Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing my cancer story compelled me to found WhereWeGoNow for survivors creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy. I'm also a blogger at The Huffington Post, an inspirational speaker, a support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, a member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, a patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, an interior decorator, a wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer. Learn more about WWGN and me here.
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I have to start out by saying that I love technology. I'm old enough to remember the huge black and white televisions and rotary telephones of my youth. Today's gadgets - smart phones, tablets, MP3 players, computers and flat screen televisions - are more useful, productive and a lot more fun.
I get the addiction. I succumb to it myself, because it's human. That's why we have to learn to use the technology mindfully and not buy into the social construct that it's okay to be mindless, rude and disconnected from the real world as long as you use the excuse that you're busy.
I take a "Stress Management Yoga" class twice a week and it's lovely. The teacher begins class by turning off the big overhead lights. With only the light of her small lamp at the front of the room, I immediately go into a relaxed state.
One day, a young woman came into the class. I doubt she was over the age of 21. She laid out her mat close to mine, piling all of her stuff - shoes, water bottle, cell phone - next to her mat. As soon as class started, so did the texting. Do you know what the glare of a cell phone's light looks like in a dark room? It's a beacon of light that bores a hole into your head.
I didn't want to complain, because I was trying to stay relaxed and blissfully unaware of outside annoyances, but I was losing the fight. I cheered when the teacher finally came over to her and told her, "We don't do that in here." She put the phone down, but a few minutes later picked it up and checked it again. I don't know what she was checking, but I doubt it was of national importance. She left when class was over and I've never seen her again.
Which reminds me of an ancient memory, long before cell phones even existed. When I was a brand new lawyer, I worked for a small firm with two associates. I was one and the other associate was a young woman who was a chain smoker. In fact, I remember she had a habit of lighting up her next cigarette before she actually finished the one in her hand. I honestly don't know how she got anything else done.
One day, we had to go to the law library to do research. Panic ensued when she realized smoking wasn't allowed in the library. She finally accepted the fact that there was no choice, took a deep breath, rushed into the library, worked in a panic for a few minutes until she couldn't stand it anymore, and rushed back out for a smoke. And she did this all day long.
Watching her struggle with her addiction was illuminating. I realized how free I was to come and go as I pleased, while she ran back and forth as if the library was toxic and she could only breathe in its air a few minutes at a time. She obviously loved her cigarettes, just as we love our technology, but that love came at a price.
The next time I know I spending too much time checking my phone or surfing the web, I'm going to remember my long ago colleague. I don't want to ever be so addicted to anything that I literally can't breathe if I can't have it (other than oxygen, of course.) If I've learned anything from cancer, I've learned to be more aware and appreciative of all aspects of my life. It's impossible to be mindfully connected to your life, friends, family and bodily needs if your connection to technology supersedes anything else.
Do you find yourself mindlessly addicted to technology sometimes? What do you do to try to break out of addictive technology usage?
When I learn something new - and it happens every day - I feel a little more at home in this universe, a little more comfortable in the nest. Bill Moyers
I'm middle aged (of course, I'll have to live to 100+ for the term to apply literally) and a long way from my school days. But, learning something new every day, is one of my greatest joys and a true gift of my cancer.
And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total? Tillie Olsen
I don't know about you, but almost everyone I know, including me, is perennially "busy." We all have jobs and lives that demand a huge amount of our time. As we devote so much attention to juggling our responsibilities, when do we find the time to breathe and recharge?
If you can master being mindful of each moment, you can actually slow down time. Try it today! Get into the flow of what you are doing. By refusing to multi-task and fret over the other items waiting for you on your to-do list, time actually becomes a non-issue.
In addition to focusing on one task at a time, you also have to take some time to sit back and relax. Especially during the holiday season, enjoy watching a holiday movie, spending time with children, or redevoting yourself to yoga or any other "me time" activity that calms you. If you only have a few minutes, try tea meditation. Whatever you do during your down time, remember that you need to recharge. No one is productive 24/7 and it's a fallacy to think that you are the one exception to the rule.
