Thursday, December 29, 2011

Intuition

It’s been described as a still small voice deep inside each of us, a whisper, a gut feeling. What is intuition really, and how can we tell when it’s speaking to us? I have been thinking about this topic and having some breakthroughs on listening to my own intuition, and woke up this morning determined to write about it when I noticed in my email inbox an excellent piece by Martha Beck on just that. (see link below)


Her description of the two personalities of intuition hit me like a ton of bricks. I had just completed a weekend spiritual seminar in which I realized how fully I typically dismiss my intuition. I simply chalk it up to something else – some fantasy, or daydream of my conscious mind, and not really something deeper that can be trusted and followed to bring me greater joy.


Last January I participated in a retreat for cancer survivors at the famous Miraval spa in Arizona, and one afternoon I attended a program on intuition. At one point we were asked to partner with someone next to us who we didn’t know, and exchange a personal item – a piece of jewelry or clothing. We were led through a brief meditation to get centered and then told to pay attention to any messages we were getting about the person whose item we held.


Immediately, I saw images of a beautiful brown horse, and almost as instantly, I dismissed them as not the REAL message I was supposed to be focusing on. My logical brain reasoned that these images were only coming to mind because I knew, of course, that Miraval was famous for its Equine Experience. I had been hearing about how amazing this program was since the minute I’d set foot on the property. I forcefully tried to clear the horse images from my mind so I could sense something personal about this woman sitting next to me. The horse popped up again and again and I got so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t seem to do this. The entire exercise was less than 90 seconds long, but I made myself wrong for most of that time.


When the facilitator asked us to share with our partners, I reluctantly told her what I had “seen.” She exclaimed, “I JUST finished the Equine Experience and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.” When I described the horse I had seen, she confirmed that indeed her horse had fit that description. She told me in turn that when she held my ring in her hand, she wanted to slump to the floor and take a nap. I told her I had just come from one of the most relaxing yoga classes I’d ever taken, and had actually fallen asleep at the end of shavasana. I do yoga regularly and that had never happened to me before.

The stories shared by other participants around the room were equally amazing. They ranged from images, like mine, to physical sensations and even emotions. One woman got a pain in her hand, and her partner confirmed that she had severe arthritis in that exact spot. You’d think such an amazing experience would help me to better recognize and trust my own intuition, but sadly, it didn’t.


You might be able to tell from what I’ve shared so far, that I’m a bit of a retreat junkie. I love personal and professional development, and take advantage of any opportunity I’m given to participate in a workshop, retreat or seminar. The cancer crowd loves these sorts of things, and they often ask us to tap into our feelings or spirit in some way. I have seen people have incredibly profound experiences and share tremendous and life-changing insights they have gained through these events.


I, on the other hand, have beat myself up that I “must be doing it wrong,” because I just don’t seem to be having the same level of insight or emotional reaction or deep understanding. I remember a visualisation once to find our spirit guides where people described seeing a tiger or lamb or horse and feeling a strong connection. I saw nothing, and was so mad at myself for not getting it. The truth is I probably did see something, and dismissed it as not important or profound enough and therefore, not memorable or worth sharing.


Perhaps you can identify with how quickly we are willing to believe a negative thought or emotion we have. You make a strong connection with someone and then they don’t call and you tell yourself you made it all up. The connection wasn’t really there. In this way, you begin to doubt yourself. These negative thoughts are easier to believe than the idea that someone might actually like us, but has just been too busy to call or got distracted by life.


I recently had one of these experiences AGAIN, and as the negative thoughts, beating myself up, feeling hurt and questioning my feelings began to gain momentum the words TRUST LOVE floated through my consciousness. If I dismissed it, and let my worry take over, it came through again, and again, and again, until finally I stopped imagining the worst case scenario and listened to my intuition to trust.


I believe it is actually our highest self that allows us to feel the emotions to begin with. It is the best part of us that opens us up to vulnerability and trust and love. It is the ego that beats us up, questions anything good, and tries to make us feel unworthy or unlovable. The ego screams at us in a way that is difficult to ignore, and so we usually believe it. Intuition whispers and calms, and invites us to step into a better way, and because it’s so soft and non-intrusive, we often miss it. Or even worse, hear it and dismiss it.


Recently, I had a vision during a meditation in which we were asked to receive guidance and messages about our lives. As I have many times before, I dismissed what I saw as a product of my conscious brain that was getting in the way of what I was REALLY supposed to be seeing. I forcefully tried to push it from my mind, but it persisted. The image is one I’ve actually seen many times before but hadn’t given much thought to. It is this: me, in a white dress, on a hillside with the sun shining down, getting married to a man in a kilt. I have always imagined myself marrying a man in a kilt. I assumed this image came to me because my family heritage is Scottish on my dad’s side, and my favorite book series features a strong Scottish Highlander as its main character.


However, what if it’s the other way around. What if I was drawn to those books because I have a stronger connection with Scotland than my family heritage? Perhaps I am destined to marry a man in a kilt with sparkling blue eyes and a heart-melting brogue. I don’t know if I am or not, but I do know that I met such a man at the same event where I had the vision, and that I feel a very strong connection to him. Whether the vision comes true or not with this man or another, I know one thing for sure. I am NOT dismissing my intuition this time. I’m going to trust it and see where it leads me.


