Mindfulness in Ho Chi Minh

IMG_7861Ho Chi Minh, (Saigon as it was) is a destination where I could sense my neurons lighting up with alacrity as I observed the city street scenes embracing a culture so different from Australia with its sights, smell and sounds of Asia teasing you at every juncture.

We had visited Vietnam once before, briefly on a cruise with day visits to Ho Chin Minh and Halong Bay, which was simply not enough time appreciate the magic of Vietnam. But enough time, with two hour coach rides into and out of Ho Chin Minh, to be amazed at the Vietnamese dominance and culture of the motor scooter.

The country boasts 30 million motorbikes/scooters equating to 95% of all registered road vehicles. A first time visit to ‘Nam spins you out of our established idea of motorbike usage. Forget Australia’s sights; a drove of newly bronzed backpackers nervously steering their scooters along coast roads hanging for the promise of a cold drink at the beach, men with red bandannas and leather chaps on gleaming Harley Davidson’s ready to throttle up the Great Ocean Road or the local postie wheeling into your drive. On the Vietnamese pot-holed roads you will more than likely see Momma and three small children perched precariously behind Poppa as he weaves his way in and out of the traffic. Here too you will see all manner, shape and size of commercial commodities laced to the frame of a Suzuki with the helmeted driver barely able to see the road in front.images-3

In Ho Chin Minh city, the bikes in all weathers create orchestrated chaos, there does not seem to be any road rules at all. Scooters flow into, weave around pedestrians and cut across the line of traffic without signals or sense of fear. While we did not see any accidents the road fatalities are understandably high in Vietnam with 1200 deaths a year. In Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) you can only be amazed that there are not more accidents as the city’s 3.1 million motorbikes, like buzzing ants, fill the roads to overflowing.

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Crossing city roads was my senior equivalent of a bungee jump. My guide said walk slowly and steadily across the stream of traffic, don’t stop don’t step back just slow and steady.’ But wait there is a crossing,’ I say ‘why don’t we cross there?’ My guide smiled Yes but the same rules apply as traffic does not stop or slow. A road-crossing phobic can do two things in Ho Chi Minh – stay in the hotel for the entire time and miss out on the bounty of life of Saigon or have faith in a different culture and trust that these bikies know what they are doing. Being one of the most fearful pedestrian when it comes to crossing the road I say proudly I did it, not once but several times and came away with nary a scratch or a bump.

We took a fascinating half-day tour in Ho Chi Minh visiting the Reunification Palace, Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame, Ben Thanh Markets and the War Remnant Museum. Mia, our tour guide of Charms of Indochina Travel Company gave breath and life to the history of Vietnam. No mean feat on a hot and monsoonal day when ones mind is sluggish and body sapped with sweat. Finally we asked if she rode a motor scooter in the city. Of course, she said. ‘But the traffic,’ we say ‘is so horrendous how to do you do it?’ It is about being aware, being conscious of the intention of riders around you and allowing their progress as they allow yours. Being mindful is the key.

 Very Zen I think as I cross the road to my shiny hotel, walking steadily beaming out my mind intention of simply getting to the other side.

 

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Never Ever…

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For years the same question haunted me, ‘Who the heck am I and why am I here?’

So decade or so ago, with naïve, bravado, I began a series of serious self-development endeavours, determined to overcome self-doubts and discover the authentic ME – whoever I was, warts and all.

Which led me to joining a year-long transformational workshop that could only be described as boot camp for the soul. Ironically the marrow of the work I chose, posed an intriguing question, ‘what do you love?’ ‘What do you love’ was the starting point and compass throughout the experience of change.

My ego threw up an imposing and confusing maze of things I loved — family, friends, creativity, theatre, literature, cooking, history, cold chicken and bubble and squeak, flowers, music, romance, knitting, patchwork, watching netball, friends, puppies, beach walks, public speaking, travel, lunches out, organising anything, movies, ABC radio/TV, writing, beach walks, coffee, George Clooney and new clothes. It seemed I loved everything ….

