Category Archives: Mapping the Emotions

Releasing scars

My father liked to say that scars are signs of a life well lived. As an Eighth Air Force B-17 navigator during World War II, he would know. He flew 32 missions over Europe, well beyond the “Lucky Bastard Club” level of surviving 25 missions.

I must have lived my life really well because I’ve got lots of scars to prove it. I have a long one on my bikini line from a C-section. Eleven years ago it got a connecting scar that runs all the way up to my sternum, a life-saving gift from my first cancer surgery.

I look like I have a big anchor on my belly. It reminds me of medieval anchoresses, who lived in deep seclusion to seek out their greatest possible happiness. My anchoress status bought me not only life, but a whole new life that includes deep and growing joy. And the scars don’t have to limit me or weigh me down anymore.

What to do about all that internal scar tissue? I have lost several non-essential organs and am lucky to still have my bladder. But my insides are packed, nevertheless, with loads of scar tissue.

I found the answer in fascia (body-wide connective tissue) release, which involves compression and then extension of scar tissue. My practitioner is Lauren Clark Cadman, who I met at a HIME wellness event in Cincinnati two years ago.

At the time I was looking for another option for healing my hand that had been broken in three places after falling off a galloping horse. Physical therapy was unable to help me with the long-term inflammation and swelling. I could not curl my hand, and typing was a painful issue—especially because writing is my “thing.” Lauren cleared it all up in eight sessions and I regained full, pain-free use of my hand again.

I decided to let her work on my abdominal scar tissues. I learned that during each session, it’s best to lie quietly, breathe deeply, and listen intently to my body while she’s working.

Recently she was compressing around my bladder. While she held one spot for a long time, I saw an image of a donkey nose. I chuckled and told her what came to me. As I talked, the scar tissue relaxed and let go. It was being stubborn like a donkey until it was recognized and given the attention it wanted. Then it no longer needed to hold on so tight. I could feel blood flow going down to my toes, loosening up more tissue.

During my most recent session, she was again working around my bladder and intestines. The right side of my body gave a big twitch. After the session, I went to my car and soon found myself crying. I cried off and on for the rest of the day. I understood more deeply how emotional pain is stored in the body, and it’s this kind of pain that can create digestive issues and chronic dis-ease. Lauren quotes a common saying that “the issue is in the tissue” because the subconscious mind stores painful memories in fascial tissue. It’s a way for the brain to protect us until we can safely process our feelings. When we are no longer in fight or flight mode, the body is able to let go of the pain. Crying is a normal and healthy result of this treatment.

I’m not expecting the visible scar tissue on my skin to disappear, but the internal holding is letting go, giving me more space on every level.

I now have more freedom of movement in my entire body–also in part because of practicing tai chi daily during the past couple of years. I used to be much more stiff and had to put a lot of effort into getting in and out of a saddle. Not anymore.

I ain’t done yet, though. This week I woke up from a dream in which I was taking the wooden covering off a mummy. Oh no, my cover’s been blown! More wrappings of myofascial scar tissue in my abdomen need to be released.

It’s time, I’m ready, and so is my body.

Anchor’s away! I’m sailing into my bright new life with good health.

How to Cope with Anger During Lockdown

There are so, so many legitimate things to feel angry about right now. Cancer. Your changed life. Now the coronavirus pandemic. The basic, reliable structures of your life have collapsed, compounding your pain. It feels so overwhelming.

Your rage is multiplied, complicated, and justified. And on top of that, you are locked up, either alone or with loved ones, as if a prisoner in your own home. It’s like you’re sitting in your personal pressure cooker, where grief, resentments, and blame build to the explosive point.

It’s something none of us have really dealt with before. It’s a hard time for all of us.

We want relief from that constant niggling agitation we might feel. Our minds acknowledge that life is way out of whack, but that doesn’t always translate into compassion for ourselves and each other. To cope, it seems easiest to disconnect our awareness from our bodies. We sometimes end up self-destructing with food and alcohol and maybe even lashing out at those whom we love. I find myself eating a lot more chocolate and popcorn these days, and I have been less patient with my son.

Even though our ways of dealing with stress can be quick fixes to ease our discomfort, they are ineffective ways of coping. While we might feel some sense of relief, these knee-jerk reactions usually make us feel worse in the end.

