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You Are the Placebo - Making Your Mind Matter by Dr. Joe Dispenza

No one likes to hear, "It's all in your mind." But, what if we have the "biological and neurological machinery" to make ourselves better?

You Are the Placebo, by Dr. Joe Dispenza, isn't about positive thinking or the law of attraction. It's also definitely not about patient blaming.

What it's about is looking at the scientific evidence and exploring the possibility of taking the placebo effect a step further. As Dr. Dispenza asks, What if, instead of believing in a fake pill or treatment to experience a real health benefit, we believed in ourselves?

The book is divided into two parts. Part I (Information) takes you through the science you need to understand the placebo effect and how it works via the mind-body connection to create real, measurable physical changes. I thought I might find this information dense, especially for summer reading. Instead, Dr. Dispenza's gift for explaining complicated concepts made the material interesting and easily understandable.  

I was also fascinated by the numerous case studies evidencing the placebo and nocebo effects (when a fake medication or treatment creates negative effects.) Dr. Dispenza relates numerous stories of serious illness and even death resulting from belief in voodoo curses, hexes and misdiagnosis of fatal diseases. Men in their 70's and 80's, who spent five days pretending they were 22 years younger, put down their canes, danced and played football. They even showed measurable, physical improvements, such better eyesight, hearing, and memory, and increased height and finger lengthening as arthritis diminished. 

In fact, it was Dr. Dispenza's own story that brought him to this work. After an horrific accident in which he was run over by an SUV, Dr. Dispenza was advised to have surgery (resulting in disability and lifelong pain) or risk paralysis. He chose to forgo surgery and instead accomplished full recovery through the power of his mind. 

Part II (Transformation) sets forth the meditation techniques Dr. Dispenza used to heal himself. The first chapter sets forth simple preparation steps and techniques, while the second chapter takes the reader through guided meditations. 

You Are the Placebo is the ultimate guidebook to the human experience and how we choose to perceive it. Reading this book convinced me that I can refocus my thoughts, emotions and beliefs to create a new reality. As Dr. Dispenza says, "the ultimate belief is the belief in yourself and in the field of infinite possibilities ... And when wholeness, self-satisfaction, and self-love truly come from within, because you've ventured beyond what you believed was possible and you overcame your own self-imposed limitations, that's when the uncommon occurs."

Don't miss reading this book. If you're willing to open your mind and do the work, it has the ability to change your life.

Survival > Existence,

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for this review. The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

6 Tips to Help You Find Comfort After Cancer

It's a Sunday afternoon and you'd give anything to curl up under a blanket with a book and hide from the world.
But there are lots of things to do that make that impossible. 
You'll rest later.
Except you never do.
Let me ask you this: Do you remember when cancer forced you to stop? 
Do you remember when rest was a pivotal part of your healing?
Do you remember taking care of yourself first, because you had no choice?
Stop. Take a breath and look around you. Will it really all fall down if you take the afternoon off?
Sometimes we resist seeking comfort after cancer. We want to throw ourselves back into living, push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and make big changes. 
But, life is always going to require healing. And healing is always going to require comfort. 
You need comfort. Here's how to go about creating more of it in your world:
1.  Concentrate on the little things that make you happy: Whether it's a favorite sweater, dog, yoga class, or driving with the top down, if it makes you happy, make sure to enjoy it more often. To get that done, start paying attention to what makes you smile. And then make the effort to bring those things into your life. You deserve it.
2.  Rest: Give in to fatigue. Initially, it speaks to you in whispers, but tends to scream like a banshee when ignored. To keep it from getting to that point, learn to shut down at a reasonable hour at the end of the day. Put a premium on rest and getting to sleep and you will be more productive in the long run.
3. Make home a haven of comfort:  Every autumn, I seasonalize my home for the colder months. I put out comfy throws in the family room, including a faux fur one I got from Pottery Barn. Sitting under that throw is one of my sweetest comforts when the wind is howling outside and I hate to see it go in the spring.
4. Stay in touch: Keep communicating and sharing with your cancer sisters. While I was treating, I was immersed in support groups, therapy and events that put me in weekly contact with other patients/survivors. Eventually, that came to an end. To this day, however, I still meet up with other survivors by working with the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. And, of course, I stay in touch with the very close friends I made along the way. Their inclusion in my life is a constant comfort and source of support. 
5.  Maintain a soul practice: Whether you are part of a religious community, pray, meditate, or commune with nature, spend some time developing a soul practice. Take your practice one step further by creating a sacred space of peacefulness and healing at home, where you can take a moment to stop, breathe and find comfort anytime you need it.
6. Finish this sentence: I find comfort in ------.  Write down whatever you think of without censoring yourself. When you're finished writing, review what you've written and think about how to bring those things into your life today. 
It's been said many times that life begins outside our comfort zone. I don't believe it. Life requires comfort because comfort fortifies and heals. How do you do comfort? Let me know and I'd love to hear how you finished the sentence in tip number six. Make sure to tell me in the comments below.
Wishing you much comfort & peace,

