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Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

I watch a lot of interviews because I believe they give a behind the scenes look at people’s lives and circumstances.  It’s similar to what Andy Andrews shares about autobiographies, no one ever wrote an autobiography who didn’t succeed.  The same can be true for interviews, only those who overcome challenges (I’m not referring to celebrities, it’s all walks of life) get interviewed.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie “Stronger” about Jeff Bauman who survived the Boston Marathon bombing was the focus of the interview.  When asked about his process he shared advice from an acting teacher, “The target draws forth the arrow”.  What do you think about when you read that statement?  It shouldn’t be a surprise that when I heard the quote I jumped for a pad and paper because these words of wisdom will make you think about how you take on life’s challenges.

When faced with a life challenge, especially a chronic or life-threatening illness there is a primary target…wellness!  It’s similar to the saying Keep Your Eye on the Prize!  When we have a target to focus on, we are given something to aim our physical, emotional, and spiritual energies.

The doctor gives us the target.  The moment you hear the words “I’m sorry to tell you but…” you become an arrow.  You are summoned to take aim and make conscious decisions.  It will take the momentum you absorb from friends, family, medication, and faith to propel yourself toward the target.

Champion 24-Inch Bullseye Archery Target (2-pack)

There is something empowering about picturing yourself as an arrow, moving with force and speed toward a desired outcome.  My ongoing reminder is, you may not get well, but you can always get better.  Remember a target has rings with the bulls-eye in the center.  What do the outer rings mean to you?  What if you don’t hit a bulls-eye the first time or ever?  What level of comfort do you have focusing on other aspects of your life if wellness isn’t in the cards?

I hope when picturing yourself as the arrow, you equate it with being a real-life superhero.  Your journey is unique to you!  The outcomes may or may not be within your control, but where do you have control?  You have control over your determination, perseverance, and attitude.  You have the right to create a relationship with your doctor that is both respectful and honest.

We will all have targets that arise in our lives because challenge is part of the human experience.  The arrow you become shapes your narrative.  Your narrative is the force behind your momentum…keep it going!

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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.

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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 amazing to think about what our last words on this earth may be because it’s the last time we’ll make a conscious decision about our action (on this plane). So what did Mickey Rooney leave as his epitaph? “I Tried!!!”

Can you think of anything more powerful in this world than being able to say you tried? Our lives are given meaning by our stories and not every story has a happy ending. However, every story has a beginning, middle, and end, and it’s up to us to utilize those stories as we move forward on our personal pilgrimages.

We have to be able to develop the character traits of perseverance and tenacity in our lives. If we try something and it doesn’t reach the ideal ending then giving up may mean it wasn’t that important to you, but simply a whim. I think a lot about this when I think about what our calling in life is and how it plays our in everything we do and create.

Personally I know I keep trying every time I write a post. I can’t think of anything more important or satisfying than sharing the lessons I learn along the way to living a positive life following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness, or other form of adversity. I get to keep my eyes and ears open for secrets that we can all use to propel us forward on our living story.

It’s important that we keep creating stories. Our stories are compilations of every experience we have, and every person we meet. They are derived from genetics, our environment, and the Universe. We get to create personal recipes for our lives that become amazing concoctions that we call life.

What have you been trying that needs tweaking? What have you learned about yourself and the process along the way? Are you able to say definitively and without hesitation, “I Tried!!!” If so, then you’re in good company, after all, look at the life Mickey Rooney led….not to shabby.

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I received a very sad email this morning.  Visual Aid, a San Francisco nonprofit, is closing its doors at the end of the month.  Visual Aid’s mission is to provide resources to artists with life-threatening illness to continue creating works of art.  They provide financial assistance, an art supply bank, entrepreneurial workshops, and exhibition opportunities in their gallery.

I found out about Visual Aid almost 3 years ago when I began doing research for my dissertation, “Artists and Illness: Narrative and Its Impact on Autobiography and Meaning Making”.  The Executive Director, Julie Blankenship, a true arts community leader, assisted me in finding and scheduling artists to interview for my research.  This is the love and care that Julie has offered the Visual Aid community for the past eleven years.

This organization has served as a place for artists with life-threatening illness to make connections aiding in eliminating the isolation often felt by both artists and those with an illness.  They have served to gain exposure for artists who may not have the resources to buy art supplies or promote their work because they have limited connections in the art community.

