Category Archives: Mending the Mind

How to Manage Your Emotions

Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

 

Digging deeply into the present moment can be enraging, terrifying, or sorrow-filled. That’s why many of us are experts at avoiding our feelings, at living in our heads, at focusing on thinking and doing rather than being.

When we are stimulated into raw emotions such as rage, terror, or grief, we experience uncomfortable physical sensations in our bodies—a red face, butterflies in the stomach, an ache in the heart. This happens because our brains are programmed to respond to threatening stimuli by dumping chemicals into our bloodstreams, according to Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, author of My Stroke of Insight.

“It takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream,” she said.

Hearing this on her CD, I got my own jolt. She was giving a physiological explanation for what my psychotherapist had taught me, a practice called the map the emotions. Practicing the map provided me with enormous assistance for successfully navigating the traumas I’ve endured since 2009—end-stage sarcoma, then divorce, then the loss of my 19-year-old.

And suddenly the experience of grief rising, cresting, and crashing like ocean waves made sense.

During those 90-second surges, I had practiced staying with the physical sensations in my body without thinking about them, analyzing them, judging them, or making stories about them. I did not have a choice about what happened those first 90 seconds inside my body. I did have a choice how I would respond. I could observe and accept the sensations, staying in my body and in the physiological experience; or I could ignore the sensations and get stuck in emotional pain.

After the 90 seconds were over, I had another choice. Was I going to turn my attention to the source of that stimulation, allow my negative story-teller to re-weave a web of drama, get emotionally triggered again, and continue the pain?

Or was I going to live in the present moment, turn my attention away from the trigger, and choose to let the experience go?

Sometimes I allowed myself to be triggered repeatedly for more than an hour. Yet I stayed with the practice of experiencing the physical sensations with each surge of emotion. Finally I would want some peace and I chose to stop setting off my brain’s limbic system with my thoughts.

It takes practice, like any other skill. Allow time to develop these new thinking and behavior patterns. If you choose this practice, be gentle with yourself as you learn this new way of engaging your thoughts and emotions.

By practicing the map of emotions, I made a conscious choice. I became response-able. Taylor said, “If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.”

You will be digging deeply in the present moment, and the water of life will spring forth.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you feel a sudden surge of emotion, focus on the physical sensations it creates. Notice how it moves around or possibly gets intense. Notice it lift after 90 seconds. Do all of this without engaging your mind. See if it brings you a sense of peace or relief, and watch your thoughts to see if they want to re-engage with the initial trigger.

Sources:

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (New York: Bantam, March 1, 1992), pp. 41, 42.

Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (Viking, New York: 2008), pp. 146, 148, 152.

Photo: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=5127&picture=breaking-wave

How to Quiet the Peanut Gallery

Be not thoughtless, watch your thoughts! Draw yourself out of the evil way, like an elephant sunk in mud.

The Dhammapada, v.327

Watch your thoughts! warns the Buddha. Negative self-talk and storytelling arise from an area in the left hemisphere of our brains that takes up about as much space as a peanut. Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight, calls it the “peanut gallery.”

Do you have a peanut gallery in your mind that runs negative thinking loops over and over again, like a broken record? Do you obsess over an event in the past or an upcoming situation, like a cancer treatment you have to endure? Do you whine and complain about the same things, like cancer treatment side-effects?

Perhaps you can steer your brain cells in a more pleasant direction.

Taylor says, “I have learned that I can own my power and stop thinking about events that have occurred in the past by consciously realigning myself with the present.”

Nothing is more empowering than realizing you don’t have to think thoughts that bring pain, she adds. “It is freeing to know that I have the conscious power to stop thinking those thoughts when I am satiated.”

How do you stop the negative thinking? Use that peanut in your brain to entice the elephant of negative thinking up out of the mud so you can wash the dirt of negativity away.

First notice that it’s going on. Try to simply observe, not judge, any looping thoughts. Watch your mind as an external witness so you can notice your habitual patterns.

Next, when you notice the negativity, try switching your attention to your body. Feel the four corners of your feet. Focus on your in-and-out breathing. This will slow down the self-talk and help you reconnect your mind with your body, returning yourself to wholeness and the present moment.

