Embrace Life: An Appreciative Approach to Health Challenges
Choosing Your Preferred Life
Most people tend to understand their lives as ruled more by happenstance than by choice. It is as if your world is something that you were randomly dropped into and you therefore need to simply react to and manage as circumstances unfold. This belief results in people either being swept along by whatever happens to arise in their consciousness or get triggered by something outside.
If you live by this belief then your experience of life would be that life happens to you rather than you being able to choose your participation and role in the creative process of shaping your world.
Not many of us see life and circumstances as something that they constantly participate in actively co-creating with others. Shaping your world is a creative co-evolutionary process in which you actively participate. Your experience of your personal narrative is formed by the way that you give meaning to, interpret and emotionally respond to what arises in your awareness from moment to moment. Your experience is shaped by your responses that create your inner landscape. Your inner landscape influences your perception of and responses to the landscape of outer reality.
This reality can be seen very dramatically in the way that some people respond to illness especially when it is potentially life-threatening. If you think of the typical language that people use to describe the presence of the illness in their lives .There are metaphors that imply prognosis like malignant or terminal, or that gives power to the illness like being struck by a condition, being a victim of a condition, “falling ill”. The presence of a very serious illness seems to lead people to conclude that death from the illness is inevitable. This is an unfortunate error. I offer you the idea that illness and death are separate entities. People can be ill their whole lives and die at a very old age and people can die without being ill at all. Life and death are an inevitable sequence. Illness and death are not always an inevitable sequence.
When you embrace this idea you will easily grasp the idea that healing yourself begins when you fully and whole heartedly appreciate and embrace your experience, your humanity and your life. The overriding challenge is not to deal with illness or the prospect of dying but really the prospect of living – living appreciatively and whole heartedly embracing life to the fullest.
When you embrace life to the fullest, you create ecology that affirms and supports well-being, health and vitality. In this ecology anything that undermines those features would be unwelcome. The appearance of something that is unwelcome in an ecology, let’s say for example, rats on a farm, is an indication that something essential to the health of the system is missing. When the ecology is in balance, then only healthy, positive vitality and life-giving energy thrive in that world. So you need to look at your life as an ecology and think about creating a life where only good will survive and every other aspect of life that is not to your benefit would be unwelcome.
An essential part of creating the ecology of mind is also getting rid of unfinished business. Unfinished business means anything that is unfinished from the past. This can be grudges. It can be unfinished tasks. It can be relationships that have broken down and never been healed. It can be feelings that you’ve never allowed yourself to fully experience and process. For example, feelings of grief from earlier parts of your life or feelings of resentment.
Examine your past and discover if there is any resentment or guilt, anger or recrimination, regret or bitterness, inflexibility or stubbornness that you have been harbouring. Examine your future and see if there is anything that you fear or feel unworthy of having. You need to free yourself from unfinished business and in so doing reclaim your well being.
Anything that you refuse to let go of, whether you are conscious of it or not, causes you internal stress and distress. Whatever negative feelings and whatever unfinished business you have, whatever grievances in past relationships or regrets about past history you have, you need to resolve and let go of those. Because in the sense that is like getting rid of the psychological and the spiritual toxins inside you, which obviously will help your immune system and your body to be stronger because you won’t be losing energy with all that negative psychological stuff pulling you back.
Metaphorically speaking, emotions are really like energies passing through a conduit and when you resist them or you avoid them or you don’t experience them fully at the time that they occur, then they remain with you and they become like blocked energy. Discomfort of any kind could be described as the experience of your own resistance to sensation or circumstances. When you experience emotions fully, when you allow yourself to embrace whatever feelings go through you, the way you do, for instance, with joy, then it passes through and it’s gone. And that’s why, for instance, it will be much more difficult to re-experience a feeling like ecstasy on demand than to experience something like hurt on demand. Because a lot of our hurts remain with us whereas the feelings that we’ve embraced and really, fully experienced when they’ve been around pass through us and leave us.
All the unfinished conversations, unfinished relationships, issues that you hold on to from the past create, in a sense, an underground world in your mind that keeps on going, draining energy from the present and keeping that energy stuck in the past, standing in the way of you being fully conscious and fully open in the moment.
Another reason why unfinished business drains energy is because often we have to use energy to suppress or block or avoid unfinished issues coming up for us and that also drains our psychic energy.
Letting go of unfinished business may mean forgiving yourself and, when necessary, forgiving others for issues that are now past. Forgiving oneself and forgiving others may entail making amends to people who have maybe harmed you or allowing people who you’ve harmed to let you know where you need to make amends. Forgiveness helps you to let go of the resentment, the obsessive draining inner-commentary, the energy that goes into remembering grudges and keeping distance in relationships that have been a source of disappointment or pain. Remember that guarding someone’s prison cell keeps you just as imprisoned, albeit on the outside of the door.