Why has this organization been so important?  They have given voice to a community that holds a story we don’t often hear.  Visual Aid artists tell their pathography (stories of their life and illness journey) that we usually only read about in books.  I came to see clearly that artists wouldn’t write their pathography, but they certainly create works of art sharing that journey.  I was and still am deeply moved by the artists’ works of art, their story, and their generosity to share these personal moments in their lives.

So who will fill the gap?  Illness isn’t going away!  Artists with illness aren’t disappearing from the planet, although eradicating illness would be phenomenal.  Who will be the guardian angel for these artists with life-threatening illnesses?  These stories need to continue because they are a part of our social fabric.  The provide insight into the disease and healing process.  They share experiences of the social aspects of illness that can only be told through art.

Without an organization like Visual Aid we may potentially lose part of our cultural story.  Even though the stories of individual’s illnesses will continue, without the artists’ stories, it will be incomplete.

As we say goodbye to Visual Aid, I hope you’ll consider ways to continue promoting the stories of artists’ with illness.  We need to have the complete story of healing and/or coping with illness, not just the written word!!!

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Talk shows have become all the rage on television.  Every major network flooded the market this fall with new shows hoping to get your attention.  What are the networks doing?  They saw a huge opening with Oprah leaving network television and everyone is vying for your attention, and the advertising dollar.  If you watch the shows you’ll notice one thing for sure, they all have their own flavor and point-of-view.

So what would happen if you were going to be a guest on a talk show?  It’s not only what you would talk about, but also how you would handle yourself when on the show.  A lot of this depends on the show you choose, and if I were assigning you to a show it would be based on your demeanor and how you’re handling your health challenge.  I would look at how you’re living your life and that would determine the best host for what you’re showing the world.

If you’re continuously angry about your diagnosis, I might select “The Jerry Springer Show” or “Maury” because you could scream and throw things around the studio.  If you’re in need of gentle support and spiritual guidance, “Oprah” might be the best hope to guide you on that path.  If you’re in a bit of denial and need a bit of tough love, then “Dr. Phil” is your host.

If you were taking a quiz to match your journey to the tv host it would require that you take a personal inventory.  It means that you need to be honest and if you’re ok with your current stance in life, then you’ve got the correct host.  If you don’t like what you’re seeing and feel it’s getting in the way of getting better or getting well, then it’s time to make some changes.

You may not think that the world sees what you’re experiencing, but we’re a lot more transparent than we believe.  This transparency impacts how others respond to you just as a different television hosts would respond differently.  Is your point-of-view aiding your health and healing journey or it is a hindrance?   Who’s show would you thrive on, and do you need to make any changes?  If you really want to be on a talk show, go to the website and see if there’s a show they’re planning that matches your life experience.  Who knows, I may be writing about you after you make your talk show debut!

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You never know whom you will meet on your journey to health and healing but I it may surprise you.  I’m constantly amazed at the bravery, tenacity, and perseverance of those facing chronic and life-threatening illnesses.  It can be a lonely life facing a health challenge, but connection is possible and certainly encouraged.  I love reading stories about those who are proactive about getting better or getting well; it’s heartwarming.

One of the things about reading magazine articles, blogs, listening to interviews, etc. is the ability to connect with these individuals without ever meeting them.  I always loved Michael J. Fox, but I have a new love, respect, and connection to him after reading his book, “Always Looking Up”.  There are so many stories that bring us closer to others, and it’s those stories that excite us, encourage us, and move us forward on our journey.

One of the most beautiful lines I heard in response to hearing someone’s story about bravely facing illness came from a viewer of a television show.  The person’s response to the woman facing cancer was, “I don’t know you, but I’ll never forget you!”  Doesn’t that just capture the essence of connection?  Doesn’t it provide you with a sense that you’re not alone?  Doesn’t it make you feel supported, acknowledged, and strong?

I just completed interviewing artists with life-threatening illnesses, and although I did meet them; I’ll never forget them.  They’re courage, their stories, and their authenticity are definitely models for living a good life.  My time with these heroes was a life-changing experience and I’ve been doing this work for 25 years; that’s epic!

Who will you meet in person or through some other means during your day?  How will their story impact your life?  What’s the take away from their story and what will you do today that’s different from what you did yesterday.  For more information about facing chronic and life-threatening illness go to www.survivingstrong.com or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

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