Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.
Read Chapter 21: Pam – Just Being Me
Watch the Video: This 18-minute exercise program is based on ancient Chinese medicine in which Qi (cosmic) is generated and balanced within the body.
“I love and approve of myself” Mindfulness and Affirmations
I remember sitting in the small group with Pam during one of our Skills for Healing Weekend retreats many years ago. She was a masterful storyteller and held the group’s attention like weaving a spell, each word spoken in her commanding yet gentle voice. Like many other people she had spent much of her life trying to compensate for feeling inadequate and even unloved as a child. She gave to others with all her being and all her heart, as a social worker, as a mother, and as a daughter while her mother was dying, and again for other aging and dying relatives.
Her story is one that highlights the extraordinary power of mind in shaping our lives and our journeys of illness and healing. After she had been diagnosed with an advanced stage lung cancer and after she had realized the preciousness of her very finite life she came across an affirmation suggested by Louise Hay for people with cancer: “I lovingly forgive and release all of my past. I choose to fill my life with joy. I love and approve of myself.” This affirmation seems tailor-made to help Pam transform the way she thought and felt about herself. But it also brings up an important question for all of us.
What is the relationship between practicing mindfulness and practicing such affirmations as the one that Pam found to be so helpful? Generally we think that mindfulness needs to be practised for its own sake, without a goal, especially toward “self improvement”. This is so because only a radical abandonment of thinking about the future (and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with it) can bring you fully into the “now”, which is the only place you find your innate wisdom. Letting go of trying to be the person that others wanted her to be, as well as any future image of herself, and arriving fully in the present to truly be herself, was Pam’s powerful healing.
Nevertheless there is a way to practice this kind of affirmation in the present as a mindful exercise. While saying “I lovingly release and forgive all of my past” one can pay attention to the degree to which you are willing to do that right now. At first you may think you can never let go of the past but gradually, saying this affirmation and leaning into the meaning of it, something begins to shift. You can pay attention to this shift as it happens from moment to moment. You can pay attention to the resistance to letting go as well as the wanting to let go. You can begin to attend to all of the psychological complexities and old familiar feeling patterns that keep you stuck in the past.
Paying attention to emotional patterns is also the way that meditation works: you see in yourself all the ways in which you create your own suffering. And by seeing this, somewhere within there is a deep impulse to heal and be whole, and that innate wisdom of wholeness begins to unwind the confusion. Nature wants us to heal. Our job is to bring our true nature, our pure awareness, and our confusion into contact with each other.
Working with the second part of the affirmation “I choose to fill my life with joy. I love and approve of myself” has other challenges. Practising affirmations is not about merely mouthing the words and hoping some kind of magic will happen. It is, rather, a process of transformation, of acknowledging honestly to oneself that currently your life might not be completely filled with joy, and that, in fact, you might not love and approve of yourself. What is great about that is that it gives you a clear sense of where you are and where you want to be. The contrast in itself raises your awareness, and if you’re lucky, your curiosity.
“Maybe I could be more joyful, and maybe if I practice appreciating the present moment, I can train myself in appreciation, and then in gratitude and then in joy.” The affirmation becomes like a shovel to begin to dig deep into your own dirt and to begin to see what it is made of. That dirt you are digging is made of your thoughts, your habitual feelings and your core beliefs. The great thing is you can change your thoughts, feelings and beliefs in the present moment with mindfulness. So the affirmation is not magic, it initiates a process where you can do lots of mindfulness work in getting to know yourself. Ultimately your knowing knows that there is a way to be, a way to live, that is more loving to yourself and more joyful.
Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist living in Halifax Nova Scotia with 35 years experience integrating mindfulness into counselling, education and healthcare. He is co-author of the The Healing Circle: integrating science, wisdom and compassion in reclaiming wholeness on the cancer journey and co-founded with Dr Rob Rutledge the Healing and Cancer Foundation. He designed and has taught with Dr. Rutledge the Skills for Healing Weekend Retreats for people living with cancer and their family members 49 times since 1999 in 26 cities across North America. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. A student of Tibetan Buddhism since 1979, he received both an MA and Ph.D. in the psychology of meditation. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and is open to distant consultations.