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.

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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.

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*** 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

 

Let’s Talk Again Bell

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.19.03 AMWhen I started this Blog, it was really intended to be an outlet to express my life and with it was like living with a terminal illness, lumps and all. It is still that, but it has turned into so much more. Little did I know that a year ago on Bell Let’s Talk Day, a post I wrote the previous year talking about what it was like coming off of antidepressants would resonate so deeply. Deeply enough that it was picked up by WordPress’ Discovery team (a very awesome experience). I don’t know if this year’s post will be as profound or powerful, but I hope it touches someone out there and let’s them know they aren’t alone, and it’s ok to ask for help.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.13 AMThis year has been hands down the hardest year for me mental health wise. I have felt things that don’t seem like me. I have always been cheerful and tenacious, but since changing cancer medications, I have felt anything but. I wish I could just switch meds, but they ARE the thing that keeps me NED and cancer free(ish), so I can’t just stop, or change, I have to deal.

But it has been scary!

This year I have gone to some very dark places, had thoughts I never thought I’d have. I have to remind myself, that I am not these thoughts, and that tomorrow is a new day. Initially, these thoughts would casually pass through my consciousness very briefly, to float away. Then they would happen as I looked at my life saving medication and wondered why I take them? I mean what’s the point? I’m so tired of all this. Gulp. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.39 AMSwallow, down the meds go. The thoughts soon float away. I then found myself on occasions, especially when I was feeling particularly down or feeling sorry for myself questioning whether or not everyone would be better off without me? On very rare occasions I actually uttered these horrible thoughts, “I wish I were dead.” There it is. Dark. I am not my thoughts!

It took me a few times experiencing this downward spiral to realize that something was really wrong. I was in a crisis that I hid from everyone, even myself. Upon this revelation, I immediately called my psychiatrist. Even with counseling and antidepressants, the depression and darkness seeped through. It wasn’t until I read another blog responding to Chris Cornell’s suicide that I really even realized this wasn’t me and that my brain as the author put it, was sick. It took an increased dose of my antidepressants and more Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.26.02 AMfrequent counseling visits to vastly diminish the dark. I still feel down, but now I try to remember that tomorrow is a fresh start, I allow myself to feel whatever it is I need to feel, and then try to move on. I never give it a postal code. I won’t live there. I have too much to live for. Too much work to do. I love life too much, and I certainly didn’t go through all this to just throw-in the towel or bury my head in the sand.

For those who live in Canada, we have a wonderful initiative, sponsored by Bell Canada. It happens every year around this time and it raises both funds and awareness for mental health in Canada. Mental illness effects 1 in 3 Canadians, and yet it is still largely stigmatized. Bell Let’s Talk Day removes the stigma by allowing everyday Canadians to reach out and stand up, and is working to breakdown barriers faced by those who suffer from a mental illness. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.29.59 AMYou can help raise awareness and funds by simply sharing #BellLet’sTalk. By doing so, Bell will donate 5 cents every time it is Tweeted, texted, mentioned online, or when you use the bell network, so call, Tweet, text your hearts out for mental health.

Be Well XO

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please call 911 or

Distress Lines

Operated by various agencies.  When in need of someone to talk to. Open 24 hours a day (unless otherwise indicated).

Toronto Distress Centres (416) 408-4357 or 408-HELP

Gerstein Centre 416-929-5200

Telecare (Mandarin & Cantonese), 416-920-0497

Contact Centre Telecare Peel 905-459-7777, Languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese

Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-863-0511, Toll-free: 1-866-863-0511

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Warm Line, Progress Place 416-960-9276 or 416-960-WARM, every day from 8pm to 12 midnight

Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668-6868

Distress Centre Peel 905-278-7208

Durham Crisis Line 905-666-0483

Oakville Distress Centre – 905-849-4541

Click here for a comprehensive list of International resources

 

Pride…in the name of life

Today is Pride (at least was a few hours ago) and on a day where everyone is celebrating Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.57.39 AMcoming out of the closet, I have gone into mine for a long over due clean out. Both literally and metaphorically.