Summer's Over! Time to Face the Next "New Normal"

The time is finally here! Our daughter is off to college and we're facing yet another "new normal."  Because this week has been devoted exclusively to spending time with her, I didn't make time to write a new post. Instead, I thought I'd rerun the piece I wrote last year entitled "What the Last Weekend of Summer Teaches Us About Moving Beyond Cancer." 

Reading it again, I was struck by the pertinence of its message to what we're facing this September. Once again I'm hoping to "celebrate (my) tenacious ability to face (my) fears and get on with the next phase of (my) life." Although I'm not quite ready to let her go, I'm going to trust again that I can handle it as I step blindly into the unknown.

I hope you have a wonderful last weekend of summer and we'll talk again in September about our newest adventures.

It's the Friday before the unofficial last weekend of summer, which of course means it's Labor Day Weekend, the last day of summer is September 20th, but no one cares about that. This weekend draws a line in the sand.  For the next three days, we continue to exist within the vast openness of summer days filled with sunshine and possibility. As of Tuesday morning, the beach chairs and umbrellas are stored away. It's not about technicalities, it's about knowing when to get on with the next phase of your life.

And get on we will because we've done this before.  If you've graduated from the third grade, you're an old hand at it.  We might complain about busier schedules, earlier wake up calls, and first day of school jitters, but we know we can handle it. Been there, done that. 

When it comes to change or transitions we haven't experienced before, we tend to shy away (actually, we often run screaming in the other direction.)  Our fear of the unknown is well known and deep-seated.  It is the fear that gripped us when we were told, "You have cancer."  Without warning from the calendar, or even our own bodies, we are suddenly plucked from our world and thrown into cancer's.  All of the medical terminology, procedures and realities of our new existence are stunningly unrecognizable. There's no "been there, done that" to rely upon.  We have to learn anew, sometimes minute by minute, what we are capable of handling.  

At some point, if we are very lucky, it starts to get a bit easier.  Not necessarily because we are "cured," but because we are healing.  Like it or not, we've gotten on with the next phase of our lives. We are survivors. We've taken advantage of support groups, exercise classes, counseling, yoga, Pilates, meditation, guided imagery or whatever presented itself when we needed it.  Nothing makes the stark reality of having cancer better.  Cancer will always be a despicable blight. But we have managed to adapt to its reality so we can survive, despite our fear, and that's made all the difference.

Next week, with my children safely in school, I will travel once again to the Breast Center for my yearly mammogram. From the first mammogram of my life to the life-changing mammogram of September 2008, I never gave them much thought. They were inconvenient, uncomfortable obligations and I attended to them dutifully, but without concern. Now, I walk in hand-in-hand with my fear of the unknown and the inevitable question, "What if?"

I live in New Jersey and have been "down the shore," as we say here, many times.  I love seeing the Atlantic Ocean, but I don't want to go in it. There's something about blindly putting my feet down on whatever might be lurking under the water that unnerves me. I'm never going to stop being afraid of the unknown. I'm just going to have to keep telling myself that I've handled it before, and I'm still here. For now, that's all I can do.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Whatever we're up to, let's make sure to celebrate our tenacious ability to face our fears and get on with the next phase of our lives.  Join the discussion and let me know how you've managed your fear of the unknown.

Survival > Existence,

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From Multi-Tasking to Mindfulness

My Meditation Monday series (now Mindful Monday) has been popular since I began it. This post, How Cancer is Turning a Multi-Tasker into a Mindful Meditator, is one of my favorites. I won't say I'm there yet, but just being aware of mindfulness has been a huge help:

We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation. Raul Julia

I'm sure we all remember the days of cancer driven single-mindedness. Cancer was our only thought, our only question, our only focus. I went to bed at night and fought for sleep through a barrage of cancer thoughts.

