Over the summer I read a wonderfully inspiring book written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Thinking about that 360 degree approach to health I talked about last week I wanted to share some of the tips I found so helpful. When patients come to me there is very often a long history of ill health or difficulties and I know that some people have very sad stories and real struggles in their life which have led them to poor health. I know that healing can be a long difficult journey and that in life we can all have times when challenges can cause stress or sadness.
Approaching health in a holistic way means we need to think about this when we are creating treatment plans and indeed the science backs up what many physicians have known for years, that the mind can have powerful effects on the body. We know that when we are under stress, or suffering from anxiety, it slows down our digestion, weakens our immune system, can damage our heart and circulation, and can make us feel irritable, tired and lethargic.
However, life can be difficult and stress is unavoidable. I picked up this book hoping it would help me to be able to offer advice or tips for patients that are struggling with difficulties and it turned out to be a truly wonderful and inspiring read which I couldn’t put down. Heartfelt and humorous, these spiritual leaders share really helpful tips that we could all use.
Let’s look at what they were talking about. They were trying to answer the question of why we as humans suffer? A complex question and through the book they discuss the obstacles to joy which are common to all of us – fear, frustration and anger, sadness and grief, despair, loneliness, envy and illness.
They also talk about the eight pillars of Joy: humility, humour, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, generosity and the starting point of all growth – acceptance.
This was perhaps my favourite chapter as acceptance can be such a challenging thing, even when we know it would be helpful to us. Acceptance is, it should be pointed out, is the opposite of resignation and defeat, and is not the same as being passive. The Archbishop states:
‘We are meant to live in joy… this does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin…. The question is not, ‘how do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?’
The Dalai Lama teaches us that stress and anxiety come from our expectations of how life should be: ‘When we are able to accept that life is how it is, not as we think it should be, we are able to ease the ride, to go from bumpy axle (dukkha) with all its suffering, stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction, to the smooth axle (sukha), with its greater ease, comfort and happiness. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through the resistance of judgment, criticism, anxiety and denial…. it allows us to relax… and to accept the vulnerability, discomfort and anxiety of everyday life. You learn when something happens that tests you…’
And even if it’s difficult and at times I think we all feel that it can be, they teach it is worth trying and the more you try the better you get! I am certainly trying, and making slow progress!
‘Joy’ is full of wonderful gems of wisdom which has left a lasting impression on me and why I have recommended it to several patients already. With meditation practices and passages to reflect on, it is a lovely book to pick up when you need a helping hand. Here are two reflections taken from this chapter:
‘If something can be done about it,
what need is there for dejection?
And if nothing can be done about it,
what use is there for being dejected?’
Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
Or from the Serenity Prayer:
‘God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.’
Appointments can be booked at Orchard Barn Integrative Health with Dr. Sally Moorcroft…..