As I painfully try-on every stitch of clothing I have, I am coming to the realization that there is way too much I’m not wearing, way to much that doesn’t quite fit, and way too much that’s way too small and as I look at the piles that have formed on my bed I realize that I’ve been holding on to these things that don’t serve me and actually burden my life too hard. It dawns on me that when you hold on to something too tightly, there’s no space for anything else. This can be clothes or thoughts or identities.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.13.09 AMThis past year has probably been the hardest I’ve ever had. Harder than when I was diagnosed, harder than recurrence, harder than when my father was sick and dying, and even harder than all the years living through his alcoholism.

This year I have really struggled with my mental health. The following will likely come as a shock to many in my life who care very deeply for me and I want to assure you that I am in counseling and I am on medication, and would never ever actually hurt myself. I am also very sorry you are reading this rather than hearing it from me personally. Some things are impossible to say face to face and can seem easier to write it down, trust me its not. Up until this point I have hidden this admission from almost everyone, including myself.

My internal dialogue this year has been different than in the past. Lately I have asked myself many times “what am doing this for?” (as I take my trial meds) or tell Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.06.03 AMmyself “I just want to crawl under a rock and die” or “I wish I was dead”. Scary thoughts. Logically I do not want to die, I want to live. In fact I want to live in vivid colours, Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.31.55 AMopenly and honestly. Admitting to myself that these dark thoughts are happening is a start. It is the number one thing I will address with my psychiatrist, because I want to live.

So whatever the skeletons are, go into the closet and bring them out. Shine the brightest light on those demons and then let them go. Let them go so you can embrace life.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.01.25 AMTo all my friends celebrating Pride, have a great day and always be proud of who you are and what made you.

To all my friends celebrating Eid, may you have a blessed day.

AM

 

Surrogacy and the blues

Maybe it because my mood is like the weather today…fog clouds my mind and clouds fog my heart, while tears are on the verge of falling at any minute.

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Maybe it’s because I’m depressed…I’m switching my meds and on a clean out.

Maybe it just because I hate hearing people be flippant about something that is tragic and a privilege and someone like me and many others out there just can’t do.

I happened to be napping, and e-talk came on (usually I flip the channel) but I was half asleep until I heard the “news that Kim Kardashian is encountering fertility problems.” First, let me say I don’t know Kim or her health issues, and I normally would never judge anyone’s choices in whether or not they are or are not pursuing any or all health care options, but this bothered me. If her problems are real and not just fodder for a TV show, then I really feel badly for her, because I know what its like to have fertility issues and what its like to be told that you can’t or shouldn’t have a child.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.31.40 PMIt feels like a part of you had been ripped from you. It feels like you have to bury the most natural instinct you have. It makes you question your identity. It brings you to tears at the sight of children. You tell your brain that its better to not have any, and suppress the wonder of what it might have been like to parent. It feels even worse, but I honestly don’t have the right words to describe the feeling. So if it’s real, I get it.

The problem I have is the “I’ll just get a surrogate” solution. Because it’s so easy.Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.21.04 PM

Maybe for her it is. Well good for you!

For many of us, it’s not an option, at least a viable one. For one, it is incredibly difficult to find someone to do that for you. Think of the sacrifice! I mean they are going to carry a child for nine months and then just give it a way. It would take a very special human to do that for you.

Maybe you get really lucky and you can find a family member or even a complete stranger, the legalities of such a transaction are not so simple. So when someone just throws surrogacy out there as a solution or alternative to pregnancy for whatever reason, they either come from great privilege or great ignorance.

I know people who have had children through a surrogate, when it happens, it is a true gift and miracle in and of itself. These people have traversed the ups and downs and craziness of pregnancy to help families these families who otherwise could not have a child. They weren’t a quick fix that could be fixed with some money thrown at it. They were friends who knew how hard and how much these couples wanted a child. They knew these women couldn’t bear a child naturally because of previous cancer treatments, or those that were ongoing. They did it out of love. They were willing to sacrifice themselves, their own health, time and bond they had with that baby. Like I said, it takes a special person. Not everyone finds their angel.

Anyway I don’t want to ramble, but if you are like me, or if you are looking for help with fertility, I’ll post a few good links and call it a night.

