I just spent the past weekend at a silent meditation retreat which happened to be in the same place that I had my accident and on the same weekend! Amazingly, when I booked my place, the significance of the date didn’t even cross my mind, and it only became apparent to me once I arrived. It was an amazing counterpoint of this time and the other.
I drove home past the spot where I had been hit, slowing down to take it all in. I thought about all the people that had been there for me on that fateful day. The many people who stopped their cars to help, the ambulance drivers who arrived at the scene, the doctors at the hospital that pumped blood into my body, the helicopter crew who fought so hard to keep me alive.
I thought about my parents whose lives were suddenly turned upside-down, my family and friends who sat by my bed around the clock, praying for me when the doctors told them there was nothing more they could do. So many lives were changed that day.
So much of that journey has been about acceptance, not just of my circumstances, but my body also. One of the most profound lessons I have learned from the experience is that I am not my body, but that hasn’t come without an enormous struggle as I tried to adjust to a life with disability.
I am so blessed that I was able to walk again, and my limp is a constant reminder of how far I have come. But that isn’t the only reminder I have been left with.
Spinal cord injury isn’t just about walking again, its all the hidden aspects that most people are unaware of. Bladder and bowel dysfunction, recurrent urinary infections, loss of feeling, pressure sores, sexual problems, chronic pain, depression...to name a few. It touches every part of your life, and it takes enormous skills of resilience to live with the effects.
These were the parts of my accident that I struggled with and even though I have become a bit of an expert at using a catheter, I always hated using it and this was the part of me that I found difficult to accept.
It was a chance meeting many years ago in a small country town in Australia that changed my attitude towards my catheter and my body, and taught me so much about the process of acceptance.
After my talk, I was busy signing books and chatting to everyone. This was always the part that I loved, hearing other people’s stories. One lady told me that she had come along especially to hear me talk as her daughter had a similar accident to mine. She had been an athlete and her accident had changed her life dramatically. Someone had given her my books to read after her accident and she had come along to meet me.
She was a beautiful looking young girl with a beaming smile. While we chatted, she told me about her injuries, and her level of recovery. Although she was able to walk again with a stick, like me, she too had to use a catheter.
Her accident has impacted her life in many ways, one of which was that she was now working with young people with disabilities, which she loved. As we chatted about our journey, and our catheters, we even managed to laugh about having to carry bags big enough to carry all of the paraphernalia we needed!
When I asked her how she was coping with it on a more personal level, I was taken aback by her response.
“I love it!” she declared,” I’m working with young kids with all sorts of disabilities and my catheter connects me to them. If I didn’t have it, I would never be able to relate to them.”
Wow, I thought, what an amazing, and inspiring young girl!
She was right; I know that my catheter has given me perspective about life and what is truly important, and I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. It has allowed me to cultivate compassion and kept my heart open to the suffering of others. The gifts it has given me far outweigh the inconvenience.
So often in life it’s the things we hate, or dislike that are our greatest teachers. My catheter is part of my life, and irrespective of whether I liked it or not, I decided to stop arguing with reality and love that part of me too.
And I continue to remind myself that life is not about having it all, it is about loving it all!
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, one of the things I love most about what I do is that I get to meet the most amazing people in my travels on the speaking circuit.
The venue for the conference that I had been speaking at was a few hours drive south of Melbourne airport. There had been a mix up with the booking for the return transport and the car that was due to pick me up didn’t show up. As a last resort, the organisers called a taxi so that I wouldn’t miss my flight back to Sydney.
When the taxi pulled into the driveway I jumped in the back and threw my bag on the seat next to me.
I glanced up at the driver and noticed that he was wearing a turban of some sort, and a tunic that accentuated his long beard and dark skin. I politely said hello and settled into my seat for the long drive to the airport.
The road was clear and we making good time. However, as we approached the city we hit heavy traffic and the trip began to slow down. I noticed my driver was fiddling with a set of beads that he kept rubbing continuously as he drove. I looked up to see the bumper in front of us looming dangerously closer.
“Watch out” I yelled.
He slammed on the brakes, only just missing the car in front.
“Oh, I’m sorry” he said apologetically.
I was pretty sure that he had fallen asleep, which made me feel a little nervous!
“I hope you don’t mind, but what are those beads for?” I asked. I thought it was in my best interests to start a conversation so he would put the beads down.
“Oh, they are my prayer beads” he said, “I use them for meditation”
He explained to me that he was a Sikh and that he had moved to Australia with his wife and children many years ago. I was fascinated by what he told me, especially the details of his religion, and we started chatting about all sorts of philosophical issues.
We talked endlessly and he began to open up in a way that really surprised me. It crossed my mind that this was a man who couldn’t have been more different to me and certainly someone with whom I would normally associate. We just travelled in different circles.
However, as our journey continued, I realised that the differences I perceived to be in our lives were only superficial, and in fact, we had more in common than we could ever have realised.
He told me that he had recently separated from his wife and how heartbroken he was. I shared with him that my husband and I had also parted ways and like him, it had been an incredibly painful time in my life.
