Wednesday, August 26, 2009
You may remember the 70’s ad campaign for the Un-Cola: It touted the praises of a soft drink made from “rather larger”, “prettier”, “juicier” UNcola nuts (lemon and lime); superior to those other drinks made with the lowly cola nut.* That drink of course is 7-Up, and those uncola ads kicked off what Time magazine would years later call “The Uncola Wars”.
A similar comparison can be made in our language of healing as it relates to chronic illness. Through the language we choose, we sow either healing or unhealing seeds: The fruit of each are diametrical opposites with regard to the consequences to our health and wellness. One serves us; the other limits us. One can empower us; the other, dis-empowers. One is a reasonable use of language; the other, results in language Alfred Korbzybski (the founder of General Semantics) called “unsane”.
This article briefly addresses one extremely powerful, root source of unsane and unhealing language. It is a pervasive misuse of language common in our culture from early childhood; and it is misapplied by doctors, nurses, parents, and likely even you! In my clinical experience, it is a prominent feature in the talk of virtually every client facing chronic illness with whom I have worked.
It is so outside our conscious awareness and so habituated, we don’t even realize what we are saying when we express it. Yet, like a virus, it creeps into our lives and quietly takes over our perceptions, our experiences, and finally, our identity. We then go about spreading it on to others.
What is this language virus? It is a habituated misuse that occurs as we share symptom experiences – both when talking with others and, significantly, during self-talk. Consider:
Upon awakening one day, you realize you feel different than usual; maybe experiencing a bit of a sore, scratchy throat and a cough. While preparing for the day, you notice a dull, achy feeling throughout: You grab the thermometer, and sure enough, you are experiencing a low grade fever. Additionally, you notice a twinge of nausea. Then, you recall having seen a news article about an increase in swine flu in the region, and you decide to contact your family physician for an appointment.
Remember what you are experiencing includes sore throat, coughing, fever, nausea, and aches. Yet, at the doctor’s office, you are queried (not about what you experience), but about “your” cough, “your” temperature, “your” aches. In short order, you leave with “your” diagnosis to go get “your” prescription. And so, so subtly, you have gone from a person experiencing symptoms to a patient who owns symptoms.
Yeah, so what?
Korbzybski clarified how you and I talk about experiences is an abstraction, and distinct from experience. To experience all the symptoms described above is simply not the same as “having” the flu: Another person may experience sneezing, runny nose, headache, yet they too are said to “have” the flu – two widely distinct experiences, same language (and possessive language at that). Flu then is a limited abstraction of unique experiences – none of which we possess.
Furthermore, Korbzybski cogently noted, if the experience of symptoms is considered the actual territory, then the words we use to describe those experiences make up nothing more than a map of that territory. Succinctly, Korbzybski spelled out “the map is not the territory”!
Confusing the language we use (the map) with the actual experience (the territory) is just the beginning of sowing unhealing. Even more problematic, is what Korbzybski identified as “unsanity”: This occurs when we go beyond simply confusing language with experience, to actually misidentifying-with the map that represents those experiences. It occurs in a 4-step process:
1. A rich felt-experience becomes a boxed-in, black-white (and often judgmental) label about experience, which
2. We mistake for the experience (e.g., symptom experiences become “flu”);
3. We then begin to talk about that label as “mine”(i.e., “my flu”); and
4. Once possessed, we almost automatically misidentify who I am with what we possess (i.e., I am . . . ) – just think about the billions of dollars spent each year on ad campaigns helping you to better identify-with that which you are encouraged to buy!
In short, you no longer experience flu symptoms: You have flu. You own it. It is now yours! Indeed, you are flu-ish.
It is this habituated misuse of self-reflexive language that leads us in the direction of unhealing rather than toward healing. Take pause for a moment and experience the profound difference between experiencing symptoms of cancer as opposed to “my” cancer; or symptoms of chronic pain vs. “my” pain. Do you really want to possess an illness? And once possessed, how does one go about unpossessing it?
Even more crucial, we tend to identify-with that which we possess. Do you really want to identify yourself with an illness? Do you want to “be” cancerous? Once identified-with a disease process, how do you go about unbecoming that process?
It is this slippery slope from experiencing to owning to identifying-with that adds an entirely new level of emotional overwhelm to the experiences of chronic illness; AND, it can even escalate the experience of symptoms because we have such a powerful and negative judgment attached (not only to the disease process) but to who I am! The language we choose in describing experiences is critical to the actual experiences of health and wellness. Unhealing language simply does not serve you well: Indeed, it can hinder and further impair your health.
So, please, begin to pay attention to the language you use when referring to your experiences around the symptoms of illness. Drop the label. Drop the possessive “my” and “mine” attached to the label. Stop the self-reflexive mirroring of self with illness; especially when self-talking within! You do NOT possess an illness: You experience symptoms richly. You are not an illness: You are the unique and wonderful person experiencing!
