of self-enquiry – or to have support in building more courage, capability and resilience in your life, you can find out more about working with me in our Coaching and Mentoring, Consultancy Services and Training and Development pages.
My ‘take-aways’ for you and main learning points from my experiences:
– Be present to ‘what is’ and ‘what’s arising’. In times of difficulty and grief, it’s important to honour and acknowledge your feelings (see my post about Rumi’s poem ‘The Guest House’ which describes this so eloquently, as well as my post ‘Finding Freedom from Painful Emotions’). It’s also helpful to adopt the perspective of observing our thoughts, rather than getting caught up in, or overly identified or attached to them. We don’t have to believe that what we are thinking is the absolute truth, as we all tend to see life through a subjective set of filters and perspectives, based on our conditioning, our past experiences and our personal histories.
– It may be useful to learn about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous work on the 5 Stages of Grief which outlines the different stages of grief that we may have to go through to varying degrees whenever there is an ending or change in our life. These five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Depending upon whether the change or ending was expected or sudden, we often move backwards and forwards between these stages and they can be applicable for all sorts of endings – whether that’s a life, a relationship, a job or career or even a transition like your child leaving home or moving forwards and leaving something behind.
– When something feels painful or difficult, try to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and ‘detachment’ (as in being a ‘witness’ to it, rather than not caring about it). Practice withholding judgement and over-analysing and see if you can ‘be’ with the experience instead of resisting it. Often this softening of our stance and position about a situation creates an opening which can pave the way for something new and maybe even better to happen instead.
– In times of stress and difficulty, know that ‘this too will pass’ and there is always light shining behind the clouds. Developing a practice of pausing and taking time to go within and make an inner connection regularly can help you to slow down, take stock and feel much calmer. Try to find gratitude for what IS working and what is good in your life, despite the challenges.
– Make your life count! Don’t waste it. No matter what is happening or has happened, we are always at choice as to how we respond and how we choose to be. So try not to waste too much of your life on regrets. Make a commitment to yourself to act with integrity and speak your truth and that will help you build your courage muscle and develop greater resilience.
– Try and have some fun, no matter what’s going on in your life. Don’t isolate yourself. Often we retreat into our inner worlds and that can feel even more isolating and hopeless. Reach out to friends, take time to connect with and engage with people and share what’s going on – or work with a good coach or a professional to get support. This will help you to get through the difficult times, get stronger, feel more resilient and create new opportunities and growth – and even turn situations around for the better.
So thanks for reading and being my witness to my ‘story’ – although I find it helpful these days to live with less attachment to the ‘story’ and not overly identify with it so that it keeps me free to move forwards, rather than chained to the past. That said, I feel there’s value in sharing and talking about my past as a way of helping others and demonstrating that it is possible to create powerful transformations and cultivate happiness and peace from within and move forwards, no matter what you’ve gone through.
With love, gratitude and wishing you well on your own journey of courage, resilience and personal transformation!