What had begun as a simple taxi ride to the airport with two strangers had turned into an intimate and heartfelt conversation between two friends.
At one point, I asked him what he thought of other spiritual beliefs or traditions. As we veered off to the final road to the airport, he pointed out the window at the buses and motorbikes that travelled alongside us.
“You see the others next to us?” he said, “some of them are going faster, and some of them are slower. We are all going to the airport and we will all arrive at a different time, but the thing we have in common is our destination. There are many ways, but one path.”
We parted ways at the airport and wished each other well. It had been an unexpected blessing to share the journey with him and his words of wisdom remain with me to this day.
He opened my eyes and my heart, reminding me that that there are many ways to get close to God and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way.
On one level, we are all different. We come from different backgrounds, we dress differently and therefore it is appropriate that we have different religions or spiritual paths which honour that.
However, even though our theology may be suited to a particular way of life, there is a universal experience of love that is common to all.
I can only ponder how much better the world would all be if we could all embrace the same attitude of love and tolerance that my taxi driver shared with me that day.
For me, it is in the beautiful l words of the mystic poet Hafiz, who captures this experience so perfectly…
I Have Learned So much from God
That I can no longer Call Myself
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself With me
That I can no longer call Myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure Soul.
Love has Befriended Hafiz so
Completely It has turned to ash
And freed Me Of every concept and
Image my mind has ever known.
There is an ancient Zen story that goes like this…
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Sometimes our own lives are too complicated for us to see the real value in an experience. It is the old…can’t see the forest for the trees syndrome, and only when we step out of our own ‘story’, can we see the universal theme, or lesson, that is inherent in our personal circumstances. These beautiful and delightful Zen stories carry a short and simple message that, if taken wisely, can be used in our own lives.
This story reminds me that no experience is either good or bad. It’s never either, always both. We can never have the whole story, and it is best to wait and see how things unfold rather than rushing in to make a judgement, which is often a waste of our energy.
Since my TEDx talk was featured on the main TED site, I have received so many wonderful and inspiring emails. From the Himalayas, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a small village in the middle of Columbia. Amazing! For me, it seems that the world has just become so much smaller and it reminds me of how connected we all are. In fact, connected by millions and millions of straws!
There is one email I received that had a profound effect on me. Although I don’t normally share such letters or emails, this is one exception I am going to make. It came from India and sent to me via a training company called Golden Inspirations, who featured my TEDx talk on their website. They were asked to forward it to me. ( I did get permission to share it first.)
The email was headed by the subject; YOUR VIDEO SAVED A LIFE. It began like this…
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful clipping. I would like the team to know that I am fighting an ailment for the past 19 years now and it has affected my day-to-day life. It has become so bad that for the past FEW WEEKS I AM CONTEMPLATING “SUICIDE”. But today after seeing and listening to Janine I got a new ray of hope. Pray I succeed too. My journey begins NOW.
Thanks Janine for your inspiring touching story about how you FIXED your broken body. You did try to keep it as witty as you could but Dear tears were rolling down my eyes all along.”KUDOS” to you. You are an inspiration. GOD bless you. Fly high always and you sure do “TOUCH THE SKY WITH GLORY!!!”
If my talk has saved just one life, then I have been truly blessed. So please, if you know anyone who is struggling right now, and in need of some inspiration and hope, please share my talk with them. You never know, it might make a difference in their life too.
We often define ourselves by things that are ‘outside’ us: relationships, work, family — even our own bodies. But what would it mean to have your life dramatically altered and your body irrevocably damaged? Who would you be then? This talk explores the impact of loss on the human psyche and the universal quest to find meaning and fulfillment. It is only through the process of losing everything we thought we needed, that we find who we truly are.
I arrived home last week from the USA where I was speaking at my first TED event…TEDxKC. It was an absolutely awesome experience and I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to share my story and ideas with such a warm and responsive audience.
The venue was the newly inaugurated Kauffman center for performing arts, which is a stunning and beautiful building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. At first glance it reminded me of the Sydney Opera House which I thought was a perfect connection for me.
The day before our performance, I was taken through the building and shown to my dressing room. Wow! My own dressing room…I couldn’t believe it. Complete with bathroom, couch and a huge mirror framed by lights just like you see in the movies. I even had my name outside the door!
So just to give everyone at home and inside glimpse of backstage at TEDxKC, I made a short video of my dressing room which I have posted below.
The link for my talk will be up in a few days which I will post for all who missed the livestream.
I will be sharing more on my TED experience when the link is up so stay tuned!
I recently filmed a short video for my application to speak at the National TED conference in California in 2013. I have called my talk, “I am not my body” and if selected for an audition, I will be expanding on the topic at a presentation on the 27th May in Sydney. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to share my insights with a larger audience. I will keep you posted!
Only 7 days to go until my latest book, The Gift of Acceptance, is available in book shops around Australia!
TGOA is published by Allen and Unwin under their inspired living imprint and I am so excited to share a more intimate part of my journey with everyone in this book.