I was in a hurry for answers as time was a-marching but I found this quote that spurred me on…..‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ George Eliot, ‘Mill on the Floss.’

I found transformational work capricious, one minute I was rutted and gutted and the next it cleared as though it never was. Gradually I began to understand that while I broadly embraced so many aspects of life, the vital and intrinsic ME is at home when I am — communicating either through the written word or public speaking as a means to serve and connect with the rest of humanity.

The first glimpse of this love and service of communicating to others happened well over seventy years ago. My family lost everything in the London blitz in World War 11. Homeless, my mother, sister and I moved drifted around England wherever a billet or bed could be found.

My constant companion was my imaginary friend Sonny; I carried him around in my father’s battered attaché case. It was an earnest relationship — I shared secrets with him that I would never tell another soul. I remember – in between air raids — telling Sonny ‘One day I will write a book and I will talk about it and people will listen to me.’

It was a momentary whim that never really saw the light of day, mugged continually by an impoverished sense of worth embedded by the wartime loss of education and deprivation.

Instead everyday life – marriage, children, bereavement, single motherhood, sickness, a new relationship, family growth and building a business in midlife with no experience and no capital — became my world.

But I was always scribbling short stories and in my working life getting my food and travel articles published by newspapers and magazines. I was contributing to a writing group and doing creative writing courses. This coupled with an eighteen-year membership of a speaking club, meant I was incubating my dream.

My writing was a hobby. Communication to a wider audience through my public speaking was a hobby. Hobbies – yes simply hobbies but somehow I never strayed — the more I wrote and communicated the more I began to hunger to be true to myself. I wrote more, communicated more to wider audiences. The more action I took the more realistic the dream became.

Today I am centred, I find joy and fulfilment in expressing myself through the written and spoken word.

I am living testament to ‘it is never too late to be what you might have been,’ I have written two non-fiction books and one fiction. And I talk.   On cruise ships. I lecture on history, culture, travel, and writing enriching guests’ travels.

Oh how I love it.

Who’d have thought that little girl’s fantasy of achieving something beyond her wildest expectations could happen?

It just goes to show that you should never ever — not ever give up on your dreams.

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What did you say?

Unknown-3Like many people of my age, I am audio challenged – my hearing loss was caused by perforated eardrums.

But I am lucky quality hearing aids correct it. Without wearing these modern day wonders, if you are downwind from me I have little chance of hearing you. But face-to-face with good articulation I am reasonably able to receive your message.

When ‘aid-less’ the occasional blurring of consonants may give rise to confusion for me and the speaker.  Like sinking becomes thinking, Thursday becomes thirsty, fifth/lift, sit/shit and so on and so on.

Being deaf can produce amusing moments, especially for others. The fact is that lampooning hearing loss is still socially acceptable unlike making fun of other disabilities.

I join in the laughter at my gaffs. Like the time, BHD (before hearing devices), my friend asked me, “how is your urine?” Wow — that is personal I thought but she was a good friend and I presumed there was a purpose to her enquiry. I replied, “all good just have to get up a couple of times at night.”

She grabbed my arm, “No I said how is your hearing?” mouthing the words carefully and deliberately.

Hearing devices amplify sounds so in most situations they work well but in excessively Unknown-2noisy situations like a shopping centre, they simply swell the peripheral noise.

Most hearing loss adults over time have learned to read people’s lips and I am no exception. I cannot read people’s chatting lips from a distance. I need them in front of me where I follow their lips, eyebrow lifts, chin thrusts and body language to interpret the message as accurately as possible.

Sadly there is a stigma attached to deafness, people see it as being ‘old,’ ‘slow,’ ‘rude’ or ‘stupid.’ The broad sweep of ageism that society conveniently attaches to the aberrations of growing older.

And it is a condition that most frequently affects the older generation (65 and over) with one in three people in the US and one in six in Australia experiencing a hearing loss.

