How I became a Plant-based Missaghian (part two)

Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas with avocado-cilantro cream sauce from: //ohsheglows.com

 Pilot project – to eat a plant-based diet for 3 weeks.

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My love, my support, my Ramin

If it wasn’t for Ramin’s support in that first week, I’m not sure I could have made the step myself. I find cooking two kinds of meals quite tiring and the delicious smell of cooking meat has always weakened my desire to stop eating it. So Ramin’s support (and my Dad’s acceptance that I would be serving up only Vegan meals in this time) to try a plant-based diet for three weeks gave me free reign to experiment see if that desire could be strengthened into commitment. I knew Ramin wasn’t going to become Vegan, in fact I’m not even putting that pressure on myself. I can’t operate that way actually, I find if I can’t have something then that’s ALL I want! I was sure there would be a shift, but I wanted to have an experience and then reflect on long term changes, not set myself up to fail or feel guilty.

On the first day, I had breakfast with my lovely friend Yas, who was super-supportive about our plan and even treated me to a Vegan cooked breakfast – which was yummy! Ramin and I went to a Vegetarian café in Cardiff called ‘Milgis’ and had the most delicious coconut based bowl of veggies while proudly announcing to the Waitress that we were Day One Vegans!

We enjoyed soy lattes in the city and I bought the Jamie Oliver book ‘Everyday Superfood’ (many great Vegetarian and Vegan recipes in there), spending the next few days making really tasty meals – slightly complicated, but well worth the effort.

soy latte in Costa

Yummy soy latte!

We ate a plant-based diet for 16 days (As well as Jamie’s ideas, I tried recipes from the wonderful Vegan book ‘Oh She Glows’ and various internet searches) before I had a really low day accompanied by a massive chicken craving. I gave in, and we ate chicken for a few days and I did feel better physically, yet sad about eating the meat. My Vegetarian friend assured me, along with hilarious chicken-noises, that I was in the process of making a transition, and not to be too hard on myself.

The Monday after the low-point-chicken-fest came along and Ramin decided two weeks was enough, he’d still happily eat any plant-based meals I prepared but he really loves cow’s milk in his coffee and was missing meat. This was totally fine by me, in fact I find it troublesome when couples get upset about their partner’s eating choices as who are we to dictate what someone else should or shouldn’t do? I’ve come to my decision through a lot of thought and knowledge from my research and interest in this subject, but Ramin hasn’t and I’m not going to impose it on him either. He has enough to deal with having MS as it is. Also through this pilot project he ate very tasty plant-based meals and has significantly reduced the amount of meat he now eats – so he is doing really well.

Oh She Glows: //ohsheglows.com

Delicata squash salad with lemon-tahini dressing

Weird aches

I found all the milk alternatives were giving me stomach ache, and when I went back to goats milk after the two weeks these aches went away! I wondered if I was detoxing or my body was reacting to something in the long-life process of these milks (I’ve read this can be the case)… then I considered this could something to do with my female workings and nothing to do with the food? Hard to know! The aches were consistent and I had a real lack of energy as well as feeling low. Was it hormones or digestion?

At the Doctors I had an examination and found out that I have a ‘female condition’ (I’ll spare you the details) – a yeast infection caused by Candida, a type of internal fungus. Of course the GP didn’t tell me this (as most GPs in my experience (not all, Ashley and Nirvana!!) make no connection between ill health and food), but the information allowed me to research the cause and then it all made sense. No wonder I had been feeling low, with stomach aches and cravings. My body was overrun with bad bacteria! I also realised, looking back at other symptoms and female examinations, that I’ve had this condition for over a year and it could be one of the main reasons why I’ve had a lack of energy on a regular basis.

I took the GP’s medicine and I also bought a jar of strong probiotics, started taking cider vinegar (with ‘the mother’ – i.e. another form of probiotics that helps the body become alkaline) daily and have since stopped eating anything off the list that can cause the bad bacteria to grow such as white bread tortillas, sugar, cheese and mushrooms. It’s as if my body knew I didn’t need cheese from the beginning. My body wants to be plant-based more than my mind does perhaps? The stomach aches stopped and my energy levels increased! I made a delicious sugar, gluten and dairy Vegan raw cake from Caramelia Cakery and a little bit every day has been enough to satisfy my chocolate desires!

Orange peanut raw cake – Caramelia Cakery: Buy the e-book here for only £5

Some other personal, immediate results you might be interested in

I’m sleeping better, only needing the loo once in the middle of the night, often sleeping all the way through the night (I used to need the loo 2-5 times a night!). I wake up around 7.30am (often earlier) feeling wide awake, when before I felt sluggish and only really felt ‘normal’ around 11.30am. Other toilet habits are great – daily – and easy. My sinuses are clearer (this is fantastic for my singing!), I don’t feel hungry between meals any more (I used to be a terrible snacker) and I’ve lost about 3 kilos since mid September. Another cool thing is that our shopping bill has been reduced by about a third! It only starts getting expensive when I buy ready-made Vegan foods. If I cook from scratch, it’s way cheaper to eat plant-based meals and of course much healthier too.

Pilot project over, what have I decided?

