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

Find Your Magic

If you’re on a personal pilgrimage toward health and healing, you’re always on the lookout for things that will improve how you feel and aid the body in rebuilding itself.  It’s interesting because although in this blog we focus on you, the individual with a health challenge, there are some things that are good for anyone whether or not they have a diagnosis.  Find your magic is one of those cross-over issues.

Finding your magic is not about getting a black top hat and a wand, saying an incantation, and waiting for the miracle to happen.  Finding your magic is about creation.  It’s about those small or big things that have an impact on how you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The body is a complex machine and one of the concerns is the hormone cortisol.  Cortisol is released during times of stress.  Prolonged or continuous releasing of this hormone certainly impacts your health, that’s not just for those with an illness.  Finding your magic is about creating experiences that will eliminate those negative influences on your body, mind, and soul.

This isn’t simply about visualization, which I believe to be extremely effective for reducing stress and guiding the body toward a place of peace.  This is about creating experiences that become part of your everyday life.  Those experiences don’t have to cost money.  Last weekend I made a batch of blueberry muffins.  I made a couple of pots of coffee, brought out the muffins and all my neighbors came over for an impromptu gathering just sitting in the driveway.  It was a great way to start the weekend, not to mention having a few good laughs (good for the immune system…just ask Norman Cousins).

Perhaps your magic comes in the form of a venue.  I find I’m most at peace when I’m near water.  I love the sound, the smell, and the experience of the ocean.  It’s expansive nature and its enormity helps me put things in perspective.  Creating art in my studio produces a magical experience for me.  It gives me the alone time I need to re-energize my soul (I’m an introvert and I recharge my battery alone, not in groups).  I love the process of creating and I get the added bonus of a finished piece of art when I’m done.

Magic isn’t only something you see in a Harry Potter movie.  It’s those moments in your life when you take a breath and acknowledge the wonder of it all.  Yes, having a chronic or life-threatening illness ups the ante on the need for magic, but no matter where you are on your journey to wellness, magic is within your reach.  How do you create magic in your life?  Tell us by leaving a comment or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

I’d appreciate you forwarding this post to friends and family who are in need of a little magic in their lives!

 

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

At The Movies…

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I remember seeing a book years ago called, “The Motion Picture Prescription: Watch this movie and call me in the morning”.  A great title and the book offers movie suggestions that relate to the most common life problems.  It’s amazing that in a two-hour period the writers, producers, and actors can create a situation, take you through the entire process and have a resolution.  If I could figure out how to do that in “real life”; I’d start that way of life tomorrow.

When it comes to art and healing there are two different types of films, those where the story of the illness is told and the other where a character in the film has an illness that is dealt with moving the story along.  One of the most prominent films about illness that I first saw as a child was “Brian’s Song”, telling the story of  Brian Piccolo, the football player.  The movie “Philadelphia” although about the rights of those with HIV/AIDS is about the journey Tom Hanks’ character and those around him take during the legal battle.  “Wit” tells the story of a woman with gynecological cancer.  On the flip side, Whoopi Goldberg’s character in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” dies of cancer (sorry if you didn’t know) but it’s part of the main character’s journey not the story itself.

We often watch movies for a sense of escape or sensationalism, so why do we watch films about people with an illness?  If you have a health challenge sometimes it’s about identifying with the process the individual goes through from diagnosis to death.  It brings up questions that you might not have thought about prior to seeing the film sparking discussion.  Just like pathographies (books written about someone’s journey through illness) we are captivated by the struggle (kind of like slowing down to see an accident on the freeway). 

Now let’s get to the healing part of films.  Pick a genre, any genre and ask yourself, “Why are you attracted to this film at this time?”  Norman Cousins watched films of The Three Stooges for its laughter inducing qualities.  He found that 20 minutes of a good laugh gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Maybe you’re a fan of the Star Wars films, where there’s a coming of age story but first there are all these obstacles.  It’s about a hero, someone you can believe in who triumphs over evil…not a bad days work.

We watch films to laugh, learn, cry, explore, escape and a host of other reasons.  The bottom line is films are enjoyable.  We each have our own favorites.  My two all-time favorite films are “Same Time, Next Year”, and “The Color Purple”.  I’ve seen each of these movies too many times to count.  They provoke me, entertain me, and stay with me.

What’s your favorite film and why?  How do films play a part in your own health and healing journey?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Babaloo

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

One of the great advantages to living in different parts of the country is that you never know what small treasures you’ll come across.  One day at work I heard some people talking about the “I Love Lucy” museum in Jamestown.  Why Jamestown you ask?  Because Jamestown is where Lucille Ball was born and she made reference to it quite frequently on the show.