Begin today to make this simple change. You will be surprised in the days and weeks to come, the remarkable changes that seem to magically occur as you expunge unhealing, unsane language. Leave that for the UnCola wars.
This is just a beginning step regarding how you may implement healing language: For more Self Healing language tools, watch for future articles in this Self-Healing Chronic Illness series.
Monday, August 24, 2009
How does this relate to achieving happiness in life? It looks as though we can only influence 50 percent of our happiness at most and the rest is due to our genetic inheritance. But in his book The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton states that our beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behaviour determine whether our genes are expressed or not, so by changing these we have the ability to influence up to 90 percent of our happiness. Sharon Begley in Train Your Mind. Change Your Brain agrees that we have to potential to transform ourselves and overcome our genetic happiness set-point.
Luckily there is a book, Happiness for No Reason, that shows how to increase our happiness set-point. Marci Shimoff, transformational leader and author, has boiled the achievement of happiness in life down to twenty-one habits in seven areas – empowerment, mind, heart, body, soul, purpose and relationships.
Empowering ourselves to stop being a victim and take responsibility for our own happiness is the first and most important step towards achieving lifetime happiness that is not dependent on circumstances. The tendency to focus on the problems rather than on finding a solution to them, means that people spend enormous amounts of energy in denying, worrying, or complaining about the problem - energy that could be better spent on solving the problem.
The first habit is to focus on the solution to a problem, which is defined as something you don’t like. If it’s possible to change the problem then do so; if you can’t change it then change your attitude towards it.
In my own experience, if you frequently practice changing your attitude either by seeing the problem from a different perspective, or by simply letting go of your angst about it, in time you will attempt to change fewer problems. It’s our response to events that cause our suffering, not the events themselves. However, I think that trying to address problems in which others are suffering will always tend to be important for most of us. I find it difficult to say that a small child in Africa is suffering from hunger simply because of its response to having an empty stomach.
Happiness for No Reason shows the happiness habits in the seven areas by likening them to a house. Empowerment is the foundation; mind, heart, body and soul are the pillars that support the walls and the roof; purpose is the roof; and relationships are the garden in which the house stands
By developing happiness habits we can increase our ability to achieve a life of happiness regardless of the circumstances we may encounter. We may not have a perfect life but we can aim for a happy one.
Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff
The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles by Bruce Lipton
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform
by Sharon Begley
picture by Paraschiv Alexandru
Sunday, August 16, 2009
We are all spiritual, whether we realize it or not, and I see our spiritual journeys as the development of a mature spirituality in which we feel deeply connected to others and hold feelings of compassion for them. But the journey has to begin with building a compassionate relationship with the self. Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul wrote:
“The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is ‘loss of soul.’ When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it.”
If we do not have a loving relationship with our self, we have indeed lost our soul, because without that we cannot have a truly loving relationship with anyone else. We should aim to treat our self as though we were a beloved friend; understanding and forgiving rather than blaming when we make mistakes. Mistakes are part of being human.
Apparently, the word that was translated as ‘sin’ in the Bible, also meant ‘mistake.’ So ‘sinners’ are simply those who have made a mistake – not a big deal. To call someone a sinner is to attack who they are, to say they made a mistake simply passes judgment on their behaviour, and behviour can be changed.
For those who have never experienced being treated as a beloved friend, it is important to find someone who will model that – a counselor, Minister, neighbour – someone who does not judge, but is respectful and caring. As we learn what it like to be nurtured, we are also learning how to nurture ourselves and can then extend nurturing to others, starting with those we know and then extending it to everyone we meet.
Spiritually nurturing others involves compassion – a nonjudgmental recognition of their suffering and a strong desire that they be released from it. Too often we react to things others do with judgments about them, especially if their actions inconvenience us. The person who cuts us off in traffic, the client who does not pay on time, the relative who does not come to our wedding, are seen as directing their behaviour at us. We feel slighted, and react rather than respond. Often our reaction leaves us feeling angry and upset.
Responding starts when we examine our reaction to the situation. What beliefs do we hold about it? Do we know without a shadow of a doubt that these beliefs are true? The beliefs we hold determine the meaning we give to a situation, and our thoughts and emotions spring from this. Change the meaning and our response will change.
Connecting with our self leads to awareness of how we relate to our self and to others. Every event or interaction then becomes part of our spiritual practice and is grist for our spiritual journey. With consciousness, patience and practice we can develop compassion and loving-kindness for ourselves and others, and over time may see that, at least in some ways, we are all one.
The third leg of the spiritual journey is to develop a relationship with something larger than our self. This may be God (or whatever term we give to the prime mover), or it may be nature, science, art, music, child or animal welfare, saving an endangered species – anything that we feel passionate about and give time and energy to.