Are there times in your life when you ignored an intuitive feeling?


Can you think of a time when you listened to your intuition?


What is the benefit of trusting this higher part of yourself?


Martha Beck piece on Intuition

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Commitment

Commitment might seem like a strange topic for a column about single life, but a couple of things happened to me this week that demonstrated the power of commitment and I knew I had to write about it.


I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Committed. It was all about the history of marriage, her disdain for it as a concept and her eventual surrender to it. My sisters are both married, and one of them told me once that she could feel secure through the rough times in her marriage – the disagreements and arguments and tensions – because she knew her husband wasn’t going anywhere. They were committed, and therefore safe to share their true feelings, allow themselves to be vulnerable and assert their perspective. As a single person, that resonated so deeply with me, and confirmed my willingness to wait for that kind of relationship as well.


It also reminded me of the power of commitment in all areas of life. This quote by W.H. Murray, of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition sums it up: "Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.”


This was brought home to me this week in a big way. Since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, I have been saying I was going to write a book about my experience as a single survivor. I have been writing this column diligently every month for more than four years now, and in the back of my mind, I always thought perhaps someone might stumble upon it and want to publish it. I have no idea how many people read it regularly, and I get only occasional feedback about its impact on readers, so I really had no idea how easy it was to “stumble upon” my writing. Well, this week it actually happened. A publisher contacted me out of the blue to talk about A Single Cell the book.


Now, it’s important to talk about the role of commitment in all of this. Because for five years I have been talking about writing a book, and hoping to be discovered, but it wasn’t until I made a commitment and took action that it actually happened. Let me share what I’ve been up to the past few months. In April I bought a book How to Bring Your Book To Life this Year by Andrea Constantine and Lisa Shultz. In July, I joined a book group of women who are committed to writing books. We are reading the aforementioned book, meeting monthly to talk about our books and holding each other accountable. Through this process, I have been thinking about my book, doing the exercises in the book I’m reading, brainstorming titles and I have declared publicly that my book will be published by the end of 2012.


I have ideas for three books, and I have been diligently practicing learning to receive (the topic of my last column) because I thought that would be the book I’d write this year. If I hadn’t been practicing my receiving, I might not have taken my friend Mike up on a generous offer he made me a month ago – to join him at an author conference in Las Vegas last week. This event was rife with publishers, agents, marketing gurus, book designers and others. I couldn’t afford to attend this event on my own and almost said no to Mike’s offer to go as his guest and share his hotel room for free because even the plane ticket and meals were a stretch for me.


However, because I allowed myself to receive that gift from Mike, I made great connections, learned a ton about the publishing industry and most importantly, began to see myself as an author and speaker with a message that can make a difference to people. I came home and started putting together a press kit, surprising myself at how many media interviews I have done over the past few years on this topic – on television, radio and in magazines. I stayed up late to work on this one night, and the very next day, a publisher came knocking on my door. Coincidence? Absolutely not! Whether or not this publisher is the one actually doesn’t matter either, because my commitment to getting published will carry me toward the right path. It is the commitment that is most important.


I have mentioned Mike Dooley and his Thoughts Become Things mantra before. I heard him speak recently at a signing for his new book Leveraging the Universe, and what he shared fully supports this idea. I should point out that I have heard this message a million times from other speakers, authors, gurus and friends as well. There is always a moment in time, though, that cements something we have heard before and we really learn it, and see how it applies to our lives. The way Mike Dooley phrases it is this: set an intention, and give it to the universe – don’t worry about HOW it will come to pass. By fixating on a certain path, we limit other opportunities that might not even be on our radar. Let the universe find the most efficient and effective path for your intention. Your job is just to put it out there in the world.


At my Unitarian Universalist church, we light a chalice at the beginning of each service, and at the end, when we extinguish it, we say the following: We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again. I wish for you the fire of commitment. Take a moment to explore and write down the things you are committed to today. It is only through setting the intention and/or making the commitment that they will come to you. Once it is set, let go of any fixation on the way it might come to fruition.


I am committed to:

Living an adventurous life

Enjoying complete freedom over my schedule

Making a contribution in the world through my words and actions

Generating abundance in the form of love, prosperity and joy

What are YOU committed to?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Learning to Receive: A Single Cell

It was only recently that I recognized how many masculine traits I have. From driving hard, doing, doing, doing and being fiercely independent, to wanting to maintain control and being purpose-driven. I have never thought of receptivity as a particularly female trait. Considering the nurturing nature of women I viewed giving as more feminine. A recent course I took on Feminine Power, helped me recognize the feminine traits of internal focus, emotion and relatedness – all of which I have in spades; and the being over doing, surrendering and love-driven traits that are not so present in me.

Receiving stood out, however, as something I don’t do well. From compliments, to help, to prosperity, I tend to deflect more than accept. I’m not sure where this began - as a small child likely. I can almost see myself, curly blond hair, age 3, stomping my foot and saying defiantly, “I can do it myself.”

