Ushma Hinnawi, administrator of a meditation centre, artist and mother, is also the primary carer of chronically ill her husband. She explains how she manages….
The interview ‘Something to Smile About’ featured Nirodh Fortini talking about the impact of meditation on his living with muscular dystrophy.
What follows is an interview with Ushma, his partner of twenty-seven years. Also a meditator, Ushma is a multi-tasker par excellence. She juggles the administration of the Osho Arihant Meditation and Creative Arts Centre in Varazze, Italy, with offering Reiki, colour puncture, breath, and counselling sessions; translating for non-Italian-speaking group facilitators, and facilitating her own groups.
She also has a role in the Creative Arts aspect of the couple’s work – creating the concept and text, as well as providing the voice for 11 CDs of guided meditations. In addition, she is an artist, mother of a twenty-four year old son, and a housekeeper – shopping, paying bills, doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking meals, and taking care of their two pets. All this, in addition to being Nirodh’s primary caretaker.
Fifty-two years old, Ushma is a petite blonde with stunning blue eyes. Sensitive, and fun to be with, she is practical minded and vast hearted.
As Ushma recalls, the onset of muscular dystrophy affected Nirodh’s face first (he discovered one day that he could no longer whistle, and then that he could no longer smile, or make any other facial expression), then his arms and, later, his legs.
“It became difficult for him to walk around the house, and these days when he goes outside he uses a golf caddy. In the last three to four years it has also become difficult for him to write, and to play the synthesizer, so the last he has had to drop,” she explains. “He can shower alone and can usually dress himself, although sometimes he needs help with his shoes, and so on.”
A situation such as Nirodh’s must present an enormous challenge not only to him but to you, too: How are you managing?
With every change in Nirodh’s sickness, my first reaction used to be denial – that it was not happening, that he was trying to avoid doing something, or that he wanted to remain dependent. This of course created a conflict in me. But now, as I become more trusting of Nirodh and more accepting of the situation, I immediately feel deeply connected with his heart. This gives me the strength to stay with him in spite of the sickness.
The amazing thing is that every time there is a degeneration in his health, he never creates a drama of it. On the contrary, he is always very easy about any change that happens in his body. He never complains; instead he immediately finds a solution for every situation. He has a fantastic sense of humour and a deep sense of practicality.
Before his sickness we enjoyed travelling around the world, especially in the East. I still have in my heart the curiosity to go around the world, and the dream to do it together. Now it would be too difficult for him to travel. But he always encourages me to go, and he insists that he can take care of himself.
Of course, I have had to change my life, in other ways, too. For example, if I want to go away for one evening with friends, I have to organise everything: I have to prepare dinner for him and be with him while he eats. Or I need to arrange to have someone who will stay here with him, because he can’t cook; he can’t carry things, or pick up whatever he might drop. Whenever I am away from home, if he is alone I always have a subtle worry that he may need something or he might fall over.
And taking a break of some days means that much more organisation?
I have to organise everything in advance. But we are lucky: we have so many friends all around us that love us. So, whenever I go, we find some of them who, with joy, stay with him. They have a good time together, watching movies, or staying awake ‘til the early hours of the morning creating music, and so on.
It is important to me that I have time away each year; otherwise I feel restricted, and then that becomes nervousness, and I take that out on him! So I prefer to find time for myself, even though that takes so much organising. When I do take time away, there is always the sense of separation from him, so it’s not easy.
How does having meditation as a resource help you?
Meditation has given me the means to understand that I always have the opportunity to see the good aspect in life. Every single moment I have the choice to look at the sad part, or I can see the good and positive aspect. There are always both sides, and whatsoever I choose is my responsibility. Each moment I can either cry to myself about the bad luck that has happened to me – poor me! – or enjoy the beautiful things life gives me.
And life is giving me so many beautiful things. The meditation centre is a space I have created together with Nirodh, and it is a great opportunity to meet many different people, new friends and old ones.
Through meditation I understand that freedom is inside me, and that that freedom can be expressed in my way of living. The most precious gift that a person can have is to wake up in the morning and start creating her own life, moment by moment. And this is what is happening to me. I am responsible for my life, and I am an active part in its creation.
It’s obvious, being with you both, that there is a very strong bond between you.
It’s always been important to me to tell him everything: he is my best friend.
It is important to keep on having moments just for us. After so many years together, is very easy to meet to talk only about work or decision making and so on. This situation is probably usual between couples who have been together for a long time, and who live and work together twenty-four hours a day. But it is a mistake.
When this happens for too many days, something always happens to break this pattern, or we create the opportunity to have moments to share our inner feelings, like two old friends. Then we can communicate with each other from a deeper space, from our souls. Those are the most precious moments, whether we are sharing our sadness, or a fear, or a difficulty on the spiritual path, or an insight we have had.
Sometimes I feel confused about something in my inner life, and I talk to him. He is always so clear minded and always has the right answer: he helps me to see the easy and positive aspect of the situation. Just talking with him I feel released. He has the ability to de-dramatise, so often we end our talk with simple laughter.
In the interview with him I asked Nirodh about resentment. Do you ever feel resentment?
