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Living in Our Heads Re-visit – Meditation Week 2

So, how did your week 1 go?

For my practice, I chose to eat a chocolate chip cookie mindfully. Slowing down and really paying attention to eating something, much like the raisin activity really enhanced my experience. I can’t promise I’ll eat every cookie that way, but it really was a pleasant way to enjoy a treat and allowed me to really savour the scent, tastes and textures of the cookie. 

Body scans have always been a challenge for me, because I tend to pass out midway. That said, I chose to do my body scan before bed. I suffer from insomnia on a fairly regular basis, so trying this as a means to relax was helpful in calming my body and mind. I can remember usually getting to about my mid-body and then zzzzzzz. I noticed that the sleep I was getting was a very deep sleep. so much so that I either slept through alarms or woke up and shut them off then slept again. I may not have gotten more sleep or to sleep easier but, a better quality sleep has translated to a more relaxed me during the day.

I would love to know how people fared and what you think so far? So post your thoughts in the comments section.screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-22-53-pm

Now on to Week 2!

Many of us, especially now being isolated and having our lives disrupted by Covid can fixate on the negative or if you are like me live in your head a little too much.

The aim of MBSR is for us to be more aware, more often. The thought that comes to my mind is “Be here, now.” One of the things that can impede us from being present in our lives is the thought that we or something we are doing isn’t good enough or less than we expected some how. These thoughts can sometimes make us blame ourselves or judge things and ourselves negatively. These patterns can often be automatic and therefore “mindless”. What we want to do is interrupt the pattern. When we do that, we can consciously make a choice.

That all sounds wonderfully easy. It isn’t. It requires practice. We are after all trying to break some well-entrenched and sometimes unconscious habits. One of the first steps though is by noticing and acknowledging what our situation is. Just that, noticing, not changing. The body-scan is a tool to help us do that. It allows us to acknowledge and bring attention to an area without changing anything. There is no good or bad, no goal to achieve or not, you just are.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-20-58-pmMindful Breathing is another tool that helps us to ground us and bring gentle awareness to ourselves without judgment or need to change anything about our situation. We simply breathe and notice our body as we do so. I tend to have a challenge doing this one on my own and need to listen to a guided meditation. I find I am able to focus on my breath with more attention having someone guide me than if I did this on my own. Its ok if your mind wanders while you practice, it is completely normal and expected. So don’t judge or think you failed. Just notice the thoughts or the fact that you have wandered, and refocus on your breath. If it happens again (and it probably will) just acknowledge and refocus. That’s the beauty of breathing; every breath is a new opportunity to start again.

AM

Activities for week 2 below. Week 1 can be found HERE.

Activity 1: Pleasant Events

This week is an opportunity to really become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations around positive or pleasant events. So everyday notice and record (for yourself) in detail how you felt. You can use the chart below as a reference.

Day
What was the experience?
How did your body feel, in detail during this experience?
What moods and feelings accompanied this experience?
What thoughts went through your mind?
What thoughts are in your mind as you write this down?
Example
Came home to a happy wiggly dog
Lightness across the face, awareness of shoulders dropping. Smiling
Happiness, Pleasure, Relief
“What a warm welcome”
“I feel so loved”
“I didn’t feel appreciated today until I got home.” “Rufus really loves me!”

Meditation 1: Body Scanscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-19-55-pm

Begin with a 45-minute body scan (see below).

Meditation 2: Mindful Breathing (See Below)

  1. Using a comfortable straight-backed chair, sit in an upright position (not slouching) to help, use a pillow to help you stay off the back of the chair. If you chose to sit on the floor or cross-legged, make sure you are supported by a soft surface (comfort so you avoid numb bum) and that you are elevated enough that your knees are lower than your hips.
  2. Once seated, you want an erect spine, and if in a chair, feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed.
  3. Gently close your eyes.
  4. Bring your attention to your body; the physical sensations of your body pressure where it makes contact, any tension, just like in the body scan.
  5. Now bring attention to your breath.
  6. Try to focus your awareness on the sensations in your lower abdomen as you breathe in and out (sometimes it helps if you place your hand on your belly).
  7. Try to follow your breath as you breathe in and out. Notice the changes and physical sensations and you breathe.
  8. You don’t need to try to control your breathing in any way, just let it happen.
  9. Sooner or later (probably sooner) your mind will wander. It OK! It happens and that’s what our minds do. It isn’t wrong or a mistake or a failure. It is an opportunity to refocus on your breath again. It ok it this keeps happening too. Just remind yourself to refocus and start again. Every breath is a new beginning.
  10. Continue this practice for 10 – 15 minutes (or more if you like). Remember that the intention is simply to be aware of your experience in each moment as best as you can. Use your breath as an anchor to reconnect you to the moment if your mind wanders.

