What is Healing?

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Healing is so much more than getting rid of a disease or condition we are living with. True healing is finding a sense of well-being and peace within our lives as a whole — spiritual, emotional, mental, relational, and physical — and learning to live fully with or without a condition or disease.

I remember working in an AIDS clinic before the current cocktail of medications were available. At the time, AIDS was thought to be incurable, a certain death. Each day I saw a steady client list of both men and women, most of whom are no longer alive. It was in that clinic where I began to ask, “What is healing?”

These men and women were some of the most cheerful, loving, and kind people I’ve worked with. They were choosing to continue living, fully engaged. They told stories of places they’d been, family and friends they’d made peace with, and the parties and gatherings they attended or hosted. Each week, they would come for their acupuncture, herbs, and shiatsu. They continued to go to the gym or their yoga classes. They were generous with compliments, gifts, and lively conversation. They were always gracious, kind, and grateful. At first glance, no one would guess that they were living with an incurable disease.

In conversation with many of them, I learned that healing on the deepest level is an inner experience. Even though their disease wasn’t going away and their death was imminent, they healed on many other levels of living. It was through them that I learned the true meaning of healing as a state of being fully engaged and present in life. They taught me about reaching out to community, making amends, being grateful for another day, and keeping dreams alive as long as there is breath.

When we find ourselves challenged, finding a new normal is a first step. A new normal is one in which life continues to be a fulfilling journey with a chronic condition, disease, or even disability. I see a client who is disabled from an accident several years ago. He is severely limited in the use of the left side of his body. He comes to see me regularly and is eager to continue his healing journey with a team of practitioners that work toward continued healing. It is likely that he will never have full use of his arm and his leg may always need a brace to walk, yet he is on a healing journey and learning what a new normal looks like. He has said many times that he feels healthier than he has ever been in his life because of his disability. He talks about his lifestyle changes ranging from healthy food, regular exercise with a fitness specialist, massage, acupuncture, a positive attitude, and mindfulness as he learns to navigate his new way of being. He makes choices every day to view life as a positive experience. He now feels his disability is a source of strength and resilience.

In Oriental Medicine, I use the term right relationship as the goal for healing. The body is seen as a series of energy channels (meridians), each with its specific functions that help to maintain homeostasis. As we live life through the seasons, through our work, family, emotional and physical stresses, our body falls out of right relationship with one or more channels of energy falling out of balance with the others. Acupuncture, with its function of moving energy, and herbal formulas aim to re-calibrate and invite the meridians back into right relationship with each other. Once back in right relationship within, we feel better, more resilient, and we experience more energy. We can then better manage our particular challenges with a sense of being on course.

Our health and healing are much like flying an airplane or driving a vehicle. We are never totally on course, we make progress to our destination by making continuous corrections with the steering wheel until we reach our destination. So it is with our inner balance or right relationship. Living life pulls us in different directions, by making ongoing corrections in our self-care, practicing those activities that feed our well-being, and knowing that our health is a fluctuating experience we find our way.

We can be involved in deep healing right now, today. We don’t need to be sick or in pain to be healing. For today, we can begin to discover what healing is for us and be better prepared when challenges do arise.

As a healthcare practitioner with a passion for finding happiness, meaning, and purpose, I believe healing is an experience along a continuum of well-being and living life fully. My wish for myself and those I work with is that we all find healing now. I am committed to continuing to ask the questions, “What is healing?” and “How do you find your own healing, with or without a disease or chronic condition?”

Some practices that, for me are foundational for my own inner healing are gratitude, kindness, and appreciation. I, also, choose to live my life feeding my soul, my emotional self, and my physical self through exercise, meditation, and writing daily in a journal. I attempt to live fully engaged and doing those things that allow me to experience flow and aliveness. I nurture my relationships and reach out to community. I feed my intellect with ongoing learning and asking important questions. Consider which practices you could begin to do to encourage your own healing, even if your health is not currently challenged.

The Prepared Mind

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What is a Prepared Mind and Why is it Important?

