This week I had the joy of reconnecting with a group of people who have been meeting together since February, but took the summer off due to overwhelming schedule conflicts. It was like kids returning to school after the summer break. We came together, checked-in about what we’ve been up to and then began to create a vision for the coming year.
This group works to have its members come from a place of authenticity. Everyone in the room is looking to be able to connect with others who “Are what they are”, not “Do what they do”. There is a big distinction between the two; one relies on external commonality and one relies on internal commonality. The reason that it’s important for those facing the challenges of a life-altering illness to attend groups is because it’s one place you don’t have to walk in the room with explanations.
When we are with people who are the same as a common denominator, there is a shared language that needs no translation. There is does not have to be any guise of pretense of falsehood about how you “really are doing”. It’s a place of honesty and with that comes vulnerability. Having facilitated groups for twenty years for those facing life-altering illness I have been honored to bear witness to the impact that honesty and vulnerability can have on one’s well-being and quality of life.
Imagine carrying around an eight hundred pound gorilla and with one sharing getting that monkey off your back. Having the capacity to get naked (in the figurative sense) with others is about freedom, just as it is in the literal sense. It’s a time when you don’t have to protect or take care of anyone but you. What better gift can you offer yourself and the world than to put you first?
We are inspired everyday by our surroundings. We hear stories of people who have faced difficult situations and triumphed. We meet people whose spirit infuses us with hope and excitement. What would happen to your work if you were thrown a curve ball?
Kevin O’Connell is a photographer with many credits to his resume. The latest entry on his resume is cancer survivor. Kevin was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2005 and went to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant in 2006. Why is this background important? Because the body of work showing at the O’Sullivan Art Center on the campus of Regis University has an exhibit influenced by his life events.
During his talk Kevin shared a PowerPoint presentation that demonstrated the evolution of his work. He commented that many artists emulate the art that came before them. That would make sense since we need to learn and what better way to learn than from those whose work we admire.
It’s interesting that in the world we live in…the world of digital, Kevin chooses to use film cameras. He believes when he changes cameras he experiences different sets of challenges and that adds excitement to the work. It became evident during the presentation that his work has been almost exclusively black and white. This show is in color. When asked why the transition he shared that confronting mortality gave him the impetus to work with color representing life.
There are two sets of photos in the show. One set is during his time in the hospital while recovering from the bone marrow transplant. The other show is once he was home, after experiencing some complications and taking large doses of steroids he experienced insomnia. Kevin would go into his backyard in the middle of the night and take photographs…the progression in this series truly mirrors his process and his life in the moment.
We don’t know if he’ll continue on the color path or go back to black and white. For now, he has a platform that affirms his photography, affirms his life and shows us that color speaks volumes.
In it for life…
They say that what goes around comes around…that’s the law of Karma. Actually, I’ve been told and seen that when we give we get much more in return so giving is good. This is important to keep in mind because for those dealing with a life-altering illness you need to take a thorough inventory of those you support and who supports you.
When I talk about support I hope you look at the businesses and service professionals in your community, in your life and the causes that are important to them. How do they give back to the community. Do they put their money where their mouths are and do they show up to help. I want you to take stock of this list because if they are supporting organizations that help research for treatments or cures for disease you want to take note. If they support service organizations that work to increase your quality of life, please take note.
Take note of those who support you in your battle with the life-altering illness. If at all possible I encourage you to support these businesses and service professionals so they can continue giving to the causes that are important to you. These are the businesses that we want to have around for a long time because they are partners in the battles faced every day by those of you with a life-altering illness.
Think of the impact you can have by supporting those who give back to the community and get your friends and family to support you in this mission. The rewards will be enormous because there will be more support for you as you make your way through the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual maze caused by the life-altering illness. Let me know how you see this working in your life.
There are lots of ways of creating community. We see groups of people connect all the time and now with the Internet getting the word out there can be quick and painless. If you see sites like Meet Up, www.meetup.com, you not only can find people with similar interests, political views, life challenges, but you can find them in using your zip code as the search parameter.
Now it’s clear that just because a group exists doesn’t make you a part of it. The important part about becoming part of a community is that you have to show up. You have to show up in the physical sense, but you have to also show up emotionally and be ready to become a part of something larger than yourself. I know that at the beginning the desire to hang back is tempting, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you jump in the fire.