The Survivor's Nest - 5 Tips for Coping with Cancer Anger at Home

Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. Virginia Satir
(No Internet connection yesterday, so I'm posting yesterday's Survivor's Nest post today.) Tuesday's post on coping with cancer anger opened up a wonderful discussion about constructively expressing our anger. Thank you to the many readers who shared their thoughts, comments and emails. You really made me think and you've inspired me to take the conversation one step further in today's Survivor's Nest post.
As much as expressing our cancer anger constructively is important, I don't think it's always the entire answer to making ourselves feel better. I'm sure we've all been in the situation of trying to express our anger, only to get back a blank or completely disinterested look on the other person's face. Or worse, you are subjected to an argument over whether you have a right to your anger in the first place. My point is that we can't expect that expressing our anger is always going to make us feel better. Although we should still say our piece, sometimes, no matter how much we vent, no one is listening.
So what else can we do to cope? l always return to my "soft place to land" theory. It's a tough world out there, especially for the cancer survivor. Your home should envelope and calm you after a hard day at the office, be it your own or your oncologist's. Here are five tips to make that a reality in your own home:
1. Family and/or really good friends: Nothing beats a shoulder to cry on or a nod that says, "I get it and, yes, that guy is a real jerk." Empathy, sincerely given, is one of the greatest gifts of love. I can't tell you how much I needed it during my worst days and still do. If your home is dysfunctional and not a loving and supportive place, ask yourself what you need to do about it. Peace in your home is pivotal to your good mental and emotional health. 
2. Slow down and relax: When I'm angry or upset, I tend to throw myself into work. Because I do most of my work at home, that's not a good thing. Continuing to move fast and furiously only stokes the flames. Instead, take a moment to breathe, do meditation or try guided imagery. Slowing down your cardiovascular system has real benefits, as discussed in Redford William's book, Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health  (Amazon associates link.) I bet that title got your attention.
3. Pump up the creature comforts: Soothe yourself with the comforts of home. Having a hot cup of tea warms your insides and reduces tension. Spend some down time in a comfortable bed, curled up with a book or watching a favorite holiday movie. The key is to distract yourself from the irritations of the day by luxuriating in your nest.
4. Build in quiet time: I can't tell you how many times I've gotten into arguments that I didn't even know how I got into them. When you (or your loved ones) are irritable, it's not easy to talk calmly about even ordinary things. If you're feeling cancer anger, take a "time out." One of the comments to Tuesday's post was from Erika, who makes "a conscience effort to leave a room to collect myself and come back to talk with a clear head" when she is experiencing cancer anger. Erika is smart to find a quiet spot to take a few minutes to consciously collect herself. 
5. Have fun:  The bananas sitting on our kitchen counter for several days were beginning to show their age. My husband mentioned banana bread more than once, and I nodded, but I doubted I had the time. Yesterday, I made myself take a work break and I was so glad I did. In addition to not feeling guilty about throwing away food, I enjoy baking and the smell was incredible. It was a small diversion from my working day, but it made all the difference in my mood. Try a family pajama night or take a yoga break. Just an afternoon or a few minutes of fun can diffuse anger's sharp effects.
My biggest challenge at home is finding a balance between down time and work, without which I end up feeling angry and resentful. If you are experiencing cancer anger, I hope your home is a haven of comfort and security and I'd love to hear more about how you make that happen.

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Leaf Blowers and Yoga at Home

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? 

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Meditation Monday - Zentangle ® Art

Like most adults, I am convinced I cannot draw. I can doodle, however, and that is the beauty of the Zentangle art form and method, which a fellow cancer survivor introduced me to last week.

This isn't mindless doodling, it's doodling with focus, but without intent. You don't have a plan and there are no mistakes. The idea is to "get in the zone" or enter a light meditative state. It's creative, rejuvenating and relaxing. In fact, my Zentangle guide, Fran, told me that she recently spent several days without electricity due to the October snowstorm. In the evenings, she came home from work to a cold, dark house. She spent the time doing Zentangles by candlelight and said it helped her forget the difficult conditions. 

My first Zentangle art experience started out slowly, because, as usual, I was unsure of my drawing. That's where the method really helps. Each Zentangle is drawn on a 3.5" x 3.5" "tile," so it usually takes only about 15 minutes to complete. You start by using a pencil to mark a dot about 1/2" in from each corner and then connect the dots with borderlines. This creates your working area. Inside the borderlines, you draw "strings" to form whatever shapes you want, creating smaller areas in which to work. Watch the You Tube video to see what I mean.

Now put down the pencil and pick up a micron pen. As there are no mistakes, you won't be needing an eraser. To get started drawing my tangles, I referred to two books written by Certified Zentangel Teacher, Sandy Steen Bartholomew. Flipping through Totally Tangled and Yoga for Your Brain a Zentangle Workout (Amazon associates links) got me motivated fast - what great books!