It’s not clear whether I ever believed asking for help denoted weakness. There have certainly been times in my career that I’ve been lazy and asked others for answers I could have easily found myself. Asking was quicker and more efficient. I also craved recognition for my accomplishments. I didn’t need awards or honors (though I did receive some), but a pat on the back for a job well done. Defensiveness was a wall I hid behind whenever anyone criticized me, or my work. It was never my fault.

I think I also come off as demanding in work settings because asking feels uncomfortable, so my requests appear more as commands. I remember working at Girl Scout Camp, supervising a staff of two, and saying, “you be in charge of this,” and “you be in charge of that.” I didn’t ask or request, because, yes, now that I think about it, that definitely feels like a weaker position. What if they said, “no?” Where would I be then?

I have always prided myself on being independent and self-sufficient. When I received a new TV for Christmas one year and faced the task of getting it into my house after driving it 8-hours from Kentucky to Wisconsin, where I lived at the time, I chose to carry it by inches rather than asking someone to help. First, I hefted it out of the car. Then I carried it four feet and set it down. Another four feet. Then another. And another. Up the front steps, one at a time. Then up the inside stairs, one at a time. It probably took me 45 minutes to get it into the house fully, and I’m sure the temperatures were frigid as well. Why did I put myself through that? Because being independent was easier than asking for help?

Recently, I’ve come to understand that wasn’t the case at all. Feelings of worthlessness masqueraded as independence. Intellectually, this was a difficult one for me to wrap my head around for a really long time. I KNEW I wasn’t worthless. I KNEW I was valuable and valued. I KNEW I was worthy of receiving help from others (and love, and admiration and kindness). The worthiness issues were buried deep inside of me, as they are for many, many people in our society. So deeply, we don’t even recognize them ourselves.

In the vein of everything happening for a reason, a few things happened to force me to learn to ask for help, and it was only then that I began to see the underlying feelings that had kept me “independent” for so long. First, I broke my ankle on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe, which forced me onto crutches and into a cast on my right leg. It was winter in Colorado. I lived on the second floor with outside stairs. I couldn’t drive. Daily life became an endurance sport. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea and carry it across the room, much less cook easily, grocery shop, take out the garbage or any number of other simple tasks we all take for granted every day. Asking for help was a huge chore, and I did it only when I absolutely had to.

Looking back at that difficult three months, I recognize that it taught me how to ask in order to survive the next big challenge five years later when I was diagnosed with cancer. I definitely couldn’t have made it through two surgeries and six rounds of chemo without strong support, and asking was much easier the second time around when I could actually articulate what I needed both physically, and this time around, emotionally more so as well.

It was only through a great deal of transformational work that I have finally begun to really recognize how my own worthiness issues manifest. I tend to give WAY more than I receive, and recently realized the seeds of this in my feeling that people would only like me if I was helpful and giving. I didn’t feel that just being me and showing up was enough. So if I had to give to be liked, I sure as hell wasn’t going to ASK for anything. Then I would really be a burden on people!

Finally, it is my ever-present financial issues that have really helped me recognize the ways I practically repel money by working for less than I am worth, failing to take responsibility for cash flow and manifesting problems such as car trouble, illness and household breakages with big price-tags. Don’t worry, I also manifest abundance right when I need it and in amazing ways in the form of refund checks I wasn’t expecting, financial gifts, gift cards, and bonuses at exactly the right time. I am learning to believe I’m worthy of more and ask for it in many areas of my life, and will continue to do so.

WOW! That’s a lot of personal history to share. So now that I have had all these aha moments and transformational breakthroughs, what am I doing about it? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some things I am practicing in order to learn to receive:

· I keep a receiving journal to record all the things I receive each day.

· I practice gratitude for all that I have, and have posted “gratitudes” as my Facebook status for a few weeks now.

· I visualize what I desire in my life without worrying about “how” I might receive them – knowing that thoughts become things (Mike Dooley, TUT.com).

· I consciously ask for help at least twice a day whenever possible.

· I break patterns whenever possible, doing things that I haven’t done or said before – this brings new energy and connections.

· I am also planning to write a book about this practice, and where it gets me, because I believe undervaluing ourselves is a fairly universal experience.

I request that you share your own worthiness issues, breakdowns, breakthroughs, realizations and struggles with me in the comments section, or privately through asinglecell@gmail.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Transformation

We have all heard the analogy of the caterpillar turning into the butterfly as it fights its way out of the cocoon. It seems a bit clich├ęd, but I honestly can’t think of a better one to describe the past couple of years for me. I feel as if I’ve truly transformed from a crawling kind of creature, with some beauty to it for sure, into a flying, brilliant butterfly. At first, it seemed odd to me that my friends weren’t noticing. “Hey, I’m flying now, can’t you see?” They noticed how great I LOOKED because of my significant weight loss, but they weren’t seeing the transformation in my spirit, the lightness, the joy, the calm with which I was now approaching life.