So on reflection, I have decided to commit to a Vegetarian diet with the option to have meat if I ever feel an overwhelming urge for it. I’m also going to try to eat foods that will satisfy any such cravings first, rather than just lunging for the meat. I’m taking a B12 sublingual supplement and a few teaspoons of Feroglobin daily (to ward off anaemia which runs in my family) as well as my usual probiotics and Vitamin C supplements. I read online that many see Vegan as the goal and Vegetarian as the cut off point. I like that. It feels realistic to me and something I can stick with.

The Vegan/Plant-Based friends of mine who have influenced and inspired me have done so through love, a down-to-earth approach and detachment from my or anyone else’s choices (thank you Natasha and Gareth!). I’ve loved how much they love food, making me realize I can still love food as much as I do – just make different tasty choices.

Harissa roasted aubergine – Jamie Oliver (Everyday Superfood)

Becoming Vegetarian is a huge change for me as I used to eat meat or fish every day, for lunch and dinner. If I can sustain this way of eating I have accomplished something so important – as the will of my soul (the rider) has reined in the will of my body (the horse) and oh that rounded-bellied horse loved to run, well eat!

I always buy free-range eggs and I don’t really see any harm in eating them to be honest, the chickens don’t suffer! The same is with honey. Goat’s milk and my stomach are friends and for now, I’m happy with that. Recently found coconut milk is fab too. I will phase the milk out (as I don’t want to be responsible for the slaughter of young billy goats), but I’m being kind to myself with this one…. I’m giving it longer to make the transition. I can still see myself becoming Vegan in the future. It’s a lot closer now than it was 3 weeks ago.

Motivation

I decided to have a go at a plant-based diet in the first place, not only because I want my life choices to not cause suffering to other creatures, but also to be able to prevent serious illness like the Cancer my Mum eventually lost her battle with. I’m not afraid of death and I believe we are eternal beings, taking everything we have learned with us into the next world. We are what we have made of our souls. Yet I want to live this life with health, energy, positive feelings about my actions and their consequences and to be of service to others. I wish Mum and I had both had a go at this many years ago – as maybe she’d then still be with us?

After Mum passed I had a dream I was asleep on my bed and received a huge delivery of huge boxes of fruit and vegetables, with a note asking us to share these with people in our community. I felt this was an impossible task as I didn’t have a car, and wondered if Ramin and I should just keep them for ourselves? I interpreted this dream to mean that I needed to share with people the spiritual fruits of my Mum’s life and as a result Dad and I called the newspapers who ran a big story on the life of my Mum. We all began walking around the house joyously shouting ‘Share the fruits!’

Yet I also think my Mum was sending me a message in this dream, to literally eat fruit and vegetables and to share this knowledge with others. Mum Kalim and Fleur 2013My determination to eat a plant-based diet has developed more strongly within me in the last year than ever before and I think this is because my Mum is assisting me from the spiritual worlds of God. Health, happiness and strength to any of you lovely ones out there, making efforts to improve your lives and your impact on the world around you. And please, let’s be kind to one another, whatever is on our plate as we are all on different paths and it’s only love that changes anything, not judgement. As Ghandi so beautifully said, ‘Be the change you want to see’.

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Tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

How often do we sit down and pray ardently for our friends? Do we sacrifice our time and energy in prayer for others? Or do we just pray for ourselves and what we want out of life? Going through some challenges at home, I realised I needed some Divine assistance. A few friends of mine were also going though difficulties, so I thought I’d make a prayer list. The following blog post are my thoughts on the experience of doing a 9 day prayer plan. I put out a request on Facebook;

“I am going to start a 9 day prayer plan next week from the 16th September to the 24th September. If there is anyone who would like me to include them on my prayer lists – healing/marriage/tests/new challenges/ guidance etc – please message me and I will be honoured to do so. If anyone would like to join me in prayer, that would be great too! I’m happy to pray for friends of all faiths or no faiths – so this message isn’t just for Bahá’ís!”

Then on the 16th I also said this:

“Day One of my 9 day prayer plan starts today. I have about 25 people on my list. Any more takers? Last chance – after today you’ll either need to wait until the next prayer plan, start your own plan or ask someone else to pray for you! :)”

I was overwhelmed with responses – message after message flooded in. Ten people also joined me on the 9 day prayer plan – two dear friends (one in the UK and one in Minnesota, USA) also synching the timing of their prayers with mine.

Just before 8pm, another few people quickly contacted me – one literally as I was turning off my phone – and I added them to the list. On day two another dear friend asked if I could remember her son and of course I agreed.

So the 9 days have now come to an end and I’m reflecting on the experience.

Overall I feel honoured and moved that a large group of people asked me to pray for them. It felt like I was standing outside a sacred temple, with over 100 people who all entrusted me with their hopes, fears, concerns and pleas. I heard their voices, embraced them virtually and then walked into the temple, offering my desire for my friend’s healing and guidance and asking for God’s Will to be done. Walking beside me, adding my voice to theirs were the ten people I mentioned before as well as my father and my husband who joined me most nights.

