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The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 8 – Empowering the Body

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 Eight:  Empowering the Body

Watch the Video:  Join us for Healing and Cancer – The Nature of Healing breast cancer retreat documentary.

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

Empowering the Body

This chapter, written over five years ago, has held up incredibly well to the burgeoning of scientific health promotion.  I would only add the following updates:

 

  1. The advice offered also applies to people suffering from chemo brain – or any other condition which compromises our ability to think clearly. For instance, exercising is the best way to improve memory.  We release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor after moderate exercise which promotes our brain ability to set down new memories.
  2. I would add on a whole section about sleep hygiene: the habits we can use to promote a better night’s sleep.  For instance, even 90 seconds of bright light in the middle of the night can suppress melatonin and other healthy hormones produced during a good night’s sleep. I suggest people wear eye patches at night (and keep the lights off if you need to get up to go to the bathroom).
  3. Remarkably, science shows that taking a short daytime nap improves the quality of sleep at night. Napping also increases memory and learning post-nap ie in the latter part of the day and evening. Learning how to nap is another skill which you can learn from the experts.
  4. The 5-2-1-0 strategy for maintaining a reasonable weight includes:
  • Fill up on your veggies (FIVE servings per day) early in each meal before eating calorie dense foods.
  • Restrict your sitting screen time to TWO hours per day.  Impossible for most of us – but it reminds us to limit our sitting time outside of ‘work’.  Use a standing station for your essential computer time at home is a practical way to reduce sitting time.
  • ONE hour of exercise per day.
  • ZERO calories from sugary fluids like fruit juices or soda pop.

 

One of the biggest challenges people affected by cancer face in empowering their body is the tendency to relapse to their lifestyle choices prior to their diagnosis. It seems that fear is a major motivator in the first few months with cancer, but as the years go by, fears typically subside, and a person can lose their drive to take care of themselves.  I’ve tried to reframe the experience of choosing healthy options as something that comes naturally when you begin to appreciate your life as sacred. When you realize that your body is the vehicle that allows you to extend your love and spirit into the world, then you no longer need to feel like you’re denying yourself.  Instead the healthy choice will come from a place of love and appreciation for your wonder-full body.

 

More recently, I heard Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and professional speaker, talk about what motivates him to take care of himself. His granddaughter has a rare genetic condition which has taken her in and out of hospital most of her life. Dr. Amen wants to remain healthy for as many years as possible so he can be an advocate for his granddaughter’s medical care, and support his entire family with his medical knowledge and insight.  Whenever he’s tempted by an unhealthy habit (like eating a sugary or fatty snack) he brings to mind the image of his beautiful granddaughter , and the temptation quickly fades away.

 

Finding purpose and meaning in our life is the greatest motivator to health and happiness. Finding balance in our busy schedules, understanding what makes our precious bodies function optimally, and adopting the attitude that self-care comes first is the foundation to fully expressing your love and compassion in the world.

 


 

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 Nine

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 7 – Marie: Riding the Wind and Waves

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 Seven:  Marie – Riding the Wind and Waves.

Watch the Video:  Join us for a short meditation, a lecture on complete cancer care, and home practice exercises from our Healing Program series.

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

Embodying Complete Cancer Care

Healing after a cancer diagnosis is like building a railroad track – you need to set down two rails which run in parallel.  On one side is physical recovery, and on the other is emotional well-being.

Promoting physical recovery is often more straight forward.  Getting the best care from the medical system is essential but it takes time to learn how the system works and how to advocate for yourself (starting with the attitude that you are the most important person in the room when you see your doctors).  Channeling your life force energy (and all the anger, frustrations, and fears) into adopting and maintaining the healthy lifestyle changes – exercise, diet, maintaining a reasonable weight, sleep hygiene and practicing a relaxation technique – is key to a long-term recovery.  Fortunately, you can expect to feel better / stronger / happier from taking these concrete steps.

Setting down the rail of emotional recovery is much trickier for several reasons. First, we need to let go of the expectation that we’re going to feel happy all the time. The fact is our emotions vary like the weather, and we can’t expect to see the sun every day. Laying down a healthy emotional rail entails allowing the naturally occurring emotions to flow through us. Being upset and scared when first diagnosed and mourning the losses in one’s life are expected. The first lesson is to let those difficult emotions be there, to run their natural course. It’s very healthy to be open and honest about your emotions with at least one wise person in your life – someone who can listen without trying to give you advice to try to make you feel better. As time goes on, typically the stormy weather seems to settle, it rains less often, and you can get back to feeling like yourself again.

The second reason why emotional healing is tricky is because we bring our emotional software from our life prior to cancer into the present.  My experience as an oncologist and support group leader is that most people (myself included) are hurting on the inside even though we try to put on a brave face.  The emotional software have been programmed from childhood with distorted beliefs like ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘I’m only worthy if I’m doing something productive’ and many others.  This software can cause a lot of suffering if we become more dependent on others during the cancer journey. The ego state (how we view ourselves) can be completely shattered and can take months to reintegrate a healthy view of ourselves.  However, like promoting physical well-being, we can learn and practice the skills which facilitate emotional healing.  Seeking a professional (psychologist, social worker, counselor) can also help us lay down your emotional track.