None of us know what challenges are coming our way or when. What is certain is that they will come. In the past, I was a worrier (well, actually, I still do my fair share of worrying) and I thought that if I could imagine the worst case scenario’s around potential challenges or crises that I would always be prepared for the worst and be okay. Since studying Positive Psychology with the Whole Being Institute, I have changed my mind and my approach to being prepared for challenge. Now, I practice and surround myself with positivity and my life is filled with daily rituals that I know I can lean on in those crisis times. I do believe we can prepare ourselves in advance for whatever comes our way. I also believe that we may never be as prepared as we would hope to be. However, I am committed to practicing.

I work with many people on a daily basis that are in some state of crisis whether pain, sickness, or challenges that are affecting their well-being and their health. I help them with my tools of acupuncture, herbs, massage, and positive encouragement. When appropriate, I point out their strengths that I’ve listened to and witnessed as resources for their own resilience in the face of challenge. I also share practices they can use to nurture their well-being in other areas than the challenge they are navigating.

How do you prepare yourself? Or do you wait until the crisis arrives and figure out how to best approach a solution? As I said above, I believe in preparation. Those of you who know me, likely know that I have a passion for Positive Psychology, how it has changed my life, and the good it has to offer for living my best life. I use many of the proven principles in Positive Psychology as the core to my being prepared.

Positive Psychology, while acknowledging what needs to be changed, focuses on what is working and what is good in life. Having regular practices where we take the time to focus on the good and all the ways life is working leads to a resourceful foundation that shores up my cache of positivity in the face of the less than positive that is part of life.

Two of my core practices that help me navigate the abyss of fear and anxiety of challenge are mindfulness and gratitude.

Mindfulness practice or actively noticing, as Ellen Langer refers to mindfulness, is a practice I can do anytime. Through mindfulness, I focus on what is and what I am aware of in the moment. As a meditation practice, my focus may be my breath or relaxing areas of my body that are tense. Mindfulness helps me be more engaged in the present moment and calm. Jon Kabat Zinn has been a pioneer in using mindfulness meditation in hospitals and healthcare settings. What we know from research is that mindfulness practice lowers anxiety and depression as well as provides health benefits such as lower blood pressure, faster healing, a stronger immune system, and clearer mental functioning. We also know that the benefits mindfulness meditation last long beyond the time spent in meditation. Even 10 – 15 minutes a day has lasting benefit.
Gratitude is another practice that helps me to notice what is good and what is working in my life. Gratitude is a practice I have done daily for so long, it is now as much a part of my life as getting dressed in the morning. I finish every day with a list of what I am grateful for and I notice each thing on my list with a heartfelt sense of being grateful. No matter what the circumstances of any given day, there is always something to give thanks for.

Through these two practices, that are a core of my daily life, I find that I am better prepared and able to ride the waves of life’s challenges and crises.

There are many ways to prepare ourselves for what comes our way. Another readily available resource, that many of my clients use, is the internet. When we find ourselves faced with a diagnosis or health challenge, gathering information or knowledge can be a double edged sword, especially on the internet. The internet is an infinite wealth of information that everyone has access to — both useful information as well as less than useful information. Most of my clients come to see me well armed with information from diagnosis, symptoms, treatments (allopathic and complimentary) and the side affects of drugs they may have been prescribed. As one of their healthcare resources, I listen to the information and cull out what may be useful and what isn’t helpful as we discuss a plan of treatment.

I do believe knowledge is a good thing when it comes to understanding and navigating your plan for healing. I also believe there can be too much information that fuels fear, anxiety, depression, and a downward spiral that, instead of being useful, begins to worsen our experience, preventing healing from progressing or even beginning.

We need balance when facing a challenge or health crisis. I want both my daily positivity practices, that gather momentum for a healthy life, as well as information that will help me ask helpful questions of my healthcare providers in designing a healing plan that suits me.

All of this leads me to another question – an even bigger question – that I’ll address in a later post: “What is healing?”

For now, I’ll let you ponder your answers to this question and stay tuned for my thoughts and stories on healing. Have a lovely day!

Collecting Happy

I teach workshops focused on happiness and health in addition to my one-on-one work in healthcare. I love these workshops because I find joy in seeing people leave with a sense of hope and excitement having begun to explore and fill their buckets with practices they can continue doing to be happier in their lives at home and feel a greater sense of purpose.

