Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Healthcare, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

How Does It Feel to Be You Right Now?

We live in tumultuous times and it’s scary waking up every day with so much uncertainty in the world.  The truth is, even when things are in alignment politically, socially, and atmospherically, the person we are is always in the uncertainty zone.  How is that possible?

We’re complex beings physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you look around your community, watch the news, or truly listen to the stories told by your friends and family you come to understand the depth of our complexity.  Unfortunately, along with complexity comes fragility, that sliver of vulnerability that exposes our human Achilles heel.

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My father called me a couple of days ago and opened our conversation with, “You know I’m at an age where a lot of people I know are dying.”  If nothing makes you vulnerable (at least in your own mind) mortality usually creates an emotional and spiritual gash in our armor.  It makes everything frighteningly real.  It exposes our imperfections while simultaneously accentuating our strengths.

We greet one another with the age-old question, “How are you?”  What are we really asking?  If you ask the question, are you prepared for the truth? I like the question “How does it feel to be you right now?”  It’s a question of connection.  It gives the person you’re connecting to the ability to be in the moment.  It gives each of us the opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in the body, mind, and soul of another human being.

I was involved in an ethics discussion about the interaction between doctors and their patients.  We were exploring the idea of empathy. When we have these discussions, the debate is often about sympathy and empathy.  Noted anthropologist, and one of my mentors, Angeles Arrien expanded the continuum.  Her research and experience shared that sympathy amplified suffering because it emphasized the pity we felt for the another.  Sympathy often comes from the vantage point of “better you than me”.   When we’re empathetic, we end up doing the work for the other person, letting them off the hook because we take on the pain.  However, if we feel compassion we don’t have to go into the emotional state of the other, but we can be totally present.  The state of presence is healing.

Where are we going with all of this?  I want to be present with you.  I want to know what your life is like right now because it’s your true story.  When you share how you are right now there’s an aliveness we can experience any other way.  Let’s shift our perspective and begin asking this very important question and see how our experiences with others change and deepen.

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

Lessons from the Road Part 3: People at Work

Ever cross the country on one of the Interstate highways created during the Eisenhower administration? I can’t imagine traveling cross-country and having to meander through small towns trying to find the most direct route to my destination. I’m grateful for these highways and byways and for the men and women who keep the roads in good shape.

There are signs on the roadside where work is being done that says, “Hit a worker and receive a $10,000 fine and 14 years in jail.” That’s quite a hefty price to pay, but we’ve been warned so driving recklessly through these work zones is sheer stupidity. It always makes me nervous driving through these zones because there are always anxious, tail riding drivers behind me; no matter, I stand my ground and drive the reduced speed limit. We need these roads to be in the best condition possible to make travel safe.

The same is true as we live our lives. Our personal infrastructure is critical to living a good life. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives are always in flux. There are definitive steps we can take to insure that we keep ourselves in the best possible state-of-being. We can pay attention to the needs of our body, mind, and spirit to provide a foundation for a life filled with health, joy, and peace.

What are the work zones in your life? Where are there areas where you need to slow down, pay attention, and take steps to shore up those aspects of your life? What are you reading? What are you creating? What are you exploring? What actions do you take when you have moments of insight? We know that if you don’t pay attention to your personal infrastructure, just like the roads we travel, your body, mind, and spirit will begin to deteriorate. This deterioration creates physical ailments such as migraines, back pain, and gastro-intestinal trouble as some examples. The huge increase in depression and anxiety across the lifespan is evidence that our emotional infrastructure, as a society, is in need of attention. The number of suicides, and the number of people on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs is staggering.

Life doesn’t come without a price and I’m not talking about financial. I’m referring to the energy and attention that is required to propel us toward health and healing. We can’t live our lives on autopilot. We need to pay the price such as exercising, praying, meditating, therapy, or creative outlets of our emotional lives. Create your own work zone, it works for our country and it will work for you!

Facing adversity and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to explore your creative side to use as the roadwork for your body, mind, and spirit?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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.

Facing a challenge in life and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Looking at how to boost your soul energy through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in care for the caregiver, Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Spirituality and Health

What Buddhist Monks and Children Have in Common!

I think we underestimate the wisdom young children. They are, for the most part, unencumbered with the stress of daily life and they experience each day as a wonder. Having the capacity to live in the moment dissolves over time as we inherit the norms of society. Unfortunately, that inheritance is a detriment to our well- being and can have grave consequences. So why are we so attached to things and the perfect outcome?

Recently I had the joy of spending a week with my family at a beach resort in the Caribbean. It shouldn’t’ be a surprise that at the edge of the water kids, including my nephew, were building sand castles and forts all along the shore. They worked vigorously and experienced great joy. When they finished their architectural wonders they simply walked away, not even taking pictures of their engineering accomplishments. In addition, later that day my mother told me that my nephew asked her to report back on whether or not the building was still standing. How can kids simply walk away from something they worked on for hours, and during the process become invested in the outcome (or do they)?