Then suddenly it hit me! To them - my friends, family, colleagues, and even acquaintances - I had ALWAYS shown up this way. Wow! It was only to myself that I had ever been a plodding, ground level, unspectacular caterpillar. To the outside world, I had always been a beautiful and special butterfly. It is my inner life that has been transformed in such a profound way that no one but me really noticed. This reinforces the idea that life is lived between the ears. Our inner dialogue is constantly running, and most of the time it is spouting limiting or even damaging beliefs about ourselves – “I’m not good enough,” “I will never be. . .”, “I can’t do that,” “I don’t deserve. . .” These thoughts are so ingrained, so automatic, that we don’t even notice them, but they are doing a number on our psyches.


Mike Dooley tells us in no uncertain terms that “Thoughts become Things,” and encourages us to think the good ones. A friend recommended his site and daily messages from the Universe, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both. The premise is not much different from that of The Secret or any number of other Law of Attraction tomes that are so popular these days, and honestly, I’ve read most of them. They key is in doing something.


As was reinforced in a program put on by my non-profit this summer, we know that knowledge alone does not alter behavior (KADNAB if you are looking for a catchy acronym to help you remember). If it did, we’d all be perfectly proportioned, healthy, non-smokers with plenty of money and free time. (smile) We may KNOW what is good for us, or how to live sustainably, but that doesn’t mean we actually DO it. This was brought home to me painfully one fall when I participated in a Green Team group through my church. I have always prided myself on being quite the environmentalist, but when it came down to assessing my actual practice, all my knowledge meant very little as I wasn’t really doing as much as I thought to protect the Earth.


When I tried to look up transformation for a definition I could share, I found a number of scientific, mathematic and genetic descriptions. Even one about how cells become malignant (interesting), but nothing that came close to what I am talking about. I have been doing transformational work, and though it has made such an impact in my life, even I have a difficult time describing it sometimes. I have a profound appreciation for the gurus who teach these courses, and how tough it must be for them to describe what they do and the impact their education can make on individuals.


For me, transformation is about the following: (at the most basic level)

How I show up in life – appear to others and my own perspective

How I view situations – blame others or circumstances or take responsibility

How I relate to people – with distrust or benefit of the doubt

How I view the world – connected or separate

How I view myself – whole and complete or lacking significantly


It is also about recognizing that we are all human. We all formed our worldview from very specific painful things that happened to us in the past, usually at a time when we were too young to view them subjectively. At the point that X happened, we made up a story about what it meant, and by God we have stuck by that story ever since, finding more and more evidence to support its truth along the way. That perspective has brought us what we expected, and it is usually more of the same.


Changing perspective is not easy. It takes recognition of our stories, a willingness to explore them, and continual practice. It takes self-reflection, and a willingness to take responsibility for the ways in which we create our own lives. Our stories are so front-and-center, that it often takes peeling back many layers to really get to the truth (if there is such a thing) about what is really going on. Even after being immersed in this practice, and having taken many courses that help me do this, I still fall into old patterns make people wrong and settle into my story much more often that I like, but this work means I don’t beat myself up about that either – as if that helps! It is not something that is “fixed” and forgotten – it is a practice like yoga or meditation - one that you just show up for over and over and over again. But when you do, the results can be incredible!


What can you transform?

Your relationship with your parents?

Your relationship to money?

Your view of yourself?

Your view of Republicans or terrorists or gay people?

What can you take responsibility for?

The fact that you have been playing the victim?

The way you react when someone pushes your buttons?

The way you spend money or eat when you are feeling depressed?

The way your hurt others when you are feeling hurt?

What can you gain from seeing things differently?

Love instead of fear?

Tolerance instead of hate?

Joy instead of sadness?

Peace instead of conflict?

The butterfly in you is striving to come out. Let it fly!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Escape

“If you like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne. If you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the Cape, you’re the love that I’ve looked for. Come with me and escape.”

As the popular 1970s song by Rupert Holmes suggests, sometimes we all feel the need to escape. Possibly just for a few minutes or an hour when the pressure feels like too much, and sometimes for longer. I just returned from a week-long escape – and one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I feel so relaxed and happy, and literally enjoyed every single minute of my time away. It’s so rare that we can say that.

This experience has prompted me to give some thought this morning to escapes, and which ones are healthy as opposed to not so good for us. I do plenty of both from time to time, and it is starting to become clear which ones really serve my well-being.

In our culture, television is often used as an escape, and while it may feel good for a bit to veg out in front of the tube, it rarely makes me feel more relaxed. In fact, the opposite is often true. I have recognized lately that watching tv up until I go to bed gives me strange dreams and less than restful sleep. Mini-escapes that have been good for me are yoga, taking a walk, reading, writing, talking to a friend or meditation.

Many people also escape into alcohol or drugs or food. While I like a cold beer or a nice glass of wine occasionally, I have found that I’m much happier when I don’t allow myself to be carried away by overindulgence. The after-effects are never pretty, and while this kind of escape might feel good for a bit, it is rarely all its cracked up to be.

We were talking on the drive home about how sometimes you need a vacation after your vacation because you come home so exhausted from travel and mile-a-minute sight seeing, trying to cram everything into a limited amount of time. I have definitely had vacations like that. We travel to someplace cool and want to see and do everything while we are there. It definitely doesn’t make for much relaxation.

