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The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 19 – Talking About Stress

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 Nineteen:  Talking About Stress

Watch the Video:  Watch all the videos from the section on Stress and Relaxation including lectures, meditation and a small group discussion.

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

 

How to let stress empower you

 

As part of an experiment, you are asked to give an impromptu five-minute speech about your personal weaknesses.  You stand in front of a video camera, bright lights, and two ‘observers’ who have been instructed to snicker, shake their heads disapprovingly, and whisper to one another throughout your presentation. At the conclusion of your humiliating speech, you are asked to do a math test. “Start with 996 and subtract 7, say the answer, subtract 7 again, and keep going – as fast as possible.”  Regardless of how well you do, the observers prod you to go faster, chirp in comments like “you’re not very good at math, are you?”, and generally mock your efforts.

 

You’ve just suffered through the “social stress test”, a standardized procedure scientists use to provoke a stress reaction.  Typically, you would break out into a sweat, feel your heart pounding in your chest, and feel shaky, agitated or flustered – the same way you typically do when you’re feeling stressed.

 

Through this type of experiment psychologists are proving that our attitude and beliefs about stress actually influence our body’s reaction and how we can perform in stressful situations.  In a Harvard University trial half the participants about to undergo the ‘social stress test’ were told that stress energizes the body and mind for action (Jamieson et al, 2011). The pounding heart would be interpreted as your preparing yourself to take action. The heavy breathing helps deliver oxygen to your brain, making you think more clearly.  The meta-message given to soon-to-be participants is stress helps you rise to any challenge. Compared with the control group (who gave the same humiliating speech and math test) the participants who were taught to view their stress reaction as helpful actually felt much better. They experienced less stress and anxiety, and felt more confident in their efforts. Furthermore, the scientists could detect important differences in the constriction of their heart blood vessels. Typically the stress reaction causes the coronary vessels to constrict, a condition which predisposes the person to having an immediate heart attack. People who can reframe the symptoms of a stress reaction as helpful actually open up their coronary blood supply, a state also achieved when people feel joy and courage.

 

This burgeoning scientific evidence also shows that how we perceive a stressful situation will actually change our performance. Another experiment was conducted on MBA business students going into a mock job interview for the job of their dreams (Abelson et al, 2014). All participants were told that it’s normal to feel stressed just prior to the interview. One group was told use the stress reaction as a cue to focus on how they were going to impress the interviewers by proving they were the best person for the job. The second group was asked to reflect on how the job was connected to their values. They were told to think about how getting this job would give them an opportunity to express their deepest values in the world. The videotapes of the interviews were shown to unbiased raters who didn’t know what each interviewee was told beforehand.  Compared with the “prove you’re the best” group the MBA students who were told to put their anxiety into the context of meaning were rated as being more inspiring and uplifting, and judged to be better potential colleagues, and so more likely to be hired.  In addition to the interview ratings, cortisol levels were measured on all participants at the end of each interview. Cortisol is one of the stress hormones that causes the blood sugars and fats to increase, decreases our ability to learn and remember, and generally causes inflammation and breakdown of the healthy tissue.  Remarkably both experimental groups felt stress as they went through the interviews, but those that thought about meaning in the context of stress had much lower blood cortisol levels.

 

Living life after hearing the words ‘you have cancer’ can lead to many stressful situations. We can acknowledge that feeling stressed is natural, it’s part of being human. In the attached chapter from our book we encourage people to learn how to recognize their own unique stress reaction, and then settle down their body’s reaction as best they can. From this more relaxed state it’s easier to act in a wise and compassionate way. And when we reframe that the stress system is our body’s natural way of giving us energy to rise to the challenge, and when we can remember we can bring our highest values like wisdom and love right into our day to day actions we will be lighting the way for ourselves and others.

 

Learn more by watching a Youtube talk “How to make stress your friend” by Professor Kelly McGonical.

 


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 20

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 18 – My Meditation Practice

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 18:  My Meditation Practice

Watch the Video:  The Body Mind Spirit Connection: Making a difference on the cancer journey

Oncologist Dr. Rob Rutledge provides an engaging overview of what people affected by cancer can do to empower themselves at the levels of body, mind and spirit. Drawing from experience on working on the cancer ward, recent brain science, and his personal journey, Rob delivers a lively, experiential and pertinent presentation to anyone affected by cancer.