I’m also blessed to have witnessed the creation of those amazing sand paintings created by Buddhist monks. I’ve watched on and off for days as these focused spiritual beings create highly detailed paintings made of colored sand. Their devotion to the process is unmatched. This is part of their spiritual practice. The amazing thing, and needs to be seen, is that at the end of the process they take a fan and blow the entire painting away. The board where the painting rested is wiped clean. Hours and days of work and all they have is a blank slate, could you do that?

In both cases we bear witness to the practice of impermanence and nonattachment. It’s not something we’re familiar with in our culture, and unfortunately is at the root of much pain, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What we’re most attached to is our assumption of good health. When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness our assumptions are shattered, our sand castles and paintings are blown away, but they cause enormous distress.

Are we able to become attached to other things such as perseverance for peace in our soul? Are we capable of becoming attached to attaining our higher purpose? Is it possible to become attached to nonattachment? I know I’m getting a bit out there, but we grab on for dear life for so many things we have no control over because the locus of control is external. What if we focused more on the things we do have control over like being kind to others and ourselves.

What are you willing to allow the water to wash away, or a fan blow away (literally and figuratively)?

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

Hoping to find out how art can improve your healing process?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Empowerment, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health

Is the Dalai Lama the Pied Piper Out of Misery?

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

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

You Never Know When Angels Will Appear!

Who’s watching over us? We all face challenges in our lives and there are times when we need someone looking over us. The amazing things is that the help you need may just appear because of some connection beyond our modern day explanations.

There was a news report this morning about a man in New Zealand that was doing a sixteen-mile charity swim. At one point during the swim a great white shark made its presence known to him and the team escorting him. This would be a scary time for anyone, but swimming with the possibility that you’re about to be attacked is either an incredible display of courage or stupidity. On the other hand, what if he knew or believed that he would be protected and simply continued swimming.

The next thing that was captured on the video was a school of ten dolphins that began to swim along and around the charity swimmer. These dolphins swam beside the swimmer escorting him through what could have been a treacherous ordeal. The great white shark left the area making it safe for the swimmer to continue his mission. Why did the shark leave? The explanation is that the shark couldn’t tolerate the noises made by the dolphins so the shark went to look for other prey.

The appearance of the dolphins couldn’t be scripted. There are those who may believe this was divine intervention. It could be considered a miracle, coincidence, or science. How it’s defined isn’t the focus of our dialogue; it’s the jumping off point for exploring who or what is protecting you on your journey.

Are there times when you’ve felt protected but couldn’t explain the circumstances? Are you aware of being protected? How do you manage those moments when you feel challenged or at risk?

For more education, information, and support when diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness visit www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in art and healing read the blog: www.timetolivecreatively.com

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

The Signs Are Everywhere…Are You Open to Them?

How many of us are waiting for a sign before we make a decision, jump into action, or change the course of your life? I think about the movie Under the Tuscan Sun when Diane Lane’s character wants to buy this run down house and she’s speaking with the old woman selling the house. The woman is very clear that she can’t sell the house because she’s waiting for the sign that the right buyer of the house is standing before her. As Lane’s character is leaving, a bird craps on her shoulder. Immediately, the old woman screams (in Italian), “that’s the sign”, and Lane’s character buys the house.

This idea of signs is intriguing to me because they are often found in the most unique ways. It’s not as if there’s a billboard on the side of the road that gives you the answer to an important issue or question your grappling with; it’s not that simple. For many, the sign doesn’t appear until there we surrender after a journey of inner darkness, inner denial, or inner doubt.

Earlier this week I mentioned David M. Howitt’s book Heed Your Call. After spending countless hours working at a corporate law firm, working long hours, feeling desperate to get out but no exit strategy Howitt’s sign appeared. He was working on a holiday weekend late into the night when he went to use the restroom. In the stall on top of the toilet tank was a tube of Preparation H, a product used to alleviate the symptoms of hemorrhoids; that was his sign. You may be laughing, as did I, at the moment of his epiphany, but he took it seriously and it was the springboard for him to propel to freedom.

Have you been asking yourself questions that don’t present with easy answers? Has your diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness or other trauma presented challenges that make you feel like you’re in a ditch with no clear-cut way to escape? Are you open to the signs that may present themselves at any given moment?

If you’ve had the experience of receiving a sign share it with us, let’s share our experiences as we build a vibrant health and healing community.

For more resources, education, and inspiration following the diagnosis of an illness visit www.survivingstrong.com

Exploring your creative side and how it enhances health visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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

After You Fall To Your Knees….How Do You Get Up?

The month of April is filled with the anniversaries of national tragic events. We recently honored the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. Tomorrow is the nineteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing of the Federal Building. This coming Sunday is the fifteenth anniversary of the Columbine shooting. These three events rocked the feeling of safety and security in our country.

Traumatic events don’t only have to be about shootings, bombings, and abuse, but can be the result of a diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness. The moment of diagnosis rocks the world of each person who hears the doctor say, “I’m sorry to tell you…” There is no nation to share in the mourning process.