It would have been too arduous a task to think of all the people every night – so I read the names of the people on the list out-loud before saying the first prayer, placing them in the care of a higher power, a greater memory. It’s interesting that I had over 100 people on my final list and over ten people who prayed with me – maybe I should have given each praying friend the names of ten friends from the list each? That’s an idea for next time.

Most nights I said either The Long Healing Prayer or The Fire Tablet from the Baha’i writings. There were a few nights when I said 9 ‘Remover of Difficulties’ instead, as I was just too tired to say a longer prayer – and there was one day when I just plain forgot and so said prayers the next morning.

I realised a few things:

I believe in the power of prayer for transformation, for shifting obstacles and for placing one’s life in God’s hands. I always feel much stronger after saying prayers, I have a greater focus and can handle challenges from a place of calm rather than panic. When I put out a call for people who needed prayers too I was quite surprised just how many friends responded. I thought about 20 people would respond. Receiving over 100 requests, this makes me wonder if we need to be asking friends if they need prayers more often!

In the West, we tend to hide our faces away when life gets tough, and suffer in silence a lot, thinking we are the only ones having such a hard time. Yes it’s good to not burden others with our worries, but asking a friend to pray for you throughout a particular challenge is a way your friend can help, it might be the only way sometimes.   Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, in a next world, in the soul – it actually doesn’t matter. The fact that I am sitting down over a period of time to think of my friend with love in my heart and asking a Higher Power (whatever that means to me or you) to help that friend – is a beautiful thing for the intention is pure. So let’s do it more often!

I’ve been brought up to pray my way through difficulties. It’s always been a part of family life. They used to call it ‘knocking on heaven’s door’. I remember my parents ardently praying through periods of time when we were involved in sharing the healing message of Baha’u’lláh with new people. I remember repeating healing prayers over and over again when my brother was a small child with terrible weeping excema to help him fall asleep and to calm myself down because his cries were so distressing. I remember saying the Long Healing Prayer day after day by Ramin’s raised bed when he was sleeping, thin and vulnerable because his relapses were rushing him to hospital month after month.  I remember saying the same prayer as above every day of the last few months of my Mother’s life – not for her Cancer to be taken away, but for her to move into the next part of her eternal existence peacefully and for us all to have the strength to let her go. I do not know how anyone copes with life’s huge ups and downs without prayer.

I think we need to talk about this subject more. We need to say less ‘token’ offerings and more heartfelt yearnings. I certainly want to immerse myself in the ocean of prayer and gain strength from it’s force and ceaseless movement, its healing power.

On Baha’i.org the way we pray together as Bahá’ís around the world is beautifully described,

“Devotional meetings spring up naturally in a community where a conversation about the spiritual dimension of human existence is growing. In diverse settings, Bahá’ís and their friends and families unite with one another in prayer. There are no rituals; no one individual has any special role. Meetings consist largely of reading prayers and passages from the Bahá’í sacred texts in an informal yet respectful atmosphere. A spirit of communal worship is generated by these simple gatherings, and this spirit begins to permeate the community’s collective endeavours.”

Something very special happens when you remember people in prayer. Its like all the external differences just melt away and you feel a pure connection. In these 9 days, I felt so much love! About prayer —‘Abdu’l-Baha says,

“Praise be to God, thy heart is engaged in the commemoration of God, thy soul is gladdened by the glad tidings of God and thou art absorbed in prayer. The state of prayer is the best of conditions…”

So in these 9 days when I said a special prayer for my friends, my soul was ‘gladdened by the glad tidings of God’.  I am thankful that my friends gave me the opportunity to be in ‘the best of conditions’. Praying is truly an example of these insightful words, ‘to sacrifice is to receive a gift’.

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Why I will never have a BFF (Best Friend Forever)

I used to have a ‘best friend’, but not anymore. There was no falling out, no melt down as we stormed away, never to speak again. In fact a certain much loved friend of mine and I grew closer when we both made the clear decision  that being ‘best friends’  was both an inadequate way to describe our connection and an exclusive barrier which made us compare our particular friendship with that of our other friends. So yes, I do have a friend who I feel very close to, but I also have another bunch of friends who I love dearly – so how can I say just one person is my ‘best’ friend when all friendships are different, irreplaceable, wonderful and unlike any other?

Previous to this I remember telling my husband that I was about to call my best friend. His response was purely, ‘Am I not your best friend?’ At the time I decided that no, he was my husband and my best friend was a different kind of friendship entirely. Which of course, it is in crucial ways, but in many ways, not.

When Ramin’s ability to talk with me was severely disrupted by his multiple relapses, I went through a heartbreaking period of grief where I felt I had lost my husband. We couldn’t chat together, consult about decisions, read the holy Baha’i writings and discuss them together, let alone say prayers. A huge part of what I had considered as exclusive to marriage had been paused, and stayed paused for many years. Going through this experience, made me turn to my parents, my sister, my friends and Ramin’s family for support, particularly in figuring out how to manage our lives and emotions. Ramin spent months in hospital and then rehabilitation, learning to walk again, to feed himself and so on.

I felt desperately sad for him, but also devastated that the Ramin I had fallen in love with, chatty, outgoing, attentive, creative, protecting, expressive Ramin – was severely damaged. I didn’t know if he’d ever get back to who he had been again.