While it is important to work on all the wellness dimensions, it is especially important to pay attention to our spiritual journey. All the great religions see love and its expression as central to our lives because love is our true nature. So to be whole is to respond with love to everything. As A Course in Miracles says: “Teach only love, for that is what you are.”
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Chronic feelings of helplessness have been shown to increase tumour spread in rats, and reduction of psychological stress in women with metastatic breast cancer doubled their average survival time over those in the control group. Psychological stress and helplessness may result from emotional childhood trauma. Treatment for this pain, and kindling the will to live seems to decrease helpless feelings and can mark a turning point in the progression of cancer.
People can reduce psychological stress by becoming more mindful and focusing on the present moment rather than on the past or the future. This is useful both in times of stress and in general life. When stress strikes, focusing on the breath, just by noting it as it comes in and out or by using a technique such as Herbert Benson's Relaxation Response, can produce both a physiological and a psychological state of calmness. Stress reduction through regular use of meditation, the relaxation response or some other relaxation technique can lead to frequent and lasting feelings of calm and even peace. Those who feel stress as tension in their body may want to try a regular practice of yoga, tai chi or qi gong.
Meditation has many advantages in stress reduction and self-healing. It is a way of learning to focus attention inwardly, something many people never do, and observing and connecting with the self. It also helps to see that thoughts come and go easily when there is no engagement with them. With practice and over time it can lead to a deep inner peace that is present even when engaged in the throes of daily life. Because stress is not caused by an event, but by the reaction to the event, decreasing reactivity through meditation leads to stress reduction.
For those with cancer, fear is a stressor that they must come to grips with. There is the fear of an early death, but also fear of being alone and abandoned, fear of pain and suffering, fear of burdening friends and family, fear of abandoning young children, and fear of letting go of the things that are still undone.
The flip side of the fear is that it can lead to a determination to live life well now while there is still time to do so. This puts attention on living rather than on dying, and deciding what living well now means may lead to lives that are more fully aligned with their values. People start to live with more awareness, and may develop a feeling of wellbeing even though they still have cancer. This change in focus to how to live well can also stimulate their natural defenses and lead to prolonged life.
Leading a life of holistic wellness and achieveing wellbeing is possible in those living or dying from cancer. It is not clear whether stress reduction will help prevent cancer, but it can slow, and sometimes halt, the spread of the disease, and contribute to a happier and lomger life.
Anticancer: A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber
Beyond the Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson
picture by Oddsock
Monday, August 10, 2009
Servan-Schreiber's advice regarding exercise for cancer patients, is to begin slowly and gradually increase distance and intensity as strength is gained. It's important to get into the habit of exercise, but this can be done by walking even short distances rather than going by car or bus. Just three to five hours a week of walking at a normal speed is enough to have an effect on relapse in breast cancer patients.
The amount of exercise by cancer patients that will have an effect on preventing relapse is different for different types of cancer. For example, while for breast cancer there is a measurable effect after five hours walking a week, those with cancer of the colon must do twice as much, and those with prostate cancer need the equivalent of three hours a week of jogging. In all cases increasing the intensity and shortening the time of the exercise, or exercising at a lower intensity for a longer time can give the same effect.
Exercise contributes to holistic wellness by preventing cancer in a number of ways. It reduces excess body-fat, a common site for storage of carcinogenic toxins, decreases estrogen and testosterone, hormones that stimulate the growth of certain cancers, prevents inflammation by reducing the blood-sugar, which stops the release of insulin and IGF, and strengthens the immune system.
In the 13 months that he was having treatment for his brain cancer following his relapse, Servan-Schreiber meditated, did yoga and ran for 20 minutes every day. He knows how difficult it is for those undergoing chemotherapy to exercise daily. But he believes that it is the most important thing that those with cancer can do to help themselves.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
It's important to note that Servan-Schreiber advocates using these methods in conjunction with cancer therapy. Also, note that healing cancer does not necessarily mean cure. Many people live a long time with cancer quiescent in their bodies, others may die of the disease, at peace with themselves having made many psychological and spiritual changes during their journey with cancer, still others eliminate the cancer from their bodies and live healthy lives. All of these may be said to have been healed.
"With all I've learned over these years of research, if I were asked to design a diet today that promoted the development of cancer to the maximum, I couldn't improve on our present diet." Richard Beliveau, Researcher and Professor in Biochemistry, University of Montreal.
Foods to Reduce or Avoid:
1. Foods causing inflammation in the body:
- foods high on the glycemic index: These include refined flours and all products (breads, pasta, breakfast cereals etc.) made from them; sugar of all kinds (including honey, Maple and other syrups) and the manmade glucose-fructose combination; pop, industrial fruit juices, and alcohol. If high-glycemic foods are taken they should be combined with other foods, such as vegetables or good fats that will slow their assimilation into the body. Therefore candies, baked goods and alcohol should not be taken between-meals, but eaten with other foods.