Home Work:

  • Do the body scan 6x for week 2
  • Record what you notice each time you do the practice.
  • At different times during the week, practice 10-15 min of mindful breathing, 5-6x.
  • Activity 1 – Pleasant Events awareness
  • Choose a new routine activity to do mindfully (see description week 1).

Meditations:

www.guilford.com/MBCT_audio, track 4 (Requires creating a user account)

This site offers a ton really great resources that can be explored now or for future practice. You can find it HERE. The specific practice for this week is HERE it is a 6 minute breathing exercise.

Body Scan

Tips for the Body Scan

  • Regardless of what happens (you fall asleep, loose concentration, focus on the wrong body part) keep practicing.
  • If your mind wanders, just note the thoughts and bring your mind back to the scan or your breath.
  • Let go of success or failure, this isn’t a competition. Be open and allow it to happen.
  • Let go of expectations what the scan will do for you.
  • Approach your experience with non-judgment, curiosity and openness.
  • Your breath is an anchor.
  • Be aware, be non-striving, be in the moment, and accept things as they are.

What’s the Date Again?! & Mindfulness Revisit

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.01.48 AMAfter having survived stage 4 cancer for the last 9+ years, I could never have anticipated that during the course of that survivorship, I would encounter the plague – AKA Covid-19. So previously, I would have said that cancer changed everything, but that was only in the microcosm of my own life. With the onset of Covid-19 literally everything changed everywhere on a global level! Whole countries are shut down. Our governments and health agencies are asking us to practice social or physical distancing and heightened hygiene, including frequent hand washing and wearing home made masks. Employers are encouraging those who can, to work from home.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.45.25 AM
Unwashed hands are the path to the Dark Side. Unwashed hands lead to germs; germs lead to illness; illness leads to suffering. Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water *** 

Here in Canada, and more specifically, in Ontario where I live, we are going on 9 weeks of essentially a shelter in place unless you are a frontline worker or have an emergency. We are permitted to get groceries once a week and go to medical appointments, but that has pretty much been it. Just this week our provincial government had begun to ease the restrictions by allowing some businesses to open as long as they offer curb-side pick up. As for me, being immune-compromised and having lung cancer I have pretty much been home bound and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. 

I, like many find myself with an abundance of time on my hands. The goals I wanted before, even the ones I had worked so hard for, changed yet again. So, to try and instil some perspective and a little serenity now (especially when I’m panicking, which at the beginning of all this, was essentially all the time! Since, I didn’t survive cancer to be taken out by a virus!). Was to go back and practice mindfulness. In light of that, I also decided to repost the 8- week series I posted some time back.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.30.00 AM
*** Just incase you need a reference for 20 seconds : ) 

It was upon the recommendation of my psychologist, that I enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)* course. I was hesitant initially, because really who has time for an 8-week program?! But I did it, not once but twice. Now you may think MBSR is hokey and all kumbaya, but it’s one of the only meditation modalities being studied scientifically, and used in hospitals. It was hands down one of the best things I have ever done for myself and my mental health, which is why I’m going to do it again.

It isn’t for the feint of heart, because of the time commitment (8 Weeks + home practice), but I swear it is worth it. In the professionally led sessions, I would meet with a small group of stressed out – over worked – harried individuals each week and we would learn a specific practice or a few. Then we were tasked with homework. Typically it was an exercise in attention, some sort of meditation, and a very short “journal”. Initially it was a challenge fitting it in, but somehow if you are committed, you do find time.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.35.58 AM

The first time I learned MBSR was 10 years ago when I was transitioning back to work. Ican tell you that the skills I learned in those 8-weeks saved me a few times. Like the day they told me my cancer had come back, and that there wasn’t much they could do (at that time). Just before receiving the news, I had meditated while waiting for my oncologist, so I was calm and able to be rational and breathe. It allowed me to be clear headed and coherent enough to ask questions, Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.12.07 AMsomething I likely wouldn’t have been able to do had I been extremely emotional.

As with anything, you need to practice or your skills get rusty. I have to admit that over the years, my practice hasn’t been what it used to be and once again life got in the way, so I took the course again, this time as a very willing participant. I will tell you, my mental health has been better since. I won’t lie, I don’t practice everyday (although I should), but I use it when I need it.

I thought that if anyone out there was willing, I would start with this post, to “lead” a very rudimentary Mindfulness Group, by posting what each weeks lesson is, the practices and leave it up to you to try it out.

There is no right or wrong way, to do this. It is a personal practice about learning to notice, becoming aware, and taking a moment to breathe. If you are game, Week 1 Resources will be posted below. I’ll post follow-ups every Sunday for the next 7 weeks.

Be well, Stay hone, Stay safe.

AM

*In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded MBSR at the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-6-02-08-am

at the University of Massachusetts and nearly twenty years later the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. Both these institutions supported the growth and implementation of MBSR into research and hospitals worldwide.

