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Archive for the ‘Empowerment’ Category

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!!!!”

Facing adversity in your life?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to develop creative strategies for having a good day?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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Legends, those people in our lives that blazed a trail before us.   These are the people whose work, ideas, and personhood, inspire us. They are the people whose shoulders we stand on. How do you know who the legends are in your life? The legends in your life are the people you make reference to on a continual basis. They are the people who let you now the path may be hard, but it’s worth it.

I’ve had the pleasure, honor, and joy of having legends in my life. Fortunately, some are still living, but recently two legends have left this earth. Angeles Arrien, a noted cultural anthropologist was the professor of the first class I took when I started my doctoral program.

Arrien was teaching The Nine Muses. The course explored the mythological and current implications of creativity. We looked at the many ways we can all use our stories and realize that our stories are told in an individual way. I followed Arrien’s work for years. Fortunately I had the opportunity to have a full circle experience with my legend; she was the external examiner for my oral defense. Having Arrien read my work, dive deep with me about the material, and offer ways to utilize the information moving forward was the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.

Unfortunately Angeles Arrien died on April 24. She asked that instead of memorials that anyone who wanted to commemorate her life to light a candle, every month for the next year, on the date of her death. It gives me the opportunity to connect with her and her work on a regular basis. It also gives me the opportunity to honor the impact she had on my life and work.

The same can be said for another American treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou. A poet, singer, actor, producer, teacher, etc. broke barriers, inspired many, and provided us with a life story that, although difficult, shined brightly as she overcame adversity. If you watch anything that Oprah has done you know that Angelou was a legend to her. Her favorite lesson from Angelou is, “When you know better, you do better”.

This weekend to honor Angelou’s life, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) has been showing programming about the legend. One of the rebroadcasts was of Oprah’s Legends Ball. The Legends Ball brought legends in the African American community such as Maya Angelou, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Valerie Simpson, etc. In addition, she had the Youngins’ who included Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, etc. Celebrating the continuum of talent, experience, and possibility is critical for all of us. Having those moments of honoring those who come before us punctuates the decisions we make in our lives to follow a particular path.

Where am I going with all of this? I believe we need to honor the legends in our lives. Identifying why specific people past and present are important to you gives you the opportunity to continue on your own journey and do so with the blessing of those who walked the path before you.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Interest about the impact Art has on Healing?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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“Space…The final frontier”, those immortal words at the start of each episode of Star Trek. The show had some very progressive themes given the decade it was aired. Looking back and reflecting one of the most memorable episodes, aside from the Tribbles, was “The Empath”. Perhaps that episode sticks with me given the profession I chose, but it truly set the stage for many conversations in years to come.

Star Trek was set in the future, but what about the past? When we (in the United States) landed on the shores of America, there was plenty of land to explore. The frontiersman would go west exploring and hoping to create a life with plenty of opportunity. Like space, those traveling west didn’t believe in boundaries. The only thing in the foreground of the experience was possibility.

Most of us don’t know our own frontiers. We fall into lives of routine and safety. It isn’t until we’re faced with a challenge like the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness that we look to see what’s beyond our self-imposed boundaries. I think about the group of women with breast cancer or breast cancer survivors who climb mountains, awaiting the magic of reaching the summit. I’m not suggesting that you climb a mountain, but what frontiers have you yet to explore?

Perhaps there’s something you’d like to study that requires you go back to school, a new frontier. What if you feel like you have a book within you but you haven’t put the first word down on paper, a new frontier. The amazing thing about our frontiers is that they are infinite.

I worked in Buffalo, NY for six months and was amazed at how many of the folks I encountered were born and raised in Buffalo. I was having a conversation with a woman who had returned from visiting her oldest son who was stationed in Clarksville, Tennessee. She shared that she had another son, a high school senior, and she made him a deal regarding college. She told him he could apply to any college he wanted but it couldn’t be in Buffalo (there are plenty of colleges in Buffalo). Her reasoning was that she wanted her son to know that there was a world out there beyond Buffalo’s city limits. If after school he wanted to return to Buffalo to work and raise a family that was fine. She was determined to push his boundaries and invoke the frontier mentality!

Facing adversity, such as the diagnosis of an illness, shouldn’t just be about survival. It should be about body, mind, and spirit expansion. It’s the opportunity to live on the edge (not between life and death, although for some that might be the case) literally and figuratively. Our only boundaries are the ones we set usually out of fear (read the post “Fear In All Its Glory”). Don’t let fear get in the way of what’s possible! Explore your frontiers!

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in how Art aids in physical, emotional, and spiritual healing?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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There is a lot of misery in the world. If misery didn’t exist, the news outlets would have nothing to report. Could it be that our psyches would feel incomplete without misery? They do say that we can’t have one thing without its opposite, so are they saying we can’t have happiness without misery?