AM

My Oncofertility.org – A patient education resource provided by the Oncofertility Consortium

Fertile Future – Fertile Future is a Canadian national non-profit organization that provides fertility preservation information and support services to cancer patients and oncology professionals.

LIVESTRONG – LIVESTRONG Fertility is dedicated to providing reproductive information, resources and financial support to survivors whose cancer and its treatment present risks to their fertility.

Living with intention…Week 8

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.50 AMHey folks we made it to week 8 in the meditation series and here we are at the end! It has been really wonderful to put this out there and to practice and re-fresh myself again, I truly hope it has helped you in some way.

Hopefully as a result of your dedicated learning and practice, you may have noticed some  changes in you since you began. If you haven’t, now might be a good time to ask yourself…have you noticed any changes since you began 8 weeks ago?

The changes may be different than you expected and they might not be monumental. They may include subtle shifts, like discovering that you don’t react as readily to stressful situations, maybe now you take a deep breath or two before you act or don’t act. Or maybe Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.54.44 AMyou’ve discovered that you are sometimes able to find space in the day to take a few minutes to yourself, or that you are a little more resilient in difficult situations, or that you’re just a little kinder to yourself. No matter what they were, pat yourself on the back, you made it.

Now the challenge will be to continue on practicing. It doesn’t have to be intense like these 8 weeks have been, it’s up to you to find your own way. There will always be a million things pulling you in all directions and getting in the way, its up to you to remind yourself to be mindful and do things intentionally.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned throughout my 7+ years of living with cancer is, there is no control. It is an illusion. I can control the weather as easily as I can control the things happening in my own body. That is to say, I can’t!

What I can control, and what you can control is how we choose to react (or not react). How you choose to live with meaning and intention. We can let our lives go by with notions of shoulds and wounds, but by doing that we miss life.

So live.Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.34 AM

AM

“When possible do just one thing at a time. Pay full attention to what you are doing. When the mind wanders, gently bring it back. Repeat step 3 several billion times. Investigate your distractions”
– Larry Rosenberg

 

Resources & Tips:Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.43.45 AM

See previous weeks 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

Tarabranch.com – Lots of goodness!

Dharmaseed.org – Pod Cast

Audio Dharma – Guided Meditations

Meditation Oasis – Podcast & Apps

Daily Mindfulness – Tips and suggestions

The Anger Process – AH FOWL

5-Step Pain Process

Soften Soothe Allow – Dealing w/ difficult situations

Tuning In – Tips on how to be a good listener.

Loving Kindness…Week 7

To say that this post is late is an understatement!!Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.21.05 PM

When I get writer’s block, I get writer’s block, and that’s exactly what happened…that then add a dash of perfectionism and you have a recipe for disaster!

I don’t know why I can’t quite get a coherent piece of writing done around this week’s topic, which is Loving Kindness and how best to care for yourself. I have written and re-written this post over and over, but it never really seems “right”.

I know I am my own worst critic and hold myself to a ridiculous standard that I wouldn’t normally hold for others, and I’m working on it. For me, it’s easier to recognize someone else’s pain and suffering than my own, and often when I do, I feel terrible and beat myself Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.24.33 PMup because, “There’s someone out there who’s worse off than I am, how dare I feel sorry for myself”. I have gotten better with that, but I am still hard on myself. This week’s practice is about evaluating and being mindful on how to be kind (not judging) towards yourself and how to best care for yourself in times of distress.

 

Some may say that this is selfish, but I’d ask you to read Five Myths to Self-Compassion, it is quite enlightening, I found it very informative and beneficial in dispelling my own myths. Another tool that helps is practicing the Loving Kindness Meditation.

Be Well,Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.26.04 PM

AM

Previous weeks posts. Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6

Activities

Nourishing v Depleting Activities

When trying to evaluate areas of our lives that may help us to care for ourselves, it may be beneficial to ask one of the following questions. (You can do this with an existing page in an agenda, or start fresh by making a list, or by just asking is this an N or a D.)

  1. Of the things that I do, what nourishes me or gives me pleasure, what increases my sense of actually being alive and present rather than just getting by? (Add an N next to those things on the list)
  2. Of the things I do, what drains me, what decreases my sense of being alive and present, what makes me feel like I’m just scraping by or feeling worse or drained? (Add a D next to those things on the list)

Accepting that there are some aspects of life that just can’t change, I am consciously choosing to increase the time and effort I give to nourishing (N) activities and decrease the time and effort I give to depleting (D) activities.

