Tag Archives: mindfulness

mindfulness

Breast cancer and the LoA: Please don’t be afraid to feel afraid

In my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, I work with women who have breast cancer. They are often afraid of their fear: the Law of Attraction has become a monster for them. The issue is the LoA and how it applies – and does not apply – to getting and fighting cancer.

I have studied the LoA for years. There is a lot of (I believe rather immature) stuff on the internet about the LoA. “Think well and you will be well”, the teaching goes. I think it grossly oversimplifies the case.

And worse, I think it freaks people out.

Is there nothing to fear but fear itself?

So many women I work with are freaking out because they are scared, and they are scared of being scared. This puts them in a bind. They can’t begin to grapple with the fear, move through it, and let it move through them, because they are afraid that in being afraid they are making themselves sicker.

Because they are afraid of the power of their fear they don’t allow themselves to express it. Consequently, their fear has no way out. It grows in the darkness. And worse, these women feel shame because they have fear.

For most of us, a cancer diagnosis is @%*&# scary.

And then things get better. Most of the time – by far, most of the time – my clients do, too. They learn about treatment options and they start the marathon. They find out that the sun still rises and they still laugh and have fun.

The marathon ends and they reflect on how much they have gained: they know a lot about mindfulness and meditation, complementary therapies, nutrition and natural beauty products. They have learned to tell the people they love that they love them. They don’t sweat the small stuff.

But for many women, the road to recovery is fraught with the boogey man named LoA. They come to me and cry: I am afraid, and I am afraid that my fear is killing me. If I let myself feel afraid, am I making my cancer grow? I am afraid to let myself feel afraid, and I’m still afraid. I have no power over this fear. It feels like life and death.

Don’t suppress your emotions.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I know my clients. I read the research. I talk to people. I listen. And I can tell you that there is not a shred of evidence that feeling afraid makes people sicker. On the other hand, there is research, including a study of 94 women with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, showing that unprocessed trauma hurts.

David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, says “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please. Don’t. Suppress. Your. Emotions.

Emotions are not “good” or “bad”. What we do with them, however, has consequences. Suppressed emotions can cause some serious mischief. Keeping our fear pushed down is exhausting. And it’s inauthentic. And we can’t heal what we can’t allow ourselves to feel.

I think that having a dialogue with our feelings is healthy. In English we say “I AM afraid”. Other languages express it as “I HAVE fear”, and there is a certain mindful distancing that comes from framing our emotions this way.

What I want to say to my clients, to all the women who are fighting the fight, to you, is this:

Please don’t punish yourself by fearing your fear. Let yourself feel your feelings. Let the fear move through you. You will find yourself on the other side of that feeling and see how much you have grown.

With our thoughts we create the world

With our thoughts we create our world. This ancient piece of wisdom, handed down by the Buddha, is making inroads in our culture. Is there any evidence that this is true? If we accept that this is true, what are the implications? Thoughts must be incredibly powerful if they create our world, but they often seem to have a “mind of their own”. How can we correctly handle them?

One of the best examples of evidence of the power of thoughts to affect matter is the water experiments of Dr. Masaru Emoto, made famous by his book Messages from Water. Water crystals energized with the thought of love are beautiful, bright and clear; those exposed to the thought of hate are misshapen and dark. His mold experiment is another fascinating example of the power of thoughts.

The Global Consciousness Project is investigating the impact of our collective attention on the earth’s magnetic field. The researchers involved with the project have installed random number generators in 70 sites around the world. When big news stories captivate our collective attention and emotional response, the numbers become somewhat synchronized.  The investigators have calculated one in a trillion odds that this effect is due to chance.

And Bruce Lipton, in his book The Biology of Belief, explains how our cells react to our thoughts and emotional climate. The field of epigenetics shows that it’s not genes per se, but the protein covering the genes—the epi-gene, or “above the gene”—that switches genes on or off. The proteins are affected by the environment, including food and water we ingest, the air we breathe, and the emotions we feel. There is a great video about epigenetics produced by Nova here.

So our thoughts are things, and we use them to create our reality. So what now? It becomes increasingly clear that it is our responsibility to monitor our thoughts, to purify our thoughts and emotions, and to be as clear as possible in order to create the life we want—not just for ourselves but for our world. We accomplish this by first becoming aware of the need and dedicating ourselves to the process. Then tools like meditation, hypnotherapy, and energy psychology allow us to clear long-held thoughts and emotions that separate us from the highest good. We open our hearts through gratitude. We learn to trust the process and begin to realize the results of our efforts.