When we dwell on the past, when we carry issues from the past, we create a process that is like making yoghurt or sour dough bread where we take fermented issues from the past, we introduce them into the fresh present and we ferment the present, thereby constantly, in a sense, contaminating the present with the past. And so when you let go of the past, you experience every moment as a new moment and you’re able to use your full energy and attention for the present. Life needs to be lived forward.
Letting-go of the past may also mean grieving losses, losses of potential that you thought that you should have fulfilled in that past and the loss of what you had hoped your life was going to be in the future. The path to growth is really a path that is paved with relinquishment, with letting go. And to the extent that you’re able to let go of the past and grieve losses of the past and leave them in the past, that is the extent to which you’re fully able to embrace and be open and bring your full attention into the present.
Tools to Deal with Unfinished Business
The best tools for resolving and letting go of unfinished business are faith, trust, forgiveness and compassion.
Faith allows you to see that the circumstances and people that caused you pain were gifts. Every situation and circumstance is given to you as an opportunity to draw on your talents, wisdom, resources and strengths of character to become more fully the best person that you are capable of being.
Illness is a breach in the integrity of your physical, emotional and spiritual integrity being. Deepening your trust in the Source of your life re-connects you to wholeness and the tangible experience of being at one with the ultimate Source of life and with Wholeness. This creates within you the sense of being a vessel open and available in perfect trust to receive healing. It also allows you to surrender in confidence and peace that no real bad can happen to you because you are not separate from the Creator of everything that happens in life.
Free from attachment to an inner demand or expectation of a particular outcome, you can relax into your life and embrace the experience with its sensations, twists and turns as part of a process guided by a Loving Source to guide you to the full actualisation of your psychological and spiritual potential. This also takes away your fear, because fear can only come about where there exists a separation between and the Ultimate Source of your existence.
Compassion helps you to recognise how you and the other people in your life are often trapped by self-limiting beliefs caused by desire, fears or fixed beliefs about who you are and what you deserve from life and more particularly from other people. Compassion helps you to see your own and the pain of others trapped in the trances of these painful illusions. The key to compassion is to deeply wish that you, them and all of humanity suffering from the same condition can be freed and discover the source of true happiness and wholeness which is the intimate bond and sense of connection to the Transcendent and All-inclusive Reality that placed you in this life to discover the profound peace and happiness of perfection and to partner in fostering more perfection on Creation.
Embodied in each of life’s challenges is an invitation to discover and draw deeply upon your spiritual and psychological resources and capacities. Through embracing this challenge, you strengthen your inner-mettle and grow yourself bigger as a person. In order to draw deeply on your inner resources you need to get to understand yourself and your life more profoundly. Getting bigger and deeper is an appreciative process, where you get to understand and value yourself and life more profoundly, and in doing so feel richer, more complete and ennobled by the experience.
Hosting Your Ecology
You need to look at yourself as the host in your own life ecology. This ecology is the ecology of mind, body and spirit. It is ecology of both your inner and external world. Is every element of you ecology invited and welcome, or have some vagrant thoughts and ideas, destructive people and habits taken residence in your inner and outer worlds in ways that cause you harm. Who are the gods that you have chosen to worship and serve. Do they give you what you want or do they only pretend to serve you while really enslaving you by capturing your mental, physical and emotional resources into their own service. Do the sacrifices of time, energy, thought, relationships and other resources justify the returns? Do they make you less lonely, more fulfilled, feeling more valued and worthwhile? Are you serving and making sacrifices for that which will make you feel accomplished, engaged and leave you with a sense of your existence having been profoundly worthwhile?
Upgrade Your Life
In order to create this ecology of mind, body and spirit, you need to think about how you can upgrade your life in all of those areas. To create a healthy ecology for your body you need to focus on what you need to do in order to keep your immune system well supported and energy levels maximised. You need to commit to only putting healthy nutritious things into your body in order to support the healing of your cells. For the ecology of your mind you need to ensure that your thoughts and your visualisations and the metaphors that you use to describe your life support this new ecology. Ecology of spirit becomes enlivened and healthy when you connect with your transcendent values, with your ideals in life, with deeper meanings that sustain you, that give you hope, that connect you with the Eternal.
Commit to Joy
A vital aspect of creating this ecology of mind and spirit is to keep joy alive, to make a conscious effort to surround yourself with joy and to keep joy in your life. Part of that – it’s been suggested by many writers – is to actually bring humour into your life and use humour to increase your joy. One of the writers who spoke about this very eloquently was Norman Cousins whose books you may want to read.
