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Buddhism, yoga and meditation: how Dee Cowburn is following the path to mindfulness to guide her through life’s darker times

Dee Cowburn

We are delighted to welcome Dee Cowburn, a former print journalist now working in communications, originally from Coventry. Dee lives in Leeds with her partner Rob and her two children, Thea, 5 and Tilly, 4. Tilly has Rett Syndrome.  Dee beautifully shares her personal “Reflections on faith and spirituality” explaining what this means to her and how it helps her to handle life’s challenges. By putting her faith in mindfulness, she has focused her energy into leading a calmer more balanced life through meditation and other traditions rooted in Buddhist practices.  

I have always been interested in yoga and meditation and practise both regularly. As well as working in communications and training to be a yoga teacher, I advocate passionately for Tilly to access the care she deserves. I am currently finalising her EHCP, getting her ready for primary school next year, and sorting out a specially adapted home, trying to secure funding and all that entails. I write a blog around the challenges we face as a family as a way of processing the challenges of daily life with a genetic syndrome, trying to ensure it doesn’t call all the shots. Tilly’s Tales is our Facebook page where we show what Tilly can do and how she does it.​

Tilly is four and was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome aged 18 months. Rett Syndrome is a rare genetic condition that has left Tilly unable to walk, talk, use her hands, or do anything for herself. It gets more complicated and unstable the older she gets.

I had therapy when Tilly was diagnosed as my main coping mechanism, overwork, didn’t serve me well and once I had a panic attack on my way to London for work I knew something had to give.

I couldn’t change Tilly’s reality so I had to change myself and the way I was dealing with it. 

Through gradually understanding my reactions to things, and how I had used overwork since my mum died in 2006, I understood there could be a different way of doing things, especially if her syndrome was going to make life seriously unpredictable.

I had always been interested in yoga and meditation, and when the doctor advised me to exercise for my mental health, not my physical health, I turned to yoga again. I then started meditation through the Headspace app initially for ten minutes a day to cope with the difficult news we were hearing weekly about her condition. 

Tilly and Mum (Dolores Cowburn)

I then found a book called Buddha in Blue Jeans all about mindfulness and loved the simplicity of it and the art of sitting quietly. I heard about a Buddhist monk called Ajahn Brahm who did guided meditations on YouTube and did Dharma talks, about the right way of living and in that straightforward way I deepened my practice.

Ajahn Brahm spoke about the impermanence of things.

​Whilst understanding life comes with suffering, it is important to find joy in the moment to make life more bearable. 

This is Buddhism in its most simple terms. For me that is loving Tilly for who she is and understanding that my job is to make her life as rich as possible.

For me practising the mindfulness principles, meditating and trying to live by the Buddhist path of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration helps.

Recognising I am human with my limitations, is important. Trying to be more compassionate and kind to myself, particularly when faced with another challenging moment in relation to Tilly’s condition, is easier because of the foundation I now have of understanding myself and others and developing self awareness. I also have the space in my mind from meditating. I had mentioned to my therapist about always wanting to be a yoga teacher but listed the reasons why I couldn’t do it. He said they were all internal barriers so why not give it a go. 

So I regularly committed to yoga classes and then applied for a teacher training course and got accepted in January this year. My spiritual practice has deepened as a result. I meditate every day and understand that yoga isn’t about movement, more about spiritual practice and connecting with your inner self and practising authenticity in a way that makes life easier because you are living your own truth. The principles of yoga tie in with a mindfulness and spiritual perspective.

Having a strong belief system helps me establish what is important to me and I try to live by the Buddhist Eightfold Path above, right thinking, right actions, right mindfulness and right concentration are key.

​I’m a work in progress but I try my best.

For me, this path includes daily meditation, sitting quietly and turning inwards, focusing on the breath and daily yoga –  gentle moving with Yin or Restorative yoga, or Ashtanga yoga if I have more energy and life isn’t so overwhelming that day. I also meditate online with Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock, responsible for bringing Buddhism and mindfulness to the West.

​It is less of a religion for me rather a spiritual practice that deepens and strengthens my soul and gives me the strength and resilience needed to cope with the challenges Tilly’s condition can throw up.

That includes sorting her EHCP, coping with worsening scoliosis, four months in lockdown with all services pulled, current breathing issues and finding a house to adapt as she gets bigger and her needs more complex. It is just me and my partner and our two girls, I have to be mentally strong for them and meditation, yoga and following the Buddhist mindfulness practices and wisdom helps me to sustain that level of mental strength and lose the inner critical voice who tells me I’m failing.

A perfectionist fighting a genetic syndrome is not a good match. Meditation gives me the wisdom to choose my battles over Rett so I can advocate for Tilly but also cope day to day.

Last year, I went on a meditation retreat and everyone I spoke to without exception had experienced something life changing that had brought them to meditate and sit with their experiences. 

Last year, I went on a meditation retreat and everyone I spoke to without exception had experienced something life changing that had brought them to meditate and sit with their experiences. 

It works for me so it works for Tilly and that’s what counts.

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