Together, we can be the change that we wish to see in the world, and then see the world we wish to see.

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net; “Ecology World” by Danilo Rizutti

Five affirmations to help get you through difficult times

All of us have to go through tough times at some point in our lives–it’s part of being human. When the going gets tough, it’s helpful and even important to remember that this too shall pass. Until that happens, here are some affirmations to help you keep the faith:

  1. I will fully accept that which is for the highest good of all. And then trust that what is happening is really for the highest good. In every situation, there really exists that which is for the highest good of all. The universe has the ability to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the old saying goes. In time, just about every experience we meet has an upside. When we can transcend the limits of this lifetime, that silver lining exists in every single Bar none. Find it.
  2. I trust that everything is in divine order. This bears repeating and so makes a good affirmation! Everything is in divine order. Sometimes we can’t see that from our limited perspective and because of our desires and attachments to particular outcomes. But our personalities aren’t in control. Surrendering to the divine order of things helps ease the pain when our desires don’t align with what is happening.
  3. I vow to learn my lessons well. Every difficult situation comes to us in order to teach us something important. And as we have heard and even experienced, when we don’t learn the lesson, the lesson gets harder. With this in mind, consider your role in the difficulty and try to find out what your lesson is. Once you’ve learned it, the lesson will be over.
  4. I strive for detachment in all things. Attachment leads to suffering, as the Buddha taught us well. When we are able to detach, suffering ends. It is a practice, which means it won’t be perfect. But practice now.
  5. I surrender to the guidance of my Higher Self. Your Higher Self is that part of you that connects you to the divine. When you are centered in your heart, peaceful and loving, you are connected to your Higher Self and you radiate that peace and love to everyone and everything around you. It is possible to remain heart-centered even when going through challenging times. Doing so makes those times much easier to bear.

How to face our fears–and find they’re not so scary after all

Fear. So chaotic, and so much a part of life–at times. Fear causes a state of inner chaos, part of the lower “ego” self and its wandering, racing, jumpy thoughts. We let those thoughts take us for a wild ride, going down rabbit holes, through wormholes, into black holes. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t helpful.

When we are pushed and pulled by untamed thinking, it’s as if we are letting the car drive the person. But there is hope! We can take the wheel and get back into the driver’s seat by taking hold of our thoughts.

One strategy to do this is to be still with those thoughts. Follow the scary ones down to their logical conclusions, and keep asking “and then what”? The answers are not as horrible as they seem to be when we are running away from them, or letting them run away with us.

We lean into the thoughts, facing them bravely. We shine the light of clear reason on them, and find there is really no monster under the bed after all. We move into those thoughts, and nurture them, and love them, and laugh with them.

And we heal ourselves.

The physiology of the brain

Meditation has many benefits, and the practice actually changes our physiology. Researchers have conducted studies to find the chemical changes that occur inside our brains when we meditate. Here is what they’ve found:

Meditation reduces cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which increases blood sugar, suppresses immune function and digestion, and acts on brain regions connected with mood, fear, and motivation. Chronic stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease, weight gain, digestive problems, insomnia, and problems with learning, concentration, and memory.

Meditation increases DHEA. This chemical is known as the “anti-aging” hormone; its levels begin to drop at about age 30, and this decline is related to a host of conditions including weight gain, cancer, and heart disease. Because of its link to ageing, people are experimenting with DHEA supplementation. But meditation alone boosts DHEA levels. Feeling younger already?

Meditation releases dopamine: Dopamine is linked to our ability to focus and acts on the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Because of its involvement in pleasure and reward, dopamine is implicated in addiction. ADHD is believed to involve decreased dopamine levels. Healthy dopamine levels seem to help us feel rewarded, experience pleasure, and to focus.

Meditation boosts serotonin: Serotonin helps us feel calm and happy. Serotonin deficits are linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia; in fact, the SSRI antidepressant drugs such as Prozac are designed to boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is such a big part of good moods that it is sometimes called the “happiness hormone”.