Action Plan 

  • Think about a time when you faced difficulty. What are some of the things that got you through the difficulties? What are things that would sooth you, activities that might nourish you, people who you might contact for support, small things you could do to help you get through?
  • Now write down suggestions to yourself for an action plan that you can use as a framework for coping the next time you are facing a tough time or if you are feeling depressed.
  • For example, a plan may look like…I know when I was depressed last month, I was able to call Mary for support, she talked with me and on another day she visited me too. I felt better after having a nice long bath, where I lay in the water and meditated for a few minutes. I also felt better after I went for a walk, I was really able to gather my thoughts after some fresh air. Making an appointment and speaking to Dr. Jones was really helpful too.
  • It can be helpful to remind yourself that what you need at times of difficulty is no different from what you learned and practiced  in the past few weeks or in other Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.23.33 PMtimes of difficulty.

Using The Breathing Space

Meditations

Loving Kindness

Home Work

  • On days 1, 3, 5 practice Loving Kindness Meditation.
  • On days 2, 4, 6 practice any of the meditations we have covered in the previous six weeks.
  • Choose one of the following activities to do: Nourishing v Depleting Activities, Action Plan, or Using the Breathing Space

New Resources

Self-Compassion.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 6…Kintsugi – Recognizing the Beauty in Broken Things

Last week was hard!screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-29-19-pm

I am still sweeping up pieces of myself and putting them back together.

I have been broken before, so I know I’ll be ok.

Stronger.

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-4-39-17-pmKintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery, and its philosophy is rather beautiful. It recognises the beauty and value in broken things (more specifically pottery) and speaks to the breakage and repair of objects becoming the history of something, rather than the disuse of it. Potters often repair objects with resins mixed with gold or silver, making no attempts to hide cracks, but to highlight them and make pieces more beautiful and interesting. Here we tend to throw them out. I prefer the Japanese way.

A few years ago at a conference workshop on journalling we were asked to quickly write a response to the idea of Kintsugi. I wrote something and really never shared it, but in light of recent challenges and losses, I am using it to find strength again. I share it with you, its my story in a nutshell.

The fallout is far worse than the sickness. Once treatment is finished, the shell-shocked ruin of a person emerges from the fog. Every emotion and sense of fear comes pouring forth from me.

The problem was I couldn’t share these thoughts and emotions because if people really knew how wrecked I was, how terrified I was, they too may begin to crumble.

I wanted desperately to put back the pieces of my ruined life, to mend them and be the person I had been. The trouble was that person was gone.

I was paralyzed by fear. Terrified that once I managed to fix my life and myself, it would all crumble  to dust and there I’d be again, cancerous.

Somehow I tried my old life back on for size, but it didn’t fit. Like a shoe that was two sizes too small, it was uncomfortable and gave me blisters, but I put my brave face on and carried on. I had “successfully” taped my bowl back together.

Even though it leaked and looked like something Homer Simpson might make, it was together. Then it fell and shattered again.

More pieces strewn about, more pieces to pick up. How would I survive? Recurrence is a bitch.

Faced with few tangible options I decided to forgo trying to fix myself again. Instead I chose to live and love and be happy. I knew the bowl could never look the same, it had been too “damaged” and broken.

I chose to accept it, scars and all. I gave up the mask of bravery and allowed myself to be raw and vulnerable. To share that vulnerability with those around me. In doing so, I slowly turned that ugly shell of a person into something stronger and far more beautiful.

Each crack like a work of art, a work of love, a work of life.

MBSR like Kintsugi is about accepting things as they are.

Week Six of MBSR focuses on two ideas that are designed to help us strengthen our minds to be able to do this: Thoughts are not Facts andMindful Communication

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-35-02-pmSo often how we think and communicate can be a point of stress. By becoming aware over and over again how (in meditation) our thoughts can effect us, we can recognize them, let them go and return our focus to our breath. With time and practice we can gain some distance and perspective on our thoughts allowing us to see that there may be other ways to look at or think about situations, breaking us free from old patterns. Thoughts are only mental events, they are not facts. We certainly are nt our thoughts.

