It is an abstract question to consider, until you are faced with a challenge.
As a coach, equipped with the science, training and practice provided through Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence program, I was feeling confident that I had built a deep reservoir of resilience. But my recent health challenge put those skills to the test!
Suddenly and unexplainably, I woke in the night with severe symptoms of vertigo. It was so severe; I could not open my eyes or move my head in the slightest without vomiting. I also experienced heart arrhythmia. These two symptoms together triggered my husband to call an ambulance. The presenting symptoms did not fit a single diagnosis, as both my head and heart were sources of concern. I spent five days in hospital and underwent a CAT scan, an MRI, an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram, two Covid tests and multiple blood tests to conclude that a cause could not be determined! I was released from the hospital with medication to manage the symptoms of vertigo. A familiar diagnosis, but there was nothing about the experience that was commonplace to me.
The first three days in hospital, I slept a lot. But when I was awake, awareness of the nausea and headache were immediately acute. Any movement of my head triggered nausea and a swirling feeling. As I lay very still in my bed, and alert, I tapped into my reservoir of resilience. The mindfulness training, I have been practicing came on-line. I put all my focus on utilizing the self-command muscle; one of the three pillars of the Positive Intelligence program.
Truth be told, if I had experienced this event a year ago, I would have woken with fear and panic about my condition. I now know that those feelings would have ramped up my physical agony. While I have never experienced vertigo with this intensity before, my relatively new habit kicked in. I began very slow and deliberate breathing. Focusing all my attention on each breath; a deep inhale and slow steady out breath. Because I was focused exclusively on my internal state, I was aware of each shift in my body. After two breaths I felt calmer and in control. The physical disturbance calmed; my body relaxed. After a few breaths I did a full body scan and acknowledged how comfortable I was in that moment. I was surprised how comfortable hospital beds can be! I recall smiling with that thought. Most notably, my breathing calmed the upset I felt in my stomach. When I was aware of a stable stomach, I thanked my body for responding so well. Along with applying exquisite attention to my breath and progressive awareness of individual body parts, I followed up with appreciation and gratitude.
This is a true story. I could not have made this up! It is also true that a year ago and for most of my life if I had been told that simple breathing and feelings of gratitude would help in the middle of a physical or emotion crisis I would have scoffed at the notion. It just sounds too simple and a bit too “woo woo”!
For three days my external world ceased to exist. I was either asleep or when conscious I focused on breathing, punctuated only by the uncomfortable interruption of blood pressure tests and temperature readings.
As the intensity of the vertigo subsided, another test of my self-command muscles surfaced– managing my thoughts. I know very well the distress that my inner voices cause me. I have spent years learning how destructive the unruly and persistent voice of criticism and fear-provoking habits of thought have impacted my belief in myself and feelings of peace. Two of my loudest inner voices are characterized by “hyper-achievement” and ‘hyper-vigilance.”
Hyper-achievement: Dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. Highly focused on external success, leading to unsustainable workaholic tendencies and loss of touch with deeper emotional and relationship needs.
Hyper-vigilance: Continuous intense anxiety about all the dangers and what could go wrong. Vigilance that can never rest.
No surprise, that as soon as I began feeling physically better a flood of thoughts demanded my attention:
· “How are things at home?” (and I knew things were not well at home, in fact my husband was dealing with multiple unusual challenges)
· “What will happen with my business?” (as a sole entrepreneur, when sick, everything comes to a stand-still)
· How long will it be for me to recover? (I had vertigo many years ago and it lasted a day or so, but I have also heard that it can last for months)
These thoughts opened a door for more extreme thoughts of personal disaster awaiting me….
I needed to call upon my self-command practice… STOP THINKING – BREATHE – APPRECIATE.
At this point I added a mantra to my breathing. As a negative thought took shape, I sensed my energy was being spilled out, leaving me weak and vulnerable. As I drew air in, I commanded the thought “bring energy back to me” and “rest and restore” on the out breath. Each time I interrupted those negative thoughts (saboteur lies) the breath and mantra returned my body and mind to a state of ease.
My Coaching Colleagues and I have been discussing the meaning of “ease and flow”. I had set out to make this year 2021 guided by those words. But what does the state of “ease and flow” mean? How does someone, who needs to get things done and be recognized as successful and at the same time one who is acutely aware of short-comings and the problems that are sure to come, experience ease and flow? There are many answers to this question, and I believe I have stumbled onto some of the meaning as I reflect on my experience with vertigo.
The “sage perspective” as described by Shirzad Chamine in his book “Positive Intelligence” and animated through the telling of the story of the “Stallion” is that everything that happens can be turned into a gift and opportunity. As someone with a hyper vigilant outlook on life, I am always doubting that there is an opportunity in tough circumstances. I have not fully unwrapped the gift of this experience, but I have recognized that I need to pace my work activities with less intensity, take mini breaks throughout the busy part of the day to notice my breathing or listen to the birds. Three weeks of not urgently completing my daily “to do” list has proven to be ok. The sky has not fallen, I am still getting important things done. The home and family challenges are resolving themselves, just fine! The concerns and worries that surfaced in the hospital are not playing out in the extreme. I am adjusting to the sensation of vertigo and feel more balanced every day.
I wanted to write about this experience and share it because I know that everyone has saboteur voices in their head and are louder and more devastating as we are impacted by the results of the Covid 19 pandemic. I believe that the timing and manifestation of my migraine and vertigo are a direct result of my management (or lack of management) of stress and ultimately the depth of my mental fitness. For those of you who have read to the end of this article you might be thinking of your own circumstances and consequences of negative thinking. I invite you to experiment with the three-step practice:
1. STOP – recognize you are having negative thoughts and let them go. Put them in a balloon and let them fly away.
2. BREATHE – for 2 minutes at a time pay exquisite attention to a physical sensation: your breath; see what is in your nearby view; hear the sounds that are far away and close; notice a scent; even taste your food.
3. APPRECIATION – direct your thoughts to acknowledge anything for which you can feel grateful. If I can feel grateful for a comfortable hospital bed, you can find something too!
Are you a skeptic, neutral, or a believer? Love to hear all your reactions!