Steps you can take to manage adult hearing loss positively:

  • Acceptance – once you accept the limitations of loss of hearing you can manage it more effectively
  • Focus on doing things that you love
  • Get a good audiologist’s advice when investing in quality hearing devices
  • Own up to your deafness with family, friends and colleagues – tell them how they can help you
  • Keep socially active
  • Keep physically active

Risks of listening to excessively loud music

There are various factors that cause adult deafness but one that is on the horizon and growing rapidly in risk is exposure to loud noises. Society has been aware since the ‘50s that industrial noise can cause damage and we have taken precautions in the form of legislation to protect workers. But no legislation is in place to protect our young who like to listen to their music on their phones and iPods at a dangerously high level. It seems loud music driven into ears by those pesky ear-buds can be the same decibel level (110) as a jumbo jet taking off! Fifteen minutes of listening at this decibel level will damage the ears.

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The World Health Organisation back in 2015 warned nearly half of young adults – between the ages of 12 – 35 are exposing themselves to dangerously loud noise level and that more than one billion teens and young adults are at risk of losing their hearing.

Hearing loss caused by constant exposure to loud music is something we can prevent. Like any other medical condition prevention is the key:

• Use headphones rather than ear-buds.
• Use earplugs at nightclubs or loud pop concerts.
• Turn the volume down.

Hearing loss is not fun. While people may smile and josh as you laugh at their hearing bloopers, the truth is hearing loss impacts on the quality of work and social life. Your frustration in being with them is nothing compared to the isolation they feel without their hearing devices.

Rosie Malezer author of “How to be Deaf” wrote, “Your hearing status doesn’t make you a better person. Your humanity does.”

And with the rising tide of adult deafness predicted this is how you can show your humanity:

  • Talk directly to the person.
  • Don’t turn your head, especially downwards where your voice will disappear.
  • Articulate purposefully, as in ‘a,’ ’e,’i,’ ’o,’ ’u.’
  • Speak more slowly, not necessarily more loudly but more clearly
  • Understand that most will have learned to lip read to a certain extent so don’t put your back to the sun with the person in front of you – they will not be able to see you clearly to do so.
  • Avoid venues where clatter and chatter override a deep and meaningful conversation
  • Above all be patient

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Great-fully-Grateful

gratitudeIn my book A Journey of Creative Healing, I write that half a century ago my Aunty G’ advised me to ‘always seek the silver lining in any situation.’
Finding the silver lining is one of the six steps that enabled me to return to full health. Today we know it as a practice of gratitude.
Back in the early 1960’s, the double wammy of grief and illness – death of my husband and the diagnosis of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis — made it unbelievably hard to be grateful. I was numb, I felt like I was in a dark cave, people’s voices came from afar and even the most effective circuit breaker like a smile or chuckle from my children did not reach me.

 Grief is a Process

 But now I see that those fearful dark days did have the nub of silver within. The long months of emotional hibernation had to happen to enable me to process the enormity of trauma and loss. The loss of my champion: our life together as I knew it, and as my sickness gripped harder, the dependence on others for my life.
The biblical metaphor of ‘death’s dark valley,’ fits the lonely dark space that had to be traversed, so change could occur.
As I emerged onto the gentler slopes of acceptance I started to appreciate the smallest things in life. I remember one morning hearing the birds sing, it had been long since I had heard their melodic call. As I listened and delighted in the bird’s song, I became aware of the blue-blueness of the sky. Life was no longer grey.

Determined Practice of Gratitude

Gratitude became a determined practice. I looked for it constantly. I pushed past other emotions like anger and confusion to find it. It became easier and easier to identify and expand that feeling of joy. And becoming more grateful with every passing day, I lost sight of things I lacked.
Scientific studies show how the practice of gratitude improves physical and psychological health, and it allows people to form stronger relationships and become more resilient.
I still practice gratitude today. But I do not say out loud ‘I am grateful for…..’ I do not keep a journal, or lie in bed at night and push myself to list three things that day that gave me a sense of gratitude. It is more a habit of awareness, being present in the pleasure and stretching the feeling so the warmth floods through my body.