I am a planner, and thus, prefer to plan each day’s activities in order to make the most of the time. My experience has told me that failing to plan often means that a great deal of time is wasted in making decisions each day – especially when trying to satisfy a group. It also has meant that opportunities are missed as tours or other activities sell out early.

However, over-planning can leave you exhausted as much as under-planning can leave you rudderless. Finding that sweet spot of having some plans for each day coupled with a good amount of free time for the group to split up and do their own thing or just lie on the beach with a magazine is key to a well-rounded escape. Of course, it goes without saying that finding the perfect group of friends to go with makes a big difference as well.

This past week paddling down the Green River was perfect for many reasons:

1. Ideal weather – neither too hot or too cold, no bugs, and sunny the entire time. Crazy wind on day three meant we didn’t make many river miles, but high water and fast current also gave us many opportunities to kick back in our boats with a beer in our hands and float rather than paddling hard through what is called Stillwater Canyon for a reason.

2. Great Group – everyone got along swimmingly, did their fair share of the work, discovered mutual interests in hiking, playing games and being goofy and found plenty to talk about. In my experience this is pretty rare. I feel lucky indeed to have such good friends to do trips like this with.

3. Good Planning – a six-day river trip takes a fair amount of planning on the front end, and again, the group divided tasks well from getting permits to gathering needed gear, planning menus and grocery shopping, packing gear and coolers in such a way to fit everything into four boats, etc. etc. Even divvying up the expenses at the end was fairly painless, and done over breakfast in an hour on the last morning.

4. Gorgeous Scenery – WOW! It is impossible to describe the stunning beauty of paddling through soaring cliff faces of red rock, and feeling most of the time as if we had the river all to ourselves. Swimming in Water Canyon in a beautiful blue-green swimming hole of the perfect temperature followed by lunch and a nap in the shady, sandy glen beside it was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

I have returned home from this escape with a busy few weeks coming up, and only a few days before a work trip, but I feel perfectly prepared to handle everything that is coming because I had such a good escape. I wish the same for all of you this summer as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Intimacy: A Single Cell

I got your attention with that title, didn’t I? Notice how intimacy has become a code word for sex in our society? Yes, it can refer to what we do in the bedroom, but what I am talking about is the more traditional definition: “a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of.”

True intimacy comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable, opening up and sharing what you are going through. We often hide our feelings because we are ashamed of them, feel needy if we express them, or think that we are the only people who feel this way. It is only by opening up to someone else authentically that we can really connect.

Yes, anyone can read our Facebook status and know what we are up to, but we rarely post what we are really FEELING. I’m not knocking the value of social media for sharing information and keeping in touch, but it is not a tool that promotes intimacy. I can post this column on my Facebook page, and give readers a deeper insight into my thoughts and feelings, but true intimacy doesn’t come through a computer screen or a text message. The feelings are much too complicated and personal to be effectively expressed through those mediums.

Intimacy requires you to take a risk, and allow yourself to share what you are feeling. Have you ever had this thought: I want to call my friend, but I haven’t talked to her in a while, and I am calling now because I am struggling. I can’t call just to dump my problems on her again. I should wait until I’m feeling happier? Here’s a tip for you – that is precisely when you should reach out to someone in your life. Friends are not just there for the good times, and they want to be allowed in when we are going through something difficult. That is what true intimacy is.

A friend disclosed to me once that she had been avoiding being in touch because, “I am your funny friend. The one who makes you laugh, and lightens the mood, and I just haven’t been feeling that way lately.” I was surprised at how strong my reaction was to this. I was actually angry that she had shut me out when she was going through something difficult and needed me the most. Once she was open about what was going on, it made it easier for me to share my struggles, and we had one of the deepest and most meaningful conversations we had ever had. That wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been able to share her fears and insecurities.

So often in life we put on a happy face, push down our real feelings and wear a mask that hides from the outside world (and even those closest to us) what is really going on. Every time we do this, we miss an opportunity to truly connect with another human being. Perhaps the most surprising thing about vulnerability is that it rarely goes unreciprocated. When we open up about something in our lives that is causing us pain, it gives others permission to do the same.

Think about all the times you have felt a certain way, but felt scared to express it for whatever reason. So instead, you make an assumption about what is really going on, you beat yourself up for your role, or more likely, you make someone else wrong for “making you” feel this way. Sometimes we don’t share because we think that what we have to say will hurt someone’s feelings, or make them angry or push them away. But when we share authentically, without blame or judgment, we instead open up an opportunity for a deeper connection.

How much better would our relationships be if instead of suppressing our feelings or morphing them into something else – most anger comes from a place of hurt – we just shared them in the moment, with as much clarity and vulnerability as we could?

Instead of exploding in anger and blaming someone else for not calling when they said they would, imagine yourself saying, “I was really hurt that you didn’t call yesterday. Even though our plans were vague, we had agreed to spend the day together, and I am sad that we missed out on that time with each other.” Feel like weakness to “let someone off the hook” in this way? Think for a minute about what your response to a statement like the one above might be.

