Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Empowerment, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Interior Designers, The New Motivational Experts?

We know that where you live impacts how you live. Your environment effects how you move through our day. Your home should be your sanctuary. It should provide shelter, comfort, protection, and even inspiration. Needless to say I was surprised when I was watching an episode of Fixer Upper on HGTV. The designing team, a husband and wife, were transforming the space of a single woman. It’s one thing to do the major renovations, but what about the actual decorating?

Interior designers are not only worried about the configuration of the space, but the aesthetics. The accessories are just as important as a sofa. They are looking for ways to create a complete experience. In this episode the designer decided to put an inspirational phrase on the wall, “Today is a good day for a good day!” It shouldn’t be a surprise how delighted the homeowner was with a mantra front and center in her living space. Is that what we need, an interior designer to become our new gurus? Obviously I’m being facetious, but how do you remind yourself of the importance of a positive attitude when facing a challenge?

The evidence is in that the body and mind work together. It’s important that we infuse our cells with positive energy giving each of us the much-needed boost when facing adversity. It seems that we have short memories when it comes to keeping positive. It takes work, that’s a fact. However, can we afford to let negativity rule our actions and decisions?

We all find ways to keep positivity in our consciousness. Creativity is one way to increase positivity. Ultimate self-expression allows us to celebrate what is working in our lives and release what is holding us back by telling our stories. Exercise reinforces the message of self-care. Volunteerism punctuates our connection to compassion. It doesn’t need to be a saying on the wall, but finding some way(s) of keeping positivity in your consciousness will alter your brain chemistry. You’ll find new solutions to your challenges, and will create new opportunities for growth.

Today’s thought, “Today is a good day for a good day!!!!”

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Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Playing Life Poker? What Trumps What?

Every play rock, paper, scissors when you were a kid? There’s a hierarchy in the game and the goal is to try and always be the one to come out on top. When facing a challenge we look for ways to overcome adversity. Our goal and our only goal is to find solutions that will outwit the challenge or put it to rest. That’s great when talking about tangible things like overcoming debt, fighting illness, parenting teenagers; we can develop strategies that minimize the stress caused by these life events. Think about the moments before you find the solution and you’re in that place of suffering; what do you do with suffering?

When I was a freshman in college I changed my major three or four times the first year. There was a period of time when I was in the teacher education program and my professor Dr. Sacca was teaching us how to determine for ourselves as students and a tool to teach our future students about what is important in the lesson. He said, “Repetition for emphasis.” His point was that if something comes up more than once in the lesson it will most likely be on the exam. So in life, when we experience suffering from life interruptions over and over, what do you cultivate to overcome that pain?

I told you that story because at the end of the show Criminal Minds (I’m obsessed with profiling serial killers…don’t worry just a phase) the voice over is a quote pertaining to experience the agents just experienced. I heard this quote yesterday and wrote it down, then said to myself, “Gee this sounds familiar”. It was familiar because the last time this episode aired I had written down the same quote in my notebook, “repetition for emphasis.”

The lesson expressed by Ben Okri is, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.” In these moments it’s important to remember that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. We as a species have survived because we’re adaptable and teachable. We are social creatures allowing us to teach each other ways to overcome adversity and avert negative experiences in the future. We love and have the capacity to comfort and be comforted alleviating isolation and vulnerability.

The quote by Okri is one of those “in your face” lessons that we must not only read, but assimilate into every cell of our being. We need to infuse creativity, endurance, transformation, and love into all of our actions, thoughts, and beliefs. We’re greater than the interruptions that intrude on our lives. Tattoo that quote on your heart and use it as a guide when you need to make the tough decisions life requires of you.

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Posted in Autobiography, Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Life Motivation, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Arthur Ashe’s Life Principle(s)

I was listening to the audio of Andy Andrews book, Mastering the Seven Decisions. It is the follow-up to his monumental book The Traveler’s Gift. Andrews talks about the seven decisions not as suggestions but as principles. He makes a point of stating their principles because principles are universal. They aren’t specific to any one person but to everyone. His seven decisions (or principles) were derived from reading the autobiographies/biographies/memoirs or more than two hundred people. He found that the challenges these people faced and the tools and strategies to overcome their challenges could be reduced to seven decisions.

The idea that principles are universal makes me think about how important it is to find these gems. It’s one of those things I’m on the lookout for and when I hear it, read it, or experience it, I grab hold tightly and see how to make the principle (a universal strategy) more conscious in my life.