Communication patterns can also be problematic or a source of tension for many of us. One of the reasons communication can break down is that many of us focus on or project the hope that someone else will give us what we want – attention, validation, understanding or approval. What this does, is put pressure on the other person, and sometimes backs them into a corner. Often when we feel pressured, we shut down rather than open up. When that screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-35-45-pmhappens during a conversation, often communication breaks down because a person can feel threatened, resentful, and not heard. In MBSR we are learning to focus in on ourself and our behaviour rather than those of others. We tune into our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations so that we can read them. By being aware  of these things, we gain a better sense of perspective and balance and can then focus on communicating our need rather than projecting them.

These ideas can be hard to learn and sometimes even more challenging to practice, because the ask us to really examine ourselves and ask us to be accountable to ourselves. However, once you do learn these lessons, you will find your perspective changing. You may even be able to let go.

Be well,

AM

 

Activities:screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-34-07-pm

 

Meditations:

Mountain Meditation

Mindfulness of Breath (Track 4)

Bells at 5 Minutes, 10 Minutes, 15 Minutes, 20 Minutes, and 30 Minutes (Track 13)

3 -Minute Breathing Space (Responsive) Track 9

Home Work

 

*Ways You Can See Your Thoughts Differently – Here are a few things you can do with your thoughts, either in meditation or in your daily life.screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-55-26-pm

  • Just watch them come in and leave, like a waves, without feeling like you have to follow them.
  • See if it’s possible to notice any feelings that give rise to the thoughts. Sometimes the context can be a link in a chain of events.
  • Think of thoughts as mental events rather than facts.
  • Write your thoughts down on paper. This lets you see them in a way that is less emotional and overwhelming. It can also give you time to pause and give you a moment to respond differently.

Previous weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness…Week 5

I’m melancholy today.screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-25-02-pm

It’s one of those days where I wish I could unzip my skin and I could become someone else. Just for today. I can’t so I just want to hide. Crawl under my covers, or be like a cat and shelter under the bed.

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-33-53-pmI want to scream, but if I open my mouth to talk, I feel so fragile right now, I’m afraid I’ll break into pieces, and I just don’t have the strength today to put myself back together. So I’m writing.

I’m trying really hard to drag myself out of the swamp of feelings I have. screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-38-11-pmSorrow for children who have lost their mothers, husbands who have lost their wives, families who will have an empty seat at their tables. I think about how one day that will be my people, who will feel this for me. It is gutting.

Today the reflection in the mirror is hard to look at. It shows reality. A reality where 4 pills a day keep me alive. A reality where I wonder why I got so lucky, when others stronger, younger, better than me aren’t. A reality where the knife’s edge I dance on is clear and present. A reality where the clock is ticking and time is running out. It’s a hard reality.

I know the only way to get through today is one foot in front of the other.

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-40-37-pmTomorrow I will try to let go.

This is a really crappy way of segueing into the MBSR Week 5, and I swear I’m not making up the theme: Allowing and Letting Be. (Irony?!)

I suppose this is why MBSR can be so helpful. It teaches us and sometimes deliberately forces us to examine and really be present in aspects of our lives that are hard. It also teaches us that it’s okay if we experience hardships, anxiety, loss, or stress. These things are part of life. What it is designed to do is help and encourage us to look at these things with non-judgment and kindness towards ourselves and others.

This is the lesson I find hardest. Guilt is a nasty beast and today I have a bad case of survivor’s guilt. I’m having a hard time with not judging and treating myself with kindness. It’s easier to wallow if I beat myself up or tell myself I shouldn’t allow myself to feel badly. It’s easier to mourn them than it is to mourn me.

Tomorrow I’ll do better. For them. For me.

AM

 

MBSR Weeks 1, 2, 3, and 4.