Then consider what your comeback would look like if you had heard this instead. “You are such a jerk! We had plans yesterday, and you totally blew me off! Did you think I had nothing better to do than sit around and wait for you? I can’t even believe I am with you. You are so insensitive.”

Both statements come from the same feelings, but the first is more authentic and feels WAY scarier because it comes from a place of vulnerability. The second masquerades as coming from a place of strength, which feels safer to us. One puts the other person on the defensive, creating distance, while the other allows an opening for not just a more civil discussion, but a more productive one.

Human nature is to “protect ourselves,” through saving face, wearing the mask and playing strong. It takes far more courage and strength to allow ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing what we are really feeling. Practice it the next time you find yourself in a situation like this. Once you see what happens when you respond differently, you will be hooked because of the results you create. I wrote a few months ago about love and survival, and the role that real connection plays in our health and well-being. It is only through allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable that we can create the kind of deep connection we crave.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Circumstances: A Single Cell

Circumstances have little impact on how we live our lives, and yet we attribute so much power to them. We think that by changing our job, our location, our weight, or even our hair we will open up all new possibilities in our lives. Or conversely, we get into a car accident, get dumped, divorced or fired, and we feel as if it’s the end of the world. Buddhist philosophy teaches that good and bad things don’t happen to us, but rather we put those labels onto the events in our lives and treat them as one or the other.

Win the lottery = good. Get cancer = bad. Even though these “events” can precipitate either or both positive and negative consequences. Many lottery winners end up broke or in debt a few short years after their windfall, and we all know cancer survivors who say their diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to them (I am one of them).

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand," said Randy Pausch, the now famous college professor who used his terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis to teach others to really achieve their childhood dreams through his Last Lecture, which was also published as a book. While many of us would look at Randy’s life, and his three young children and shake our heads at the tragedy of it all, Randy himself focused on living, and his humor and intelligence in the face of death has inspired millions.

I am learning that circumstances don’t have to play any role whatsoever in how we feel because whatever is happening now will change soon anyway. Rising above current circumstances can have an amazingly transformative effect on our lives. It is not so much the circumstances themselves that impact how we feel, but rather the story we tell ourselves about them. Of course we are going to react immediately to whatever the situation is, but after the initial shock wears off, we have the opportunity to choose how we frame it.

For a long time, I lived with the story I’d concocted about why I was single. I told myself it must be because something was wrong with me, that I was unlovable or unworthy of a lasting relationship. Getting cancer and then having a hysterectomy piled even more evidence on because now I was also “damaged goods” and had even less chance of finding someone who would love me.

On the flip side, I recently lost a significant amount of weight due to a new diet I have adopted because of a cancer recurrence. I look and feel better than I ever have in my life. I have enormous energy, and I get a lot of compliments. However, going from a size 12 to a size 6 hasn’t significantly altered the external circumstances of my life, no matter how many years I spent telling myself that life would be so much different if only I could lose 30 pounds.

Now, I have let both stories go, knowing that it wasn’t the circumstances of my weight or my single status that was affecting my life, but rather the story I was telling myself about both and so many other things too. Keep in mind that these “stories” were subtle, playing in the background of my beliefs. They were rarely conscious and obvious in my daily life. That is why these records can play for years and impact all of our interactions in life – because we don’t notice them.

The stories in our lives were initially developed as a survival mechanism. Something happened that made us feel uncomfortable (or worse) and we made up a story about it in order to get through the pain, and unconsciously to try to avoid the same “mistake” again. Thus are beliefs cemented in our psyches and allowed to play there unnoticed, but affecting everything in our lives for years to come. The stories themselves aren’t good or bad either – they are simply a part of being human. However, they can limit our ability to live our lives as fully as we are capable of, and they can also make us miserable if we let them.

I have recently come across a tool to help release the limiting beliefs and stories that we all carry around with us. It is called by different names: EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques or tapping most commonly. It involves physically tapping on different points on your head and chest in order to release the stories that may be holding you back or causing pain. The tapping points correspond with energy meridians in the body – similar to acupuncture, reiki or other ancient Chinese healing tools.

However, while counseling or techniques can be helpful in speeding the process along, you don’t need them to release your limiting beliefs. Sometimes a simple awareness of them is enough to help you begin the process of letting them go. So just start paying attention. What do you say to yourself when you eat half a chocolate cake in one sitting? Find yourself for the thousandth time in debt? Get in a fight with your parents? Lose your favorite pair of earrings?

Start to listen to what you tell yourself, and you will be amazed at how often it is negative and unaffirming. I have often said that I say things to myself I would never allow anyone else to say to me. Most of life is lived between the ears. Our thoughts constitute most of our consciousness, and while there is nothing wrong with positive thinking and daily affirmations, they might not make much difference if your underlying story is telling you something completely different about yourself.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Comfort

Mashed potatoes and gravy, roast beef, hot chocolate, warm homemade cookies and milk, macaroni and cheese, hot fudge sundaes and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls . . . these are a few of my favorite comfort foods. Maybe some of them are also yours, or maybe you would add different ones to the list. They are those forms of sustenance that play a larger role; not just nourishing our bodies, but soothing our souls when things aren’t exactly right.

