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 23: Reframing I Can’t Do It
Watch the Video: Thought Reframing Talk
This talk shows how our thoughts affect how we feel. By using a reframing technique based on Dr. David Byrne’s classic book, Feeling Good, we can work with our most distressing thoughts.
Reframing & Taming that voice in your head
When we practice mindfulness, we begin to see how thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and mental structures create an inner world that affects how we feel about ourselves, others and the world around us. Most often our decisions and actions also proceed from this inner world. Having a cancer diagnosis generally cracks open this inner world as some of our inner structures no longer seem to fit with our outer experience of coping with the medical reality of cancer. This can be scary and it is helpful to be aware of ways to cope with fear and readjust our inner world. In this way cracking open becomes an opportunity to learn about reframing.
I’ve just come from co-teaching a graduate education course in contemplative education: education informed by mindfulness and other forms of contemplative practice. My friend and co-teacher told a wonderful story about training a group of elder indigenous women who had been identified as the language keepers of their particular northern communities. As a literacy educator she had a full lesson plan that she wanted to cover the first day to help the elders learn how to teach their languages to the younger generation. As she followed her familiar pattern of laying out all of the main points on a flip chart the elders gently asked her to stop and sit with them in the circle. They needed to be together in community, to tell their stories, and to establish a sense of trust and connection with one another before embarking on the linear intellectual journey she had planned. She was a bit shocked and nervous feeling the sense of pressure, so familiar to many of us, “I have so much to cover in so little time.” But, as it turned out, she was the one that learned a powerful lesson from them about a more holistic way of learning and about the power of allowing time to simply be. As it turns out they were also able to learn the basics of her lesson as well.
Situations sometimes occur in life that help us begin to question our assumptions about what is driving us, what is most important in life and how we want to live. As a cancer diagnosis can interrupt the familiar patterns of life, many people find that mindfulness practice, cultivating a non-judgemental curiosity and attentiveness to their own thoughts, reveals many of the “should statements”, and other imperative drivers that have been controlling their lives since they were small children. Likewise they can begin to uncover some of the feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy and self recrimination that come from feeling that they can not live up to the ongoing demands of this relentless voice in their head. A moment of revelation comes when they find that the struggle to live according to that driving voice in the head is all a manufactured struggle and ultimately not based in reality. Gradually they learn to motivate themselves with clear thinking based in the here and now, with positive encouragement, inspiration and kindness.
The simple act of reframing your thoughts seems like a very small act and many people may think why bother? This is one of the ways that we tend to disempower ourselves by thinking how could that small effort ever make a difference in my life?
“Remember the great Greek thinker Archimedes who said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.“ Practicing mindfulness consistently and learning to reframe distorted cognitions (confused, irrational and harmful thought patterns) is just such a lever and fulcrum. When you think about it, absolutely everything you experience in life is sifted, mediated, constructed and interpreted through your mind. The software you use to do that is your beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and habitual neurological patterns. Doing the work to change these inner structures, this “mental software”, has the most profound effect on the way you experience, interact and affect your outer world. Therefore your mind is the fulcrum and practice is the lever by which you can move your world.
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.