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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 49 SERIOUS ILLNESS and other health problems challenge us in many ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Physically, we may experience pain or other discomforts, and everyday activi- ties may take more time and effort. Mentally, our thinking may be fuzzy and we may struggle to come to terms with our medical condition. Emotionally, we may feel anxious about things be- yond our control, fearful of the unknown, or sad that we cannot function in the way we used to. When faced by the stress of illness, it is helpful to recognize that the quality of your moment-by-moment attention can have a profound effect on how you feel and the quality of your life. Cultivating mindfulness is foundational to fostering greater ease and joy in the face of difficult circumstances. GROUND YOURSELF IN PRESENT-MOMENT EXPERIENCE Whenever you are overcome by strong emotions, discomforts, or a sense that your life is spiraling out of control, you can ground yourself in present-moment experience with this practice: • Bring awareness to the sensations of breathing. • Attend to other senses such as hearing, seeing, or tasting. • Simply notice the nuanced qualities of your experience. • Open to now with gentleness and acceptance, without judging or resisting. TUNE IN AND BEFRIEND YOUR BODY When facing a serious illness, it’s common to feel betrayed by your body and to either tune out or overreact to internal bodily sensations. Tuning in to your body is an entry into accepting and befriending your body as it is, with its frailties and imperfections. It can help you to discern important body cues requiring wise responses and to realize that unpleasant physical symptoms actu- ally change from moment to moment. Tuning in is also an op- portunity to recognize that all of you is not broken and that you are much more than a medical diagnosis. • Do a mini body scan. With curiosity, notice the qualities of your internal sensations as you shift awareness to different parts of your body. • Bring awareness to the parts of your body that are comfortable and working well. • Listen to your body and thoughtfully respond to what it needs. RECOGNIZE AND LET GO OF STORIES The mind naturally conjures up stories or narratives around what is happening in the body or what may happen in the future. An unpleasant sensation like a body ache can turn into a com- plicated story that creates or perpetuates fears and worries, not grounded in fact or what is known for sure in the present mo- ment. When living with illness, these stories are often angst-filled hear the heart’s inner messages: I feel hurt, frustrated, sad, powerless. Listening deeply to feelings of disappointment can illuminate our blind spots, the unrealistic expectations we project on each other. Compassionately relating to our own pain softens us and builds an empathic bridge to our partner. GREEN: GO In the middle of a stressful situation, a single thought or act of gratitude or kindness can restore equanimity to our communica- tion. The uncertainty of a crisis can inspire courage and curiosity or it can reinforce our barriers. When stress hits, claustrophobia sets in and we’re preoccupied by a mind-set of “not enough”: Not enough money, time, or exercise. Not enough energy, atten- tion, or sleep. Buddhist psychology describes this state of mind as a “hungry ghost” realm. This refers to the beings of Buddhist cosmology that have tiny mouths and huge, starving stomachs; they try to consume but they can’t get enough down their throats to satisfy. The hungry ghosts are miserable but within their realm there is also a buddha, a moment of wakefulness, showing the way out. The buddha’s hand is open in a gesture of generosity, breaking the spell of “not enough.” We don’t have to shut down emotionally when tension is high with our partner. Instead, we can open fresh pathways for reconnecting by creating a gap of wakefulness. That gap is a miracle moment, like finding a buddha in the palm of your hand. SUSAN GILLIS CHAPMAN is a marriage and family therapist and the author of The Five Keys to Mindful Communication. HEALTH The Healing Moment Susan Bauer-Wu helps us ease the physical, mental, and emotional stress of illness. PHOTO:COLOURBOX.COM