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The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 22 – Reframing Distressing Thoughts

HealingCircleBook  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.



See the Table of Contents


Read Chapter Twenty-Two:  Reframing Distressing Thoughts

Watch the Video: 

How Understanding your brain can empower your life for professional caregivers

Recent brain science shows we can change the structure and functioning of our brains in a positive way through simple daily habits like practicing relaxation and ‘taking in the good’. Dr. Rob Rutledge, oncologist and support group leader, will extend these teachings to healthcare professionals and focus on ways to
a. Calm yourself in stressful situations
b. Reframe distressing thoughts and emotions
c. Live your life in an more calm, caring and connected way.




RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

As an alternative to the tale featured in our book, sometimes Tim or I tell the following Zen Parable:

What is the difference between Heaven and Hell?


There was once a powerful samurai warrior in Japan who was nearing the end of his career. He had been a leader of men, selflessly dedicating his service to the emperor and his country. But he began to worry about the afterlife, and whether he would go to heaven because he had killed so many men as a samurai.

He decided to ask the famous Zen master Hakuin to answer his questions about heaven and hell. After many days of gruesome travel over mountains and rough terrain he finally barged into the zen monastery to find Master Hakuin in quiet contemplation. The monk was such a simple-looking man the warrior became doubtful this small fellow could help him.
But he quickly reasoned that after all this travel it would be pointless to go back without asking his question. Cowering over the peaceful monk he gruffly asked, “Is there a heaven and a hell, and if so, how can I get to heaven?”

Master Hakuin looked up into the warriors eyes, and after a long moment asked, “Who are you?” to which the warrior replied, “I am the Chief Samurai Warrior of Japan. I work directly with the Emperor.”

Hakuin laughed and mockingly replied, “You?  A warrior? Ha! You are nothing but talk.  You couldn’t even save yourself, never mind our emperor. Besides, you’re too stupid to understand these matters.”  He continued raising his voice, “Don’t waste my time! Get out of here, you imposter!”

The warrior’s eyes widened, his face contorted into a deep red scowl, and his body began to shake.  In a flash he withdrew his sword and brought it up over the little monk’s head.

The instant before he would have lost his head Master Hakuin calmly said “This is Hell.”

The samurai froze. His eyes softened as he stared deeply into space.  Understanding the Master had just risked his life to teach an old samurai a lesson, tears welled up in his eyes, and his body softened. He slowly placed the sword back in its sheath, and knelt down on the floor. He bowed his head deeply at the monk’s feet.

Master Hakuin patted the samurai’s powerful shoulder and said, “This is Heaven.”

It is said that the great samurai warrior threw away his sword and armour, and took up the path of the spiritual warrior.

The teaching in this Zen story is about recognizing how our state of mind leads to our interpretation of the world. We can use a type of meta-consciousness to recognize when we’re feeling angry, depressed, agitated, joyful or any other mood state. If we have the wisdom we can use this awareness to take into consideration our emotional state before we decide how we’re going to respond to a situation. For instance, if we’re feeling tired and emotionally fragile we may decide not to argue with our partner over an issue that isn’t very important.  Or alternatively, we might decide to do some journaling about something for which we’re grateful when we’re feeling happy.

The next eight chapters in our book takes this meta-awareness to a whole new level. We’re going to ask you to become much more conscious of your thinking. Pretend there’s a special mind-reading software that writes down your every thought throughout the day. Instead of reading the printout at the end of the day, you’re going to read those thoughts as you think them.  You’re thinking – and you’re watching yourself think. It’s what we call mindfulness of thinking.

The skill you will learn in this section of the book is called reframing.  You won’t be able to learn this skill until you can accept that your thoughts about the world can be wrong – thoughts do not represent 100% of reality. Your thoughts are simply interpretations. (From the book chapter and the parable above: What is this village like? Who is this Zen master?)  Your thoughts are often based on a whole system of core beliefs. The core beliefs are often based on interpretations of how you see the world based on your upbringing, other life experiences and even your genetic predispositions.

It’s encouraging to know each person’s set of core beliefs is malleable. Yes, you still want to use your thoughts to help yourself and others, but while you read the next chapter I’m just asking you stay open to possibility that you can see the world in a whole new way – and reframing can be incredible healing. Many of our weekend retreat participants have told us that reframing was the most powerful skill they learned the whole weekend. I wish you the best in applying the teachings to your life.


Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad. 

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.

In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.



Read Chapter 23




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