Then initiate some conscious self-talk. Some of my friends encourage me to say, “Cancel, cancel, cancel” when I express negative thinking. I also find it helpful to recite a ritual prayer or affirmation. Another method is to talk directly to the negative thinker inside our brains, saying, “Stop. I don’t need that anymore.” Or maybe imagine that clean elephant wagging its trunk in front of the peanut gallery, threatening it to shut up—or else.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Watching your thoughts takes vigilance, because the peanut gallery is persistent. It can chatter incessantly, especially when you are tired. You have to be more persistent with redirecting your attention. Have your own plan in place to first notice, then deal with the negativity so you can return to the present moment where there is more peace.

Sources:

Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 10: The Dhammapada and Sutta Nipata, by Max Müller and Max Fausböll, [1881], at http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/sbe10/sbe1025.htm 10/8/2017

Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (Viking, New York: 2008), 147, 148, 152.

“Life is but a Dream”

“Row, row, row your boat / gently down the stream; / merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, / life is but a dream.”

On one level, this nursery rhyme is just a fun song to sing, especially in multi-part harmony. Yet it contains what might be a profound truth: life as we know it could be but a dream.

In the 2010 movie Inception, the main character and his wife spent fifty years within a dream constructing a world of their own choosing. What if this human life we are living also is a dream that has been constructed? What if, when we pass away, we wake up from this human dream and realize this drama does not encompass our true nature, who we really are?

This idea has been around for millennia. The Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, explains that our ability to dream demonstrates that all of creation itself is a dream, an illusion.

How can this be? British philosopher Alan Watts explained it beautifully in a lecture. He posed the idea that if we could stuff 75 years of life into one night of dreaming, and we could control what happened, and we could do this every night, we would spend the first few months fulfilling all our wishes while in the dream state.

After a few months we’d get bored and start adding adventures to our dreams. Then we’d get tired of that and we’d add a new dimension—forgetting that we actually are dreaming while in the dream. We would enter into the dream state and believe the experiences were real, which would give rise to fear. Yet it would be safe to try this, because when we woke up we would know it was all “only a dream.”

And with all the possibilities the universe could offer, we would eventually end up dreaming the kind of life we humans live now, playing with infinite possibilities and forgetting, while in the dream, that we are only dreaming. Watts says, “the whole nature of the Godhead, according to this idea, is to play that He’s not…. What you are, basically, deep deep down, far far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. And when you find that out, you laugh yourself silly. You yourself are the eternal energy which appears as this universe.”

Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda said much the same thing in “Awake from this Dream into Your Oneness with God.” “If in a dream you feel your leg crushed under a car, your suffering seems just as real as if your limb were actually injured. But when you wake up, you laugh and say, ‘Oh, how silly. It was only a nightmare.’ This is exactly what will happen when you wake up in God.

“God’s dream creation was not meant to frighten you, but to prod you to realize finally that it has no reality. So why be afraid of anything?”

The implication is that this life is only a dream, and it is only real while we are living it out as humans in three dimensions.

Great spiritual masters tell us that eventually we will wake up and truly know this life is but a dream. They teach that one way to wake up from this nightmare is to meditate. Yogananda, however, warned, “To state that the world is a dream, without trying to attain in meditation actual realization of this truth, may lead one to fanaticism. The wise man understands that even though mortal life is a dream, it contains dream pains. He adopts scientific methods to awaken from the dream….”

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

While we are in pain, meditation is pretty much impossible, even for those who practice regularly. Pain consumes the mind.

If you are struggling, perhaps you can find a small amount of comfort from maybe playing a little bit with the idea that while we are living a nightmare now, at some point we might wake up from this agony and feel far better.

Sources:

Alan Watts lecture at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G79EHVjLgwU

Excerpts from a talk by Paramahansa Yogananda titled “A New Look at the Origin and Nature of Cosmic Creation” printed in “Awake from this Dream into Your Oneness with God”

Bhagavad Gita V:18, “The Universe—God’s Magic Drama,” Volume I, No.22

How to Reduce the Pleading of Your Bone Marrow

“whisper of blood, and the pleading of bone marrow”

Knut Hamsun (1859–1952)

Knut Hamsun, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920, urged writers to describe the “whisper of blood, and the pleading of bone marrow.”

I’m a writer, and I understand the pleading of bone marrow at the physical level. And I worked to reduce that pleading during 42 days of chemotherapy spread over two years.

Some cancer patients live on maintenance chemotherapy, which involves receiving bone marrow stimulants like Neupogen or Neulasta after each infusion to keep white blood cell counts up.

One patient who had Neulasta for dozens of cycles was told she had widespread bone metastases. Upon further investigation, those studying her situation agreed that what appeared to be metastasis in the bones was actually not cancer, but the long-term effects of the marrow stimulant.

