It’s holiday time and as we all know we indulge a bit more than usual and that leads to a couple of extra pounds. Those are physical, tangible pounds; the ones we can see when we get on the scale. What about the pounds or the weight we carry that can’t be seen? How much weight have you put on emotionally and spiritually since your diagnosis? Is it weighing you down? Impacting your quality of life? Slowing you down on your journey to health and healing? The truth is that emotional and spiritual weight can be just as debilitating as gaining actual pounds.
When you put on emotional weight you tend to feel sad or depressed more often. Your affect becomes flat so you don’t really have the lows but you also don’t have the highs. The obstacle with emotional weight is that it impacts the immune system. Slowing the physical immune system makes healing/curing more difficult and makes treatment less effective. You’re less likely to be involved in your own care and your medical decision-making abilities are impaired.
Putting on the pounds spiritually robs you of grace and joy. It keeps you in a tug-o-war with G-d, the Universe, your Higher Power wanting an explanation that is plausible. Your faith waivers and that leads to over questioning your beliefs and maybe even the intentions of the Supreme Being. It leaves you isolated and that has a huge impact on your physical health. It leaves you like the Jews of ancient times wandering your personal desert aimlessly, hoping for an oasis or to be saved. The fact of the matter is that you can be your own savior in these matters, you have to shed the spiritual weight.
It’s not about the weight you carry; it’s how you carry the weight. Some of you are able to carry this added weight with grace and confidence. You have the resources to combat this added weight, but if it leads to struggle you may want to think twice about the extra pounds. Give yourself every opportunity for health and healing and understand and embrace that weight short circuits the mind, body, spirit connection. Are you willing to pay that price?
How strong are you? If you go to the gym you can measure your strength by using some of the apparatus in the gym. Aside from muscular strength in your arms and legs you hear trainers talk about core strength; the strength in the torso of the body, abdominal and back. It’s easy to measure your strength on the physical level but what about measuring your emotional or spiritual strength? Is it possible to develop a workout program for you mind and spirit? What would it look like? How would you know the workout is working?
Developing emotional strength takes practice just as if you were working out your bodies muscles. You develop your emotional strength by experiencing your emotions and allowing them to unfold in their own time. When you give yourself the freedom to express yourself fully you give your emotions room to expand and become stronger in how they manifest. Full emotional expression is freeing, stress reducing, and an authentic way to life your life. It comes down to willingness. If you didn’t grow up in an environment where emotions were expressed then this may be a challenge, but it can be learned. It requires that you place yourself in environments where emotional expression is not only modeled, but encouraged. This is why support groups are a great model for authentic emotional expression when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness. Being in an environment where emotions are present or right below the surface gives you a safe place to experiment. It’s like having your own emotional strength building gym.
Have you ever tried to measure your spiritual stamina? It’s not like you can start running and see when you get tired, although the concept is similar. Spiritual stamina requires that you find inner guidance providing you with a sense of faith and hope. Developing your spiritual stamina is not about dogma; it’s about knowledge of your beliefs, values, and intuition. Having the capacity to find comfort and peace by going within is building spiritual stamina. Some may need a personal trainer just like when training the physical body and they turn to spiritual directors to help fortify their spiritual stamina in the face of a health challenge. Knowing that there are others willing to support your is empowering. It punctuates the knowledge that you have your own internal and external resources for health and healing.
Remember that developing your emotional and spiritual strength is just as important as developing your physical health when facing a health challenge. Finding outlets that will support this development is the key. Learning to ask good questions of yourself and others serves as a catalyst for this type of development. It’s about coordinating your strength building efforts between the mind, body, and spirit. Don’t underdevelop one area and over develop others…you’ll live life lopsided.
One of my favorite sayings referring to anger is “It makes my blood boil”. I was attracted to this phrase because there was some research being done on elevating blood temperature to eradicate viruses, literally burning them out of the body. Anger can have that effect, at least figuratively. Ever see someone who is angry turn all red in the face. It’s like the cartoons where we see steam coming out the ears of the angry person.
Examining anger on our health came from reading Amish Grace, about the Nickel Mines school shooting in the Amish community. There is a lot of discussion about forgiving the perpetrator and the speed at which he was forgiven. The Amish believe that forgiveness is crucial to their existence. They teach it, practice it and share its outcomes with the community. They believe that it’s necessary to forgive in order to be forgiven.
This got me thinking about the anger we feel when we’ve received a life-altering diagnosis. Many of those I’ve interviewed and sat in support groups with have expressed anger. The anger often arises out of the shattered assumptions we experience, feeling that our bodies have betrayed us. What impact does the lingering anger have on our immune system?
Can we really heal and be angry with our bodies? How can we forgive our bodies and reclaim a nurturing stance toward our biology? When we’re able to dispose of blame for our illness it’s easier to forgive. Many studies, interviews, articles put the blame for illness on the individual. We need to remember that the body is an extremely complex organism. Illness can occur when one minuscule cell decides to change course.
Forgiving our bodies, removing anger from the equation gives us one more tool in our healing practice. It provides us with fortification to take on the challenge of our illness. Reconnecting with our bodies is crucial because it’s the only body we will ever receive so treat it kindly. Turning our lives over to anger keeps us in a fighting stance and that’s not good for anyone’s health. Maximizing our chances of healing is why abandoning anger, embracing forgiveness is crucial to good health.