It was great to be able to take some advance copies to the USA a few weeks ago, where I was speaking at the Chopra Centre’s SynchroDestiny course. I ran out of books and unfortunately it isn’t available there yet, but I am working on that!
For those interested in meeting up with me and hearing more about TGOA, I will be appearing at the following locations:
The Bookshop, Bowral – 6pm March 15
Dean Swift Books, Nowra – 11am March 16
Harbour Bookshop, Ulladulla – 3pm March 16
Brown’s Books, Bateman’s Bay – 11.30am March 17
I will also be appearing on the following radio programs, ( I will post exact times beforehand)
[National] ABC Radio National Life Matters – interview (Feb 27)
[NSW/QLD] 2SM Weekends – interview (Feb 29)
[WA] 6PR Nightline with Graham Mabury – interview (Feb 29)
[WA] Curtin FM – interview (Feb 28)
We are also working on Tasmania and Perth and I will add to this list as we get closer to the date!
If you are interested in me visiting your area you can contact my publicist, Anna Haywood, at Allen and Unwin. I know she would love to hear from you!
In a few weeks I will be heading over to the USA to join the final SynchroDestiny course at the Chopra centre in Carlsbad, California. I attended the course four years ago in Portland, Oregon, and it was a magical experience.
I set my intention at that time that I would one day come back and speak at a Chopra event. In perfect timing, the universe conspired around this and now, in 2012, I am giving my keynote presentation and sharing my life story with everyone there.
This will be my first speaking engagement in the USA and I am really looking forward to it! I will also be doing a book signing and may even have a few copies of my new book, The Gift of Acceptance, to give away. ( It is due for release in Australia at the end of February )
Spaces are limited, so if you are ready for a life-changing experience make sure you reserve your spot and I will see you there!
At SynchroDestiny, you will learn how to access your hidden potential, recognize the possibilities that are always unfolding around you, and create what you want with effortless ease. SynchroDestiny will give you the tools and inspiration to move to the next phase of success and fulfillment.
Being on the professional speaking circuit has given me so many opportunities to travel not only around my own country but to many overseas destinations as well. Last year, in the space of a few short months, I have traveled to Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand, the USA and France.
While in Singapore I was presenting a keynote presentation and workshop to a group of medical professionals from India. “Do you change your presentation for a non-English speaking audience?” a friend asked before I left. “Not at all” I explained, “I will speak a bit more slowly, but as far as the message goes….it is universal.”
However, it was in Singapore that I was going to learn one of my greatest lessons in a profound way, that it is never too late to start life over again.
Arriving at the airport, I was met by Ali, my host. He would be looking after me during my four day stay, he said, as well as my private driver, Peter. They would be at my disposal to take me wherever I needed to go in Singapore, whether it be sightseeing or shopping. When I travel, I am so used to looking after myself, that I was grateful for this gesture of friendship.
I spent four wonderful days with Ali and Peter. They took me to a large shopping centre as I needed a new computer and made sure I got a real bargain. We went sightseeing and visited the iconic Shangra-la where I tasted my first Singapore sling, shelled peanuts and also indulged in the famous, ‘High tea’, something not to be missed when visiting Singapore!
The presentation was a success and I finally packed my bag to head for the airport and back to Australia. Sitting in the back of the limo with Ali, I thought he was joking when he suggested I write a book about Peter’s life. “He has an amazing story” he said, “It would make a great book.” I was amazed and enthralled by the story he told me.
Peter had been a member of the secret service in Singapore, dealing in drugs and the underworld, where survival became man against man. He became involved from the age of 15 and when finally caught and convicted, spent 15 years behind bars.
Peter told me that he would have got the death penalty instead of time had his father had not been a member of the police.
I was shocked to hear of his ‘other’ life, and the things he was made to do as initiation into the secret society. All I could do was listen in disbelief that this gentle man I had spent the past four days with could really have led a life that was so violent.
When I asked him how he managed to turn his life around, he explained that he simply fell in love. “I have a young daughter now, he said, “and every day I go to work, I kiss her goodbye and know I have to come home to her.”
My mind raced, “Ali, how did your company ever have the trust to hire Peter after such a notorious history?” I asked, knowing it must have been such a difficult path for all involved.
“Well, in Singapore, we believe everybody deserves a second chance,” he answered.
Wow, I thought, what a wonderful lesson in forgiveness, acceptance and trust.
With that, I noticed that Peter was playing with some beads around his wrist; I asked him what they were. He explained that they were his prayer beads, the same ones he wore in jail and when he was in the secret society.
“Ali, can we stop at the markets on the way to the airport so I can buy some?” I asked.
Peter didn’t hesitate; he pulled the beads from around his wrist and passed them to me. “Oh Peter, I can’t take your beads.”
“In Buddhism, we believe it is good to give something away.” he explained, ” it is the cycle of life.”
I now wear those very beads, worn by this man, as a reminder that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves a second chance…and that it is never too late to start over and create a new future.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson