Wellness, wellbeing, being healthy these are things we all seem to be actively embracing these days. And with Mental Health Awareness Week (9 to 15 October) just around the corner, and in the true Huttonian spirit of being communal and awesome, I thought I’d focus Issue 2 stories on wellness too.
From meditation to mindfulness, to eating well to belly health – and some sneaky surprises in between – Issue 2 is going to be vegemite-packed full of goodness (out 15 October).
And to give you a taste of what’s to come I’ll also be posting some wellness stories before Issue 2 comes out.
For the very first wellness blogpost I’ve asked wellness and meditation guru, Ruth Pink, who teaches meditation classes at the Lower Hutt Women’s Centre, to tell us a little about her background, and for some top wellness tips that we can easily integrate into our lives.
And with all these wellness blogposts, just take what rings true for you. My mum told me while growing up, ‘Eat the meat, and spit out the bones’. I think there’s a good lesson in this, although I no longer eat animal products (love you Mom).
Eat your heart out – there’s going to be a lot of food for thought, and tips for you to digest.
Go grab a cuppa, take a few minutes just for you, and meet Ruth.
Meet: Ruth Pink
She teaches meditation courses twice a year at the Lower Hutt Women’s Centre, hosts a group of meditators on Wednesday nights and works full-time at the New Zealand Fire and Emergency national office in a safety, health and wellbeing role.
Road to wellness
Many moons ago, Ruth worked in a high-powered, government job. Her team was challenging, and she had a difficult manager.
‘I noticed how my mind was so scattered all the time. I would have a thought, and then I found all my energy would pull towards that thought and one feeling,’ says Ruth. ‘And after weeks of that and feeling scattered, having all these wild horses stampeding in my mind, I thought, ‘Surely, I am more than this.’ Surely as people, we’re more than just these disruptive, negative thoughts.’
So, at the age of 28, Ruth decided that she was going to learn to meditate. She went to The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order which is a westernised Buddhist group, and connected with the community there for about five years.
‘Even though I grew up a Presbyterian, I decided, actually, I’m a Buddhist. As I began to learn to meditate. I just felt this deep sense of belonging and home there. I felt I belonged.’
The meditation helped Ruth find some sense of balance while working in a stressful job, but after several years she became very ill in her place of work.
‘I was just living this life a lot of us live now where we just work very hard and there’s this hype and adrenalin charge all the time – there isn’t a lot of rest.
‘I ended up getting severe OOS in both my arms. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t really wash my hair or get my groceries. I became quite disabled, and I have permanent nerve damage in my arms as a result.’
Ruth had to leave a career that was her identity, her life.
‘I had to pull myself away from what had been my identity. I went to live at Wangapeka in Nelson for a year on a retreat, which has a westernised and non-sectarian Buddhist approach. It was deeply humbling.’
It was from that time that Ruth really deepened her understanding of how mindfulness and meditation can be used to manage stress and to bring about a profound sense of wellness.
‘I was out of the workforce for about ten years. In this time, I trained as a counsellor. I went from living a life that was very intellectual; through my illness, I was brought back into my body.
Ruth went through a period of entering and embracing illness. At the beginning, she just denied it and went through a military operation of making herself well. But it wasn’t until she fully accepted and entered the pain she found that she was much more than her pain.
‘I had to fully enter the pain though and live it. Then after many years, I thought, ‘I don’t want to be sick anymore’. I decided, ‘I’m going to be victorious.
‘I learned over time that I could be sick, but I could be well. I could have pain in my body, but that wasn’t all who I was. I still had an artistic streak, I still enjoyed eating chocolate mallow puffs. It was Tarchin (her spiritual teacher) at the time who helped me identify this. He said to me, ‘Are there moments when you’re not in pain?’
I had to say, ‘Hey, there are.’
Ruth began to build an identity for herself that was bigger than her pain. She realised she didn’t want to be treated like a sick, vulnerable person anymore.
‘There is a lot of things you can to do embrace wellness, but there is something about changing your mind and the way you approach wellness that is very ancient, profound.’
Ruth’s top 3 tips for wellness
Top tip #1: Unplug from social media and phones, daily, or at least once a week. Have some scheduled time for a technological detox. Give yourself time away from having to respond to every little ‘ping’ every little dance of sound that comes from a text, email, notification coming in. She suggests we give ourselves permission not to be contactable. Not to be available.
Schedule time during your day or even a whole day in the week where you just unplug.
A little food for thought: for every sight or sound of a text or email that we hear, we get a hit of dopamine. In the latest version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM 5), there’s a recognition of the severe illness that this constant need to check technological devices can turn into which is referred to as an internet addiction disorder. There’s an actual recognition of this phenomena.
In a society where we’re constantly available and where technology is cultivating a strange sense of who we are, we need to rest our nervous systems. We need to give ourselves rest from the constant stimulation – because we’re only operating in such a narrow part of who we are.
Top tip #2: Reconnect honestly and courageously with yourself. Find out what’s going on in your body after you’ve unplugged. Live more deeply. Not just on the surface. Be more grounded and connected to the Earth. There’s this whole big wide world of ourselves underneath this surface area that we can find ourselves living by habit.
Ask yourself, ‘How do I feel about XYZ?’
Although texts, messages, and Facebook feeds are very entertaining, we could spend a whole day in this world. And the point is doing this we’ve kind of lost a connection to ourselves and to others in the natural world.
Top tip #3: Remember your ancientness. Remember you’re much more than this individual with your Facebook page, etc. You’re part of this very proud lineage of life on the planet. You’re not only your thoughts and feelings. You’re way bigger. You have an extraordinary history.
There’s something very sane about this.
Don’t stay living in this bubble of just thoughts and feelings. Don’t forget who you are. Remember rituals and ceremonies. Cultivate an awareness of who you are – remember your ancientness.
Serenity at Ruth’s place