The shots cause bone pain and are extremely expensive. When long-term use of these shots causes serious damage, why not try adding some safe integrative therapies that strengthen the body to avoid the shots?

I was offered the shots after each cycle, yet I turned them down because I wanted to try natural means for keeping my white cell counts up. It’s necessary to have white blood cells to prevent infection. If levels drop too low then chemotherapy is postponed, which can create its own set of problems.

I did not want the bone pain and the enormous additional stress it would add to my body on top of the chemo. Rather, I wanted to strengthen and support my body.

I used diet (lots of carrots, cooked mushrooms, and bone broth), acupressure, visualization, and Emotional Freedom Technique.

I ended up needing only one shot one time to raise my white cell counts.

No one has studied whether what I did could work or not, and no one will because there’s no money to be had. Alternatively, no one will ever try to prove they don’t work, again because there is no money to be gained. I don’t think any of the things I did worked on its own. I think it was a healthy dose of each process done faithfully that made it possible for my body to produce enough white blood cells to get me through two years of aggressive chemotherapy with only one shot.

Did my processes work to keep my white cell counts up? It appears, based on the fact patients are routinely given the shots because they are not expected to keep their white cell counts up, that it probably did. I don’t know anyone else who has been able to avoid those shots (I’d love to hear from anyone who has!).

As always, discuss with your oncologist before passing up the shots. My blood counts were closely monitored. It took a big commitment on my part to work at these processes every day. For me, it was worth it.

What is your life worth? What is your health worth? Are you willing to try safe integrative therapies to give your body every single fighting chance you can? There are so many things that can be done that have not been scientifically proven, but if they are safe and you discuss them with your doctor, they just might give your body the edge it needs. Sometimes it takes it all to turn the corner. It did for me. And that doesn’t mean it will happen for everyone, because we are all different.

But I was not going to sit back and let the doctors and only scientific studies determine what I would and would not do. If I had done that, I know I would have died at least six years ago.

I chose to do everything medical and everything safe that I could.

And it worked for me. Maybe it will work for others. That is my hope, because often with this disease, we are without real hope. I want the suffering to stop. I want the pleading of bone marrow to stop. And so I share what I did.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Vince Lasorso at Whatever Works Wellness Center in Cincinnati created the “Bone Marrow Healing” CD I used during treatment, and occasionally now when I feel a cold coming on. The visualization involves feeling—not seeing—one’s bones lighting up. I highly recommend it.

More information on what I did to support my body during chemotherapy can be found in Thriver Soup.

Sources:

Knut Hamsun, “Fra det ubevidste Sjæleliv,” Samtiden, September 1890

New Videos: ABCs of Creating Conditions for Healing

Create conditions for radical Healing in your life. Find simple solutions by updating your attitudes, behaviors, and making major life choices to influence cancer and other dis-ease outcomes. If you have cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, or other “incurable” dis-eases, find relief and personal healing by using these concepts.

I was told to get my affairs in order after two years of conventional treatment for highly aggressive end-stage sarcoma. Yet against all odds, I have enjoyed radical remission since 2011, free of evidence of cancer and free of cancer treatment. Find out what I discovered about changing attitudes, behaviors, and making major life choices that can assist you with turning the corner and thriving.

This short series comes in 4 brief parts and is posted on youtube.

Part 1: How I healed from highly aggressive end-stage cancer.

Part 2: How you can change attitudes to stop being a victim, stop worrying, and let go of resentments.

Part 3: How you can change behaviors such as knowing your nutritional stats and improving it; a sample spiritual practice that gets you out of your head; and how to manage difficult emotions.

Part 4: Putting it together with making major life choices to heal your life, which can help your body rebalance and heal itself.

Please enjoy and share, and let me know about speaking engagements where I can share this important message.

Many thanks to Jim Gray, with Gray Solutions, for creating this new video for Thriver Soup!

Using Time as a Tool

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King Jr., in a letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

 

Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, in the heat of the American civil rights movement, the long view that time could be an ally.

In our modern society, we typically don’t see time as an ally, but rather more as an enemy, an obstacle, a problem. We tend to view time in terms of something we lack, not something we can use.

Hundreds of years ago, even though people lived much shorter lifespans, time was viewed as a tool and was used to create beauty for future generations.

When I was in Norway recently, I was given the gift of a visit to an enormous wooden stave church. When the structure was built, the men looked for trees to use as tall interior pillars to hold up the heavy roof. When they had selected a tree, they topped it off. Then they let the tree stand for about 20 years, during which the trunk would fill itself up with resin.

