Healing and Self Compassion: The Long and Bumpy Road
Healing requires transformation. This kind of transformation requires self-love. I knew this well enough to call my website Mettamorphix, the double “t” in metta referring to the loving kindness to self that is necessary. Yet self-love is a skill not easy to come by, especially if one has been chronically ill and annoyed at one’s own being for the situation. As with many lessons, there is a learning curve, and even after I recovered physically from Parkinson’s, I was still often very tough on myself. When doing qigong practice I wanted to look perfect. I pushed myself into physical positions that were not advisable for someone with my skeletal structure, and paid no attention to suggestions from others, as well as the painful messages issued by my own body. Self-compassion must be a daily practice, just like qigong or gratitude. I am now careful not to shift myself unnecessarily into overdrive, and unless there is dire emergency, overdrive is usually not mandated. Yet I understand the urgency felt by people who want to heal and feel the clock ticking. This is when one most needs to be mindful of the moment. To future trip about how fast or slow the healing is progressing amounts to evaluative speculation and brings on more stress, a real deterrent to further healing.
And after several years of working with people with Parkinson’s, I have come to some generalizations. As with all generalizations, there will be exceptions, yet these observations I believe are important enough to share. And they are all somehow related to self-compassion.
First off, for those who decide to take on a daily dedicated practice of several hours, the initial returns are often quite good. Increased focus and calmness, lessening fatigue, increased energy, an improved sense of well-being are frequently reported. Sometimes simultaneously, or a little later on, physical changes are reported: more fluidity of movement, less stiffness, better facial expression, frozen shoulder improved or gone, improved handwriting and/or keyboarding, foot drag totally gone or somewhat diminished, stronger voice. Some or all of these may occur, as well as other individual signs of emerging wellness.
Often little challenges emerge during this period. For me, as I was healing, a tremor appeared and increased in my right arm/hand, especially during the practice. The tremor had begun and was very evident on the left side, and I am left-handed. Surprising, even to myself, I was not upset about this new right-sided development. For a brief moment I considered that the disease could be progressing. But that inner voice that I had begun to notice appeared and took stock. How could the disease be progressing when I was no longer fatigued, constipated, stiff, in constant pain? Furthermore, my gait, facial expression, handwriting, and so many other aspects of my life had returned to normal. I told myself that the Parkinson’s condition had to run its course, and was doing so on fast forward. It was working its way down, through, and out of my body.
As the healing progressed further, another challenge emerged. The leg tremor, which had originally abated, was increasing at times; often this was during the practice. I was used to falling forward onto my knees and the floor in the initial stages of doing the practice, but that had abated quite a while earlier. This time there was a force so strong that on several occasions I was actually somehow thrust backward and almost fell on my bottom. Also, there were a few times when lying down, my body shook intensely from the hips down. Again, after some brief confusion and perhaps a smidgen of doubt, I told myself once more that the healing was working its way down and out, that the strong chi vibration made the tremors appear stronger, but it was actually healing energy at work. (I have my own suspicions that this may have, at least in part, been the release of pent up fear.). More importantly, I suggested to myself that if my healing progressed no further, I was still far better off than before I began my qigong journey, and I was so grateful to be off meds, energized, walking normally, writing legibly, thinking clearly, and eliminating regularly. If you are aware of my story you may remember that at the time of my healing I was unaware that others had also fully healed from the Parkinson’s condition. So I was alone in my healing wilderness, but quite the happy camper.
I think this upbeat attitude came from years of being a teacher, some of that time a special education teacher. I learned to celebrate the small victories of my students, and in so doing realized that there truly are no small victories. Each improvement is a stepping stone to the next level. Each is important unto itself. Also, I was inspired by children who had to work so hard to make their bodies comply with movement and had to produce such great effort to communicate a few words or thoughts. My respect for these gentle warriors prohibited me from taking the route of self-pity and dissatisfaction. Like these champions, I would do the best I could with whatever I was given to work with.
This is an important share, as I now see that many who work so long and come so far become discouraged and dissatisfied when certain symptoms linger or intensify, even after most symptoms are gone. It is imperative here to view the glass as at least 80% full. I know the negativity often comes from the depression associated with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s. Because healing hasn’t been 100% completed, some will view their entire effort as a failure, and their self-critic will encourage this. This is far from the self-love necessary to heal.
Mindful self-compassion is one way to work on silencing the inner critic. Many of the Wisdom Healing Qigong meditational materials are helpful here. I also discovered the work of Dr. Kristen Neff, and was fortunate enough to take a class she offered at Spirit Rock. Here we were shown that the physical act of hugging oneself sets off the body chemistry needed to transform negative to positive feelings. For those who want hard data, Kristen has numbers; to learn more, visit Kristin’s website at self-compassion.org.
We need to value and encourage ourselves, in sickness and in health, as we would a beloved partner, relative, or friend. My support systems must begin with me. As I learn to appreciate myself and the good work I do, I gain confidence in my potential and that of others. I am not, and will never be perfect. But I can embrace all that I am doing well, and move forward from there. You can, too.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: I will be on the road a bit in 2016. Will have firm announcement forthcoming early in the new year.