I've found myself contemplating how I spend my time a lot lately and I want to do better with how I manage it in the coming year. For now, I'm going take the time to consider some inspirational quotes about time:
Finding some quiet time in your life, I think, is hugely important. Mariel Hemingway
I took some time out for life. James L. Brooks
Lose not your self in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine. Friedrich Schiller
The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked. Tillie Olsen
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream. Khalil Gibran
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. Henry David Thoreau
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts and join me on this journey. I hope you find the time this week to be mindful and recharge your soul. If you're struggling with finding the time, know that you're not alone. Leave me comments here so we can work on being more mindful together.
I mean the whole thing about meditation and yoga is about connecting to the higher part of yourself, and then seeing that every living thing is connected in some way. Gillian Anderson
Six months after my second and last cancer surgery, I walked into a yoga class at my local Y. I had never done yoga before in my life, but, by the end of the class, I was smitten. That was over a year and a half ago and I still faithfully attend that class twice a week. I wish I could say the same about my home yoga practice.
Before we built a small den off the back of our house last year I really didn't have space to do yoga at home. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to design the room to accommodate my practice. The sound system is iPod ready and there is a soft rug on the floor. I deliberately designed a coffee table out of three stools, so I could easily move them out of the way for my mat. I was set.
Of course, that doesn't mean I kept up with my daily practice. Although I have the desire, for some reason I haven't made the time for the past several months. I have a home office and tend to start working before I've even eaten breakfast. And once I start, I find it hard to stop. Recently, the few times I've successfully done yoga at home were the result of a firm resolve to walk past the computer and into the den first, before I got sucked into the vortex of work.
I don't know why I've been resistant, because I love yoga at home. It's just my body and my thoughts in my space. I go at my own pace, doing the poses I want to do. It's a true pleasure. I feel both energized and calmer when I walk out of there. It's definitely "me time."
Yesterday I made the effort to prioritize yoga. I moved the stools, laid out my mat and started warming up. I was coming out of a downward dog and into a lunge when it happened: a leaf blower suddenly roared into life, completely startling me. I looked out the window, saw the head of someone standing right outside and fell out of my lunge and down onto my thumb, bending it backwards. I couldn't believe I sprained it - it was my first ever yoga injury.
I live in suburbia - the land of the leaf blower. Between work, family life and what's going on outside my windows, there are noises and distractions all around me. That's why I usually don't do yoga at home in the first place - too many other things competing for my attention. Now the sound of a leaf blower actually knocked me out of a pose and onto the floor.
Although it's not a living thing, I'm trying to see the connection between me and that leaf blower. Maybe it's just a reminder that there will always be distractions so I need to see them as excuses rather than reasons for the choices I make. If I want a home yoga practice, I have to make the time despite the leaf blowers all around me.
I'm going back into my den today to enjoy my yoga practice. My thumb still hurts, but I realize I used my "injury" as validation for quitting yoga early and getting back to work. Ironically, I kept putting off yoga yesterday, while I was trying to figure out what to post today. I finally gave up, knowing I would be better off giving my mind a yoga rest. Who could have predicted a leaf blower would show up and give me the answer?
Discovering yoga is one of my most cherished gifts of cancer. That doesn't mean, however, that I always take the time to honor its presence in my life. Do you struggle with prioritizing your gifts of cancer?
In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you. Deepak Chopra
The past four days were chock-full of family, travel, activities and holiday preparations. It was that weekend when Thanksgiving and Christmas converge, with Santa's arrival putting a giant exclamation point at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. And yes, once again, I heard the starter pistol go off in my head as soon as I saw him.
In the midst of all that movement, I did my best to keep stillness inside of me. It wasn't easy, and I wasn't always successful, believe me. But I learned again that being aware puts me half-way there. The brevity of my post today is evidence of that awareness. I refused to touch my computer this weekend. I needed the break, so I did no writing and devoted my time to family.
If you celebrated Thanksgiving this weekend, how did it go for you? Are you approaching the holiday season with more stillness and mindful movement?
Practice meditation regularly. Meditation leads to eternal bliss.Therefore meditate, meditate. Swami Sivananda
The importance of practice has been on my mind a lot lately. It's mostly because my son just started playing the guitar. In a few weeks, he's gone from not knowing a thing about the guitar, to playing simple songs. It's been an amazing process to watch and one which could not occur without practice. As the old joke goes, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."