When the process had completed, the tree was cut down and used as a fire- and water-resistant column that would last for hundreds of years without drying out, splitting, or cracking.

A few decades ago, the original pillars finally had to be replaced. Trees were cut down and turned into columns without the 20-year resin-absorbing process. Now the trunks are cracked and drying out. Time had not been used to create pillars that would withstand water and fire, heat and moisture. Instead, the columns will have to be replaced again in a much shorter time frame.

Using time as a tool became personally important to me when I was diagnosed with highly aggressive end-stage cancer. I knew if I did not do chemotherapy, the sarcoma cells would quickly fill my body and I would no longer have any time.

Chemotherapy became my tool to buy time. Time, in turn, became my primary tool for healing my life and doing numerous integrative therapies. It took two years for me to change my attitudes, behaviors, and make some major life choices. Those alterations, along with surgery, eliminated the cancer. For six years now, I have been free of evidence of disease and free of cancer treatment.

Time, as an ally, was a tool that helped save my life. My integrative therapies helped me rebuild my mind, body, and spirit so I could become more strong and resilient, like the resin-soaked tree trunks. It could not have happened overnight. It took two years, and I continue daily with rebuilding my life so I can be more resistant to dis-ease.

How do you use time as a tool in your life?

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Time can seem excruciatingly short for those with end-stage cancer. Perhaps find ways to use the time you have as a tool to reach a goal. Allow time for nutrition to produce positive effects on your body. Time for treatments to take effect. Time for healing attitudes and behaviors that might have an impact on your body’s abilities to heal.

The ABCs of Creating Conditions for Healing

Please join me

Sunday, May 7, 1-3 pm
250 East Main Street, Batavia, OH  45103

Your Take-aways

+ Consider how to transform attitudes to support healing
+ Learn how to reconstruct behaviors and make better choices to support your body’s efforts to create health
+ Gain your own insights through a guided visualization that will involve exploring any dis-eased part of the body

Feedback:

Thanks for a most thought-provoking talk. I’ve done little else but think since we were together. Who am I? What matters most to me? What do I hope to be when I grow up? How big is my part in the scheme of things?… The talk was a wonderful thing for me.

The ABCs of healing was eye-opening and can help with my health issues.

Beautiful, heartfelt, easy. I gained an understanding of the power of healing through all modalities.

Rending Another Veil on Resurrection Sunday

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…

Matthew 27:50-51a, New American Standard Bible

 

At the moment Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Jewish Temple (that separated people from the Holy of Holies) was rent in two, according to one of the Christian gospels. This symbolized the end of separation between humans and the Divine.

Sometimes we have mental veils that separate us from the Divine, or from unconscious tendencies within ourselves. These curtains need to be found and dropped if we want to see ourselves more clearly.

I had a new veil to rend. My discovery of this separation began with a horrifying, potent dream this past week. I knew I needed to go back into this nightmare, using my imagination, to understand its message more clearly and possibly heal something. Healing on this level can influence the health of our bodies.

Easter felt like a perfect day to focus on resurrecting my own hidden personality aspects.

To prepare, I set up my meditation space with my journal and Vince Lasorso’s “Focused Relaxation” CD set on repeat.

Settled in my chair, I prayed for guidance. Then I imagined myself back in my dream, which was set on the lawn in front of the administration building at my alma mater. I walked up to an unknown woman who was directing some unfortunate activities. Treating her as a real person, I began asking her questions.

She didn’t answer me. She had a job to do.

Then I felt a sudden, gratifying rush of energy as something clicked—the “administration” building represented someone from my childhood who played a large role in my mental development. This person possessed a powerful sense of right and wrong, good and bad, and I had carried those imperatives forward in my own brain’s administrative functioning. I realized the unknown woman was unconsciously carrying out those dictates. This meant a part of my personality had continued, at times, to act without my awareness, expressing masculine qualities without regard for the more feminine values of compassion, love, and kindness. Those unconscious aspects needed to be made more conscious and integrated so I could make healthier choices.

With this insight, I became aware of new fears I had not known were operating in my life. Because I adopted those values as a small child, I also adopted the childish perception that if I did not follow those rules, I would be abandoned and might die. That outdated way of perceiving could now be healed.

I wrote down several possible statements about my newly owned fears and how they affected some of my choices. I settled on one that felt right—it was convoluted and difficult to remember, but it fit exactly what had been happening in my psyche.