Over time I learned that all Ramin and I needed to do was love each other, expressed in the simplest of ways at first – sitting out in the sunshine, holding hands / my pushing him in a wheelchair to a simple church in the hospital grounds in Duesseldorf Uniklinik where I could sing prayers out loud for him (and he’d join in with a weak, yearning voice that teared my heart apart) / cuddling on the hospital bed, not caring about people walking around us. We didn’t need grand gestures or even deep and meaningful conversations. We just needed to be there for each other.

This difficult experience taught me that I had to redefine my understanding of what a relationship is. Not only in my marriage, but also with my friends and family members. Sometimes we expect people – especially our spouses – to be our everything! We have to fit completely to be right for each other! We have to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually compatible, or the marriage just isn’t going to last! This kind of expectation puts a huge strain on the relationship as it asks both people to be ‘perfect for each other’ when actually no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. In marriage you learn to grow together through facing life’s tests and trials (more than the happy times!) with unity and mutual support. Ramin and I managed to do this because he just loved me all the time and continues to love me through all the ups and downs we experience in life.

So when I talk to the many friends I love dearly, when I visit them, laugh, chat, eat, cry, pray, serve, watch films with, discuss spiritual principles in action or just am quiet with – I don’t focus on whether this friend feels closer to me than another, I just love them and feel loved by them. Yes there are some friends I spend more time with than others, and some I’m in more contact with than others – but it’s not about a holding on to one or another relationship. That’s a kind of material attachment which doesn’t recognise the eternity of love, right?

In the next world we will always be connected to the people we love as the spiritual worlds of God are made from love Through love (as well as all the other sparkling beautiful spiritual qualities that we develop in this next world such as trustworthiness, honesty, patience and kindness) we will experience a true reality, removed forever from this physical body and all it’s limitations. How utterly glorious!

So, you may think it’s sad that I don’t have a best friend forever, but I think it’s just awesome – as I love my friends and family dearly, but my expectations of them are not limited to this world, are not all heaped upon one person and I don’t have to keep proving to myself, to them or the rest of the world that we care for each other. It also means that others are not excluded from my friendships. The only person you can’t share ‘some’ things with, is my beautiful husband – and that’s a sacred relationship, unique to us alone, thank God!

If you are my friend, you know that I love you. So that’s enough.

Journey through Patience

Journey through europe

A game my sister, Leila, and I used to play with my Mum is called ‘Journey through Europe’. It’s a board game where you have a large fold-out map of Europe (the board part) and you are given nine cities to travel to and through (on nine cards), departing from and arriving back at the original city. The most complicated part of the game is planning your journey as you navigate a restricted flight path, sea-crossings and travel routes as well as finding cities you’ve never seen the names of before on the map itself.

Ramin and I now play this game, as well as Scrabble, Monopoly and Memory as part of his brain training sessions. When Ramin was first recovering from his year of relapses, he had Ergo-therapy in Germany where he and his therapist worked through various exercises together, including games. So when I officially became Ramin’s Carer a few years ago, we decided together that for the two days a week when he is not Volunteering in Oxfam, we would play such games, and do our best to have the patience to complete them without killing each other!

You see, the challenge for Ramin and I is often my lack of patience with Ramin’s slower pace and his lack of patience with the benefit he is meant to be receiving from playing any of these games. Also, if we’re totally honest here, he would much prefer to leave his current neural paths as they are and watch a comedy show on TV, or listen to music, or sleep (all passive activities) than have to think and plan, remember details and work towards a goal. Yeah, I know people without MS have difficulties with being pro-active too – in fact many of my female friends get frustrated with their passive male partners and it is helpful for me to realize that sometimes its not an MS thing I’m dealing with, but a female-male thing!

For me, it’s the hardest quality to learn. I think quickly, proactively. I’m a problem solver, a creative thinker. I like to analyse, consult, discuss options and figure out a new way of making something happen. Because of his particular journey with MS (the experiences can be very different) Ramin has been slowed down by an illness that took away his independence for a long time. Relapse-free, he is now in the slow but steady fight to recover and he gets frustrated with himself, with me and his body, his mind. Yes you can be patient in the moment, but what about staying patient year in, year out where you know you are progressing, but in the actual moment it’s just a struggle, an exhausting struggle with a terrier-like wife next to you who won’t let go?

So how can we stay patient, when working with our loved ones on a task? Can we do this alone? Or do we need to ask for a higher power to assist us?

In the Baha’i writings, Baha’u’lláh says, “He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience.”

My Dad often reminds of of this teaching. It’s helpful to me because I know that sometimes Ramin and I are both just enduring – keep going – don’t give up – yes, its tiring – yes, it’s annoying – yes, it makes me angry -yes, it frustrates me – but endure with patience. And why? Well because of this:

Baha’ulláh also says, “The steed in the Valley of Search is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal.

