Images by @elizabethkinnaird
I was working as a lawyer in Sydney. On paper I should have been happy. I had a great job. I lived in a beautiful part of the world and I had nice things. The driving force to go into law was to help people and make a difference. But my health was suffering, I was feeling unfulfilled and disconnected, and I was starting to ask questions about whether life had a greater purpose, when I was hit by a car.
I was a pedestrian. On a pedestrian crossing. A taxi came around a corner, and cleaned me up. The impact was intense and I travelled on the bonnet screaming for him to stop. It took some time, but when he finally did, I was thrown off, launching at speed towards the tar.
Onlookers had thought that was it for me. No way of surviving the impact of either initially connecting with the vehicle, or subsequently with the road. But my handbag landed before I did, and my head landed on top of it “like a pillow,” witnesses would later report, leaving my skull perfectly intact (and bringing new meaning to the term “investment piece” don’t you think?!).
But my brain had rattled around in my head, literally shifting within the skull, and the subsequent constant dizziness and nausea were unmanageable. The discs in my neck had bulged into my spinal cord causing constant chronic pain, my mind re-played the whole thing over and over again, and as my mind replayed it, my body relived it. If I thought that life was ‘tough’ prior to the accident, I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of the word. I was debilitated like I had never been before.
I remember lying in hospital after the accident and not being able to feel my legs. It was absolutely terrifying.
People want to tell you that you’re lucky to be alive. But I didn’t feel lucky. The prospect of the life that lay ahead of me made me wish that I wasn’t. And then a friend died. To say I was devastated doesn’t even nearly come close. If I thought I was doing a good job of Hating The World post accident, well now I was really HATING THE WORLD.
After a while I thought about my friend and how he’d approach this. We both had accidents. Mine went one way. His went another. If he had survived, he would have really lived. Embraced everyday with a cheeky smile, no matter how tough. I knew that because he knew a thing or two about adversity. Life had already thrown him more than his fair share.
I’d been given an opportunity I realised. And I owed it to him to Live Life Fully. Which admittedly is tough in a neck brace.
I tried everything: neurosurgeons; neurologists; psychologists; psychiatrists; acupuncture; massage; physio; chiro; osteo. I could go on. But the pain was excruciating and no matter what I did, it wasn’t going away.
And 12-months post accident things were getting worse. The pain was getting worse and painkillers were no longer an option, I could barely eat or sleep, I was being told I needed surgeries to my spinal cord which would likely continue throughout my lifetime – I was living an inner and outer HELL.
Then two things happened. My neurosurgeon said that last resort surgery was now unavoidable. Confirmed by a second opinion. And I was told having kids pretty much wasn’t going to happen for me.
Being a Mum is the only thing that I have ever known that I have wanted to be in my life. I thought I knew pain. We were well acquainted. But this was next level.
I was overwhelmed with grief. My world was completely spinning out of my control. Once I wallowed in that for a while, something happened. I kind of decided that I wasn’t okay with this being the outcome for my life. The desire to be able to have children one day was so strong, that it got me moving. Got me to rise up. Got me to seek out a way to have a different experience of life. It got me off the floor in a pool of my own tears.
It got me to meditation.
The head of my physical rehabilitation team was an amazing guy. When I meet him he told me he wanted me to write down my rehab goals. And he wanted me to dream BIG. When I was in a neck brace, on my back, and the physical and mental pain all got too much, I’d close my eyes and I’d see myself surfing. So despite us needing to try to teach my body how to walk again without pain, and despite having an auto-immune disease that almost took my life at 18 and which meant that for the best part of a decade I wasn’t able to go swimming, I wrote that I wanted to be able to surf. I also wanted to be able to do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk again, a favourite of mine. And be able to wear high heels. My dream was BIG. He told me I needed to learn to meditate.
He shared with me his observations of how he had seen meditation help his patients with their pain and being able to sleep, and more importantly to me, pointed me in the direction of the scientific evidence of how meditation changes the body’s biochemistry and the physical structure of the brain. And he was one of many of my rehab team to do so. And so I tried some white light, relax your little finger, send your worries down a stream on leaf stuff, but it wasn’t really working and it wasn’t really for me.
At this point I met Sarah Wilson, author and health and wellness advocate. We bonded over auto-disease and the like. She cried. I cried. Then she told me I needed to learn Vedic Meditation.