Processing

We can’t control these difficult external events, but we can control our internal attitudes, behaviors, and choices. We get to choose if we are going to be victims of our circumstances, or if we’re going to rise up and take responsibility for ourselves and our own lives.

If we look underneath our anger, grief, and sorrow, we will probably find an incredible sense of powerlessness, as if the floor is giving way underneath us. It may not feel like it at the time, but this sensation is just an emotion—energy in motion within our bodies. While it’s scary to feel these feelings for what they are, our emotions alone do no harm. They are the result of a chemical dump from our brains into our bloodstreams. For the emotions to lift—which is where we can find relief—these sensations need to be deeply felt without our minds running interference.

So have a seat, or lie down on your bed. Tune in to your body. Where is that irritating feeling of powerlessness sitting? Can you feel the rage putting pressure someplace inside you? If so, take a moment to feel it. Allow it to be what it is without any thoughts or words. Give it your whole, undivided attention without judgment. That’s all it wants, anyway.

Your emotions, if felt fully and deeply, will lift after ninety seconds. If it lasts longer than ninety seconds, you’re probably engaging your mind and thinking about what’s bothering you. That’s not helping you right now. Let the thoughts go, and if you can’t, write them down and shred them. Then try the process again.

Another strategy you can use is to breathe deeply while mindfully observing your anger, grief, and powerlessness. Just look at it. Don’t judge it or act on it. Instead, have compassion for whatever it is you’re feeling. It’s a human response to an inhumane situation; there is no logical reason to feel ashamed or guilty about your feelings.

By loving yourself enough to experience the energy moving inside your body, without thinking about what makes you upset, you can allow it to harmlessly shift around until it evaporates.

Integrating

            Once the emotions lift, you can begin reorganizing your reality, away from the victim mentality and toward opportunities, learning, and desires. There are so many free educational and entertaining options available online. Perhaps focus on gratitude that these choices—vastly more wonderful than at any other time in history—are accessible to you right here, right now. I find these gifts extraordinary.

For example, I finally got my son to watch the movie “The Cold Blue” so he could see what his grandfather lived through during World War II. I watched a documentary about children’s show host Fred Rogers, of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” fame, and was amazed. Fred had the uncanny ability to explain difficult concepts, like “assassination,” to help children cope with national crises. Most recently, I participated in free online meditations.

These would never have happened without the lockdown and the generosity of others. With gratitude, I find my attention shifts and so does my internal awareness. It’s a lovely, empowering gift to myself and relieves the stress of living in lockdown.

 

Managing Coronavirus Anxiety

For a cancer patient, anxiety is almost a given, nearly as insidious as the disease itself.
Our immune systems are already compromised. Now we have a novel new virus to deal with–one humans have never encountered before.
It can be terrifying. The what-if’s can crowd out everything else, even to the point of making you throw up. It can overwhelm at almost any stage of the process, including when treatment is over and someone is considered cured.
My psychotherapist pointed out that anxiety starts with the emotion of fear in the body. For me, the fear usually showed up in my tense face and gut. Then my brain kicked in, producing anxiety. I had “so many bad thinks,” as tai chi Grandmaster Vince Lasorso pointed out.
The key to letting go of the anxiety and the bad thinks was to refocus my attention on the sensations in my body. I realized my thinking about my dread was my way of escaping the actual emotion, which showed up as uncomfortable sensations in my body.
Through practice, I was able to identify the fear in my body, to allow it to be what it was, and to stop my bad thinks. While learning this technique, it helped me to refocus my mind on things that were beautiful, admirable, and true—the reflection of sunlight on pine needles, the sweet scent of cinnamon, the vibration of a dulcimer. Another prescription for anxiety that helped was to pray. Bringing my fears to the Spirit and asking for assistance helped me let go of some bad thinks. A third method was refocusing on anything for which I could feel grateful. Even a small thing, like “Today I opened my eyes again.”
With practice, the need for anxiety pills—if you take them—might lessen. Maybe you can, after discussion with your doctor, ditch them. You can create a new prescription—one that relies on your focused attention and reduces the chemical burden on your body.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:
When you feel anxious, check in with how your body feels. Are you tense in your face? Does your chest tighten? Does your stomach contract? Try to let go of your thoughts and simply focus on the sensation in your body. Allow it to be what it is. Allow it to move around; allow it to get intense; and allow it to dissolve. If you feel it without thinking any thoughts (like gee, this is taking a long time), the sensations will lift after 90 seconds. Repeat as often as necessary. Sometimes I had to repeat for more than an hour before I could get on with my day. And if your brain still insists on thinking, try to redirect your thoughts to the Divine or practice offering gratitude—even if only for a moment.