Feeling a part of something will reduce your feelings of isolation and what the 12 step programs call “terminal uniqueness”. That’s where you believe there is not one other person in the world who can understand your life or its challenges. When you become a part of a larger entity you find that being one of the school of fish makes swimming upstream easier and more fun.
Stop walking around the edge of the pool…jump in and see who else is waiting to welcome you!
There are times in life when we all need to go back to something that provides or provided us with comfort, a fresh perspective or just a bit of reinforcement about the extent to which we control our own destinies. For me that is “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews. The book is historical fiction, but it packs a punch with valuable life lessons.
The book follows the story of a man who is down on his luck and has an accident. Sound familiar, it’s a bit like “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The difference is that this man journeys back through time and visits with prominent historical figures. Upon completion of his meeting with the historical vision he receives a lesson that he can carry with him and build his personal strategies for success.
This week I’ve been focusing on that first lesson…”The Buck Stops Here”. It’s interesting because the obvious contradiction is that those diagnosed with a life-altering illness, for the most part, had no part in harboring the conditions for the illness. It’s what is done following the diagnosis that each person has control over. We have control over the questions asked of providers. We have control over whether or not we follow our medical regimen.
What do you feel you have control over? Where does the buck stop for you? How will you take responsibility for the decisions about your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional life? Maximizing the control we have over our lives can alleviate stress and improve your quality of life. Isn’t it worth it?
Our voice is one of the most powerful sources of energy on the planet. It’s not only a means of communicating with others, but a way to leave your mark on the world. Your voice is one of the most unique qualities your possess that differentiates you from every other person in the world. One of the amazing things about your voice is that it’s your choice as to how your voice is used.
Remember, your voice can be used for healing as well as harming so gaining conscious control is crucial because it’s a tool that doesn’t come with operating instructions. We’re born with a voice and without consciousness it is an energy force that impacts others, supports others, enlightens others and allows for us to share with one another.
Every time we speak, we make an entry in the universal catalog of communication. If you knew everything you said was being cataloged would it make a difference in what you say or how you say it? It would hold you accountable for your views, thoughts and ideas. It would require that you be responsible for everything you say. That is an enormous responsibility that many are not ready to hold in their hearts.
Our voice keeps us from being anonymous. Every utterance in the presence of others will have an impact and will often result in acknowledgment of the communication. Anonymity is the conscious decision to either abandon the rights and privilege of the voice or when it’s underutilized we short circuit what’s trying to unfold.
Our voice is equal to our presence whether in a room full of others or when we take a stand where the energy from our voice stands in for us when we can’t physically be present. This is why your voice is so powerful, it can be in multiple places at the same time. Think of quotes that you’re fond of; the person isn’t present and yet their voice is heard loud and clear. One of the reasons it’s powerful is because the tone and the message are consistent with the person’s personal philosophy, standing in the community and presence both personally and professionally.
Think about the people you admire in both your personal and professional circles. What is it that you admire? Is it a gift or talent? Whatever it is you wouldn’t connect to it if they didn’t share their voice with you and not one time, but on a regular basis so their voice is reinforced in your consciousness.
Think about your voice and how you can use it to impact the world? What do you want others to know about you or your health? What do you want others to understand in the political arena so more funding is given for research and treatment of illness. The media says that for every e-mail or letter they receive it represents 10,000 voices. Can you imagine the impact you can have if that’s the case…every time your vocalize your beliefs your represent a group that is part of your constituency…that’s why it’s a responsibility; one I hope you take seriously and will use to it’s full potential.
It’s September 11th, the sixth anniversary of the attack on the United States. There are certain moments we all remember in our lives depending on our age: where you were when Kennedy was shot, where you were when the verdict for O.J. Simpson was announced and of course September 11th. Those who have been diagnosed with a life-altering health crisis will also remember the day of their diagnosis…it’s the day that changed their lives.
For those who cope with a life-altering illness I hope you’re gentle on yourself around the anniversary of the diagnosis because the body has a memory all its own. It will kick in to the mode of remembering the day of the diagnosis within a couple of weeks of the actual date. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit down or sluggish, it’s the body’s way of coping with the shift that took place.
I hope you give yourself the opportunity to grieve any loses you’ve experienced whenever you need to express yourself. I hope that you find the support you need in times that are challenging. I hope that you find the courage that pilgrims require to be resilient to carry forth with the mission of your life, even if you need to modify the plans for their original form.