I love ………

I love sun-kissed clean sheets on my bed, a garden tended with passion and dedication, a slow dance with my husband and singing loudly, a little off-key, in the shower – ‘I am still standing ……Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid, I’m still standing after all this time ……… ‘

Come on share with me,  what makes you grateful?

How Open Are You to Possibilities?

I saw a post recently that dumbed down someone’s healing from multiple sclerosis. Several people posted to the effect that the person had been misdiagnosed and the assumption being that his beliefs in being ‘healed’ had no real foundation.
 IMG_4972When I was a young bride in the early ’60’s and a new mother I had episodes of muscle weakness, paralysis, impaired vision, headaches and painful nerve twitching for nearly five years.  This was put down to severe morning sickness, having two babies close together – exhaustion and in pregnancy  – the babies’ lying on the nerve’.  50 years ago there was no MRI, so sophisticated tools for diagnosing MS save a rubber mallet and a pin.  They basically went on the past history and presenting symptoms.  When I was diagnosed my random symptoms like pendulum waves created the perfect event for the first and second opinions of what they called back then ‘aggressive’ MS and that I would be wheelchair bound within a very short time.
But I recovered – full health – and have been in remission for 54 years.  Yes, of course, it could have been a misdiagnosis – but consider that at the time it was extremely difficult to diagnose with the tools available to neurologists.  They would have needed to have the strongest evidence to support their diagnosis.
Nevertheless, to me, it does not matter whether I had had a series of small strokes (as a medical friend later hypothesized) or MS. Simply  I was extremely sick.  Back then there also was no drugs, no medication to help.  Instead, I listened to my intuition and through rest, mediation and focusing a daily creative practice I came back to full health.  The only possible indicator that I had a severe illness is in my feet -peripheral neuropathy – a result of damage to nerves (or could it be simply old age?!)
The point here is what the heck does a label of a disease matter? People do recover from 18053023catastrophic illnesses, life-threatening illnesses. Read Radical Remission by Kelly Turner – visit the Radical Remission Project  FB page or website to see authenticated stories of people healing. In March I received the privilege of being Radical Remission’s Healing Story of the month – amazing being alongside so many who have returned to wellness.
Over the years I tried to tell my story to people who suffered MS but their eyes glazed over, ‘yes, but …..’ so I stopped until I could prove the steps that I had taken ticked all of the scientific boxes only then did I write my story  ‘A Journey of Creative Healing.’  Naturally, I would love you to read it,  but more importantly I want to ask – how open are you to possibilities, or still open after disappointment and disappointment in learning to live with the disease?
 I know the disease is wretched but please don’t close down to possibilities.  My story, like virtually all the stories in the Radical Remission Project records, was no ‘pick up your bed and walk’ miracle, it took time, resilience, focus and a powerful belief that I would recover from whatever ailed me.

Creative Journeys

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My parents and I on a summer holiday 1952

 

In my book A Journey of Creative Healing I tell how I believe  that committing to a creative project every day, come rain or shine, helped heal me from multiple sclerosis.

When that intuitive message came to do something creative everyday it made total sense as I had learned the joy and satisfaction of being creative from an early age.  My mother was the ultimate creative,  and an eminently kind gentle soul – I was her shadow,  I loved her beyond the widest ocean, higher than the sky and all of the tea in China!