Keeping joy in your life also means that you need to try and distance yourself from people who detract from your joy, people who drain your energy or make demands on you that undermine your spirit. Creating this positive ecology also therefore means creating the ecology of people around you who support the kind of life that you want to live, the kind of joy and the kind of meaning and atmosphere that you want to have in your life. The ultimate and enduring joy arises out of a sense of you and your life with all its challenges and imperfections being complete and whole in the sense that you embrace the full package that you have been blessed with as having being given to you for your own good in order to allow you the possibility to create your ultimate perfection and goodness.
Reflect and Connect
In order to keep this ecology flourishing, you need to make time in your life to reflect and to connect with your truth. You need to be able to process issues from the past, issues from the present that need to be resolved and relinquished. When you do not take time to reflect, then unfinished business accumulates without you even aware of it. It’s also important to have time to reflect in order to connect with your higher ideals and beliefs. Deepen also your commitment to your highest values, intuition, inspiration and wisdom.
Anyone who describes their illness in ways that imply a prognosis needs to start by renaming their illness. The reason for this is that when you speak to yourself you are in a sense conditioning your mind. The way you think about, visualise your life and the way you converse with yourself is really a form of self-hypnosis. You need to be very careful about the kind of stories, language, metaphors and pictures that you create in your imagination about your life. The pictures that you create, the way in which you speak to yourself and describe your life actually shapes your world. What you shape in the mental realm can manifest in the physical sense. The way that you for instance, shape plans or visualise playing any sport, or musical instrument, using a tool or some action that we want to take and then we manifest it in its physical form and our body, our muscles and every part of us respond in a way that lives out what we’ve created in our minds. Thinking and imagination need to be carefully managed in ways that promote well-being and preferred outcomes rather than the opposite.
Telling Your Story
On a very practical level, in speaking about your illness, it’s very important not to get into drawn out conversations as people often like to do about the illness, about the tests, about the test results, about the process that the illness is going through, about what the doctors or the healers think because these kinds of conversations focus your energy, attention and investment in the illness rather than focusing your energy, investment and intention on what will promote health, what will promote vitality and what will allow you to hold on to hope which is the most important. When people want to discuss the illness with you, it’s important rather to ask them to give you encouragement and support and to engage with you in hopeful encouraging conversations rather than in discussions about illness.
When people have an illness, they very often start to live from test result to test result, from treatment to treatment, from doctor’s opinion to doctor’s opinion, and this really is like putting your life on the stock market. When the stocks are up, you’re happy, and when the stocks are down, you’re despondent. You need to step back and rather keep your eye on the future, keep your eye on hope and trust the process rather than being fixed on the outcome. When you’re in a process, just as if you were investing on the stock market, you know that it’s a long term investment and what happens in the short term on a daily or weekly or even monthly basis is not really that important because your investment, your intention is towards a positive outcome in the future. When you are constantly measuring what happens on a daily basis to an outcome that you’re intent on, you set yourself up for fear, for despair and for losing hope. This could be very distractive in trying to create this health and vitality supporting ecology.
It’s important to work on your faith and trust in life, in yourself, in your ability to heal and in the process of your life. This is part of the challenge in being confronted with an illness. Part of the invitation of the illness is to look at your life and to look at this experience as a chance to derive more enrichment from life to squeeze more joy out of life and to put more value into life.
Think about how what you’re going through has exposed you to experiences, to people, to places that you would never have encountered had it not been for this illness. When you think about the process of this illness and how it has taken you to incredible places in your life, you will build up your faith and to realise that good is emerging out of this process.
As you start to make those realisations, catalogue your wisdom. Start taking stock of everything that you’re learning, of everything that is being brought out of you in terms of insight and wisdom and awareness that you would never have achieved without this illness and start to think how you would like to pass that on, what you would like others to know, how you could contribute to your family, to your community, to the world, by passing on this knowledge that you have gleaned through this unique experience. Keep yourself focused on the present. Keep your attention firmly rooted in the present. When you think about the future and the “what ifs”, you open yourself to fear. Fear can really stand in the way of you creating this ecology supporting wellbeing, good health and vitality.
You need to support this ecology that you’re creating through the kind of language that you use, the conversations in which you engage. You also need to be very mindful about the metaphors that you use and the pictures that you create in your mind about your life. In fact, there are many techniques of visualisation that allow you or teach you how to proactively program your mind to create this ecology of good health. These visualisation techniques you can find in many books written by authors like Bernie Segal or the Simontons.