In a post last week I shared the story of Stephen Sutton, the teen who died at the age of 19 after a four-year battle with bowel cancer. Out what some might say was his personal misery emerged the Teenage Cancer Trust (teenagecancertrust.org). A little over a year ago I shared the story of Zach Sobiech whose song “Clouds”, caught the attention of millions on YouTube, expressing joy in the time he was given on this earth. How can we judge another’s misery? Do we project our experience of misery onto others?

The Dalai Lama has a prayer, “For as long as space exists and sentiment endures, may I, too, remain to dispel misery in the world.” When I first read this prayer I felt a deep connection to the Dalai Lama’s mission.

I’ve spent my entire adult life working with those facing chronic and life-threatening illnesses. It’s not always easy. I remember one day when four of my clients died on the same day. It was heart wrenching. I had never experienced that much loss simultaneously. I would share information like this with my mother and she would ask why did I stay in this field of work. Her big question was always, “Why can’t you just work with people who shop too much?”

I’m no Dalai Lama, prophet, or diviner. I’m simply a guy who knows in his heart of hearts that I was born to diminish the suffering or challenges faced by those diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness. I’ve been on this path since I was a child when I held my first Ronald McDonald Muscular Dystrophy Carnival in the backyard of the apartment building where we lived.

There is a saying that pain is unavoidable but misery is optional. I often wonder if that was someone who hadn’t tapped into his or her own pain and misery. How we frame things is key to our experience. How we frame things is based on our personal histories; the experiences that give us a context or provide meaning.

I’ll continue on this journey to end misery not because it’s noble, but because it’s coded in my DNA. I’ll seek out avenues for those facing challenges to emerge with dignity. I’m determined to provide opportunities for anyone facing a challenge to reframe their experience, if they so desire. I hope you’ll join me as I engage the prayer by the Dalai Lama as part of my life’s mission!

Looking for education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness? Visit www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in Art and Healing? Join me at http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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The question “who is being tested?” has been hanging over my head for weeks. I read Robin Roberts book Everybody’s Got Something and she makes reference to her more recent diagnosis of MDS (myelodyspastic syndrome), like her breast cancer diagnosis as a test. Perhaps she was referring to a test of her spirit, her faith, or her body, but still she framed it as a test.

Roberts book is not the first book, talk, or movie that makes reference to a life challenge as a test. We discuss adversity in the context of a test as if it were something we’ve been studying for years and we’re now ready for the test. How is it possible that you got selected for this test? How will you know if you pass the test? Some believe if they are healed, then they passed the test. This doesn’t sit well with me because that implies paying penance, or needing to prove something to the Universe.

Don’t you think it’s possible that you’re not the one being tested? Couldn’t you just be a vehicle for who/what is really being tested? How would you feel if you knew you were a catalyst for great change because you were diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, or some other form of adversity? Are you willing to be a change agent? How is this possible?

If you want to stand on the side of being tested, let’s look at who is really being tested. If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness maybe the scientists are being tested to come up with new research and medications for clinical trials. Maybe the medical community is being tested to find ways of improving their diagnostic techniques or their level of compassion.

Isn’t it possible that the religious, faith, or spiritual community is being tested to see if they walk their talk? In a world full of contradiction, the test might be to see if these communities can put into action what they say we “should” be doing when members of our communities are facing adversity.

It’s possible to take it one step further, seeing if our inner circle of family and friends are willing to stand by us as we walk through the health and healing pilgrimage. Research often shows that illness is the reason some couples get divorced because the healthy spouse can’t handle the pressure, stress, or incapacity of their spouse. Who’s really being tested by the illness diagnosis?

Are we so self-centered to automatically assume that we’re the one being tested? Have we been conditioned to believe that a diagnosis tests our faith, devotion, or ability to persevere? I believe there are other ways to exhibit these character traits other than facing adversity. Let’s reframe the challenges we face!

Seeking education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

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One of the key stories on my Internet homepage was about a young man named Stephen Sutton. Sutton died yesterday at the age of 19 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 15. He personified determination, compassion, and strength. His mission was to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust (teenagecancertrust.org), an organization in London serving teenagers diagnosed with cancer. Their goal is to treat individuals as young people first and cancer patients second.

Why does this young man make headlines? There are lots of young people who are diagnosed with cancer around the world on a daily basis. This man stands out because of his authenticity, his dedication, and his lack of ego. He chose to use his diagnosis to change not only his life, but also the lives of teens throughout London. As Robin Roberts’ mother use to say, “Make your mess your message!”

Sutton wanted to raise approximately $16,000 (10,000 pounds) and as of the latest tally, the organization with his direction, has raised over 5.5 million dollars. His story and his cause caught the eye of some prominent English entertainers all helping to spread Sutton’s message. We are attracted to stories! When a story directs our attention to how we can make the world a little better, it becomes louder and larger.

