June 21, 2003

Leisa Griffiths Park always knew the pain that racked her body was the manifestation of something much bigger, and much deeper, than physical disease.

But it took years of mind-numbing medication and prolonged hospital stays before she realized hope lay only in taking back the power from a condition that was fast claiming her body, her emotions and a blossoming international singing career.

"I realised I had to take responsibility back," says the articulate 42-year-old, who until five years ago was crippled by a cluster of diseases dominated by the rare trigeminal neuralgia, which causes swelling and excruciating pain through the neck, face and head.

"I had to look at my whole history. I had to see what was going on deeply inside me that I hadn't been in contact with. That was a real turning point."

At the time, she was hitting her stride in a musical career that had already taken her to London, Europe and China, performing her own compositions in hotels and clubs.

Music had always been the center of her life. Through writing and singing, she believed she could slice through cultural barriers to find common connections between people, the things that linked rather than divided.

"I wanted to reach a place in people's hearts where they could recognize themselves, a place in them and in me," she says. "A place where language went out the window."

This made finding the source of her physical problems all the harder: "I knew I had to look at my behavior and thinking to mend whatever damage had been done, but I had no idea what I'd done that led me to this. The penalty felt a bit high. It felt like a punishment."

But there seemed to be little choice. Her body was failing her (she was also diagnosed with celiac disease, irritable bowel and hypothyroidism), Western medicine was failing her, and her family feared the worst.

"I came to realize I may not be able to go on," Griffiths Park recalls. "Life was at a near standstill."

A few years previously, she had lived and worked in China, where she had intuitively felt her answers might lie. At her lowest ebb, she returned, in search of an expert, or master, in the eastern practice of Qi Gong.

In the West, the best-known form of the practice is Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, controversially banned in China, where its proponents have been persecuted and jailed.

Griffiths Park didn't find her master there, but on a return stopover in Bali, she began to read the Falun Dafa books given to her previously by a friend.

The change, she says, was as surprising as it was sudden. "From that point my life started to change," she says. "I began to do the exercises and I could feel things happening immediately, in my nerve endings, right through my body. I began to feel better physically and emotionally and I knew I'd found it. I knew I wouldn't need any other healing, medical or otherwise."

What Griffiths Park had embarked on was a "cultivation system" based around the physical practice of five exercises, meditation, and the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance.

"The focus is on being a better person," she says simply. "I know that sounds cliched, and I think that's sad, in this day and age. The main principles provide ways of looking inside yourself and seeing what you are doing. Of looking at a situation and instead of trying to change others, asking, what is the kindest, most compassionate way to go about this? What is my part in this? It's about putting other people first."

The several thousand practitioners of Falun Gong in Australia are keen to point out the practice is not an organized religion and is not even a club. "It's a way of living, but it's entirely up to the individual. Sometimes people practice exercises or meditation in the local park, and they're happy to show others, or talk about it," she says.

"No one is allowed to take money for this information. We can just show people how this works. Then it's up to them. For me, it was about the tools being put into my hands. How much I used them was up to me."

Feeling positive effects immediately, Griffiths Park adopted the system wholeheartedly. Over the following months, her facial swelling and pain disappeared, her slurred speech improved and without the numbing effects of strong medication, she felt clear-headed and light.

Then the "completely impossible" happened: new blood tests confirmed all the abnormalities had gone, and she fell pregnant. At first, her husband and family were skeptical about the new regime, fearing she could still regress and just "fall down". Now, five years down the track, they've been won over.

"There's no sign of the pain. I've had a complete and utter turnaround in my health," she says. "I feel lighter, calmer, more youthful. And exhilarated and a bit shocked -- I walked away from it. Now my life seems to become more worthwhile every day."

There are two babies now, and Griffiths Park is back in the recording studio putting down her new composition Call to Heart, which will premiere at next weekend's celebrations in Canberra around National Falun Dafa Day on Monday, June 23.

For Griffiths Park, the health benefits have become a by-product of "really wholeheartedly doing something and being a better person". She wants this, and the Falun Dafa messages about tolerance and compassion, to emerge in her music, but she and her fellow practitioners also want to highlight the ongoing persecution of others in China.

She believes the bans on Falun Dafa there are linked to the way its principles of truth and tolerance have "exposed corruption among high-ranking officials and bureaucrats". She is also concerned that people associated with her in Australia have gone missing on their return to China, and she fears for their safety.