Meditation boosts oxytocin: Known as the “love hormone” or the “monogamy hormone”, oxytocin makes us feel calm when we are with loved ones, especially when hugging or cuddling. It is released by mothers during childbirth and causes the production of milk in mammals. It is also released during orgasm and is thought to explain why we tend to feel close to partners after we have had sex. It has an inverse relationship to stress and stress hormones. And the more oxytocin we have, the more we are likely to trust others.

And the good news is that you don’t have to be a Zen master to receive these benefits. If you are interested in beginning a meditation practice, the most important thing to remember is probably that it is a practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin to try a new skill and remember all the benefits your brain will receive!

A bad case of the common “Shoulds”

Last week I had a client who had a bad case of “the shoulds.” She was stuck in a counterproductive mindset, feeling like “I should do this” and “I should be that”. There are so many things that she was telling herself she “should” be and do that she couldn’t appreciate where she actually was in her life, let alone have clarity about the direction she was going. And she certainly couldn’t have any fun with it.

This is so common. When I look back on my own life I realize that there were many times when I had a bad case of the “shoulds” myself. When we get stuck thinking about what we should be doing and how things should be going and what kind of person we should be, instead of being present with what is, we are disconnected from our authentic self.  We are stuck in our ego-level of consciousness. This drains us, clouds our perceptions, and makes it nearly impossible to build an effective and happy life.

Sometimes I think that if I could share only one thing with my clients, it would be to let go of the “shoulds” and get on with the business of life unfolding. Forget about what others expect. Forget other people’s agendas, and even your own perceived agenda, with all of the tension and disconnect that brings. Get out of your ego and into your heart. When we raise our consciousness up into our heart center, we feel at peace and connected with all; we are able to trust in the order of things and trust ourselves.

If you are suffering from the “shoulds”, stop! Right now, take a few deep breaths and soften into your heart center. As you begin to connect to your heart, ask your Higher Self to release you from the expectations you place on yourself and the expectations others place on you. With intention, with practice, you will be able to start living an authentic and joy-filled life of purpose—present, confident, and graceful with what IS. Such a better place to be from which to weave a life.

Top five go-to ways to stay peaceful and happy

“Be happy. It feels better!”

This has to be my absolute favorite quote from the Dalai Lama. It certainly is so true—of course it feels better to be happy! But is it really that simple? If we are not committed to happiness, it can be fleeting and difficult to find. And even when we are making happiness a priority (which it really ought to be for a number of reasons), sometimes things go wrong and we get derailed. What’s a happiness-seeker to do?

  1. Detach, detach, detach. It can be so much easier said than done, right? But we know that taking the long view is a key to maintaining inner peace. Our pain comes not from the event but our resistance to it. As my dad said to me a few years ago when I was upset, “these things have a way of working themselves out.” How often do we look back and, as the Garth Brooks song goes, “thank God for unanswered prayers?” We have all let go of important—really, really important—things. And as time goes by, we realize life moves on and we can indeed still be happy. When life gets you down, remember this.
  2. Put a smile on. Even a fake one. Seriously. A researcher in Japan did a study in which he put people’s faces into a smile or a frown using rubber bands and plastic bandages. Sure enough, the “smilers” became happier and the frowners got unhappier. Smile on!
  3. Regular exercise has been shown to boost not just our metabolism and strength, but our moods as well. Find a type of exercise you like and commit to it. Find a buddy to work out with, sign up for an exercise or yoga class, or set yourself an alarm to hit the pavement or the clothes rack –umm, treadmill. Just do it!
  4. Be friendly. Social engagement boosts happiness and is a great anti-depressant. We humans are communal creatures and do better in society yet modern culture often separates us from our pack. Get out there and mingle.
  5. You’ve heard it here before. Meditation boosts happiness and a whole host of physiological markers of happiness. Disconnecting from our busy thoughts and emotions and returning to our center, which is a wellspring of peace and happiness, takes practice. In fact, it is a practice. We need to be patient with ourselves and get to work with that practice.

These are my top five go-to ways to stay more peaceful and happy. I should point out, of course, that happiness doesn’t come from pleasure-seeking; it comes from things like authenticity, productivity, and service. When our work and relationships are satisfying and affirming, and our spiritual life is rich, happiness unfolds in wonderful ways.

What are your favorite ways to stay happy? I’d love to hear from you!