I had nothing left to lose and everything to gain. At just 27, I was determined to have a different experience of life.
Within a weekend I was up and running. A self-sufficient meditator.
Vedic Meditation provided me a sense of relief that I had never experienced before. I really started to see that change was possible. I started to be able to sleep, my body started to heal, I got some space back from the pain and negative self-destructive voices in my head, and I felt self-empowered – that I had a tool that I could use anywhere, anytime, that enabled me to change my experience of life.
It might sound like things got good overnight. It wasn’t like that at all. I felt relief like I had never felt before, but often it also felt like two steps forward, and four steps back. And it’s an ongoing process. As is my meditation practice.
The thing about meditation is that it doesn’t actually work unless you do it. Much like a gym membership. Just signing up isn’t going to cut it (trust me I’ve tried!). You’ve got to get your butt to the gym and do the work.
And every day, twice a day, I did. And do.
To my amazement it wasn’t just the injuries from the accident that were starting to improve. I had a track record of health problems spanning more than a decade - glandular fever; chronic fatigue; auto-immune disease; kidney disease; migraines; anaphylactic shock; swine flu; pneumonia, to name a few.
Meditation changed my life in so many ways that I never thought was possible. I’ll never forget the day that I was down at Bronte beach floating on my back in the ocean, so happy that I was laughing. The transformation was happening before my eyes. I started to understand that meditation was more than just about feeling calm.
I never had the surgery. I’m not against modern medicine. It’s pretty incredible. But I wasn’t satisfied with the outcomes being suggested and the risks involved. I’m also told the only thing standing between me and motherhood now, is the right man. Let’s see, when the time’s right. Oh and I got my first waves on my first surfboard on my thirty birthday. That was a good day.
It all sounds too good to be true. And I didn’t believe any of it at first either. But then even the lawyer in me could see that the benefits I was experiencing from meditation were undeniable.
We don’t have to go anywhere to experience heaven and hell. They exist right here on earth. And I had found a way to move from one to the other. And it was what I wanted for everybody around me. I had spent a long time in pain management clinics and rehabilitation centres, often with people in much worse situations and more pain than myself. Once I found something that changed my experience of life, I wanted that for everyone else that I had seen suffering as well. So I spent a year studying to teach Vedic Meditation and graduated in Rishikesh India, the home of Vedic knowledge and this tradition.
There’s no greater privilege than to be able to teach people to be able to do this for themselves. I’m doing something that I love and I’ve found how I can contribute to the world in a really meaningful way.
Adding meditation into my life is the single best thing I have ever done. I have this incredible life beyond anything that I could have imagined or thought possible, or that anybody else thought was possible for me.
If I wasn’t meditating I wouldn’t have had the courage to make the changes in my life that have enabled me to be where I am today. Here I was starting to thrive, rather than just surviving my life.
People often tell me how brave I am. But for me it was about putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to step into the unknown.
Life is going to send waves in our direction. It’s up to us what we do with that. We can run away. We can stay right in the impact zone, stand our ground and dig our heels in. Or we can use it as an opportunity to dive deep, to look within and adapt to the circumstances. To let go. And learn to ride those waves.
Lying in hospital not being able to feel your legs is terrifying. But I think when things are taken away from us we begin to appreciate them more. I needed to have that experience. I was forced to stop. I was forced to go within. I wasn’t going to stop otherwise, I wasn’t going to slow down.
Being hit by that car taught me to live. I was forced to work out how to have a better life. How to thrive. How to choose to thrive. It pushed me towards something that matters to me. And I’m a better person for having had the experience.
I never thought I’d get out of the “why me?!” injustice phase of it all. But as I meditated more and got more space back from the horror, I started to get some perspective on the way I had lived my life. There’s a saying I love that goes: “The greatest joy in life is not seeing new people, places and things, but seeing familiar people, places and things through new eyes”.
And when I was ready to view it, this was the gift that I’d been given.
The experiences I’ve had has shaped what’s important to me and what’s a priority in my life. I make time for fun everyday. And to live. I think we can all do with a reminder to do that. To Live. And live fully.
I got hit by a car. But it’s the best thing that has ever happen to me in my life.
To connect with Kate check out www.katecliffmeditation.com.au
@madebeautifulbyscars is a human global story series created by Author and Therapist Veronica Farmer, capturing real stories from men and women who have refused to let life scars hold them back from creating an extraordinary life.
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