When many people hear the word “ritual” they think of cults, religious groups or mystical experiences. I’ve used rituals for years and for me they are like a habit. They are something I come to rely on signify a shift in focus, punctuating and event, marking a meaningful experience or to help relieve stress. They are actions I take that are grounding and bring me to a present state.
One of the things I find when working with clients is that some form of ritual helps them reduce anxiety. It can be starting your day meditating, pulling a card from a set of healing cards or reciting a poem that has meaning to you, the choice is yours. When we create rituals we create structure. Overwhelmingly structure helps reduce stress and allows us to move forward with our plans even when they are challenging.
When everything else in life is chaotic, as it often is when facing a life-altering diagnosis, structure can be soothing. Having something, even if it’s just one thing that we can count on reduces our level of anxiety. It grants us the capacity to take a moment to breathe and then make more conscious decisions.
Anything that reduces stress and brings clarity will certainly aid in improving your health. Just because the word “ritual” may seem foreign, don’t let it cloud the benefits of the practice.
Life is made up of give and take moments. When we are out of balance on either side many facing life-altering diagnoses fall prey to symptoms and diminished health. I read lots of books, magazines and blogs about facing life with illness. Some of it mirrors my own experience with health issues and sometimes my situation seems unique.
What I’ve learned is that it’s okay to ask for what you need. If you need advice, resources, tools for coping then ask for it. My assumption is that you are creating opportunities to share your story because you’re looking for others to bear witness to your life and sometimes even offer solutions to challenges. Asking is a strength not a weakness. We gain knowledge and empower our bodies and our soul’s when we ask for help.
On the other hand it’s important to offer what you can. That’s why I’m intent on responding to the blogs that I read. If someone is willing to share their deepest concerns and challenges I feel as part of the community the need to honor that sharing. If you stand at the edge of a canyon and yell you can hear the echo go on forever. I believe what we’re really doing at that point is hoping somene will yell back and answer our echo.
Last night I gave a talk to an artist group about living a creative life. Some of the audience members want to earn their living by making art. I personally make art because it makes me feel better. Over the years I’ve found that it grounds me, keeps me present and is a visual twist on the “Dear Diary” version of my life.
Currently, I’m enrolled in a PhD program where I’ll be focusing on Art and Healing. When I disclosed that to the audience they were surprised. Then I also disclosed my own health challenges and how art has created a safe haven for living with illness. After the talk one of the artists came and offered to be a case study if I needed one for school. She has been living with an illness for over thirty-five years and finds that art helps build her immune system, lesson symptoms and give voice to her challenges and her life.
It’s important to open up avenues of communication so that people don’t feel so alone. When they are given a container to express themselves and is safe, there is a sense of relief and joy at not having to keep the secret inside. We can develop communities of care if we disclose our reality. It’s powerful and it’s healing.
Time is all we have. Once the diagnosis begins there is often a race against time. The first is getting all the appointments in so we can find out the diagnosis, treatment plan and the endless specialists we’re going to have to see. Depending on your illness the race may be against time. It’s not something we ever want to discuss but not everyone who gets sick will live so what is it about today that’s going to be different from every other day.
Before I entered the helping professions I began my adult work life in the hotel industry. The general manager explained to me that the selling of a room in a hotel is a perishable commodity. That meant if we didn’t sell room 101 on April 11, 2008, we couldn’t ever sell it for that night again. Don’t you feel the same is true with the lives we lead?
Once we live this day we can’t say, “Oops I didn’t do it right, may I have a do over?” That kind of thinking only works in the movie Ground Hog’s Day. It’s interesting because most people wouldn’t want the chance to live their days over so how can we make the most of what we have today. Trust me, I understand that lying in bed in pain may not be a day to go out dancing, but what can you do to make the most of the day?
Is there a poem that brings you joy? I have found the work by poet Mary Oliver to be thoughtful, endearing and full of meaning about life. Maybe you have a piece of music that helps ease the tension or pain. If you’ve read The Mozart Effect you’ll find that music has amazing healing powers and it doesn’t take any effort to listen (unless you have migraines and the thought of sound is worse than torture).