Many times we have different ideas about projects or administration of the meditation centre. I get pissed off when he insists on his way. I get into a trip of, ‘But I am the one being with you all the time, and you treat me like this!’ Then I go into a very dark space because I am full of resentment and I feel like leaving. I need to take time to feel that there is still love between us…to let the love flow again between us. Until I get back to that point I live in an ugly mood and my mind runs wild.
How do you deal with these spaces?
The ‘witness’ or watcher is the part of me that says, “This is just part of the drama, the show called life,” because the tendency of the mind is to say, “This is how life will always be – always ugly and sad and full of anger.” The witness is the part that says “This will pass; you know it is not always going to be like this.” This is the main help I have in passing through those difficult moments.
But to be able to witness, first I need to do some active meditations. Gibberish (a form of verbal release through making nonsense sounds) and Osho Dynamic (in which physical and emotional catharsis is followed by a period of silence and then dance) also help me. It’s important to allow the expression of my feelings.
Before doing Gibberish my head is full of a lot of words, of criticism of myself, of what to do and what not to do. Through this technique I find there really is a mental release, and that helps me to take a distance from all these thoughts.
Dynamic is more complete, so I do it whenever I have time. That is the best, because it includes fire breathing – a significant tool in that it chemically changes my bodymind. I feel it! Without any effort my energy simply changes.
Then the stage of release through the body – I move my body a lot – and the jumping of the third stage…. Now, after years of doing Dynamic, I am discovering the greatness of this stage: it brings me to my centre. By this I mean that, in spite of all that is happening around me that creates a lot of movement in my mind, I reach a point from where I am able not to get caught up in this internal hurricane. In the stage of standing absolutely still and being silent I learn to do nothing but just observe whatever is happening inside and outside me. *1
Once I heard Osho asked: ‘Is it possible to celebrate sadness?’ So many times when I am angry or in a bad mood, then I am reminded of his answer – that you can really celebrate everything – your anger, your sadness…. Celebration is not only to do with good emotions. * 2
That’s probably a novel idea for many people! Can you explain what you mean?
Celebrating means accepting that sadness is how I feel in a certain moment, and understanding that I can dance my sadness. If I am angry, I allow myself to dance in an angry way – I drop the ideas that dance has to be beautiful and joyful – and then my mood changes. It is amazing, but by the end I feel lighter. Somehow the element of play has arrived, so I can play with my anger. If I dance these feelings I am not trying to change them but I am able to see them as part of life, so it is easier to allow them to be. Dancing is one way; or I go for a walk alone in nature – near the sea or in the woods. If I use these strategies, many times when I return my mood has totally changed by itself. It might happen sometimes that Nirodh is still in a bad mood; then I realise how much more difficult it is for him because he doesn’t have the options that I do to release uncomfortable feelings. In spite of this, he often manages to drop his negativity.
On other occasions it is he who pulls me out of my space because he has, by nature, a very positive attitude.
What else are you learning through being with a partner who is increasingly dependent on you?
Before, I thought that to accept was to become passive, but I am finding that it’s an active stance. For example, as I said earlier, if I use the dancing for anger, then I am accepting my anger and it is transformed by itself. Similarly, I am learning to do this generally with my life near a sick man whom I love.
If I use this situation by accepting that I can feel angry and can feel that I am missing out on certain things – and allow these feelings – then I feel a freedom. The freedom is an inner thing. It is the freedom to be responsible for staying – or going.
From him I am learning: if Nirodh, with the real difficulties he has with his body, can take life easy and in a positive way, why can’t I who has a healthy body, who can move around freely and who is totally independent?
Do you ever think about the future?
Again I face a choice: I can either freak out… Then the significance of meditation kicks in – that is, the remembrance to stay in the moment. So I remind myself, ‘Okay, you can fantasize about a really terrible scenario, but right now that is not the situation.’ So I can either feel frightened about the future, or I can see our life as a creation of more and more beautiful moments together.
2) The following passage is part of Osho’s response about celebrating sadness.
“It is possible [to celebrate misery] because celebration is an attitude. Celebration means: whatsoever happens is irrelevant – I will celebrate. Celebration is not conditional on certain things: ‘When I am happy then I will celebrate,’ or, ‘When I am unhappy I will not celebrate.’ Celebration is unconditional; I celebrate life. It brings unhappiness? Good, I celebrate it. It brings happiness? Good, I celebrate it. Celebration is my attitude, unconditional to what life brings.
“How can one celebrate when one is sad? I am not saying that one has to be happy to celebrate. Celebration is gratefulness for whatsoever life gives to you. Whatsoever God gives to you, celebration is gratitude; it is gratefulness.
“This is what alchemy is: to transform the baser metal into higher gold. Sadness, anger, jealousy – baser metals can be transformed into gold because they are constituted of the same elements as gold.
“Once you know the key, your life will never be the same again. You can unlock any door. And this is the master key: to celebrate everything.
“When there is a possibility of transforming anger into bliss, greed into compassion, jealousy into love… you don’t know what you are losing. You don’t know what you are missing. You are missing the whole point of being here in this universe.
“Give it a try!”
(Yoga: The Alpha and Omega)