So for Ramin and I to achieve our goal of his increasing independence we have to ride the horse of patience, through the game of Journey through Europe, through all the ins and outs of our marriage and through the way we react and respond to each other. This also says to me that on our particular life’s path, staying patient as we suffer through (endure!) brain-training exercises while speaking lovingly with each other (and accepting our different capabilities) is also part of the development of our souls. It’s not just brain-training for Ramin – both our higher natures strengthen as we grow closer to each other and ultimately, closer to God.

We play Scrabble for brain training

We play Scrabble for brain training

Read more about the struggle for patience from another Bahá’i blogger: http://onebahai.blogspot.com/2010/02/its-virtue.html#ixzz3USGHgO9A

 

My love of fashion and clothes (by Ramin)

Suited Ramin

I do like fashion very much. To the degree that I prepare my clothes the night before so that I know exactly what I’ll wear. Over the years I’ve become more relaxed with this. When I’m at home I surprise myself sometimes by having a second option which I can decide on, dependent on the day and weather.

My fashion necessity became a bit tainted when I got MS. Something that comes with MS is incontinence when means I have to always have a spare pair of trousers, pants and socks in my backpack in case of accidents. In the past I didn’t want to lose my dignity so I made sure that the clothes I wore and my spares were the same kind of colour and style so that no one would notice that I had changed my trousers. But now, after many years, I’ve accepted the fact that it’s too complicated to have ten pairs of the same kind of trousers or to speak with the voice of my uncle, ‘just wear jeans that you can wash!’.

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Also, since moving to Wales, my style has become on one hand relaxed, on the other bang on trend! I no longer wear suits as an every day occurrence, for example. My wife agreed with my uncle to dress down a bit, especially as we weren’t going to weddings every day! So I followed suit, buddum pishhhhhhh! So I now undergo more ‘smart-casual’ trend. I’m currently wearing mustard colour jeans-cut five pocket trousers, my brother-in-law’s black skater T-shirt and a Gap light grey jumper.

My love of clothes began when my Dad showed me how to knot a tie when I was 6 years old. My Dad was a textile engineer who has always loved the texture of materials, colours, different makes and styles. I remember him going shopping with me in HnM and he could tell the quality of the clothes by feeling the material and determining the weight with one hand, the procedures the clothes went through and the amount of dye. I felt I had a cool Dad. My Dad taught me a single Windsor knot. Later when I was 14 I got a book which had all sorts of tie knots in it, which I studied avidly with my friend Adrian.

These days I volunteer in an Oxfam Boutique in Cardiff. I’ve volunteered in many charity shops over the years as my energies have been limited because of the fatigue I feel from having MS. I’d love to earn work and earn money, but I feel good knowing I’m contributing to society right now.  I love volunteering in the Boutique because the clothes in the shop are of excellent quality and are of high-end fashion origin. They sell quite quickly and are an interesting mix, as are the people who work there!  Here are some photos of our Christmas party last year:

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One time a person donated 30 Georgio Armarni suits for men and women because an old couple had died and their family donated their clothes to us. We often have wedding dresses, fur coats, shirts, baby’s clothes, ball dresses, prom dresses that have only been worn once and lots of accessories. When people donate clothing they can claim tax back as well as helping Oxfam through Gift Aid. There is also a scheme where people who donate clothing bought from Marks and Spencers are given a £5 voucher which can be used to buy anything in M & S. This encourages people to donate to us an buy clothes from us.

As volunteers we have a mixture of old British grandmothers, refugees from all over the world, university students and language students. I get on particularly well with a Cardiff lady called Beryl who is in her mid-sixties and has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. There is a lady called Roma, from Hong-Kong who is warm hearted, hard working and up for a giggle. Zan, a lady who walks on two crutches and a pair of sunglasses and a fake-fur lines duffle coat is a good friend. My first words to her were, ‘Just popping in after clubbing?’ which made her smile. She is part of the ‘Alteration’ section and is really good at her job. I enjoy chatting with customers, advising them on what clothing suits them or what they could try on instead and steaming clothes when there’s not much to do on the shop floor.

Why not pop in sometime, have a browse and say hello?

Video

Helen Keller – a strengthened soul

‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.’ Helen Keller

I just had to share this video with you. I’ve never seen or heard Helen Keller before and was so moved when a friend shared this short video on Facebook. ‘The Miracle Worker‘ is an incredible film that depicts Helen Keller’s struggle for existence and the emergence from darkness through the loving, determined effort of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. We watched it twice on our Spiritual Cinema programme with friends and all cried and laughed together, feeling stronger and inspired to make our contribution in the world. Here is a short clip from ‘The Miracle Worker’, the moment when Helen suddenly understands Anne is teaching her:

I thoroughly recommend watching the whole movie, acted incredibly, and so very moving.

Now to see this footage of Helen as an older lady, smiling, loving, loved and strong despite her lack of sight or hearing – can you imagine living in darkness and silence? Ramin and I feel so inspired by her example and blessed to have the abilities we have.

Helen’s sadness that she never managed to develop natural speech is understandable, yet she did so much good with her limited speech, more than most people do who can speak as clear as bells. I feel it is not what you are given in this life that really matters, it’s how you make use of your talents in this world that is the most important. I wonder how many of us have no disabilities yet see no  spiritual light or hear no uplifting music in our lives? Let’s change that for ourselves and for those around us!