The guitar teacher obviously loves music, the guitar and teaching - and not just guitar. During their first lesson, he stressed the importance of commitment, practice and having fun. When he mentioned how looking for perfection stands in the way of learning, I recongized life, as well as guitar, lessons.
I take my son to class every week and sit in on his sessions. As I watch quietly, I am practicing too. Because I can't work, use my phone or laptop, I practice being mindfully present. I am totally engaged with my son and experience an overwhelming sense of joy. It's the same joy I felt watching him as a toddler, when everything he did was a wonderful new experience.
It's interesting that the practice of yoga also brings me this level of engagement. Uniting my mind and body in awareness while I practice poses, places me in the moment. While I am in that moment, it is only the moment that matters, not perfection of the pose. That's why it's called a practice - the goal is the continuous experience of wonderous growth. In fact, if we could ever reach perfection, wouldn't that be the end? What would be left to learn or challenge us?
In an earlier life, I practiced law as an attorney. When I was in law school, they told us it was called a practice because we would spend every day honing our profession to better serve our clients and the law. Again, the idea was not to reach perfection, but to keep trying to grow and improve.
Because of all the static in our minds, meditation often does not come easily. It takes practice, practice, practice and we'll still never be perfect at it. But it's the pursuit, the practice itself, which is the goal - not perfection. Do you have a pursuit, such as meditation or music, which you practice for the joy of growth and improvement?
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. Joseph Campbell
Our lives are so busy and noisy, that we often forget about the healing power of silence. When we're out in the world, it's not usually possible to control the noise level. At home, we can usually turn down the noise, but why not take it a step further and create a sacred space of peacefulness and healing?
After my surgery, I had lots of down time to sit and be and was often drawn to a certain chair in my living room. The chair was comfortable, the room quiet (no television) and the view from my window was lovely during those many spring weeks of disability. I returned to this chair again and again, to meditate, or just to rest.
Gradually, that space became sacred to me. I brought meaningful items into it by creating a makeshift altar. On a tray on the coffee table I gathered votive candles, pictures of my family, and two small Buddhas. A small carved elephant I found in an antique shop became very special to me. I was dealing with a lot during that time and meeting with an oncology therapist for support and guidance. One day she told me I had the emotional memory of an elephant - whatever I remembered, I felt again. That elephant became a symbol to me of my pain and my growing awareness of how I processed it.
You can get started creating a sacred space for yourself by following a few easy steps:
1. Decide what "sacred" means to you. Do you need a space for yoga, meditation or spiritual connection? To me, sacred means uplifting, peaceful and spiritual. What does it mean to you?
2. Dedicate a spot in your home that can become sacred. It doesn't have to be a whole room. It can be a corner of a room, the top of a dresser, or any other space you can find. My space is in the middle of my living room. When I am there, alone, it's sacred. When my family is in the space, it's just as sacred, but in a very different way.
3. Create your own altar. Find personal items which are meaningful to you. Next to my candles, pictures, Buddhas and elephant, I have a small piece of tile. I found it while taking a walk around my neighborhood and it is really beautiful. To me, it symbolized the importance of getting back out into the world and finding gifts of cancer in places I didn't expect to find them.
4. Surround yourself with inspirational icons. Fill your space with meaningful quotes, spiritual symbols, calming music, plants, and any other items that uplift your spirit. Connecting with our spiritual selves opens up an amazing well to drink from when stresses come our way.
5. Create a ritual. Once you've created your sacred space, how will you honor it? Will you use it to meditate for a few minutes every morning? Will you just sit, with your eyes closed, enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet? Your ritual can be simple or complicated but, whatever you elect to do, make it meaningful to you.
Take a few minutes to bring peacefulness and healing into your nest by creating sacred space. It's not hard to do and has immense rewards. If you already have a sacred space, I'd love to hear about it. If I've inspired you to create one, I'd love to know how you made it meaningful to you.
October may be breast cancer awareness month, but breast cancer is not the only cancer in need of awareness. I recently discovered an important movement, "WTF" (Where's the Funding) for Lung Cancer? It turns out that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer and the least funded cancer. How can that be? Is the stigma attached to having lung cancer, due to a belief that, by smoking, the lung cancer patient brought it on him or herself, the problem? Would it help remove the stigma to realize that you don't need to be a smoker to get lung cancer? In fact, "80% of new lung cancer cases are diagnosed in patients who have never smoked, or former smokers who quit decades ago.