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

 

My Meditation Practice

 

For me, after meditating for more than 36 years, daily meditation practice has become like brushing my teeth. Before I go to bed at night it feels so good to brush and floss getting rid of all the little bits of food stuck between my teeth. Clearing away the fuzzy residue of the day that can build up as plaque. Running my tongue over smooth clean teeth and feeling that freshness in my mouth feels wholesome and rejuvenating and is one of life’s simple pleasures. Meditation feels the same way for my mind, psyche, emotions, and for my whole body/mind system.

 

When I was young and first started meditating on a daily basis I was coming to it with a whole lot of baggage. When I first received the basic instruction: to bring my attention to the breath and body and then to notice the rising of thoughts without judgement and without getting lost in them, I immediately knew that this would be helpful for me. My mind at the time was like a racecar track crowded with many thoughts spinning around at lightning speeds all jockeying for number one position. I had a lot of ambition to do something good in the world but also felt hopelessly inadequate based on my long history of struggling with learning disabilities, hyper-activity and attention deficit. These opposing forces of ambition and inadequacy within me made my intense life energy like a racecar forever spinning its wheels and burning rubber at the pit stop while never engaging all that power out on the road of life.

 

All those racing thoughts and all that un-engaged power manifested as tremendous anxiety, fear of failure and occasional manic creative bursts of wild free expression. I was a poet, actor, dancer and visual artist with delusions of grandeur and basically no way to make a decent living. A relationship seemed impossible as I felt unworthy, too easily misunderstood and afraid of being rejected. I was suffering and I knew it, so I practiced mindfulness in everyday life and formal meditation, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “as if my life depended on it” because on some level I knew it did. I meditated for at least 2 hours everyday morning and evening and moved toward weekend retreats meditating most of the day and then week long and many month long retreats.

 

All that meditation was boring and sometimes quite painful. With envy, I sometimes thought other young people are out there having fun and getting on with their lives. I needed to learn patience to walk my own walk, without comparing. I needed to be determined and cultivate mindful discipline if I wanted sanity in my life.  Gradually by trusting in the innate clarity and goodness as the essence of my own mind, trusting in the gap between thoughts and not believing my thoughts, my mind slowly began to settle. Deliberately cultivating stillness I worked with my hyper-activity, fear and anxiety at its source. Feeling the urge to move and squirm while holding steady I began to channel my life energy into a meaningful purpose. Deliberately cultivating kindness toward myself I accommodated all of the flow of wild and conflicting emotions. Observing emotions as life energy without needing to suppress them or act them out, the dramas of life subsided. Deliberately cultivating peace I simplified my life. Deliberately generating a strong and consistent intention to stay mindful created space in my mind. That space slowly became like an open sky after a wild storm that allows the sun to shine down on our good receptive earth.

 

Now at nearly 60 years old, although my meditation has evolved and matured, all of those old habits of mind, body and energy that cause distress can slowly build up their momentum again if I am not mindful and vigilant about my practice. Even with relative success in life, a healthy lifestyle and positive life conditions, feelings of inadequacy, discontentment and anxiety can creep up on me. As I age I still brush my teeth after meals to clear away the food that can cause decay. Meditating daily I also feel wholesome fresh and clean, gently releasing mental confusion and cultivating clarity. Doing longer retreats I build up a feeling of genuine confidence and inspiration to be of benefit to others. Meditation helps me to focus my mind on meaningful intentions and to align and organize my life energy to become like a coherent beam of love and compassion as I move into the world of everyday relationships and activities.

 


Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist  living in Halifax Nova Scotia with over 30 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 42 times since 1999 in 20 cities across North America touching the lives of more than 1600 people. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and welcomes distant consultations.

 


 

Read Chapter 19

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 17 – How to Meditate

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 Seventeen:  How to Meditate

Watch the Video:  Thoughts Are Like Clouds
This meditation addresses the normal experience of thinking while meditating, and teaches you how to refocus your attention when you notice your thoughts.

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

 

Surfing the Urge

 

One common misconception about meditation is that people believe they should feel peaceful and their minds should slow down when they practice.  I’ve heard many people say “I could never meditate. My mind jumps everywhere. I can’t even sit still for five minutes!”  People seem to think it’s just the moments of peace and clarity of mind that define the meditation practice. Instead, I see my meditation practice as simply learning to be with everything that happens in my body/mind/spirit at that time.