My grandfather was a self-made man, he was an importer of coffee and dried fruits and conservative to the bone, which meant he did not believe in women working. Instead, Mummy learned to sew a fine seam, make all of her clothes and hats. She loved hats and wore clochethem well, so much so they became her signature dressing, ‘choose the hat first darling and the decision on the rest of the outfit falls into line.’

imagesWhen eventually my Grandfather gave permission for my parents to marry after seven years of ‘courting,’  in setting up her first home she rebelled against the heavily Victorian style of the house of her childhood and embraced the 1930’s cutting-edge-fashion of art deco. She was an avid collector of Clarice Cliff, the legendary ceramic artist’s pottery.  In the Blitz, we lost our home and everything in it.  Later when we lived with our grandfather, his house was hit by a V1 doodle bug and again all we had were clothes we stood in.

make do and mendMake Do & Mend’ was a government catchphrase during that time and my mother was very good at. She found a semi-detached house to rent and once again created a stylish home. There were no quarterly household item collections, there were no flea markets and furniture was scarcer than hen’s teeth with everything rationed. But she begged borrowed and made make-do-&-mend into an art form. Today’s home-stylists  would have adored her as she was the Queen of renovation.  She bought the old, tired and worn back to life;  recovering threadbare chairs and settees, French polishing scratched and dull furniture to a glowing patina and painting the house inside and out.

lampshadShe especially loved the spill of lighting from table lamps, overhead lighting was never used, and graced all of her many lamps with her hand-made pleated chiffon lampshades. She was equally at home in the garden and our small colourful blooming patches, both front and back, were the envy of neighbours.

She was a good cook, and when her father died and left her a small inheritance she set pinkup a small café. Immediately her morning and afternoon tea concept was a winner, people loved her sense of style, pink bone china for tea and for coffee, the first of its kind shatter free glass cups and saucers. Soon the market demanded luncheons and she started her day before sparrow twitter preparing, baking and cooking and achieving a regular sixty covers a day for lunch and a steady morning and afternoon trade.

She smoked, a pack of cigarettes a day, but elegantly like a glamorous heroine out of a forties film and died too young. She was a casualty of the English class system,  she identified herself as ‘upper middle class’ and fought to hang onto to this label throughout her life. Sadly if she had been asked to define herself her first priority would be ‘I am middle class, but upper middle class,’ instead of saying what a magnificent all-round nurturing Goddess that she was.

The Radical Remission Project

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Dr Kelly A. Turner

While I was researching and writing my latest book ‘A Journey of Creative Healing,’ I read  the New York Times best selling book ‘Radical Remission – Surviving Cancer against all Odds.’  The author is Dr Kelly A Turner, a researcher and psychotherapist who specializes in integrative oncology.   While Kelly was studying for her Phd she was shocked that no one was investigating cases of  unexpected survivor’s of advanced cancer,  so this became her purpose to research and identify common factors of these survivor’s cures – which she refers to as radical remissions.  The book summarises her decade of research, her thousand interviews of patients and finally identifies the nine key factors that can improve people’s chance’s of remission.

I was thrilled and amazed that most of my steps to recovery from MS mirrored those of these cancer survivor factors.

As with all the other health professionals work I feature in my book ‘A Journey of Creative Healing,’ I sought Dr Turner’s permission to use material attributed to her work. She is also the founder of the The Radical Remission Project that is dedicated to continuing research and creating a community for survivors, patients, guests, and health professionals and the Project’s mission is to collect and verify survivor stories so that these in turn may help others.  Although not a cancer survivor I was asked to document my healing from MS, over half a century ago, to add to their data.

Imagine my delight today  to find that I am The Radical Remission Healing Story of the Month.  (March 2018).

I acknowledge that some sickness is more immediately life threatening than others but I still see that sickness has the same commonality whatever diagnostic label you give it. Looking at the enormous contribution of Kelly Turner’s work and my singular, but no less effective, anecdotal story of recovery, it appears the predominant common denominators of improving your chances of  recovery to wellness are: Taking control of your health, listening and acting upon your intuition, releasing suppressed emotions, embracing social support, deepening your spiritual awareness and having a strong reason for living.

There are other factors in Kelly’s book – you need to read it – and yes in my case, the  vital icing-on-the-cake factor was to consistently put my  focus on doing something that gave me joy  – – a Daily Creative Project.