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.

– Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn (2007)

 

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-5-57-05-am

Week 1 Mindfulness: Awareness & Automatic Pilot

  • When we are on Autopilot, we are more likely to become annoyed or have our “buttons pressed”.
  • Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, we can choose not to go down “the rabbit hole” or mental ruts.
  • The aim of MBSR is to increase awareness so that we have more choices when we respond to situations, rather than react automatically.
  • To achieve this, we practice becoming more aware of where our attention is and deliberately changing the focus over and over.

Activity 1: Raisins (or any small edible)

Take a raisin, or any small edible item. On a piece of paper, write down your immediate thoughts about that item. Next, use each sense to examine the item. Eyes, ears, fingers, mouth. Do each for a good minute. Now write down what you notice.

Meditation 1: Body Scan

Begin with a 45-minute body scan (see below). I suggest a quiet place where you can either sit or lay down. It’s ok if you fall asleep. I did.

Home Work:

  • Do the body scan 6x for week one
  • Record what you notice each time you do the practice.
  • Choose one routine activity (washing your face, brushing your teeth, lacing your shoe, etc.) and make it deliberate, just like the raisin activity.
  • Eat one meal mindfully (i.e. Like the raisin activity)

Meditations:

www.guilford.com/MBCT_audio (Requires creating a user account)

https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/

Suggestions/Tips:

  • Learning suggestions
  • Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothing (sweats or yoga-type clothing work well).
  • Use a mat or pad that you can lie on the floor with.
  • If the temperature varies the room you are using you might want to dress in layers.
  • Choose a quiet spot or time when others will not be interrupting.
  • Download meditations to an iPod or other listening device for easy listening.
  • Good Luck

 

Perspective

 

From above I am but a dot.

A shadow cast upon the beach.

Stretching as the sun sets.

In the ever expanding universe, a speck of humanity.

Yet here on Earth, I am.

I stand, toes in the sand and I am.

Soft warm waves caressing my legs.

They beckon me to enter the cleat blue waters, and I am.

The footsteps of strangers surround me and in my solitude, I am.

I watch as their presence is erased by the rippling tide.

Footsteps in the sand.

They were too.

 

Be well, Stay safe.

AM

Where I’m From

I am from hard work,

dirty hands and sawdust filled clothes.

I am from nine to five to make things work.

I am from conferences under the dining room table,

lace curtains sheltering our secrets.

I am from long days out in the sun,

don’t come home ’till the lights come on.

I am from imagination, inspiration.

From perspiration.

I am from the old country, first generation.

I am from dreams.

I am from North of 40, icy winters and humid summers.

From the city of 200 languages,

where mine is just one.

I am from old and new.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 11.15.27 PMFrom love and tears.

From hopes and fears.

I am from dreams.

Dark skies filled with stars.

I am from stardust.

 

Be well, Stay safe.

AM

Bloom

As days shorten bringing darkness, leaves fall to the ground.

Nights become long and cold. Darkness.

Darkness that seems to breed death and decomposition.

Fertile land ripe for life stifled under decaying leaves and frost.

Seemingly endless winter.

Then, life has a way of breaking through the ugliness of last year’s leaves, trodden thick on the ground.

How could anything survive the harsh frost of winter.

Cold, dark and hard.

Shaded from the warmth of the sun.

Time.

As always, days grow longer and the rays of the sun reach down to caress the ground.

Loosening winter’s cold fingers.

Melting snow into life.

Seeping into the ground, last year’s refuse, food for growth.

Ugliness turned into something beautiful.

One bloom breaking through the frosts of winter.

Vulnerable what ifs blossoming on trees.

Rebuilding.

Reforming.

Before you know, it is spring and things are green again.

Be well and stay safe.

AM

Sorry folks, Canada is Closed

It has been a ridiculously long time since I have posted. I’ve even debated taking the site down. I wanted to focus on life and made a conscious decision to step back from Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 5.16.13 PMadvocacy and the cancer community for my own mental health. One can run away from many things, however they cannot run away from themself. In the gap from my last post, a lot has happened. One of the biggest events was celebrating my 10 year cancerversary. It’s a bit crazy to think that I have lived with cancer for a quarter of my life! You can read a bit about my thoughts here. This year marked 11 years as of April 15th. It’s been so crazy that the day came and went without pause.

A great deal of 2019 was spent persuing a dream I have wanted for the good part of 20 years, something that was a desire long before cancer ever entered my life. I had been close once before, but the timing wasn’t right. So, armed with more life experience and burning desire, I set the wheels in motion for a big change. Initially, it was a pie in the sky idea that given the complexity of my situation seemed impossible. What is impossible anyway?

