Holiday favourites – Healing with Gold

Kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

It is a beautiful image – a broken ceramic bowl, put back together with glue of gold, so that the strands of gold weave through the bowl and it looks more beautiful than before it was broken.

In our lives, the gold we heal with is love, kindness, compassion. We sometimes come across people who seem to have a ‘beautiful soul’, who emanate kindness and strength. Usually, when we hear their story, we find out that they have been through some very difficult times in their lives. Sometimes suffering can make us bitter, cynical, disengaged from those around us. Other times, suffering can infuse our lives with qualities like love, patience, equanimity. It’s difficult to know why some people seem broken by suffering, and others are strengthened. It’s a complex interplay between our attitudes, personality, upbringing, the supports available us, the attitudes of our society to suffering, and a range of biological and neurological influences. One person might have a plethora of supports available and reject them all, while someone else might get only one brief opportunity which they grasp with both hands and use to transform their lives.

The image of the wounded healer is a person who is able to support others in their healing, because they’ve been broken and put back together themselves. When you work in the helping professions, you find that most of your colleagues have their own back story of suffering and healing. In certain shamanic cultures, the signs that someone might be called to be a shaman include – being hit by lightning, having a serious illness which nearly kills them, or having a nervous breakdown. They are broken apart and have to put themselves back together in a new, transformed way. The current shaman will support this person as they go on their healing journey, and eventually, if all goes well, that person will become the next healer of the community.

We can see the past suffering of someone as the gold which has strengthened them and made them more beautiful, rather than a shameful secret which needs to be hidden from view. It can be tempting to attempt to repair our broken lives with invisible glue, so no one will ever guess there are any cracks in us. To repair a broken bowl with gold is no doubt patient and taxing work. It’s not a matter of sticking a few pieces together and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the repair may not be successful. The bowl which has been repaired with gold does not wallow in its brokenness, but nor does it hide it. Life goes on for the bowl – it is transformed, and it has become more beautiful.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside some quiet time and reflect on what is the gold in your life which you have used to repair the cracks in you? Think of this gold as precious and healing, rather than something which needs to be hidden. How does it feel to think about healing in this way?

Anja Tanhane

Enthusiasm for life

Throughout our daily work as doctors, we see the body’s “enthusiasm for life”.

Dr Tamara Mackean, Australian Aboriginal doctor

This is a beautiful expression – the body’s ‘enthusiasm for life’. Our bodies, and also our minds, do seem to carry within them a wonderful potential for healing. Occasionally people exaggerate this internal healing potential, as when someone claims that thinking the right kind of thoughts, or uttering a particular prayer, will automatically heal someone from a serious illness. This can potentially mean that the patient doesn’t follow up on more conventional treatment, and they can become very ill or even die as a result.

Yet to dismiss our inner healing potential altogether is also misguided. As Dr Mackean goes on to say,

‘For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, healing goes beyond treating the disease. It is about working towards reclaiming a sense of balance and harmony in the physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual lives of our people, and practising our profession in a manner that upholds these multiple dimensions of Indigenous health.’

Such a holistic view of health does indeed allow us to unfold our full potential for healing – whether we’re healing from illness, past hurts and traumas, or simply the exhaustion which can come from living an overly busy life. We can become active participants in our own health and wellbeing rather than a passive patient, by making choices in our lives which allow this healing potential to flourish.

Living a busy and engaged life is good for us – but so is finding times for resting and rejuvenating. We know best what the right balance is for us, and mindfulness can be one of the ways in which we can keep touch with what our needs are, and learn to live a more balanced life.

Weekly practice idea:

Most of us probably think about our physical and psychological health, but what about our social, cultural and spiritual health? Take twenty minutes to reflect on these dimensions of health in your life, either during a meditation, or by journalling, and see what emerges.

Anja Tanhane

Feeling relaxed

Who in your life is very relaxed – it could be an Elder, a baby, a friend, perhaps a pet? In my life, I’d have to say that my cat seems most relaxed. It’s not that she doesn’t have any stress in her life. She and the neighbour’s cat don’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes she’s locked inside at night when she’d love to be outside instead, exploring and hunting. And as for visits to the vet…

Still, when she’s curled up on the couch, or under the bed on a rainy day, it’s hard not to feel more relaxed just looking at her.

