Lessons from a Monk
Along my travels I picked up this great, little, unpublished book titled “How to be Your Own Psychologist” - it’s effectively a transcript of a Monk answering questions from Australian academics and qualified psychologists about mental health.
The Monk so eloquently highlights how little Westerners question their own minds and if they learnt to question their thoughts and perspectives then they would find more peace.
The Monk believed (I’m simplifying his teachings greatly) that the habit of just blindly accepting any thought or opinion that runs on a loop in your mind is at the root of poor mental health. The Monk answers someone’s question with a great example of 2 people looking out of the one window and seeing dark grey clouds and howling winds.
One person says to themselves “what a miserable, horrible day” - where as someone else looks outside and appreciates the weather as part of the changing seasons. Is the weather different, or is the mind and perspective between the 2 people different? Such a simple analogy right? But one we pay so little attention to.
I have been caught, of late, just accepting my mind’s stories… with little to no questioning. Can I blame sleep deprivation and the fact that between Nick and I one of us is up into the early hours of each morning rubbing Will’s feet to ease his nerve pain… possibly… but does it take extra energy to check in with the validity or usefulness of your own thoughts and perceptions… Not really.
Recently my stories have been of exhaustion and little progress. My mind continually expresses dissatisfaction with the routines we have in place and the progress we are making. My mind tells me, quite often, that things are getting harder and success is further away. My mind has convinced me that the community are tired of our story and worn out by my ramblings. I keep updates to myself in fear of tiring our followers and boring them with trivial, minor changes to Will’s body and mental state. You could say I’ve been standing looking out the window at the rain and grey clouds - stuck on what a miserable day it is.
Sometimes it takes someone giving us a different perspective, putting a different story in front of us, to make us reassess how we look at things. Today the Herald Sun ran an article on Will. It was such a positive article about Will getting back to school and being nominated for the Pride of Australia Award. But it wasn’t the article that gave me a shift in perspective - it was, in fact, the comments made by the general public (some known to us, many not) that provided me with a new line of thinking.
An old school friend commented on how well Will looked and on what a massive achievement it is for him to already be back at school. How could I have missed this? Whilst my mind has been telling me over and over that things are not changing I somehow missed Will’s muscle and weight gain… I somehow missed the fact that he is back at school a couple of times a week when we were told in January that 8 months post accident would most likely see him still in hospital.
A Herald Sun reader (a nurse by profession) thought it was appropriate to point out to Will that his stupid behaviour has put him in a wheelchair forever and that his injury is permanent. Her comments incensed a group of articulate, young teenagers who jumped to Will’s defence and highlighted his achievements and resilience. How have I stopped seeing the support he is getting from his mates and the community?
Somehow I stopped having thoughts of gratefulness for the team of professionals we have pulled together who are determined to prove to people that spinal cord injury doesn’t have to be a permanent life sentence.
Another Herald Sun reader thought it was appropriate to point out that Will has had enough support and that other people should be now getting this attention and financial support. How did I forget that we are trying to create enough noise and generate enough support to change the way Australia views spinal cord injury? How did I forget that this injury can teach so many people about mindset and resilience and taking action - and that I have a voice that can help people with their own challenges?
Somehow the thoughts and opinions in my mind have stopped me focussing on the importance of pushing for people to know about Will and his story so that we can teach people, inspire people, change people - whether they are suffering from spinal cord injury or not.
Somehow I forgot that I need to keep speaking and writing so that other people can follow our lead.
Somehow I forgot that we are working towards improving the rehabilitation process and mindset towards recovery so that all people touched by spinal cord injury can benefit from our work.
My mind’s stories convinced me to be quiet and those teenagers who spoke out today reignited me and reminded me that Will and his peers and our family and our team are educated, strong willed, well supported and articulate. We have a responsibility to keep breaking the barriers that spinal cord injury throw up and keep having a voice for people who don’t have the ability to speak the way we do.
When I look out of the window the seasons are changing… some days dramatically, some days subtly… not dissimilar to Will’s body and mindset. His nomination for the Pride of Australia Award is in recognition of his courage - today’s article reminded me not only of his courage and progress but also of the courage of his friends and of his supportive community who together will help us shift the perspective of what quadriplegia means.