I was listening to the acceptance speech by Michael Sam, the first openly gay pro football player drafted to the St. Louis Rams, who received the Courage Award at the ESPYS. In his speech Sam referred to another great athlete Arthur Ashe. He shared Ashe’s philosophy of, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This simple three-part statement took me by surprise. How could something so simple, so true, so applicable to everyone’s life not be needlepointed on every cushion in the land?

The first part of the principle “start where you are”, can it get any simpler. It requires us to make a personal assessment of what’s going on in our lives, in the now! It doesn’t matter how things used to be, but what is your current reality. This is very important for all of us who have experienced any type of life interruption such as an illness, divorce, bankruptcy, or other challenge. Where are you today and on the map of life that’s where you put the red dot that says, “You are here!”

The second part of the life principle, “Use what you have” is just practical. There are no imaginary resources. If you need more tools in your life toolbox seek them out. You can augment “what you have” by taking a class, attending a support group, going to therapy, or seeking counsel of a spiritual advisor.

The final part of the principle’s trilogy, “Do what you can” requires you to take action. If you’re facing an illness how will you support your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? If you’re looking for love you have to get out in the world; UPS doesn’t deliver life partners to your door. If you’re having a spiritual crisis finding support, going on retreat, setting out on a pilgrimage, or attending a service are the things you’re able to do to change the situation.

We know that Arthur Ashe came to these principles based on a long career as a champion tennis player as well as someone who eventually died of AIDS. The challenges in his life were eased because he lived by these principles. He learned how to make the necessary accommodations to live a full life.

What will you do today with Ashe’s three-fold principle?

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Enjoy Your Own Company

We’re social creatures. We spend most of our days interacting with people in our family, our work situations, and our civic/social arenas. We’re connected by phone and email so we’re never out of reach from anyone. What has become a social world, interacting as part of our human process, has become a noisy world. We’re trying to find more and more ways of being together and sometimes I wonder if it’s because we’re afraid of being alone.

I do make a distinction between alone and lonely. Being alone is a choice we make to cut off from others for some quiet time. Lonely is a social deprivation that for many can lead to many physical, emotional, and spiritual problems. When we’re alone we give ourselves the opportunity to hear our thoughts without interruption. It gives us time to think about what we really want and need so we can set our priorities.

The other aspect of being alone is when we do things singularly. How many times have you decided not to go to the movie, the theater, a party, or a host of other social outlets because there was no one to accompany you? Going alone means enjoying your own company. It allows you to say to yourself, “I’m enough”, in order to achieve that you have to enjoy your own company. You need to make peace with you in all its glory.

Be your own date! When you connect to enjoying your own company you can delve into interests that are uniquely yours, avoiding a go with the flow mentality. You can express yourself through speech, dress, or even affiliations.

Enjoying your own company is about giving the world the you it deserves. It’s allowing your voice to shine through adding to the symphony we all life. We need your voice, your beliefs, and your presence. We need you to share what you know, what you need to learn, and what you can teach. On the flip side, you need to feel confident in who you’ve become. You need to “accentuate the positive”. The world is hoping and expecting you to show up in all your glory.

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Life is a Series of Adjustments

It would be wonderful if life were predictable. You may have behaviors that are predictable, but only within a given context. We don’t have any notion of what tomorrow will bring and I’m not saying that just to be cliché. We can make assumptions about what’s ahead of us, but until we live it there are no guarantees.

Think about when you drive a car. You start to drive and your goal is to keep the wheels straight. In order to do that you make adjustments with the steering wheel. Throughout your drive you’ll make minor adjustments multiple times or you would have crashed into numerous other vehicles.

It seems to me that life works the same way. Within certain parameters we live our lives with a certain degree of certainty. We go to the same coffee shop, exercise at the same gym, or go to the same movie theater. However, what happens when there’s a long line at your coffee shop and there’s another shop around the corner? What do you do when the aerobics class you want to take at the gym is full? These are minor adjustments, but they direct you to different actions.

When facing a challenge whether it is health or some other form of life interruption, adjustments become more the norm than the exception. We find ourselves making adjustments with our time and resources. We modify (an adjustment) our workout routines depending on our energy level. We begin to ask questions that are deeper in nature because we’re looking for a solution to the interruption life has set at our feet.

We have to be careful not to over-adjust. I’ve met numerous people who think the way to solve their challenge is to do a complete 180 in their behavior. It’s important to remember that more is not always better. Minor adjustments may be just the thing to keep your life’s status quo.