To give you a brief feel of the work Helen did, here is a short excerpt from an online biography of her life:

“After college, Keller set out to learn more about the world and how she could help improve the lives of others. News of her story spread beyond Massachusetts and New England. She became a well-known celebrity and lecturer by sharing her experiences with audiences, and working on behalf of others living with disabilities. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Keller tackled social and political issues, including women’s suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She testified before Congress, strongly advocating to improve the welfare of blind people. In 1915, along with renowned city planner George Kessler, she co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Helen once said,

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”

One more thing, Helen also read something about the Baha’i Faith – thought we’d share this with you too:

‘The philosophy of Bahá’u’lláh deserves the best thought we can give it. I am returning the book so that other blind people who have more leisure than myself may be “shown a ray of Divinity” and their hearts be “bathed in an inundation of eternal love.”

I take this opportunity to thank you for your kind thought of me, and for the inspiration which even the most cursory reading of Bahá’u’lláh’s life cannot fail to impart. What nobler theme than the “good of the world and the happiness of the nations” can occupy our lives? The message of universal peace will surely prevail. It is useless to combine or conspire against an idea which has in it potency to create a new earth and a new heaven and to quicken human beings with a holy passion of service. (In a personal letter written to an American Bahá’í after having read something from the Braille edition of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.”)’ Helen Keller (go here for the link, it’s on page 55)

 

helenkeller‘Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference
for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.’

Helen Keller 1880 – 1968

Swimming with an anchor

IMG_2465Ramin’s Dad, Riaz, lives in Monte Pego, Spain with his second wife. We’ve visited them a few times before and went again this year at the end of September. They live in a villa on the mountain, overlooking other hills dotted with white-walled and terracotta roofed villas with swimming pools, palm trees and swooping terraces. The sea is clear and blue in the distance, there are amazing mountains that look like painted perfection during sun-sets or misty mornings and the temperature was warm (27-30 degrees celsius) with blue, blue skies and a gentle breeze. They have a large swimming pool in the garden which I was itching to jump into as soon as we arrived! Ramin and I stood on the veranda and took in the sun, sea and mountains and smiled upon the blue rippled water of the pool in the garden below. Ramin reminded me  he wasn’t going to try swimming in the sea again, like last year, because he couldn’t trust the waves and was worried about losing his balance, but he would swim in the pool.

So on our first free afternoon, I enthusiastically suggested that we jump in the pool and……

Oh no…Ramin really didn’t want to. ‘Are you serious?’ he asked me. I was serious, but I also wanted to have fun!

His physiotherapist stressed the need for Ramin to regularly exercise and let’s be honest, any physical exercise beyond walking is not enjoyed by my dear one, so I kept going on about it (encouraging, persuading, stating logical arguments while continuing to smile (not easy)) until he finally verbally agreed. I was a bit pushy, this is true. The alternative is that I could be pushing Ramin around in wheelchair in a few years time if he doesn’t exercise!

After a painful transition from sun heat to water cold – it was actually hilarious as our various physical bits and bobs adjusted to the different temperature- on the first day we both swam four lengths and I even got him to smile a bit and dance with me in the water.

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Photos: Adjusting slowly to the temperature of the water – yes I know we should have jumped in! / My trying to gently persuade Ramin that swimming is good for us to do together

Yet every day (every day!) the pattern would go something like this; Ramin would firstly refuse to go swimming then would agree to swim after I reminded him of his physiotherapist’s advice, how if he wants to travel with me to China next year – or the year after – he will need to be physically fitter and other such reminders and then would take about 20 minutes to get undressed and meet me by the pool. Once outside, however hot the sun beamed down, he would feel the wind and refuse to get in the water. I’d get in, laughing at how cold the water did feel at first and showing him how once I was in it didn’t feel that cold and I could swim about just fine. Ramin would tentatively reach a toe into the water and then shrink back (hermit crab anyone?) again steadfastly refusing to allow any other part of his body to be exposed to the freezing cold water – yet staying where he was (he could have flounced off!) and fixing me sternly with a glare. When Ramin was finally in the water (a silent scream upon his face for a whole length) he would swim – confidently – for his agreed amount of lengths before immediately getting out and going into the house to have a warm shower. I would then swim until I felt tired and try to recover from the tension I had felt, yet not expressed, while working with my dear hubby.

On the third day I realised Ramin was not finding the process of getting into the water any easier and so remembering discussions about NLP (Neurolinguistic programming) with my good friends Tracey and Martin I had a go at working with a simplified version of a NLP technique called ‘anchoring’. It wasn’t to manipulate Ramin,  it was just to try out a way of assisting him to feel good about our experience of swimming rather than leaving him in a state of dread. An explanation of anchoring is as follows;

Anchors are naturally occurring. Things we see, hear, feel, taste and touch in our everyday lives spontaneously evoke memories, and often feelings as well. While some anchors are neutral – you see a blue car and it reminds you of one you used to own – many trigger some kind of emotional reaction… Many anchors originate in childhood. Often the original experience that created them has long since been forgotten, but the emotional response continues….