I took a road trip yesterday to see the museum and although quite small, it’s in a store front off Main Street, it’s packed with memorabilia that will tickle your funny bone.  The best part of this journey is that if you ever watched the television show (and if you never saw it you must be from another planet) it takes you right back to those memories of a simpler time in your life, most likely prior to your diagnosis.

Comedy is an underrated art form.  People believe that comedy, like photography, is something anyone can do and they try, but often fail.  Comedy is not just a joke it’s truly an art form.  It requires wit, understanding of the times we’re in, and most of all a great delivery.  I’m a great story-teller, but not a great joke teller; believe me there’s quite a difference.  We don’t often realize how many writers are on a comedy show.  Ever watch the Emmy Awards?  During the award for writing, the nominees are often teams of up to 10 or 12 people…that’s a lot of exchange in the writing room to make the work funny.

So what does this have to do with art and healing?  Well if we look at comedy as an art form, then we next have to look at the impact comedy and thus laughter have on the body.  Normal Cousins author of “Anatomy of an Illness” describes how he dealt with his excruciating pain issues.  He checked out of the hospital and into a hotel.  Cousins had his wife go rent Marx Brothers movies for him to watch.  He found that 20 minutes of a good belly laugh gave  him 2 hours of pain-free sleep (that’s a great return on your investment).

I know that while in the Lucy-Desi Museum (www.lucy-desi.com) I laughed and not just a chuckle, but to the point that tears were rolling down my face.  To see the actual sets, and watch the video clips made me think of the episode in the chocolate factory or stomping the grapes, or Vitameatavegamin.  They even have the set-up and a video camera with the script on a prompter so you can do the commercial and have your friends watch you on the monitor. 

The symbol for theater of the two faces representing comedy and tragedy are together for a reason.  We often can’t have one without the other just as we can’t have darkness without light.  Go rent some of your favorite comedies and sink into your favorite chair and allow the comedy to take you away on an adventure to a place of freedom.  The laughter will be a shock to your body, mind, and spirit if you’ve been too serious for too long (often happens after a diagnosis of a health challenge).  Let the laughter sweep over you and allow the body to utilize the hormones released to promote health and healing.

Do you have a favorite “I Love Lucy” episode?  I’d love to hear what made you laugh the hardest…just leave a comment and let’s celebrate Lucy and Desi!

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

Why We Have to Laugh

Do you read the newspapers?  Do you watch the news on television?  Do you listen to the radio in your home or car?  If the answer is yes to any or all of these then you you’ve been exposed.  You’ve been exposed to negativity, despair, anger, hostility, fighting, animosity, and the rest of the negative emotions and actions that plague our world.  Just ask yourself this, “When I’m finished being exposed to the media, friends or co-workers conversations about the world, or the statistics of the prognosis of your diagnosis, how do you feel?”

If we follow Newton’s laws of physics, energy can’t be created or destroyed.  If that’s the case, what happens to the negative energy you’ve been exposed to?  If we did a scan of your body could we see that spot of negativity on your organs, or your brain?  Not exactly, but I bet it shows up in your lab results or how you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Fortunately there’s an antidote to all this negativity energy.  It’s kind of like math, a negative is balanced out by a positive and what’s the best positive?  Laughter.  I was at work yesterday and we were having a great day, but one of my co-workers made a comment that had me rolling in the aisles.  I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like I’d lost 10 pounds and was 10 years younger.

This is the reason that movie production companies make comedies and they do well, because we need to laugh.  We need that moment biochemically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when everything shifts.  We release the pent-up emotions we’ve been holding because, believe it or not, as adults we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously.  You drop the luggage you’ve been carrying around and feel lighter.

The ramifications are that you’re physically, emotional, and spiritual body is carrying less so it’s working more efficiently.  You’ ve allowed the mind-body connection to focus on its work; the work of health and healing.  You’ve ignited the immune system allowing it to protect you from other illnesses and work toward making you better or well.

Does laughter cure everything?  Probably not, but ask Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who found watching Marx Brothers movies, that 20 minutes of a good laugh, gave him 2 hours pain-free.  If you ask me that’s a pretty good return on your investment.

Want to get started laughing?  Have a joke or a story  to share so we can all laugh with you?  Send it to me and at greg@survivingstrong.com and I’ll put up stories and jokes on the blog so we can all laugh.

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

If Cher Said It, It Must Be True

I’m always surprised when a famous person gets connected to a news story that I didn’t think connected.  I was watching ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and the “Person of the Week” was a mountain climber who was an amputee.  He didn’t have the money to climb to the summit of the mountain, but the money appeared.  The money came through Cher, or one of the organizations under the umbrella of her life.  She provides funding for cases just like this; someone with a tremendous challenge who doesn’t have the means to take this huge leap toward overcoming some very difficult challenge.