It’s not uncommon for us to over adjust when we feel anxious, uncertain, or scared. We’ve been conditioned for the quick fix. This is most prominent in the diet industry where big results in a short amount of time headlines every commercial. Learning to take care of your body is paramount to good health and keeping off the weight. If you don’t learn how to “eat” without the program are you willing to make the “program” your new lifestyle instead of a quick fix?

I wrote a post earlier in the week about the importance of learning. We must learn healthful ways of reducing stress, alleviating pain, or minimizing distress. There are resources such as meditation, journaling, or moderate exercise that relieve stress and allow you to become better acquainted with your body, mind, and spirit.

Watch for those minor adjustments through the day. Be conscious of these adjustments and make sure you don’t drive out of your lane!

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Posted in Grief, overcoming adversity

Grief is Universal

Last night I watched the evening news to a sight I had never witnessed. It was the story of the murdered victims from the Netherlands from Malaysia flight 17. The story showed the coffins being taken from the military plane to a long line of hearses that take the bodies from the airport to the coroner awaiting identification.

The line-up of hearses, from the air, looked line one continuous black line. The hearses moved through the city with onlookers tossing roses at the vehicles and a grief stricken country paying respects to the innocent passengers whose lives were cut short.

You can’t help but feel a pain when watching this horror. It’s almost as if this were a movie being show because the enormity of the situation is almost too much to bear. It took me back to the 9/11 when world leaders shared their grief by stating, “Today we are all Americans” referring to the grief felt around the globe.

It’s not that grief and mourning are contagious, but the human experience works off energy and vibration. There is a universal connection that is triggered when we witness a horror such as the shooting down of a civilian passenger plane. We grieve together, even though we don’t know the individuals, because we have experienced grief. We have all had moments in our lives when we’ve been impacted by life situations that are inconceivable such as September 11, 2001 or the tsunami that hit Indonesia, or the innocent teachers and students killed in Newtown. We grieve because in our heart of hearts we are compassionate. We are connected by the human condition and it tugs at us and says, “Wake up and remember when you were impacted”. That trigger allows us to stand beside those impacted sharing their grief, wanting to help them carry their load, and reassuring us that we really are human!

Obviously we don’t seek out grief; it’s talented and finds us. Grief is triggered by experiences and acts we have no control over. It gets triggered when we, or those we know, are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. It’s triggered when we watch first responders digging through the rubble after a tornado wipes out a town. It’s triggered when a ferry carrying Korean children on a school trip capsizes.

Unfortunately we can’t prevent all the experiences that trigger grief. It’s a part of the lives we lead as human beings. I would love it if we never experienced loss but that’s only in Utopia, so embrace it and allow it shape who you are. Allow grief to be something that doesn’t define you, but is a component in the complex nature of being human!

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity

Why Learning is so Important to Healing

I facilitate a dissertation support group call for those embarking on this exciting journey of academic exploration. I love the group experience because I get as much as I receive, and it keeps me in the loop with emerging thought leaders. I love hearing the topics the students are taking on for their monumental projects, and as each topic is revealed I become entranced by the concept of possibility.

Learning to me is all about possibility. It’s the one aspect of our lives that requires dedication and attention. Learning is a conscious process that serves not only our brains, but influences our lives in so many ways. The experience of learning provides solutions for the challenges that stand in our way. They are the clues we seek out when curiosity keeps tickling our brain. More importantly, learning helps us heal. It allows us to shake bad habits, establish new habits, and expands our thinking and our worldly experiences.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” The idea of “live as if you were to die tomorrow” has been prominent in our age of spiritual awakening. Tim McGraw’s song Live Like You Were Dying epitomized that notion. There have been books about “living in the now” and a host of movies emphasizing the same point. But what about “learning like we are going to live forever”?

Learning is what keeps us engaged. Researchers show that one of the ways to ward off Alzheimer’s disease is to keep learning new things. Learning a new language, learning to knit, learning to play an instrument creates new neural pathways. It allows us think different. It expands our repertoire of experience providing us with new stories to tell.

The “practice” of learning refreshes our soul. It challenges us and provides us with new opportunities for mastery.   Learning is the rich soil of possibility. It allows us to take on the role of student. A place where we are nurtured encouraged, and anything is possible. It calls us to participate fully, expend some energy, and make space for something new.

We can’t fix or fight every challenge presented to us, but we can learn how to cope. We can learn new ways of approaching these challenges lessening the burdens. We must learn to enrich the lives we’ve been given. Making the most we’ve been given is part of the rent we pay for living on this planet. Keep learning and tell me what you find!