So where am I headed with this? Last night I was watching the news and the mother of one of the students killed at Columbine was asked by the reporter “What do you want people to think about on the anniversary of the tragedy?” The mother of the murdered student responded, “After you fall to your knees, how do you get up?” It’s a question that is paramount to the beginning of the journey to health and healing.

Yesterday there was an interview on Good Morning America. Amy Robach who was diagnosed with cancer while doing a story about breast cancer screening interviewed Samantha Harris, known from hosting Dancing with the Stars, recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

The two women were talking about receiving their diagnosis alone, without any family members or friends by their side. Robach asked Harris, “How did you hold it together?” Harris shared that she held it together until the doctor left the room and broke down in tears.

We can fall to our knees both figuratively and literally. In many cases, it happens simultaneously. Perhaps the shock of the news impacting the physical, emotional, and emotional self is what brings us to our knees. We can also be brought to our knees when we pray.

One of the things I’ve learned about others and myself is that our souls are resilient. We have the capacity to absorb the shock and transform that energy into motivation, perseverance, and tenacity. It’s the transformation of that negative energy into a healing energy that serves as a catalyst and a springboard for the health and healing pilgrimage.

After falling to your knees, how have you gotten up? Share your story in the comments section below. As a community your story can blaze a trail for others who may still be on their knees.

For more information on health and healing go to www.survivingstrong.com

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

Do You Shy Away From the Hard Questions?

When we’re facing a chronic or life-threatening illness there are lots of questions. We want to know how, why, and what’s next. We ask about treatment options, prognosis, side effects from medications, and possibly alternative therapies. The questions we ask are very concrete. These questions address what we think are the tangible aspects of disease and healing.

I’ve been pondering these “tangible” questions and I’m starting to think they are the easy questions. Why you may ask. Well, the truth is they are the predictable questions. They are the questions that everyone asks and is expected to ask. We’ve been conditioned as patients to ask these predictable questions. There not bad questions, actually they are crucial questions; but once they are answered what questions are left to ask.

The truth is, “The quality of the answers is dependent on the quality of the questions.” So what are those questions? They are the soul driven questions. They are the questions that ask what are you going to do with this journey? Are you ready, willing, and able to go on this spiritually driven healing pilgrimage? We could go so far as to ask, “What’s the meaning of life?” (Without the cliché aspect).

If you read my recent post at www.timetolivecreatively.com, you’ll explore the idea of releasing your phenomenal nature, and that’s a big question. This type of question gets us to begin explore the depths of our past and present experiences. It drives us to focus on potential, a forward thinking catalyst. It’s that forward thinking catalyst that can lead to hope, or encourage the development of our faith.

We can debate forever the “why me” or “why not me” continuum. However, that can slide you into a life of an infinite loop, and that’s exhausting. The “why” question, in most cases, can never be answered definitively. On the other hand, the questions that focus on our internal connection to possibility can allow us to develop those quality questions with the knowing we’ll be ready with those quality answers.

For more information on health and healing from chronic and life-threatening illness go to, http://www.survivingstrong.com

 

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health

Space Planning

I watch a lot of HGTV and I’m always amazed at the result the designers achieve.  I have some friends currently building homes and it’s not uncommon to discuss space planning because they are all artists and are designing their ideal studios.  We consider space planning when it comes to our physical homes, our dwellings, but don’t consider space planning in any other realm of our lives.

What if we worked on space planning in our minds?  How would our lives change if we thought about how we use the space in our minds?  What would it take for you to consider space planning for your emotional and spiritual life?

Let’s face it being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is a big thing; it takes up a lot of space.  The most obvious place it takes space is in your body.  You and your medical teamwork together striving to reduce the amount of physical space your illness takes in your body.  Along with various treatments and medication, good food and rest are vitally important to reducing the amount of space your illness takes up in your body.

The other aspect to this is the amount of space a diagnosis of an illness takes up in your mind.  It is like “The Blob”, expanding into all the nooks and crannies of your mind zapping your energy that you need for health and healing.  When you ruminate about your illness the amount of space it takes up is enormous.  What can you do to contain the expansion of negative energy?

Support groups are a great way to contain the negative emotional aspects of a health challenge.  It allows you to dump the negative energy and get support when you need it most.  The group atmosphere is affirming and lets you know that you’re not the only person in the world having these experiences.  The problem is that not everyone lives in a geographic location where there is a support group for your particular diagnosis.  The Internet has given us the opportunity to connect with people around the world at any time day or night, creating relationships and partnerships for mutual support.

When it comes to your spiritual life, expansion is the name of the game.  Finding a spiritual director or coach to help you create a space plan in your soul can be a game changer.  Having someone who travels with you on this pilgrimage can provide you with soul reinforcement allowing you to continue this arduous journey.  This partnership is about comfort as well as expanding the positive aspects of belief in an energy force greater than you.

Space planning is not just for your physical environment, but your inner habitat as well.  It can provide you with comfort when you feel as if your diagnosis is taking over your entire life and you feel as if no one understands.  Containment of the emotional and spiritual intrusions can promote health and lead you to getting better or getting well!