How to tackle your bucket list

If you have a bucket list of things to do before passing away, how are you doing on getting through your list?

Are you stopping yourself from fulfilling your dreams because you think you can’t do them?
 
Maybe you think you don’t have the funds. Or you feel like crap because of treatment and don’t want to leave home. Or you don’t have anyone to travel with.
 
For most of us, those are just excuses.
 
They are our fears trying to frighten us back into our old patterns.
 
Patterns that keep us stuck.
 
Yet your excuses and your fears can be faced and dealt with.
 
There are work-arounds to get your bucket list accomplished.
 
You have to have the courage to press forward.
 
And you can.
 
There are organizations and websites you can access for bucket-list funding. Too proud to ask? What fear is that pride arising from? Perhaps not wanting to be seen as needing something to help you fulfill your dream?
 
Or too humble to ask? Is that maybe a fear that we aren’t good enough to reach for our dreams? When my mother passed from breast cancer, I was surprised how many people were angry because they were not called upon to help her out. I have learned when we have cancer, people want to help us. Give them that opportunity.
 
If you can sit in a wheelchair for a decent length of time, it should be possible to travel, even if it’s on a cruise ship. In 2010 I scheduled my chemotherapy treatments around a cruise and took my anti-nausea medications with me. I had a fantastic time and checked one trip off my list.
 
And you can request assistance in meeting your goal. If you want to travel, perhaps put out a call for a companion, or if you feel up to it, travel alone. I just returned from an amazing trip in France—traveling solo, driving a rental car with no GPS (I couldn’t get it to work on my phone), and only able to say “Bonjour,” “Merci,” and “Parlez-vous Anglais?”
 
Why France? I wanted to pay homage to a woman who provided a template for healing my life. Her name? Martha of Bethany. Yes, the woman repudiated by Christ in the Gospels for her anger toward her sister, and for “doing” too much.
 
Martha healed after her contact with this Master Teacher. She changed her attitude from resentment into peace, and later served alongside her sister Mary. According to “The Golden Legend,” Martha later changed her behavior by refusing to die a victim on a rudderless boat adrift on the Mediterranean Sea. And she made a major life choice of focusing on “being” more than “doing.”
 
I love this woman and what she represents for me.
 
Why pay homage to her in France? According to the legend, Martha ended up in a small village in what’s now Provence. The community was being terrorized by a “dragon.”
 
Martha faced down that monster while barefoot, using only holy water and a cross. Can you imagine?
 
That’s not the behavior of a victim.
 
She courageously subdued that dragon.
 
Then the villagers killed it.
 
Through her transformed life, Martha demonstrated that I, through my own inner transformation, also could possibly tame the cancer dragon in my body. I could use her example of changing my attitudes, reconstructing my behaviors, and making major life choices to help subdue my own cancer dragon. Then medical treatment could kill it.
 
Since this is my seventh year free of evidence of cancer and free of cancer treatment, I felt it was high time I made my pilgrimage to The Collegiate Church of Saint Martha in Tarascon, which purportedly houses Martha’s relics. It was the third most popular pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. And it became my biblical Year of Jubilee cancer pilgrimage site.
 
I feel deeply gratified for the experience.
 
Do you want to feel gratified for having accomplished things on your bucket list? Do you still have things to do, activities that are waiting for you to take up the baton and start directing your own life?
 
Or are you making excuses?
 
Sometimes we have to face down our fears before we can take the leap into the dark.
 
Into the unknown.
 
Into joy.
 
Think about each one of your fears.
 
Write each one down.
 
Take a good, hard look at your list.
 
Are there ways to work around what scares you?
 
Are there ways to make your dreams come true?
 