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, End-Of-Life Care, living with chronic illness

A Different Kind of Cafe

When someone asks you to meet them at a café you assume you’ll have coffee and delicious pastries. What if the menu at the café is new and there is no food on the menu. The menu consists of topics of conversation, questions yet to be answered, and an open honest environment where what scares you can be brought out in the open. That’s the café I attended yesterday, The Death Café.

The Death Café started in 2010 in Europe, by Jon Underwood, and has become a global experience. There are approximately eight hundred Death Cafes across the globe. The Death Café is a gathering of those interested in discussing anything and everything related to their beliefs, opinion, and concerns about death and dying.

We live in a culture that has come to focus on living “the good life”. We haven’t quite figured out how to live “the good life”, so why would we think about anything remotely related to “a good death”. We don’t discuss death on any regular basis and when it enters our sphere we’re disoriented and the emotional and spiritual pain we experience can be excruciating.

My work as a psychotherapist for the past twenty-five years has been in the arena of chronic and life-threatening illness. I’ve had thousands of conversations with people about death and dying. These conversations have served as my own personal question and answer session, always renewing and revising my concerns and beliefs about death and dying.

It’s interesting because on my recent family vacation I had a long conversation with my father about my plans for when I die. It has changed over time, but reaching a place of peace is important. It allows me to make plans reducing stress and anxiety for those in my life who will eventually make those arrangements.

The Death Café format was interesting. Anita Larson, the organizer, had anyone who wanted to write a question on a card that was put in a basket. One-by-one the questions were picked out of the basket and the floor was open for anyone and everyone to respond. People were open, honest, and forthcoming.

Having an environment that allows us to take the mystery out of death and dying is critical to living “the good life”. How can we live “the good life” if we’re twisted with anxiety about death, something we have little if any control over. The saying is true, the only thing we have to do in this lifetime is pay taxes and die, so why give the IRS a leg up on what causes us anxiety?

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Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health

Soul to Soul

Yesterday many of us were captured by the news report of the Malaysia Airlines jet that was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile. It’s a tragedy. It’s difficult to comprehend, the severity of the act and the lack of conscious one must have to have launched that missile.

I could go on about how wrong and evil this act was, but I want to focus on the way this tragedy was covered by the media. I was watching ABC World News with Diane Sawyer (reporting by David Muir), and the reporter made reference to the two hundred ninety-eight “souls” that were lost in this event. At first I didn’t think I had heard them correctly. I don’t think I had ever heard a reporter talk about the “souls” instead of how many people died in the this tragic event.

As the reporting continued, a second reporter when speaking about the people on board the plane also referred to them as “souls”. It was then that I was sure I had heard them correctly. The news was referring to these murdered individuals as “souls” and yet on most days the word “soul” doesn’t arise, so why now?

I’m not sure if the news reporters would differ between the “soul” and “souls”, but believing that they are one and the same I’d like to think that the two go hand-in-hand. I’m not sure if the reference to “souls” was just a targeted word to evoke more sympathy for those killed in a senseless act of terrorism or if the reporters were expanding on the shared humanity for everyone witnessing this act of violence. I’d like to believe that by acknowledging the “souls” and the “soul” we honor the memory of those who were killed, and honor their humanity.

This is one of those moments when the idea that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience is punctuated. The experience of loss is enormous for the families. For those of us who did not know these “souls”, the moral injury we suffer when senseless violence occurs is horrific.

I urge you to protect your soul. I invite you to remember the innocent people murdered and to use that as a catalyst for kindness throughout your day. It will boost your “soul” energy. If the reporters can talk about “souls” and in turn the “soul” so can you.

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Mining for Joy

Joy to the World, a famous Christmas carol that presents with vim and vigor. Joy is one of those things we talk a lot about, but it’s really something we feel. It’s a exuberance and elation that seeps from your pores. It surrounds you and it lifts you above the pain and challenges life throws your way.

The challenges we face on the physical, emotional, and spiritual planes rob us of many pleasurable experiences. It leaves us feeling depleted and if you didn’t leave a breadcrumb trail, finding where joy lives can be difficult.

Joseph Campbell said, “Find a place inside where there is joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” That’s a powerful statement. Campbell speaks about the healing powers of joy. He punctuates the need for joy, not as something that is playful, but something that is healing, almost curative for woes.

All to often we think of joy as superfluous. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that joy is luxury. If you ascribe to Campbell’s quote, then you believe that joy is a nonnegotiable component of living a good life. The challenges we face are draining and joy is rejuvenating. It short-circuits the negative impact of the pain we experience when we’re striving to find a place of peace and comfort.

Don’t think of joy as something cute. It’s a powerful healing emotion.

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