Giving and Receiving
The key to creating a sound ecology of life, of spirit, is to open your heart, to open your heart to giving and receiving love. Opening your heart to giving and receiving love involves in part cultivating a view of yourself and others seen through the lens of love. Part of experiencing that is inherent in the world is to go out and open yourself to the beauty of nature, to all the sources of joy that are provided for us in our daily life through, for instance, through enjoying nature, through enjoying music, through enjoying poetry, through anything that inspires and uplifts us, through anything that connects us with transcendental values and with our higher self. So keeping this ecology healthy means keeping yourself inspired, keeping connected to sources of love in the world.
To start thinking of your life as a legacy and that each moment that you touch someone’s heart in a loving way regardless of how small, that puts more love into the world which creates a ripple effect. You know, Einstein said that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed and when you put loving energy in the world, that energy stays in the world and continues to assist in healing the world. Sometimes small acts of loving kindness can have far greater ripple effects than some acts that people do with draw a lot of public attention but then are forgotten within days.
Opening to Growth
Opening yourself to growth means allowing yourself to be affected by others, being open to waking up, being inspired and shown where your blind spots and short comings are. Opening yourself with a loving heart means opening yourself to being deeply touched by and touching other people in loving ways every moment of your life. It’s a challenge to realise that the significance of our lives is not measured in our length of days. There are many people that live very long lives and are like cows grazing in the field. They just take from the world and really contribute nothing and their life has very little meaning. There are people that live a very short time and they change the world in their short lifetimes. So the focus needs to be not on the length of our lives but on the significance of our lives. Really, every time you touch someone, every time you give love to the world, you’re adding to the significance of your life.
It is not true that illnesses have a simple, single linear cause, like an attitude, belief or life event. A person is a complex being with genetic predispositions, social and environmental and many other influences. It is not constructive to try to seek to find a target to blame, least of all yourself. Do not buy in to any beliefs or theories that you chose or created your illness. These ideas imply that by you changing that spiritual or psychological cause or by having sufficient faith alone can get rid of your illness. The accusation that not getting physically healed is a sign of imperfect faith is not fair or true. These are cruel disempowering and de-humanising beliefs that encourage self-hatred, inadequacy and guilt.
While pretending to be spiritual beliefs by using the word faith, they are just the opposite. True spirituality by definition is based upon the recognition that you are not ultimately in control of everything that happens to you. What you are in control of is your response to what happens. This article is about bringing out the potential of your emotional and spiritual capacities as a faith based response to illness.
Especially in the case of chronic or recurrent illness, it is important not to think of yourself as fighting the illness. This is because the illness resides in the body. Your body is the physical embodiment of you; the illness has in a sense also become part of you, albeit an unwelcome part. If you reject and go into combat with the illness, if you go to war, in a sense, against the illness, you are in a way creating a war within yourself. When you attack part of yourself you undermine your own spirit.
The battle that you need to wage is the fight to win back your wellbeing. This takes a fighting spirit, determination and most importantly the maintenance of hope.
It is important rather to see the problem as an invitation, as a teacher with a message that you have to engage deeply with life; live fully by creating an ecology that will support well-being, vitality and health.
Relationship to Pain
It is very important also to embark on a more self-loving way of life. Use pain as a signal. It reminds you that you have to take care of yourself, that you have to go easy on yourself that you have to engage in a more constructive, loving, encouraging and affirming internal dialogue. This includes the way you live, the way you eat, rest, pace yourself , exercise, follow doctors’ advice and avoid the triggers that cause you stress. Because very often stress brings on acute attacks of pain. And so you need to identify what the triggers are that causes you distress and try to avoid those triggers. These triggers may be people who you have previously indulged or taken the line of least resistance with at your own expense or indulged to your own detriment.
It is also important when struggling with pain, to get rid of any emotional issues that cause you discomfort or distress because very often stress is a trigger or can be an exacerbating factor in pain.
Relationship to Doctors
It is important to actively and pro-actively participate in your treatment process and healing. You need to make informed choices, explore treatment options and what alternatives could work for you.
At the same time, it is important to choose a doctor that you trust and then trust your doctor.
To find the balance it is important to explore without second guessing or undermining the doctor. The doctor is also a human being and subject to emotional insult. The doctor also needs to keep engaged, motivated and committed to your care. For this the doctor like any human being needs appreciation, respect and encouragement. If you give the doctor a message that you are sceptical or in doubt about your doctor’s judgment or approach, the doctor could lose heart, disengage or even become resentful. The result of any of these feelings can lead on the doctors part to passive aggression, rigidity, resentment, forgetfulness or defensiveness all which stand in the way of both objective and intuitive medical judgment.
What I’m suggesting to you in a nutshell is that you start to live in a way that allows you to fully enjoy being you, that allows you to create a legacy in which you share to the maximum all the gifts of who you are with the world and in that way, have a sense of your life as being significant and meaningful and adding value to the world whatever process it’s going to follow……………..
Dedicated to the memory of my father Dr Dennis Carr