 

I realized after a few years of practice that sitting in meditation was really no different than my experience of being a physician in a busy clinic. For instance, I may be listening to one of my patients, and suddenly I start thinking about my busy schedule or what I need to do that evening. When I realize I’m not listening, I simply bring my attention back.  They might go on to say something that reminds me of being in high school and off I go reflecting on my past– reliving a memory. When I catch myself, I bring my attention back. At other times while listening I hear something really touching – and suddenly I get caught up in an emotional response – my heart begins to ache.  Other times I just get so agitated with what’s happening I want to run out of the room. But I stay and listen.  With practice I’m better able to stay with the discomforts and distractions which occur naturally while listening, not get pulled away, and bring more focus on the person in front of me. I believe I’ve become a better physician for it.

 

Meditation practice encompasses all of our experience. By not running away from the painful feelings during sitting practice (and in our everyday lives), they can run their course, and we can heal our emotional bodies. This same wisdom is now being applied to helping people who suffer from different types of addictions. Late psychologist Dr. Alan Marlatt created a technique of paying close attention to the bodily sensations which arise when we have a craving.  He noted these feeling build, crescendo, and dissipate quickly like a wave – so he coined the term ‘Surfing the Urge’. Rarely do the physical symptoms of strong urges last more than 30 minutes, and if people can train themselves through mindfulness and compassion to stay with the discomfort it appears the cravings lose their power over time.

 

In one rigorous experiment smokers were asked to abstain for 24 hours, then told to show up at the lab with an unopened pack of smokes. They were then instructed to prepare to smoke a cigarette in a precise sequence, with each step lasting two minutes. During the two-minute period between instructions they were guided to pay very close attention to their bodily sensations. Example instructions reads as follows:

 

“Think about the box of cigarettes in your pocket. STOP!” – 2 minute observation

“Place your cigarettes on the table. STOP!”  – 2 minute observation

“Remove the cellophane wrap. STOP!” – 2 minutes

“Tap the box on the table. STOP!” – 2 minutes

“Get out your lighter. STOP!” …..

 

The smokers were guided this way for over 60 minutes (>30 instructions) – and they never got to smoke their cigarette. Compared with a control group who got the ‘stop and go’ instructions only, the smokers who were taught to ‘Surf the Urge’ between instructions decreased their smoking by 40% in the next week without being asked, and were able to break the reflex of psychological stress leading to lighting up.

 

The ability of surfing the waves of our ongoing urges and cravings – without getting caught up or acting on them – is one of many benefits of meditation practice. Remarkably, it’s easiest to learn how to meditate, like learning how to ‘Surf the Urge’, when we are especially loving towards ourselves.

 

To learn more about Surfing the Urge visit Dr. Chris Walsh’s article at http://www.mindfulness.org.au/urge-surfing-relapse-prevention/

 


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 18

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 16 – Miracles Can Happen

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 Sixteen:  Miracles Can Happen

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

 

Miracles can Happen (again and again)

 

Kathy McLaughlin, featured in the attached chapter, Miracles can Happen, possesses the attributes of a remarkable cancer survivor, as defined by the leaders at www.InspireHealth.ca, which include:

  1. They undergo a “spiritual transformation” – an awakening of the true values and aspirations that had lain dormant inside them. Truly alive – perhaps for the first time – this spiritual re-awakening brings a new authenticity to their life as they reconnect with their deepest values and aspirations. Once healed, they may look back upon their illness as a “gift” that helped transform their life.
  1. They bring a new authenticity to their relationships with others and the world around them.
  1. They take more time to simply relax and enjoy their life. For many, meditation or prayer becomes an important part of their daily life.
  1. They learn to ‘listen’ to their bodies and to surrender to, rather than resist, the day-to-day fluctuations of energy, symptoms and emotions that accompany the healing process. In doing so, they listen to their bodies for guidance for optimally loving and taking care of themselves.
  1. They release any sense of guilt about fully caring for themselves. In so doing, they learn to fully love and support themselves – creating a wonderful life that optimally supports health.
  1. They reconnect with their sense of community and reclaim the joy that comes from being of service to others. In healing themselves, they facilitate healing in others.

 

To read a full list of these attributes read page 4 in Chapter One of our book.