What surprised me even more was when they showed a short interview with Cher to explain why she provided the funding.  She said, “Going to the top of the mountain is important.  Going to the top of your fear mountain is more important.”  That’s an incredible philosophy and truthfully I was surprised at how profound Cher came across; she embodied the Buddha in that moment. 

How does this apply to your life?  Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness the “fear mountain” is often huge.  The unknown is the catalyst for that fear and if not curbed it can become bigger and bigger over time.  It’s not like the “fear factor” is going to subside on its own; it needs to be subdued like bull at the rodeo.  It needs to be overtaken and put in its place; that can be a daunting task, but it has to be done.

 The next step is to identify what it is you’re afraid of, aside from the obvious.  Everyone has death anxiety at least according to Irvin Yalom, as stated in his brilliant book, Staring At the Sun, so let’s take that out of the running.  Personally I can tell you that my biggest fear is about pain and suffering.  Having done this work for so many years and encountered death as much as I have the idea of “not being” isn’t terrifying.  I’ve identified my fear so my next step is to figure out how I’m going to decrease any and all opportunities for pain and suffering to show its ugly head.

In order to conquer my fear I need to be go into my resource list and identify those things that will help prevent or reduce what I’m afraid of so I maintain a certain level of control over my own life.  It may mean insuring I get enough rest or exercise.  I may make a point of spending more time in my art studio because when I’m in “the zone” my body is ultimately engaged in something pleasurable preventing the other stuff from creeping in to my life.  All of these became punctuated after reading Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness, where Cousins used laughter to offset his severe bouts with pain.

Cher is right; you have to make it to the summit of your “fear mountain”, plant your flag at the top, and know that you have the capacity to stand tall and make informed decisions about your life!

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Theatre to the Rescue

Art and Healing Wednesday…

There’s nothing like going to see live theatre.  The stories are provocative, entertaining, and engaging.  Actors put their heart and soul into the characters bringing them to live in magical ways.  Sometimes we can find an art form that bridges entertainment and meaning.  It brings about social and cultural messages and we related to them.

The other thing that theatre can do is teach.  It may not be on Broadway, but theatre companies across the country have created theatre pieces to bring about important lessons about everything from obesity to teen pregnancy.  Why is it so powerful?

We feel connected to live performance.  The actors feed off the audience and the excitement, drama, hilarity put forth by the actors is palpable.  There’s an inter-connectedness that creates an energy of mutuality and healing.  If the theatre piece has a moral to it then all the better, especially if you’re entertaining young children.  There it is; theatre reaches people at all levels of economics, cultural, spiritual, age, gender, etc.  It’s a universal language.

Look for theatre that provides laughter if you’re experiencing pain of malaise.  Norman Cousins, watching Three Stooges movies found that a good belly laugh gave him periods of pain-free sleep.  Sometimes the theatre piece brings out loud the questions you’ve been asking yourself.  At other times they play devil’s advocate, something I’m always in favor of no matter the discussion.

There’s a lot to choose from, so watch two theatre productions and call me in the morning!

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

Ditch Digging is Not Part of Health and Healing

What do you focus on when it comes to your health?  If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness you probably ask, “What else can go wrong?”  We’re in a culture that is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and believe me if you give it the opportunity it will fall, often and hard.  Every negative thought is the equivalent of picking up the shovel and scooping out a shovel full of dirt.  What happens eventually?  You find yourself at the bottom of a very deep hole.  Is that where you think you’ll find health and healing?

The only ditch digging you should be doing is in the garden.  If you think of planting in the garden the ditch gets prepared to receive the new plants…the new life.  It doesn’t work that way in life.  Most people dig a ditch and then when they’re in too deep they wallow in the reality that they can’t get out.  If you are going to dig the emotional and/or spiritual ditch then I implore you to have an escape route in mind before the shovel touches your soul.  I mean have someone who can offer you a lifeline or an escape ladder from the perils of the ditch. 

Your safeguard may be your physician, a therapist, a coach, a spiritual director or yes even your nursery professional if gardening is your preferred spiritual practice.  It’s imperative that you remain engaged in your life and the people who mean the most to you.  Remember that laughter isn’t just fun but therapeutic.  Norman Cousins watched the Three Stooges and for every 20 minutes of a good belly laugh, he got 2 hours of pain relief.

Leave the ditch digging out in the yard where it belongs.  If you feel the descent beginning have a plan in place to keep your head above ground.  Don’t fall so far down that the possibility of being saved is remote.  Giving yourself the gift of planning will open your heart and your mind to the possibilities that others will deliver to your doorstep.  Listen for how other people have overcome similar challenges, go to a support group, read blogs by people who are in similar circumstances.  You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to it alone.

How will you keep yourself out of the ditch today?  What do you do to keep your head above ground?  How do you cultivate opportunites and then reap the alternatives provided by others?