Things weren’t exactly right for me this past fall. In September I was diagnosed with a recurrence of ovarian cancer. I spent much of that month recovering from a hysterectomy and experiencing the side effects of having a lot fewer hormones coursing through my body . . . mood swings, fatigue, hot flashes, etc. I was also emotionally fraught trying to come to terms with the fact that though I had fought cancer and won four short years ago, another battle was looming.

It is not the diagnosis so much as the treatment that causes so much dread in the heart of a cancer patient. I watch pharmaceutical ads on television that are required to state the long list of side effects – incontinence, depression, suicidal thoughts, night sweats, kidney problems, etc. etc. – and I wonder WHO would ever want to take these drugs? I have been through chemotherapy once, and I wasn’t eager to do it again. Though I tolerated the side effects well, it was still a miserable four months for me, and it took my hair more than a year to regain a somewhat normal state.

This time though, I was mostly concerned about the long-term effects – the stuff they don’t necessarily tell you about unless you are savvy enough to ask. My savvy has been increased by friends who are experiencing secondary cancers that are a result of the TREATMENT from their primary cancer. WHAT? Chemo and radiation can actually cause cancer? When you hear the C word and you are scared, you will do whatever you’re told to rid your body of the ravaging monster of disease. But once you’ve already been down that path, and you know what it holds, the second time around can cause you to question things more.

My questioning has led me to an alternative treatment plan this time. In some ways, this path has been MUCH easier than the first time. From outside appearances nothing really seems wrong. I look normal, feel really good and can function pretty much as I did before the diagnosis. Internally though, this time around has been somewhat harder. Emotional issues have distracted me from my normally productive frame of mind. I just haven’t felt as on top of things as I usually do.

I tried to be gentle with myself this fall as I adjusted to the lifestyle changes that are part of my alternative treatment plan, but I am my own worst critic, and it is sometimes difficult to turn off the voice that says I should be getting more done, should be more relaxed, should be less stressed. A wise friend told me years ago not to “should on” myself. That’s great advice, but not always so easy to follow.

I know that stress isn’t good for me, and most of the time I feel as if I’m controlling it pretty well, but no matter how many hours I log on my yoga mat, in meditation or soaking in a hot bath, worries about money or health insurance or future career paths or finding a soul mate manage to creep in. I know I can do a better job of accepting that where I am right now is perfect, and that the universe will support me in whatever I choose to do. Not only the universe, but those closer to home are supporting me as well. So many have been so great as I transition to a mostly vegan diet and give up sugar, white flour, meat, dairy and most processed foods.

Support is all around me from friends, family, colleagues and even total strangers. I am in a much better place than I would have been without all the support I continue to receive. However, support is very different from comfort, and I just haven’t felt very comforted. They say life disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. Perhaps I have been just too comfortable lately, and the universe is trying to shake things up a bit for me.

Maybe part of my discomfort is the fact that I’ve given up those foods listed above and can’t turn to them any longer when the going gets rough. I’m sure the fact that I live alone and don’t have someone here to hug me and talk to me about things on a daily basis probably plays a role. My mom came to stay with me for a week after my surgery, and she was so incredibly helpful cooking and cleaning and being with me for appointments and surgery itself, but comfort and nurturing and talking about feelings aren’t her strong suit. I am so appreciative of all she has done for me, but sometimes I just wish she would put her arms around me and tell me everything is going to be ok.

I love to travel, and I’m called to do it quite often for work, but lately, I’m much more appreciative of the comforts of home. With the new diet, even eating out can be a drag with my menu options reduced to 1-3 items typically. Full-on travel now requires a great deal more planning ahead than it used to depending upon where I’m going. I often have to take snacks with me, and be super-conscious of what, where and when I’m going to eat. Previously, I was the least picky eater ever, and would literally eat almost anything, but now, that reception food often doesn’t work for me, and neither does waiting to eat until all the meetings and events are over around 10 p.m. at conferences. I can’t even imagine trying to translate a menu from a foreign language into a meal option for me. It’s hard enough in English to weed out those things that don’t fit.

I’m sure in time it will get easier and become second nature to eat this way. That is happening already to some extent. For now, though, it’s easier to be home, to cook for myself, and to know what is in that sauce. Not only that, but I’m enjoying it. I never particularly liked to cook, but now I do. It doesn’t really make sense to me, but there it is. It feels good to know that I’m eating healthy, and it’s fun to discover new exotic foods and recipes and try them out. You might even say it’s comforting.

We all need comfort in our lives. I still have hot tea – a huge source of comfort and warmth for me, especially in the winter. I am also grateful for the energy work and massage that I receive on a somewhat regular basis, and I am truly thankful for all the friends and family members who have told me they love me a little more often the past several months. I also appreciate down comforters, crackling fires in the fireplace and walks in the sunshine. Maybe if I pile enough of those up, after a while, I will feel comforted in a deeper way than a big bowl of macaroni and cheese could ever accomplish, though I did recently find a recipe for vegan mac and cheese, so who knows . . . I might be able to have some of those comfort foods after all.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Health

Three months after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time, I am healthier than I’ve ever been. Though it seems a bit strange, cancer has once again been the catalyst for some amazing changes in my life. I don’t need to continue having this “teacher” in my life (thank you very much for the lessons, but you have overstayed your welcome), but I can appreciate the upside nonetheless.