It’s been more than five years since we wrote Kathy’s chapter.  Since then, her life story is even more miraculous, including undergoing two liver transplants in a week. Kathy has written the manuscript of a book which I’m hoping will be published shortly.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathy recently to write this blog. In hearing how hard she worked even when she was desperately sick with liver disease, I realized she continued to work with the issues of keeping her life in balance (our conversation quickly turned into a workaholic’s support group meeting). Like most people, Kathy and I continue to work at some major life issue throughout our lifetimes, spiralling ever more closely to the core of the issue – perhaps never resolving it completely.  For some of us, it may be feeling unworthy, and having to prove our worth through our actions and accomplishments. For others, it may be the belief “I’m no good” which drives them into depression over and over. The universe has the remarkable capacity of creating circumstances in our lives in which we keep bumping up against these core beliefs, continually offering an opportunity to stretch past our growing edge.

The second reflection relates to the nature of suffering. After her first liver transplant began to fail, her doctors put her into an induced coma. Miraculously, another donor liver became available within a week (any longer and Kathy’s body would not be able to recover). When Kathy woke up in the ICU, intubated, she didn’t know where she was.  She suffered from a kind of ICU psychosis, experiencing a kind of uncontrolled rage at the nurses for no reason. When the tube was removed and she could talk, her emotions settled, but she was like a quadriplegic; her limbs wasted away from months of inactivity and a week of total paralysis

The following year saw her suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder that caused a depression so deep there seemed to be no way out.  She broke down into uncontrollable sobs when she was left alone in her house. She finally made an appointment with her family doctor who recognized the depression, and Kathy was referred to a depression support group.  The group members were amazed by her story through cancer, liver disease and transplant.  Kathy’s depression began to lift when she realized she was able to give her love and support to others even when she was feeling so terrible. Fortunately, Kathy has made a complete recovery.

Kathy is a remarkable cancer survivor – a living miracle.  But even with doing all the deeper psychological and spiritual work (like aligning her work with her authentic self), at times she’s still going to feel lost in the dark forest. We inhabit this human body, and our psyches will follow evolutionary rules of threat and response. It only makes sense she would suffer a post-transplant rage followed by depression after what she went through.  But when we can see the true nature of human existence, and especially if we can be kind to ourselves when we are suffering, we begin to hold our lives with loving consciousness, and healing at the deepest level naturally occurs.

 


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 17:  How to Meditate

 

 


 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 15 – Why Meditate?

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 Fifteen:  Why Meditate

Watch the Video:  This webpage contains several guided meditations. Try “Creating Space for Healing” to which combines “Present Focus” attention and Healing Visualization.

 

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

 

Strengthening your Brain’s ‘Present Focus’ Pathway

 

“Start by thinking about your feet.

How your feet have carried you a fair distance today.  Where they’ve taken you, walking, driving, sitting.

Comparing one foot to the other, notice any judgements or evaluations…

See whether you like one foot or the other foot.

See if you have any worries about your feet – anything that is medically oriented or unknown sensations.

See whether there are any future-oriented things related to your feet. Maybe you have a pedicure that is scheduled, or you have to redo your toenail polish.

Continuing to think about your feet and let whatever comes up in your mind be there. Just think about your feet.

Now stop and redirect your attention back to your feet but this time…

Just become aware of whatever sensations are present in this part of the body. Maybe feeling the way the feet are pressing down against the floor through soles of the shoes.

Perhaps feeling the points of contact of the big toe, the little toe, the heel, the ball of the foot.

Noticing any sensations between the toes, any moisture, any  heat, any energy…

Bring your attention to the foot itself encased in the shoe, any sense of tightness, pressure, throbbing.

Just allow any sensations to come up as you’re experiencing your feet in this way.”

From Dr. Zindel Segal’s Ted Talk “The Mindful Way through Depression”.

 

Dr. Segal, a world-renowned psychiatrist at the University Toronto, later explains how the two ways of contemplating your feet map to two different neural pathways in your brain. In the first half of the exercise, when we intellectualize the concept of our feet (worrying, comparing, thinking about the future or past) we are using some of the higher executive functions in the frontal lobe of the brain.  In the second half of the exercise, when we directly experience our feet, it lights up the “present focus pathway” of the brain.  He explains that practicing mindfulness allows us to process information from both of these pathways at the same time. We can be mindful of our thoughts about something, and we can simply experience the sights, sounds, sensations of life without adding extra thoughts.