The books offered over 100 types of repetitive pattern drawing techniques (the tangles), tips on shading and were easy to follow. I still had my doubts about my abilities, however, and wasn't initially hopeful for my Zentangle. But It didn't take long before I got into it and loved the result. When I showed my daughter my artwork, she said it reminded her of a garden. It turns out to be true, that you just can't fail at Zentangle.

The Zentangle® art form and method was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas and is copyrighted. Zentangle® is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at I really enjoyed this unique and relaxing form of creativity and, when my children ask me what I want for Christmas, I will be asking for the Zentangle books, tiles and pens, so I can do more Zentangle doodling. Have you tried Zentangle doodling or some other form of creativity that puts you "in the zone?" 

Meditation Monday - Mindfulness Quotes

I've been practicing "mind fullness" all my life. I don't know if it's all the practice, or natural talent, but I'm a whiz at it. I can multi-task, multi-think and multi-stress with the best of them. What I'm not good at is "mindfulness." 

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and present in the here and now without judgment. It is the focus of the mind on one thing at a time and fully experiencing it for what it is. 

Mindfulness meditation is not meant to clear your mind of thought. Instead, thoughts are observed without judgment. In 8 Minute Meditation, Quiet your Mind. Change Your Life, (Amazon associates link) "allow, allow, allow" is the first rule of meditation. Once you allow any thought that arises to arise, it's inevitable that your focus will hook onto a thought or two. That's when you "catch and release." Like a fly fisher hooking a fish and returning it to the stream, you simply release the thought and go back to observing. It's not easy, but that's why they call it a practice.

Everyday life mindfulness is simply focusing awareness on whatever you are doing at the moment. I can't tell you how many times I've stood in the shower trying to remember if I washed my hair yet or not. Obviously, I was on automatic pilot and my brain was focused on something other than what I was doing. By witnessing our thoughts, emotions and actions as they happen, we calm ourselves and bring our stress level down. It's better for my psyche to enjoy the warm water and peace of the shower, than to focus on to-do lists.

And what does mindfulness have to do with happiness? I just read a great post by fellow blogger, Terri Wingham, about how "Sometimes the Journey IS the Reward." If we can be in the moment and realize that the moment is enough, therein lies our happiness.

As I find inspirational quotes helpful to focusing on what is important, I'll share a few of my favorite mindfulness quotes:

“We too should make ourselves empty, that the great soul of the universe may fill us with its breath.” Lawrence Binyon

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.” Eckhart Tolle 

"It is better to travel well than to arrive." Buddha

"The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention." Julia Cameron

"The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers." Thich Nhat Hanh

"When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time for some other part I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself." Montaigne 

Are you struggling with "mind fullness" over mindfulness? How do you get yourself to stop and focus on the here and now? 

Survival > Existence,

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Meditation Monday - Practice, Practice, Practice

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?

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Meditation Monday - The Delights of Solitude

Alone let him constantly meditate in solitude on that which is salutary for his soul, for he who meditates in solitude attains supreme bliss.  Guru Nanak

If you are still struggling with the loneliness of life beyond cancer you know the pain of being alone in your cancer experience. It's a difficult, isolated place to be, because cancer separates us from the other people in our lives. Although we often use the terms interchangeably, however, there is a tremendous difference between loneliness and solitude.

Loneliness happens when we feel isolated, cut off, misunderstood and unseen. We can and often do feel lonely while surrounded by others. In fact, when it comes to cancer survivors, I think our loneliness is at its worst when we watch our friends and family return to "normal" lives, while we live among them still reeling from cancer.

Solitude is also characterized by "aloneness," but that's where it and loneliness diverge. Solitude is a positive state of being alone with yourself, providing time to recharge, reflect and grow. Thinking and creativity often require solitude, as does self-awareness and meditation.

While the amount of solitude each individual needs is unique, most of us need some if only to get a few minutes away from the noise of our everyday lives. I discovered my need for solitude while growing up in a small Cape Cod house with ten other people. For every moment I spent as part of the group, I needed to spend twice as much time by myself.

The wonder of solitude is that it is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a necessary time-out from society, when the only person's company we need is our own. I consider solitude a necessity in my life. Where loneliness has depleted me and made me angry, solitude brings peacefulness and fosters creativity.

I'll leave you with some beautiful quotes on solitude:

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others.  Because solitude is an achievement. Alice Koller

In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.  One must overcome the fear of being alone. Rollo May

A great reader seldom recognizes his solitude. Mason Cooley

But the delights of solitude don't only consist of dreaming. Next in enjoyment, I think comes planning. Anna Neagle

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius. Edward Gibbon

Do you enjoy solitude?  How much solitude do you need and how does it replenish you?

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