At a recent workshop, one woman excitedly blurted out, “You are a happiness collector!” This was during a discussion on using micro-moments or happiness boosters throughout the day to change our mood. Happiness boosters are those things we can do in 5 – 10 minutes or less to lift our mood into an upward spiral and feel, even, one percent happier.

We co-created a list of happiness boosters from which everyone could make their own lists to take with them. Some of the activities on our group list were — dancing, music playlists, stretching, run around the outside of the house (or the inside), call someone we love, work on a jigsaw puzzle, play a game, take a quick walk outside, knit, crochet, fill the bird feeder, pick flowers, remember something fun or funny, eat chocolate, send a loving text to a friend, sing, read a poem out loud, or take a few deep breaths. Making those lists was uplifting for everyone, filled with laughter, and sparking lots of creative ideas. At the end, we each acknowledged how we felt happier and closer just making the list!

Later that night and since, as I reflect on the comment that I am a happiness collector, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly. I do collect happy! I collect ideas and activities for plugging into happy or changing my mood whenever I’ve become too serious or noticing a downward spiral. And, I do them regularly throughout most days. I also share them with others through my work and with friends. We would all benefit by collecting happiness.

Sonja Lubymirsky, in her book ‘The Myths of Happiness’, writes about the higher value of experiences over things in raising our general sense of well-being and positivity. In her book, she talks at length about the myths of happiness which often involve things, trips, money, large purchases, and relationships which actually do little to raise our sustained level of well-being.

As a collector of happy, I am learning that I tend to look forward to experiences over things. For example, once a month, I go to visit my daughter, her husband, and my grandchildren. I look forward to the adventures of every weekend. Most visits, we enjoy simple experiences such as going for walks on the beach, nature walks, the local community zoo, or playing board games at home.Sophie blog photo 2016 Every visit I return home with memories that keep me smiling until my next visit.

Memories are wonderful happiness boosters. Most memories grow from experiences more than things. My fondest memories stay with me and become endless sources of joy as I look at photo’s, write about them, and share the stories with others. I also find joy in listening to the adventures of others through their stories. Most people love to tell stories of their experiences — where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing — as a way to keep the memory alive as well as to integrate experiences into our overall sense of well-being. Good memories are part of my collection of happiness boosters or ‘power ups!’ as Jane McGonigal calls them in her book & game, Super Better.

Why is it important to collect happiness boosters? Having a cache we can reach for throughout our day helps us become more resilient in the face of everyday challenges. Taking the time to insert a happiness booster into our day, lifts our mood, increases our positivity ratio, and makes our day much more positive! Research has also shown that micro-moments of positivity can do more for our overall long-term well-being than the large events we think will make us happy such as going on vacation or buying a new car. I can easily create micro-moments every day while going on vacation takes planning and time.

When we practice creating positive moments, acknowledge what is good or going well in our lives, and express gratitude for what we already have, especially the simple, we experience more sustained health, healing, even longevity. Recent research is showing that our happiness directly affects our health in positive ways from lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, faster healing, and living longer.

Here are two simple happiness boosters you can try right now.

1. Laugh – think of something funny or something that made you laugh, let yourself laugh.

2. Take three deep breaths. Let your exhalation be twice as long as the inhalation. You might notice that your heartbeat speeds up a bit on the inhalation and slows down a bit on the exhalation. This change in heart rate is known as heart rate variability and is an indicator of our health.

Both of these happiness boosters positively affect our heart rate variability which improves the healthy functioning of our vagus nerve which directly affects the health of our internal organs and results in feeling better over-all. In fact, the health of our vagus nerve and our heart rate variability are measurements of our general level of health.

When I remember a joyful moment with my grandchildren from a recent visit, I feel more energized. Remembering our walk on the beach looking for nesting Snowy Owls, collecting sand dollars, or wondering where beach creatures go in winter, I feel less pain and am inspired to go for a walk here in the woods around my home, with a similar sense of wonder and exploration I have through the eyes of curious children.

My goal is to continue to ‘collect happy’ for my own well-being and to share my collections so you, too, can feel a lifted sense of positive well-being. I hope you will share your ideas of happiness boosters or power ups with me!