 

Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher who wrote the international bestseller The Power of Now, also discusses these two aspects of our experience.  He recognized that most people get caught up in and identified with their thinking mind (the first pathway), and have lost touch with sacredness of the present moment.  His teachings focus on bringing people back to the now which he also calls stillness. Interestingly, I heard him acknowledge recently that we need both thinking pathways in our lives. He calls himself an outlier because he claims to spend more than 80% of his life living in the now with only a small portion of his time thinking conceptually (eg. planning for the future). He also said that Oprah exemplifies a healthy balance – being both incredibly effective in the outer world and able to stay connected with the timeless, formless spiritual realm of her life.

 

Most of us spend too much of our time caught up in thinking about future and past and so need to build up the ‘present focus’ pathways in our brains so we can get closer to the balance that Oprah appears to possess. Practicing meditation and learning to bring our minds back to the now (without adding mental commentary) also has profound health benefits, such as higher energy, improved mood, and fewer stress hormones in our body which can cause inflammation and damage to our bodies. Strengthening our connection with the present moment also allows us to access the depth of our spiritual life – and reconnect with the essence of our being.

 


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.

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 14: Cathy – Learning to Listen to Myself

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 Fourteen:  Cathy – Learning to Listen to Myself

Watch the Video:  Healing Meditation – scroll down to bottom of the page to the audio meditation Alchemy of the Heart

 

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

Cathy:  Learning to Listen to Myself

 

I am contemplating chapter 14 Cathy – Learning to Listen to Myself while on a break at a professional retreat in the country.  The retreat is about “Somatic Experiencing”, a therapeutic system designed to facilitate the body’s natural ability to heal itself, especially from the after effects of trauma. Contemplating her story in this context I am struck with the lessons that Cathy ascribes to her journey with cancer and the other health issues that have spun off from it. She says, “I’ve learned so much by listening to my body and listening to how I really feel – it has been an awakening.”

 

The body has a natural intelligence that moves us toward a wholesome state of balance, homeostasis and healing. Sometimes our notion of who we think we should be, moves our life energy out of balance. As we attempt to live up to our often unreasonable mental image of who we’d like to be, we tend to override the subtle – and then not so subtle – messages that the body sends us through our nervous system.  Training ourselves in paying close attention to the shifting states of body and mind awakens a new language of healing. Just as babies learn language by listening and paying attention to their caregivers, so when we listen to the body, we learn this unique vocabulary and grammar of the body. With practice this language of inner healing begins to become part of our conscious awareness as our mind and body communicate with each other, helping us to return to health and wholeness on every level.

 

Peter Levine who wrote a book called Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, refers to this language of connecting body and mind as “self-regulation.” A cancer diagnosis is its own kind of trauma that can trigger a stress reaction as we sense or learn about a threat to our very life. Also this kind of threat is hard to understand, hard to locate in a normal way, and we can feel helpless in knowing how to run away from it, or fight it, in order to preserve our life. Levine explains:  “Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the event itself. They arise when residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.” Levine and others have studied how animals in the wild de-activate this kind of residual energy in the nervous system after experiencing a life-threatening event. Meanwhile most of us as human beings have lost conscious contact with this innate capacity to deactivate our nervous systems.

 

When we learn to slow down, pay attention to the present moment deliberately and listen to our own nervous system as it connects with our motor faculties, we gradually reclaim this ability. As we do, we gain more capacity and more inner resources through which to work. Learning this inner approach to working through anxiety and emotional tension in the body is complimented by learning to marshal our outer resources for support in the form of our family and friends. Learning to humbly ask for help and receive it fully with gentle gratitude is the other lesson so many people learn from living with cancer. Likewise, being assertive, taking a stand, and speaking one’s truth is a lesson many learn.  As Cathy says, “In the darkness of the hospital room, I had a breakthrough realization: I felt that nobody had listened to me for most of my life. Things had to change and I had to learn to speak up.” As I contemplate Cathy and her journey of healing I am impressed at how her openness and determination seem like a textbook case of re-framing her cancer diagnosis and her other health problems into opportunities to heal her life on every level.

 


Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist  living in Halifax Nova Scotia with over 30 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 42 times since 1999 in 20 cities across North America touching the lives of more than 1600 people. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and welcomes distant consultations.

 


 

Read Chapter 15