Anchors, though, don’t have to be left to chance. You can set them – intentionally, systematically – in support of your desired outcome. If you want to be in a particular state or feel a specific emotion in a future context, you can create an anchor that achieves that..’ (p. 93, reference below)

I have a host of positive memories about swimming (anchors) from my childhood with all the years I’ve swam in the sea and in numerous indoor and outdoor pools, learning to swim with my Dad,  pretending to be a sea creature or a mermaid with my sister and whooshing down slides with my nieces and nephews. Ramin doesn’t have this though as since he’s had MS, positive memories of swimming have mainly been replaced by  negative memories of a lack of balance, slipping and cold water!

So half way through Ramin’s agreed lengths, I gave him a cuddle, told him how proud of him I was, took his hand and danced the tango (my version!) with him in the water. Flicking my fingers up out of the water, I demonstrated how many more lengths he had to go, which made us both laugh as the water spurted in all directions. I asked Ramin to remember this feeling of happy silliness in the water, creating an anchor to create an ‘effective and enduring association‘ (P. 95 ref below) with swimming, so that the experience could be far more enjoyable for him. The next few days did take  just the same amount of persuasion but Ramin managed to swim an extra length each day, we had a lot of fun dancing in the water and he reached seven lengths on the final day even though that day was windy and rather grey with just a touch of sun reaching through.

Once my task with Ramin was complete, it was important for me to forget about him for a little bit and just enjoy swimming outside, appreciating the beauty of the surroundings and floating in the sun dappled water, away from everyone and everything.

Afterwards Ramin told me that even though the water was apparently between 26-28 degrees celsius, it always felt like he was stepping into an ice-rink and it made his toes cramp. He had to swim through the cramp, trying to stretch out his feet while pushing through the breast stroke. He knew it was good for him to swim though, and because he wants to get fitter, decided to push through. He did admit that it was a bit fun too and I’m hoping the anchor we focused on will help him for the future. It’s a relief for me that Ramin was doing his own pushing too, as he’s rather a large man for me to push all by myself!

So, we did swim together and even though swimming in a public pool in our locality will not be as stimulating for me (and I really don’t like chlorine), it will be more comfortable for Ramin and we can build up a habit of going regularly, enabling both of us to get stronger. Now the hard task is moving from our warm home into the cold, wet Autumn air before we even get to the pool!

Funny that sometimes you need to swim with an anchor, eh?! Boom, Boom!

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Photo: Ramin and his Dad, Riaz (taken September 2012) in Denia, Spain.

Reference:  Teach yourself NLP, Steven Bavister and Amanda Vickers.

Toilets vs Aliens

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Ramin’s perspective:

Since I  joined the UK MS Society, I received two cards which I find really helpful and supportive. One states in four languages (English, French, Spanish and German) on the one side,

‘I have MS and would really appreciate your help. Please don’t worry, MS is not infectious’.

On the other side it states;

Because I have MS, I need to use the toilet urgently. Can you help? Thank you.

The second card states on one side;

 ‘I have Multiple Sclerosis. 

It is not infectious. 

I need assistance and would be grateful if you could help me.’ 

 and on the other (the first three are true for me);

 ‘I need to use the toilet urgently.

I have fatigue and need to sit down or rest.

I am unsteady on my feet.

I have difficulties with my speech.

I have difficulties with my eye sight.

I have limited movement in my limbs’

We shop in Sainsbury’s near our home, but I am more inclined to shop in Aldi because it’s cheaper, it reminds me of Germany (more or less the same lay-out)  and there are not so many options making everything easier to find, but the downfall is there’s no toilet. I always have to go to the toilet every 30 minutes and this makes me really sad. It feels like a shackle.

The cards from the MS Society help others to recognise my needs because its an official print by a society that everyone knows. They make me feel more secure about asking for the toilet, even if I don’t yet need to show them to anyone. I’ve used toilets in all sorts of places, for example; hair-dressers, pubs and shops where the toilet is usually only for the staff.

I was also given a special large key, which opens every disabled toilet all over the UK. I didn’t believe it at first, so I’ve tested this far and wide and it’s true! We got this key from a neighbour who’s husband is disabled. You can buy one from here: Radar key. 

So back to shopping. Fleur gives me a shopping list. The first thing I have to make sure of  (if I don’t know the shop very well) is to find out where the toilets are, go one time for luck, and then start shopping. I am quite tempted to always ask where things are, but these days I try to look myself and if it seems like there’s no possibility, I’ll ask. In our local supermarket is an assistant who knows the shop like the back of his hand. I found out the other day when I asked for help that he is partially deaf and it made me chuckle – there we were, two disabled people trying to get something done. I was impressed that he, with all the vigour and positivity, went for that job and is really good at it.

When shopping It’s difficult for me to locate where certain products are. Something that doesn’t help is when the stock has moved. I have a theory that this occurence happens fortnightly BY ALIENS just to test my patience and other human virtues that they want to learn about more. Every time Fleur asks me to go shopping by myself my heart drops because it’s a challenge for me. But I’m willing to go because this is a way to meet people as I’m a very chatty person and love to be with others. I go there, I buy things, some of them are wrong, I return them, I sometimes still get the wrong things and my argument is, ‘because it was cheaper!’ Back home, Fleur smiles at me, gives me a kiss on the cheek and pats my arm saying ‘It’s alright love. You got most things I asked for!’.