 

Meditations

Working with Difficulty (Track 12)

3-Minute Breathing Space (Regular – Track 8)

3-Minure Breathing Space (Responsive – Track 9)

Bells only at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 min

 

Homework

  • On days 1, 3, 5 practice Working with Difficulty track 12.
  • On days 2, 4, 6 practice sitting in silence for 20 to 30 min using Bells only.
  • Everyday practice the 3-minute breathing space track 8
  • As an unofficial practice, use 3- minute breathing space responsive track 9 for anytime you notice unpleasant feelings (tension, stress, anxiety).

Streeeesssss….Week 4

No one likes things that suck, but sadly they are part of our lives. The suckiness of something can range in variety and gravity, but sucks none-the-less.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-53-39-pmI know there have been many times in my life where things seemed overwhelming or the crushing sensation of stress and anxiety made it seem like I could never climb out of the hole. In the past. I would have likely handled those feelings by drowning them in retail therapy, alcohol and escapism. I’d like to think I’m a bit more self-aware now, but stress has a way of sneaking up on you.

So what so we do when we encounter a crap fest or, as it’s also known stress.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-51-49-pm

Typically we try to avoid it in one of four ways.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-52-32-pm

  1. Spacing out – we go somewhere else in our heads or we switch off.
  2. Hold on to it – we don’t allow ourselves to let go of the sucky experience or we wish that we weren’t having a crappy experience at all.
  3. Wanting it to go away – we want to get rid of the experience or we avoid future events we don’t want to deal with.
  4. Anger – we emote negative feelings, frustration and avoid future situations.

The reality is, we can’t avoid all the bad things. Eventually, we need to learn how to deal with them in a productive way or else they compound and cause us undue harm. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our experiences both positive and negative so we can be less reactive and less stressed out.

The father of stress, Hans Selye defined stress as – The body’s nonspecific response to any demand whether caused by or resulting in peasant or unpleasant stimuli.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-57-24-pmIn nature, the stress response is designed to protect animals (humans included) from danger. It’s called the fight, flight or freeze response. Great for bunnies being chased by foxes, not so good for our hectic lives. The problem is, when we are constantly “under stress” and I don’t mean our lives are being threatened by a bear or an axe-wielding maniac, but the ongoing everyday work, life, kids, health, …whatever cycle. Then these stresses compound on us and our health can suffer.

That’s where mindfulness can help us.

This week, I’ll introduce the 1 Minute Breathing Space or (S.T.O.P).

This handy little acronym can help us when we are starting to spin out of control or really feeling the heat.

S = Stop and pause what you are thinking and doing.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-55-10-pm

T = Take a breath. Be mindful and take a slow deep breath.

O = Observe or notice what’s actually happening with you. Are you having thoughts or judgments, emotions? Is there tension anywhere? Is your heart beating fast? Are you breathing quickly?

P = Proceed with awareness and kindness towards yourself and others.

Easy? No! Believe me when I say I use this ALL the time!!

This week marks our halfway point and I am curious to know how people are doing. How did the Adverse Events Activity go? What challenges are you finding? What successes have you discovered? What’s getting in the way of practice? Anything else you are noticing?

I’d love to hear how you are finding this!

Before I post this weeks homework, I have a request. – Lung Cancer Canada is looking for B-Raf oncogene positive lung cancer patients who have taken either Tafinlar® (dabrafenib) or Mekinist® (trametinib), or a combination of both to contact them. If possible, I ask you my lovely readers to please share this message through your social media channels. This particular mutation is incredibly rare and we can really use your help reaching patients.

My sincerest thanks.

AM

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom         -Viktor E. Frankl

Previous weeks activities and practice can be found here (1, 2, 3).

Home Work:

  • Practice at least six times this week, alternating Mindful Yoga 2 (or mindful walking) with the Sitting Meditation. Try not to expect anything from doing these. In fact, give up all expectations about it. Just let your experience be your experience.
  • Everyday: Practice using the 3-Minute Breathing Space, three times or at least once daily at pre-determined time. (I love this one, and use it all the time!) In addition complete the Unpleasant Events Journal.
  • Anytime you need it, practice the 1-Minute Breathing Space (STOP).

Meditationsscreen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-51-34-pm

Hatha Yoga 2

3-Minute Breathing Space

Mindful Walking

Mindful Breathing (Sitting Meditation)

All other practices are optional. Happy Practice.