The last few weeks were hard for me. There’s so much still going on connected to my TBI. It’s confusing. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the effects of TBI. It makes understanding and accepting what is happening to me difficult. It also illustrates how much the medical community and scientists really don’t know about the brain and how it is effected by injury. As I struggled along, I found it harder to find motivation to keep the hope and continue working on rehabilitation.
This picture illustrates a teaching story of two dogs. The dog that wins the “fight” is the one that gets fed. When I dwell on the hard times and difficulties I am experiencing, I am ”feeding” my feelings of anger and hopelessness. I feed the “bad dog.” This does not mean that I need to avoid all negative thoughts and emotions. My TBI radically changed the course of my life. It is normal to grieve and to experience frustration and anger. However, I cannot allow myself to dwell endlessly in the changes and struggles. There is a balance to be struck. While acknowledging the hurt, I also need to recognize the positive and feed those parts in my life that are good.
It is true that what we send out, we get in return. Our attitudes and behaviors influence those around us. Our thoughts describe our realities. How we experience life is influenced by the words we choose to describe our experiences. I saw an argument between two friends a few days ago. It began as a conversation. As the emotions became more heated, the words became more hurtful. Soon both of my friends were angry and the problem was going unaddressed in the emotions of the moment.
One concept of mindfulness I reflect about frequently is acceptance. It is a tricky concept. Acceptance means acknowledging reality; “it is what it is.” Emotion mind is when the emotions rule. There is little room for logical decision making. Life is about the emotions of the moment. Reasonable mind is logical and cool. When in reasonable, there is little room for emotions. Is this what acceptance strives after? No. In Star Trek, Mr. Spock works in reasonable mind. However, he misses the emotions of the moment and often finds himself baffled by the actions of those around him. He misses out on the joy as well as the sadness of emotions. Being ruled by either emotional mind or reasonable mind is not healthy.
Mindful acceptance embraces a state of “wise mind.” Wise mind is the deep knowledge of what is good and right in life. It is that moment of peace, the moment of “a-ha.” We all experience wise mind. Wise mind is the synthesis of emotional mind and reasonable mind. We are at peace with the emotions but not denying them. We are not using only logic to address life, missing on the emotions.
Acceptance, then, is a state of peace with the situation/ life. What is confusing about acceptance is what it means for life. Acceptance does not mean remaining in situations, such as abuse, that are not productive or healthy. It does not mean stagnating in the moment and not growing or changing. Change is inevitable. We either embrace it and work towards the changes we wish to see or we are swept aside and tossed about by life. Acceptance fosters change and growth. Denial wastes energy and blocks growth. For example, one problem I have as a result of my TBI is becoming overstimulated by sensory input. When I deny I become overloaded and try to “tough it out”, my ability to function is impacted. I have trouble concentrating, my speech becomes more hesitant and I have more difficulty understanding what I hear, and my mental processing is greatly slowed. Remaining in the overstimulating environment often triggers migraines. When I accept my current difficulty with overstimulation, I can apply coping skills. Perhaps putting in ear plugs to reduce sound input, or wearing my hat or sunglasses to help with light/ sight input can help. If not, I may need to remove myself to a quieter, less stimulating area. Finding a quiet area allows me to improve my function. Acceptance of the entire brain injury package is an ongoing process.
My ferrets are one of the best examples of mindfulness. Whatever activity they are involved in, they embrace fully. They don’t worry about the future or dwell on the past. A ferret in play is hilarious to watch. The ferret will literally bounce of walls in her joy. She will try something new without fear of failure. When a plan doesn’t work, she either keeps trying or puts to work another plan. She doesn’t dwell on failure or fear. Ferrets accept what they are and what is happening in the moment. One unfortunate part of having ferrets is their short life span, about 8-10 years in the United States. Ferrets get sick. One blessing they bring is even in their illnesses, they continue to embrace life. A few months ago, I lost Koda Bear to the Rainbow Bridge. Up until his final bout, Koda continued to be “Mr. Greedy,” begging and doing tricks for his favorite treats. He never let pain or fear stop him from his adventures and games with his ferret siblings. He slept more. Ferrets are wise little souls. Loving life. We can learn a lot from their wisdom.