Statement in hand, I began doing the Emotional Freedom Technique (described on pg. 201 in Thriver Soup). I had to do five full rounds of tapping to get the feeling sense down from a high of ten to a three.

With the intensity greatly reduced, I decided I was ready to forgive the “administration” individual for pushing these one-sided ideas on me, and to forgive myself for sleepwalking through my entire adult life without questioning this aspect of my personality.

I pulled out my forgiveness process papers, based on the book Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping. I spent a couple hours feeling and writing my way through the 20+ steps.

Evening was descending. I re-entered my dream and this time imagined I was the woman directing the activities on the lawn. I looked out through her eyes. She appeared to have sheer curtains in front of her face. Everything beyond that white veil was indistinct. She was not really seeing what she was doing.

And then the cloth spontaneously dropped away from her face. She could suddenly see clearly, for the first time. And she was horrified by her activities. She stopped, offered assistance to the other people, and began making amends.

She had been granted sight, as I had been. The veil was rent and the separation ended. An aspect of my personality had been resurrected from the dead.

Thriver Soup Ingredient

We can’t really see the veils over our mental eyes unless we try to access them through dreams, active imagination, talking with others, writing with our non-dominant hands, or using other methods for excavating our inner lives. And we have to be ready to see these hidden aspects. Perhaps ask in prayer for the willingness to be open to seeing unconscious parts of ourselves. The simple sense of willingness might part a veil enough for us to better see.

 

How to be Fearless

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

Proverbs 31:25, Christian Bible, New International Version

 

I rarely paid much attention to clothing; I was more interested in developing who I was.

Well, it finally dawned on me about 10 years ago that I needed to get a little more with the fashion program. I was sitting next to my friend Laura Dailey in a nice restaurant. She was wearing the current style. I felt silly sitting next to her in my 15-year-old dress, even though it has been my all-time favorite style, pattern, and color mix. I finally conceded that I needed to set it aside. *sigh*

Do you have a favorite outfit that’s outdated? Frustrating, isn’t it?

I needed fashion guidance after recovering from my cancer ordeals. Tracy in Houston generously bought me some beautiful, fashionable dresses when I stayed with her right after my 2009 sarcoma diagnosis. My sister Roselie clearly loved watching me try on and then wear the pretty clothes.

When Thriver Soup was published, I knew I needed professional help with my wardrobe. Amy Elliott Elberfeld, Doris Gibbons, and Patti Raggets came over and went through my clothes. Keep, donate, trash. Out went 3 big black bags of clothing. Amy also gave me a lovely silk scarf that fit my skin tones perfectly and a couple stylish necklaces. She then took me shopping for a couple of outfits.

Painful, but I felt grateful. And fearless.

So I learned that fearless and fashion can go together. Fearless about letting go of what’s no longer serving me, and welcoming what does.

Find out how to become more fearless in my 10-minute video recently posted on the FashionNotFear blog (filmed by my fearless fashionista friend Laura Dailey).

Today I might not be Heidiva the Fearless Fashionista, yet my friends helped make my wardrobe more current and suitable.

Still, my friend Mim teases me: “When I think of fashion, I think of my friend Heidi.”

And we chuckle.

Thriver Soup Ingredient

Clothing ourselves for fashion can help us fit in and feel more confident. It helps us laugh a little more heartily in the face of life’s difficulties. And then we can take our new-found fearlessness and apply it to other areas of our lives.

Psychosocial Support in Cancer Care

Psychosocial support in cancer care was addressed briefly Oct. 8 at the National Leiomyosarcoma Foundation patient symposium in St. Louis, Mo.  This was one of several cancer treatment topics that I have been reporting about.

Dr. Yasmin Asvat, clinical psychologist at the Siteman Cancer Center, said, “What is a healthy emotional response to a diagnosis? All emotional responses are valid and appropriate. They’re human responses.”

Initial emotions can include sadness, anger, shock, disbelief, denial, and for a few, acceptance.

“Our bodies are looking for balance to be restored,” she said. “If we are not getting to adjustment and acceptance, how can we live well through this journey?”

Thirty percent of patients experience chronic distress after a diagnosis. “To what degree is the distress interfering with the ability to cope effectively?”

Normal feelings like sadness, fear, and vulnerability can become disabling feelings like depression and anxiety.

“Distress can be experienced throughout the cancer care trajectory,” she said.

Dr. Asvat sees her role as partner in balancing patients’ goals with fears. She tries to provide physical interventions and strategies for fatigue, pain, insomnia, and developing a healthy lifestyle.