Only you can change your life.
 
Make the most of it.
 
Get on your bucket list.
 
You’ll be glad you did.

How 2 Got into Radical Remission

Marcia McMahon, in radical remission from stage 4 breast cancer, and I talked on her Peaceful Planet podcast recently.

Among our topics were Mary Magdalene, Thriver Soup’s cover art by Margaret and Keith Klein, music by Sunflower, when I had an idea my cancer was over (a dream I had), energy healing, healthy eating, and of course, how to manage emotions. We also did a brief version of the guided visualization, A Conversation with Dis-ease.

The interview starts at 7:55. Enjoy!

https://bbsradio.com/podcast/peaceful-planet-august-11-2018

Annie Appleseed video of “Subduing the Cancer Dragon” now live

Heidi Bright offering healing solutions during the 2018 Annie Appleseed conference

The video of my live talk, “Subduing the Cancer Dragon: The ABCs of Creating Conditions for Healing” during the 2018 national Annie Appleseed Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies conference, is now on youtube: “Subduing the Cancer Dragon”

Discover 3 key ingredients cancer patients need to improve their chances of survival. Important attitudes, behaviors, and major life choices that can help you thrive beyond cancer will be explored during the presentation.

In radical remission since 2011 from highly aggressive end-stage sarcoma, I share genuine hope and realistic options with listeners. I earned the 2014 Voices of Women Award for outstanding achievement in personal growth and transformation from Whole Living Journal, and the 2017 Champion in Cancer Care and 2017 Unsung Hero awards.

My third traditionally published nonfiction book, “Thriver Soup: A Feast for Living Consciously During the Cancer Journey,” is physician-endorsed with 250 practical healing solutions. https://thriversoup.com/book/

Sublime and Slimy: Easter on April Fool’s

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying… she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus…. Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
John 20:14-15, New International Version (NIV)

Mary Magdalene, leader of Jesus’ inner circle of women disciples, looked at this “gardener” and did not recognize him—her beloved Teacher, a man with whom she had hiked and camped and eaten for months.
It’s kind of like having April Fools’ Day on Easter Sunday.
Oh, wait. That’s this year.
Both days happen to fall on April 1, 2018.
This hasn’t occurred since 1956, and you won’t get another chance at it again until 2029.
So take advantage of this delicious opportunity to combine the sublime with the slimy. After all, Easter is about maximum joy and April Fool’s Day is about maximum fun.
One small study has indicated joy is a predictor of survival among cancer patients (Thriver Soup, pp. 211-213).
One of my boys brought the two together on Christmas Day in 2003. I had given him a box of Harry Potter™ Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. A few hours later I heard a tremendous roar coming from two floors down. My son dashed into my room, breathless with giggles. “I tricked Dad into eating a vomit-flavored jelly bean.”
Thriver Soup Ingredient:
This Easter Sunday, landing on April Fool’s Day, presents a perfect prank opportunity of innocently sharing some disgusting-flavored jelly beans for a good laugh. Bertie Bott’s bean flavors include Booger, Dirt, Earthworm, Earwax, Grass, Rotten Egg, Sausage, Soap, and Vomit. Or maybe opt for the BeanBoozled Spinner Jelly Bean Gift Box, which contains Barf, Booger, Canned Dog Food, Dead Fish, Lawn Clippings, Moldy Cheese, Rotten Egg, Stinky Socks, and Spoiled Milk. Both are made by JellyBelly.
Source:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/58/Gimbals-Jellybeans-Pile.jpg/256px-Gimbals-Jellybeans-Pile.jpg
https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day

Sacred Journeys through Cancer

Find out how to identify ineffective cancer treatment products, how to deal with emotions, which supplements to prioritize, what I put in my green smoothie every day, whether to go to nontraditional cancer centers, how to do a body-centered sitting practice, and more.

This is what Beth Ann Gilmer and I talked about during her Sacred Journeys blog talk radio show Tuesday.

Listen to the interview from the beginning to 1:01:00, and then skip to 1:22:28 to finish it out: https://d1at8ppinvdju8.cloudfront.net/1/066/show_10668921_2018_03_21_01_05_29.mp3?cId=f647eb4c-8c6d-4867-b705-9a603583e167

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