- vegetable oils, (except for olive oil, flaxseed/linseed, and canola oil) hydrogenated fats (trans fats), and fats in dairy, meat, or eggs from grain-fed animals (high in omega-6 fats), and dairy from cows given bovine growth hormone (BST). Oils in transparent or plastic bottles should not be used since they quickly degrade in light and heat and can become contaminated by the plastic bottle.
2. Foods known to contain contaminants, including:
- non-organic meat and dairy products
- fish at the top of the food chain.
Foods to Use Instead of the Above Foods:
- replace high-glycemic foods with whole-grains, and products made from whole grains, and Basmati or Thai rice, quinoa, oats, millet and buckwheat.
- replace high-glycemic drinks with water, or green tea which has cancer-fighting properties.
- replace refined omega-6 vegetable oils with olive oil, flaxseed/linseed, or canola oil. These should be bought in dark-green or brown glass bottles and stored in a cool place. Flaxseed oil should be kept in the refrigerator, and generally should be consumed within 6 weeks of opening the bottle.
- replace proteins with beans, lentils, or small amounts of organically-raised chicken or red meat.
- replace non-organic dairy products with organic milk, cheese or other dairy products and use organic butter instead of margarine. Organic cattle should be grass-fed as this raises the levels of omega-3's and lauric acid in their flesh and their milk, making it more healthy for humans. Chickens should be free-range and any extra food provided should contain flaxseed to increase the omega-3 level in their eggs.
- the majority of food eaten should be vegetables, beans and fresh or frozen fruits, which keep insulin levels low and contain substances called phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer and promote healing.
Many foods are powerful cancer anti-promoters, which work both in preventing cancer and healing cancer. Food has advantages over chemotherapeutic drugs - it is cheaper, generally taken three times a day, the patients can enjoy the treatment and many foods work on more than one aspect of cancer prevention or cure. Foods are also synergistic in that they enhance one another's healthy properties.
Particularly powerful foods that are good cancer anti-promoters are:
- Green tea - 2 or 3 cups a day of green tea that has steeped for 10 minutes.
- Soy, in those who have eaten it from adolescence, helps prevent breast cancer (though it can promote or aggravate cancer when taken as an isoflavone supplement). Soy should not be taken within a few days before or after Taxol treatments.
- Tumeric - mix 1/4 teaspoon of pure tumeric with black pepper in 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and add to vegetables, salad dressings or soups.
- Ginger - grate fresh ginger and add to vegetables or other foods or slice thinly and steep in boiling water for ginger 'tea'.
- Mushrooms - shitake, maitake, kawaratake, enokitake and oyster mushrooms are powerful immune system stimulants.
- Berries and citrus fruits - blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, and cherries are all powerful cancer fighters working on several fronts to prevent and heal cancer. Citrus fruits are antiinflammatory.
- Pomegranate Juice substantially reduces the development of prostate and some other cancers. Eight ounces daily with breakfast is recommended.
- Cruciform Vegetables - most fresh vegetables have anti-cancer properties and both prevent and heal cancer, but the cruciform vegetables (cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy. broccoli, cauliflower etc.) are particularly powerful and should be eaten every day, lightly steamed or stir-fried (boiling may destroy the anti-cancer properties.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, shallots and chives promte the death of cancer cells
- Colourful vegetables including root vegetables inhibit the growth of several types of cancer.
- Tomatoes when cooked aid longer survival from prostate cancer and olive oil helps assimilation. Canned tomato sauce without sugar can be used.
- Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and mint kill and reduce the spread of cancer cells.
- Edible seaweeds such as nori, kombu, wakame, arame and dulse slow the growth of cancer.
- Omega-3 oils reduce inflammation so helps prevent cancer cell growth and spread. Small fish (anchovies, sardines mackerel) and salmon are good sources, as are ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil. If using canned sardines ensure they are not packed in sunflower oil.
- Red wine slows the three stages of cancer development, but more than one glass a day may increase cancer.
- Dark chocolate (more than 70 percent cocoa) contains antioxidents, proanthrocyanidins and polyphenols that slow the growth of cancer. Do not eat more than 20 grams a day or mix with dairy products (milk chocolate does not have anticancer effects.)
Although radical changes in diet can seem overwhelming, for those wanting to prevent cancer it can be done reasonably slowly, dropping one food at a time or just gradually eating less of a food and substituting a healthier choice. For those with cancer who wish to maximize their length of survival, changes should be faster, but do not need to be done all at once. Making lifestyle changes to promote healing cancer can reduce the sense of helplessness that many cancer patients feel with respect to their illness. And that in itself is healing.