I’ve met babies who seem to gaze into the world with serene eyes, and Elders who have learned, over the years, to live with an open perspective to life which doesn’t get them bogged down in every small little stressor. Just as stress can be infectious (we all feel it when someone’s having a bad day at the office), so can relaxation. I feel more relaxed just looking at my cat when she’s fast asleep, and I feel more at ease when I’m in the presence of someone who radiates calm and compassion.

Sometimes we might feel – ‘I don’t have time to be relaxed, there’s just so much to do.’ Yet even when life is busy, we can benefit from slowing down the pace a little; and we can also choose to build little ‘relaxation moments’ into our day. We might not be able to linger for an hour over our afternoon cup of coffee, but perhaps we can take three minutes to pause, breathe, and really savour the drink. If we notice our breath is becoming shallow and our shoulders are really tight, we can roll our shoulders back a few times, and say to ourselves in a kind voice, ‘breathe, relax.’ Perhaps a bird is singing outside, and we can pause for a moment in whatever we’re doing, and allow ourselves to feel nourished by the bird song. In our everyday life, there are countless of these small opportunities for building more relaxation into our lives. They may not seem like much, but over time they make a noticeable difference to how each day unfolds. It is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves – and it’s not only we who benefit, but those around us enjoy the contagious effect of being around a more relaxed person as well.

Weekly practice idea:

Choose one small relaxation practice (either one of the ones mentioned above, or a practice of your own choosing), and commit yourself to pause for this practice at least three times a day for the next week. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

Feeding the wolf of love

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the story of a wise American Indian Elder, who explained how each day she chose to feed the wolf of love. When we hear the idea expressed in those terms, it makes perfect sense to us. Yet in the rush and stress of everyday life, we can unwittingly find ourselves becoming impatient, unkind, or acting out old habitual patterns which we already know won’t bring us any happiness, let alone feed the wolf of love in our lives.

There are many reasons for this, and one of the ways in which mindfulness can be helpful is to allow us to become more aware of what in our lives pulls us away from being more loving and connected.

When we’re stressed, our thoughts and bodily sensations can move along with a strong momentum, almost as if they take on a life of their own. It can feel like we’re caught up in a compelling narrative which has its own logic, and which demands our full attention and engagement. Mindfulness is about stopping and asking ourselves – what is really going on right now? Is this current direction helpful, or unhelpful, or neutral?

Interrupting the powerful momentum of stress can be very hard to do – it’s almost like we feel it’s rude to interfere with something which is moving along so swiftly with a life of its own. Yet if we start to make a habit of regularly pausing, breathing, and tuning in, we might soon notice that we have a lot more freedom to choose the direction we want to go in. The more stressed we are, the more difficult it is to stop and pause, and at the same time, the more worthwhile the effort to do so is likely to be.

This is where a daily meditation practice can be helpful. You get into the habit of stopping on a regular basis, and noticing the benefits of doing this. After a while, a positive feedback loop is created – you become aware how good it feels to pause, and are therefore more likely to make the time to briefly pause during busy times as well.

Other opportunities for pausing and tuning into the here and now of our breath and our body can be: as we make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee; washing our hands; walking to the photocopier or the car; when we arrive home from work; between finishing one task and starting the next; or just before we start eating. It may feel a little odd at first to do this, even though the pauses don’t need to be very long. It’s worth experimenting with this technique, to see if we notice a difference in how we respond to the demands of our life. If we feel we are more patient, feel more grounded and connected, then we’re also likely to find that we are in a much better position to feed the wolf of love in our lives.

Weekly practice idea:

For the next week, decide to set aside a couple of minutes three to five times each day to pause for a moment. This can be a time to tune into your breath, how you’re feeling in your body right now, perhaps also noticing sights, sounds and smells around you. At the end of the week, review the practice and note whether you have found it helpful.

Anja Tanhane