You’re probably wondering, what is this monumental life change?! I’ll tell you. I have always had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, ever since I was a kid, I joke that I might have been Japanese in a previous life, I mean who knows?! Anyway, when I graduated from university, I had planned to go there and teach English. I had job perspectives lined up and was ready to go, until my head betrayed my heart. You have to realize, these were the days before FaceTime and Skype, and I would have been very alone, I was fresh out of school and young. As adventurous as I was, I wasn’t ready for that kind of isolation, and it would have left my mom alone after losing my dad, so I began to doubt. Then it so happened that I landed a full time job. The last nail was in the coffin. I didn’t go. I blinked and life happened, so Japan was put on the back burner. After being diagnosed, I thought it was an impossibility, until it wasn’t. I literally have two regrets in my life, the first I can’t do anything about (thank you Euro), the second was Japan. So I decided to change that and fulfil my dream. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 5.23.28 PMI spent the better part of last year working to achieve this goal by learning Japanese (I’m still terrible!); convincing my oncologist that this was a good idea; finding a Japanese site for my clinical trial and arranging my medical care, and getting a teaching job to support myself while I was there. It was a huge mountain to climb, an almost Herculean task. Surprisingly, as time went on, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit into place. My oncology team (mainly my superstar nurse Nicole) got approval to include me in the Japanese branch of my clinical trial, I got a job, I was slowly learning how to read Japanese, my Visa was approved, and I was set to go there in March. I was looking forward to seeing the blossoms in the spring, Kyoto in the fall, Osaka for the food, oh man the food!

Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, the sand had slipped though my fingers again. I was so close! It was devastating having to turn the opportunity down. The teaching team in Nagoya, where I was to live had been so gracious and kind, they were even looking for apartments for me. Saying I couldn’t go was a knife in my heart. For weeks after, I was severely depressed. Then COVID really happened. They say in life, you don’t always get what you want. But, sometimes you might just get what you need. If I had gone, I likely would have been stuck there, so in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t go. It took a global pandemic to stop me, but you had better damn well believe, I will get there one day. 

That pretty much brings us to present day. Not a whole heck of a lot is happening, considering that the world is shut down. So, in typical Gemini fashion, I have been Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 5.45.46 PMkeeping myself occupied. Music has been my saviour, art has been an outlet, curiosity is being fed by learning new skills. I am painting, writing, learning not one, but two new instruments, and I’m still learning Japanese. I am setting new goals, like being able to play a Tool song on bass. It’s a heady goal, just listen to one of their songs and you’ll hear why. It also brings me back here. Life these days are as surreal as a Dali painting. I was thinking that Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 5.41.58 PMit’s almost as if the world has been diagnosed with cancer. I see so many parallels between this experience and the one I have lived through and with for the last 11 years. The isolation, anxiety, learning a “new normal”, being hypervigilant, being scared. But, I also see the good. Neighbours helping neighbours, parents spending time with their children, people cooking and learning to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, learning something new, pursuing hobbies that they couldn’t do before because there was no time. Now we have no excuses. All we have is time. How we choose to spend it now will shape how we live later. As someone who has experienced this awakening before, it is my hope that we come out of this better, as individuals, and as a whole.

I leave you with something I wrote as a reflection, I didn’t intend to share it, but it seems appropriate here.

Beneath the routines of life lie the eternal and temporal.

Forces that march on even when we are paused.

Time waits for no one, yet it is fleeting.

Wrapped up in the details of life we forget to live, and time ticks on.

Time waits for no one and soon time has passed on, grey and old.

We look back with regret.

We did not LIVE, life at work.

Slaving for money and the spoils, the shoulds and woulds of routine.

Did we spend our time well? Squandered on monotony.

Not invested with those we love and cherish, until it’s too late and they are lost.

Our time spent on frivolous things, grinding away.

Moments slipping by until they become years.

Yet, all we have are moments and memories, in time.

Stay home, stay safe. Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 5.40.47 PM

AM

Ontario’s Public Healthcare??

It’s been ages since I have posted, but fear not I am of good health (except for the flu…I’m better now!). Good health means I have been extremely busy in my personal life. I am writing today because I am seriously worried about what might happen to health care in the province I live in, Ontario.

Leaked documents have revealed the Ford government’s plan to open the door to the privatization of Ontario’s healthcare system. An expert with the Ontario Health Coalition says that the government’s plans “will undoubtedly compromise quality, safety and lead to two-tier health care.”

Send an urgent message to the PC government and local MPPs to demand that they protect public health care and scrap privatization plans.

https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLScipV_9ddSf7IBaef…/viewform

If you’re part of the young adult cancer community, or you want to support us, please take a moment to sign this petition in defence of public healthcare.

[1] Toronto City News – Leaked Documents

If signing this petition isn’t your cup of tea, please make your voice heard by contacting your local MPP.
Be well,
XO