Stephen Sutton shared his worldview, “I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time anymore, I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference.” We’re amazed when we hear these words from people like Bill and Melinda Gates as they fight the malaria epidemic, or Oprah creating the Leadership Academy in South Africa hoping that by educating girls you change the direction of an entire continent. Hearing these words come from a teenager should renew our faith in humanity. It should provide each of us who bear witness to Sutton’s story with a belief that what’s small can become large, and what may feel like a pet project can be adopted worldwide as a beacon of hope.

When you see someone use his/her life for the greater good, I urge you to use it as a lesson. Even though Stephen Sutton’s light has gone out, his energy, vision, and tenacious nature lights a torch that will burn bright in years to come. I encourage you, even if you don’t have a chronic or life-threatening illness, to stop thinking of life in terms of time and see how you can make a difference.

My hope is that every day that I sit down to write this post, I can make a difference by providing education, support, and inspiration for those facing a health challenge. I’ve been entrusted with the stories of those facing a health challenge for over twenty-five years. These heartfelt stories fuel my passion and determination to provide a safe environment for each of you facing a health challenge to have someone, a community who will listen and be able to hold the pain.

Looking for community when facing a health challenge? Visit www.survivingstrong.com.

Interested in Art and Healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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It’s funny, I never consider the question, “How did I get where I am?” Well to be completely honest, I have in the past, but not in recent times. I used to ponder this question while I spent seven years in Jungian therapy with an amazing therapist. I didn’t look at it as exploring the journey, but feeling a bit less “crazy” than I was feeling.

As I read more and more biographies, memoirs, or pathographies, this question of “how did I get here?” seems to get raised over and over. We’re drawn, even mesmerized by the answers that famous or notable people give to this question. It’s as if they’ve unlocked the mysteries of the Universe and we’re destined to see if their solutions are universal or specific to their own lives. There was a point in time when these books were my saving grace, but one day I realized that we’ve all got our own journey to follow, each worth its own book.

So why is this question rearing its head today? What’s the catalyst for throwing me into the jaws of self-reflection? Am I at a crossroads that is waiting for a solution? What would happen if I ignored this question…that’s simple; it would keep coming up waiting for me to seek some level of resolution.

Last night I watched an episode of Oprah’s ¨Master class with Justin Timberlake”. I enjoy Timberlake’s music, his comedic talent and his acting abilities. I was taken by how eloquently he expressed his views and sharing of his life’s journey. He was thoughtful without being pompous. He was honest, humble, and genuine.

One of the stories he told was about an interview he was doing when the reporter said, “I’m supposed to hate you. You make everything look so easy”. Timberlake was very clear that what the world sees is easy; what it takes for him to get to that point requires great sacrifice. Those sacrifices include bleeding fingers from practicing the guitar for hours on end. He talks about his legs cramping from rehearing dance moves, and the sheer exhaustion from all the rehearsal. It’s all that blood, sweat, and tears that allows him to make everything he does look easy.

His message was clear; “you’ve got to do the work”. We may think he’s talking about our vocation, but he really means putting in the time to achieve your goal. It’s about the commitment to a process, your process, that will reap great rewards. It’s possible to “do the work” in multiple areas of your life.

Last week I talked about Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works- A true story.  In the end Harris turned to meditation, and that’s the work he needs to do to achieve his personal and professional goals. His commitment is palpable as you read his story. You can understand how important “doing the work” is to keeping Harris sharp, professionally, and more present in all his relationships.

Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way gives anyone with the desire to live creatively an opportunity to unlock their own potential. The book walks you through a 12-week journey. Each morning Cameron suggests that you write. “Morning Pages” is the writing exercise you do each morning as a way to start the day and to make sure you start the day fresh, not holding on to yesterday’s ball and chain. Cameron suggests that you write three pages each day. She also encourages you to commit to an artist’s date once a week. It only works if you “do the work”.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness “the work” is a bit different. I’m not only talking about treatment; that is work, but I’m thinking about those things that bring happiness to your life. I’m thinking that part of “the work” is how do you resolve the spiritual questions that lead you to acceptance without a struggle. When facing a health challenge, “the work” may be about self-empowerment. Finding your voice in the world and with your medical providers.

The amazing thing about “doing the work” is that it requires action and any action will result in some type of outcome. You get to make an assessment on the success of the outcome and you can either continue or choose to make changes. Perhaps it’s time to change doctors because you’ve lost confidence in their effectiveness. You may look to alternative treatments or clinical trials to expand the range of possibilities on your journey to health and healing. It doesn’t matter what action ensues as long as you take action.

Obviously these words of wisdom have worked great for Justin Timberlake. They aren’t a universal solution, but a hint at what’s possible. If you use his life as an example you can personalize “the work” to any aspect of your life!

What do you think is possible if you “do the work”?

Surviving Strong provides education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness. Visit www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in exploring Art and Healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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