Though I was a dutiful patient the first time around, following the prescribed “standard of care,” and completing six rounds of chemotherapy, the benefit of four years and lots of good reading led me down a different path this time. I chose not to put more toxic (and cancer-causing) chemicals into my body, and I’m following a natural healing path instead. That’s right! Did you know that chemo and radiation, standard cancer treatments, can actually cause secondary cancers down the road? I didn’t until recently.

I am grateful to authors like Hollie Quinn, Kris Carr, and Andrew Weil for helping me see a different possibility for myself, and I’m grateful for fantastic researchers like David Servan-Schreiber, and T. Colin Campbell for providing great information in their books, and for my naturopath and oncologist for being enthusiastic and supportive of my choice.

Cancer is rising at a dramatic rate, and more and more young people are being diagnosed every year. No doubt, it is because of the toxic soup we drink, breathe, and eat every day, the chemicals and artificial colors and fragrances in our personal-care products and our general environment. Flame retardant, pesticides, and weed killer aren’t just tough on fire, bugs, and weeds! Despite supposed increases in survival rates with conventional therapies, the books have been cooked. Touted success stories are based on a five-year survival rate. And even those rates haven’t increased dramatically, and not for most cancers. Five years! I don’t know about you, but five years ain’t much to my way of thinking.

My treatment plan consists of a healthy whole food, vegan diet, some natural supplements to balance out my hormones and ph levels, juicing veggies and drinking protein smoothies, controlling my stress through meditation and yoga, and getting moderate amounts of exercise at least three to four times a week. Dean Ornish has been using this type of holistic plan on patients with heart disease for years, and turns out it can help cancer patients as well. Sure it took a big C wake-up call for me to change my ways, but this lifestyle is healthy for anyone, and recommended if you want to avoid serious health issues in the first place.

Want to know the biggest surprise of all? It has been way easier than I anticipated. For four years since my first diagnosis, I have been aware of the tremendous health benefits of this type of lifestyle, but I wrote it off as impractical. I decided I couldn’t do it before I even tried! Now that I’m actually doing it, I can report two things for sure: 1. It does take some adjustment and time to figure out how to live this way and 2. It is absolutely possible for anyone to do it. The big-time upside is that I look and feel great. My skin is amazing, I’ve lost twenty pounds, I have more energy, my fingernails are three times stronger, and I just feel good.

I was so worried about all the things I would have to “give up,” in order to be healthy. Dairy? Really is it that bad for you? After reading The China Study, I now have no doubt. No more ice cream or cheese? I have found great dairy-free ice cream alternatives (made with coconut), and haven’t missed cheese nearly as much as I thought I would, though I admit to cheating a few times on that one (though with just a small serving each time). I have been really shocked that I don’t seem to crave the bad things very often. I just made it through the holiday season, complete with my mom’s fantastic Christmas cookies, and while I did have a few of them, and some organic free-range turkey too, I didn’t need huge helpings of former favorites to feel satisfied. There were times I decided to give myself a treat—pumpkin pie or a frosted gingerbread man, and decided I didn’t want them after all, sometimes after a single bite or just a longing gaze.

A bit more challenging has been figuring out what to eat instead of the former convenient fare I would grab or nuke. The biggest assist in this quest came from my sister’s awesome menu planning/shopping list. Plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for just what I need rather than just throwing a bunch of stuff in the cart and figuring it out later? (And throwing lots of food away after it spoiled from sitting in the fridge too long.) What a concept! We also put together a great binder full of yummy veggie recipes that I turn to regularly, along with some fave websites, for inspiration.

I have never been a great cook, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Cooking for one has been a challenge for me, and I would get tired of the leftovers long before they were gone. In addition to the ease of giving up the bad stuff, I have been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed my new lifestyle. I don’t dread meal planning, shopping and food prep anymore. I kind of like it. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of a whole foods diet. I mostly shop in the produce section now and don’t have to tool around the whole store for tons of items or processed ingredients because I rarely use them now. And I don’t make complicated sauces and numerous dishes now—just a mix of good fresh veggies either cooked or raw that typically go together pretty quickly. Steaming takes just minutes and my meals are generally ready much sooner without so many elements to time just right so everything is done at once.

I know, I know, we are a nation on the go, in love with our convenience and fast-food options, and happy to pop a pill to cure our ills rather than change our lifestyle. I have zero interest in trying to convince anyone else to eat this way, but I have been amazed at the fascination and questions people have about this diet. I was drawn to a healthier way of life before cancer forced my hand as well, but don’t think I ever would have pursued it without a significant motivation. Now that I feel so great and am not enduring round two of toxic chemicals causing hair loss, nausea, body aches and other maladies (the cure is worse than the disease), I am pretty dang happy with my choice. I’ve included a lots of links to resources that helped guide me in case you’re interested. If you’re not, that’s perfectly fine too.