Which way – this way, that way?

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Ramin and I tend to either decide on something immediately or take quite a while to make a decision. There’s not really an in-between.  My mind is thinking of that moment as well as later that day, the next day, appointments that are coming up in the next week and often what’s coming up in the following month.  Ramin tends to live in the moment so completely that he can find it challenging to think beyond what is happening right now. This could just be our personalities, but it could also be that MS is intervening, yet again invisibly but very much there.

My Mum made a good observation the other day, she noticed that Ramin tends to wait for me to ask him to do something, or asks where we are going and when. I’m the one who carries around the week’s schedule in my head and he is happy to rely on my memory for the organization of his week, of our week. In itself it’s not too bad as our lives are not particularly complicated, but it does mean that he isn’t engaging his own memory, is reliant on me and floats from one event to the other without much reflection. How wonderful to trust someone so much! Ah, but this has to change. Yes I am Ramin’s carer, but in this role as well as helping him with the every day things that would be too hard for him, I also want to assist him to progress in his life, not to keep him reliant on me for every little thing, all the time, everywhere. Mum suggested that we write the events of the week down in a little book – not a diary (He has one of those already and either never remembers to look in it or there’s too much space in-between events) – but a little book so that when he’s not sure about the week’s plans, he can look in the book and remind himself without always asking me – crossing off events when they’re complete. I love this idea!

The Oxford Dictionary definition of independence (as it relates to a person) is: ‘adjective: ‘free from outside control’…’capable of thinking or acting for oneself’…’not influenced by others’…’not depending on something else for strength or effectiveness’.

If the opposite of the definition of independence is true for him then he would be controlled by me, I would think for him, I would  influence him and he would depend on me for strength or effectiveness. At the moment, to some degree, all those things  are true – he kind of likes it that way to be honest as it removes responsibility from his actions – and he knows I have a clear head and can make good decisions. Also in marriage being interdependent is healthy and good! When I go to the dentist I totally rely on his calm strength to be able to face the scary-ness!

However a marriage is a union of two people, through which they both grow and learn together. As his wife I  want him to be someone I can rely on. I want to have a great life together! I want him to fly. I want to fly with him! If one person is making all the decisions and the other is relying on that person and not thinking for themselves, then how can either of them grow? How can I grow as a wife if my husband just agrees with my ideas of where to go, what to do, what to eat, what to buy, how to serve, who to visit and so on? It’s like being alone with a lovely pet dog who loves you and follows you around and is sad when you leave. Sorry, but this is true! How can Ramin grow as a husband if he doesn’t think about his life, ponder on his actions, reflect on  his love for me and ways to grow together or even just think for himself about his diet, exercise, friends, service, prayers and so on without my prompting? In fact it’s not only the marriage that suffers if one person isn’t independent, but that person’s whole life! I don’t want Ramin to become me, for Pete’s sake!

Ramin is a wonderful man with an excellent University degree in film (Aberystwyth), strong personal opinions (when he feels he wants to express them), a fantastic personality full of joy, calm and love for people and someone who needs to have the space and encouragement to just be himself. MS took all his abilities away for many years and I feel he lost a sense of trust in his mind and his body in that time. Now, with almost all his abilities functioning really well, he needs to discover his self-trust again and not let those years of illness rob him of a meaningful and independent life. You see how  you can choose to let MS have a huge, looming role in your life, or how it can be pushed away and play no part?

So therefore sometimes our decisions are quick and easy – either when we both agree straightway to do something (eat pizza, go for a walk, watch this movie, ring his Dad) or take a lot of time and space when it’s clear to me that I need to step back and let Ramin find his voice. Yes I can get frustrated and in my head my voice is saying ‘hurry up!!!’ but expressing this just kills any chance Ramin had to think and use his voice. For example, it took us two weeks to decide that we wouldn’t continue the fertility treatment and would start the adoption process. He wanted me to make the decision and I refused to do so by myself. I waited until he had really thought about it. We also consulted with our family members and prayed a lot.

Perhaps I need to employ this method more in our lives, not just about the big decisions but also about what to do and where to go – to give him a real sense of us deciding together. Man, I’m going to need some patience from the Divine! So maybe that’s my disability right there, I’ve learned to be the strong one and now I need to learn to step back. You can see this in the way we walk down the street, I’m always walking ahead while he follows behind. I then stop and wait, realising I’m walking too fast. Then we walk together, holding hands, making eye contact while I pull back my desire to strive ahead faster and he pulls back his desire to follow and not think much.

Perhaps he’s my hermit crab and I’m the shell he hides away in. He’s protected by his trust in me, his love for me and a regular routine – and when he feels safe, and the way is clear he’s able to pop his head out of the shell and feel the waters ahead with tentative thought tentacles – and that’s when I need to sit quiet and let him take us both forward, knowing it’s the experience of moving forward that’s important, not really if we’re going this way or that way.