How we live the day is our choice. Yes, we will often have to make concessions, but it’s part of the creative nature of those battling an illness. Today is a perishable commodity and the shelf life ends at midnight. What will you do before the day expires?
The other day I wrote about the choices we all get to make in our lives regarding our health. I’m amazed at how many discuss all the options for treatment and leave out the fact that not having treatment is also an option. The question is, if you don’t choose treatment are you surrendering? Is surrender even a word that should be part of the dialogue?
Over the past thirty years facing my own health issues and serving clients with health issues for twenty years, it’s a conversation I have often. I remember in the 90’s working for a clinic serving clients with HIV/AIDS. During one of my sessions my client noticed that I had the book “No Exit” on my bookshelf. At first he was surprised because the book outlines how someone with a terminal illness could take his/her own life. It’s a prescription for death.
I believe that even though he chose not to end his own life, his decision to eventually end treatment was not surrender. It was the opportunity to exercise choice in his life. He was able to call for hospice services and receive the ultimate care everyone deserves. It became his opportunity to take one more stand and have control over his life in a way that honored his body and soul.
I know that some people simply give up. I believe they haven’t developed stamina of the soul. Surrender is about passivity. Ending treatment by choice is not surrender because it’s still an active decision. We all get to our own checkered flag in our own way, but the white flag should be eradicated from our consciousness. Take responsibility for your actions and you’ll be honoring the life you have.
Following a diagnosis many facing a life-altering illness turn their life, their health and their happiness over to their medical providers. If they prescribe the right medication, then I’ll be happy. If they can limit symptomatology, then I’ll be happy. Is our happiness really dependent on their actions? If we weren’t happy before are the choices our medical team make going to release happiness into our bloodstream?
One of the people I admire is Caroline Myss, www.myss.com. Listening to her radio broadcast on Hay House Radio, www.hayhouseradio.com, I heard Caroline make some wonderful statements about how we make decisions. I just took those ideas and thought about how they apply to health. She stated, “Life is not an entertainment system. Choices are not made for you…Do something that puts a new energy in motion-stop being passive.”
When we are facing our illness, everything is a decision. Whether I take my medication today or not is a decision. Whether I seek the support of an acupunturist to relieve symptoms is a decision. Whether I search the web for the latest research about my illness is a decision. I can give you a checklist, but it’s your to-do list, not mine.
Making decisions is empowering, even if the end result is not what we expected. We get to chart our own course for happiness so what three things can you do in the next 30 days that will bring you happiness?
Genetics labs all over the world are constantly on the lookout for what genetic factors cause illness. This week the story is the genetic link tied to smoking and lung cancer. The article says, “A smoker who inherits these genetic variations from both parents has an 80 percent greater chance of lung cancer than a smoker without the variants, the researchers reported.” (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=4579691)
As a psychotherapist the jokes are always about what did your parents do to you that someday will land you on the analyst’s couch. Now in addition to our parents causing emotional damage, they can be responsible for our physical demise as well. If that doesn’t land you on the analyst’s couch nothing will. As someone who has lived with an autoimmune disease for over thirty years I’m well aware of living life as a genetic dumping ground. Does it serve me to blame those who passed down the illness, only if living with anger and resentment boosts my immune system somehow, I can assure you that’s not the case.
What do you do with the information that your illness may be genetic? As tests become more available we all have the choice and decision about whether we choose to know if we are carrying a genetic variant. If you knew would it change how you live your life? I know women who have had prophylactic mastectomies after finding they had the breast cancer gene.
Is information power? Are you more likely to make life choices that will improve your health if you know the results of the test? Are you more likely to torture yourself and all those in your genetic lineage if you know the illness genetics of your family? As we become more technologically advanced these findings and their fallout will only increase. It may not be relevant in your lifetime but what about your kids? The bottom line is that blame doesn’t serve any of us…so let’s find other ways of coping that will increase our quality of life and diminish the adverse effects of any illness.