Many, many years ago, I worked with a woman who got lung cancer and died from it. She left behind a husband and teenaged children. She was a smoker, so although I was horrified and saddened by her death, I thought it had nothing to do with me. It wasn't until Dana Reeve, Christopher Reeve's widow, was diagnosed and died from the same disease, that I had any idea non-smokers could get lung cancer too. Still, her death at age 44 seemed to be a shocking abnormality. Now I know better.
It's time for all of us to become aware of this disease, because it can and does afflict anyone at any time. As cancer survivors, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be better educated and aware about all cancers. Go to Jennifer's website and educate yourself about lung cancer. If you are a lung cancer survivor, the site is an amazing resource for information and support. Please let me know what you think about Jennifer's movement.
October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.Hal Borland
Last week, I wrote a post about my need to reclaim the power of pink this Pinktober. While the "awareness v. research" debate rages on and pink ribbons festoon everything from toilet paper to Mike's Hard Lemonade, I feel the need to reclaim something that is even dearer to me than pink - and that is October itself. I love autumn. I'm not a winter sports kind of girl, and I'm not a worshipper of summer. My season is first and foremost, autumn.
My enjoyment of the season starts at the beginning of September, which I associate with a new school year and new beginnings. Since 9/11, the first two weeks of September aren't as happy as they used to be, before we lost a good friend in the Twin Towers. But we put our heads down and plow on, pushing forward to the cooler days of October and the wonder of leaves falling like snow in my back yard. The crispness of the air, the color of changing leaves, nesting at home, cooking soup - that is October to me.
I know a lot of breast cancer survivors who find the "pinkness" of October unsettling. I also know a lot of breast cancer survivors and their supporters who revel in each walk, pink ribbon and chance to show their support of the cause. No one is wrong. Each of us comes to this place having fought our own good fight and that is validation enough.
Right now, however, I just want to focus on October itself and its bigger message. Autumn is a season of harvest and of preparation. It's a time to reap what has been sown and to get ready for the coming harshness of winter. Isn't that what all of life is about: trying to get meaning out of what has come before, while steeling ourselves for what may lie ahead?
Today, like I did for pink, I'd like to remind myself of what October used to mean, because I'd like to be both "aware" and "present" with this beautiful month:
1. Pumpkin picking.
2. Carving Jack-O-Lanterns.
3. Car trips to look at fall foliage.
4. Apple picking and the baking of apple pies.
5. Football Games and tailgating.
6. The playoffs and the World Series, especially if your team makes it.
7. Fall Festivals.
8. Making costumes and trick-or-treating with children.
9. Raking leaves - and jumping into the pile.
10. Making a scarecrow.
I'm going to try very hard this month to focus on what makes me happy about the month. These are just a few things I thought of that make October special. I bet you can add more to the list. Let me know what you'll be doing this month to be present in this most wondrous month.
It’s been an interesting ride through the weekly sessions of 8 Minute Meditation - Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich. (Amazon associates link) I thought adopting the eight minute a day, eight week program wouldn’t be that difficult, given the small time commitment. Why have I resisted doing it to the degree that I have? I accept completely the benefits of meditation and quieting my mind, but for some reason, my mind just doesn’t want to be quieted. What’s going on here?
I’m realizing that meditation is not just about technique. It’s about value. Do I value myself when I am still? Do I value myself when I’m not “producing?” Do I value quiet, rest and healing? Can I value these things and still be a productive person? Just asking myself these questions, reveals a lot. That's funny, because even not meditating is teaching me about myself.
This is week four in the book. It’s time for “This Magic Moment" meditation. The focus is on maintaining consciousness in the present moment. This is a quick outline of the process:
1. Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.
2. Set your timer to eight minutes.
3. Close your eyes.
4. Allow your body to relax.
5. When a thought wafts through your mind, label it as either “past” or “future.”
6. As the thought floats away, notice the space around them - that's the silence you need.
7. Don't fret if your mind attaches itself to a thought. Just gently release it and allow, allow, allow.
I like this meditation, because most thoughts are nothing more than "past" or "present," despite the fact that the only real moment is the here and now. Please join me in meditation and let me know how your practice is going.
WhereWeGoNow does not provide medical, diagnostic or treatment advice.
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