I love Marie, the star of this chapter.  She’s a poster child of what it means to get complete cancer care. She draws on her life experience as a clinical psychologist to work on both ‘rails’ to set down her railroad track of recovery.  But it’s not easy for her.  She has to overcome her strong tendencies as an introvert to reach out to others for the support she needs. She gets frustrated and judgmental of herself for falling off the exercise wagon. You can almost hear that wise and compassionate voice in her head saying, “It’s OK. You’re doing your best. Just take one day at a time. Just take baby steps.”   It takes work to promote this emotional healing.

I emailed Marie for an update of her life and asked her to offer some advice to others. Now 10 years cancer-free, Marie writes “I am doing well, working still 5 days in elementary and middle schools, and with children, teenagers and their families. I sing in a choir, still see my Breast Cancer Support group a few times a year (we spent a week-end together every June), try to do a bit of exercise (mostly outdoor and in nature), see many friends and go to Montreal once a month to help my 91 year old mother who still lives in her house but does not drive anymore.”

In addition she’s helping a number of people in her life outside of work reflecting, “I am still struggling with setting myself as the priority number 1 and taking care of myself. However, my expectations are more reasonable and I try to take baby steps each day to be mindful of my limits and respect them. So my advice to people would be to continue to face the emotions that come along in that roller coaster, to accept them, and to take care of themselves.”

She concludes, “You could also mention how grateful I am to still be alive and able to enjoy life. This healing journey helped me grow and still does.”

 


 

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.

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

Remembering Marie:  Riding the Wind and Waves

Remembering Marie and her story of the two images that inspired her, rouses in my heart a deep sense of confidence in the resilience, power and goodness in the human spirit. Marie truly transformed every defeat and discouragement along her cancer journey into an opportunity to examine herself and her old ways honestly, and then rise to the challenge to overcome them step-by-step. Of course it helped that she had some background and training in psychology and counsels young people to find their strength and resilience. Nevertheless, she still had to walk the walk one step at a time and face her own fears, demons and inadequacies.

The image of her just before being struck by the big wave is such an apt metaphor for so many people who are blindsided by a cancer diagnosis in the prime of their life. Smiling for the camera in the sunshine and truly enjoying your life suddenly you are struck from behind by a huge wave that brings you face down in the sand and leaves you soaking wet and cold. The feelings of loss, disorientation and downright anger are normal. Yet at that moment the choice is clear, one can let these feelings take over, and generate thoughts that recycle them in ones body-mind system or one can see this as an opportunity to practice starting over.

In some ways the essence of mindfulness practice is this willingness to start fresh again and again with whatever situation and conditions exist in the moment. When we don’t allow our natural intelligence to start fresh, engaging in the moment with whatever is present, we tend to bring attitudes and expectations from the past and try to make them fit in the present.

When our current reality doesn’t match what we are used to, our image of ourselves and our place in the world can be shattered beyond recognition. This will provoke strong feelings. The feelings themselves embody a form of innate intelligence about how to negotiate our way in the new reality. If we can simply be with the feelings, breathe into them, feel them with our mindful curiosity, they will shift and change as they motivate us to move forward. If we let the “old software” of thinking things should be different than they are and the image of who we thought we were, play in our mind we stir up a secondary emotional storm that is disconnected from our current situation and further suffering will result. Any cancer diagnosis is a powerful opportunity to learn and strengthen this important life skill and practice.

The second image that inspired Marie, a photo of her at the helm of her brother’s sailboat while a strong wind tilted it to a frightening angle represents how Marie gradually and consistently conquered her fear. Fear is also a powerful emotion on the cancer journey that we need to honour. When we truly feel our fear and stay present, we find again there is a moment of choice where we can either give in to the fear, triggering the fight, flight or freeze primitive brain and stress nervous system, or we can again breathe and find our fearlessness directly within the fear. The old adage of “feel the fear and do it anyway” best describes this choice point that mindfulness helps us to recognize. Each time we feel the fear we can challenge ourselves to practice fearlessness even just a little. This will gradually lay down the new neural pathways of fearlessness. Practicing fearlessness helps us move forward in our lives just as a sailboat can move forward even in the face of the wind.

 


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 Eight

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 6 – Complete Cancer Care Part 1

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 Six:  Complete Cancer Care Part 1

Watch the Video:  Filmed at a Skills for Healing Retreat, Dr. Rob Rutledge, Oncologist and Associate Professor of Medicine, provides a practical and integrated approach to a breast cancer diagnosis.  Includes how to get the best care from the medical system, and the scientifically proven healthy habits and healing techniques.

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

“My Doctor is a Jerk” and other unhelpful thoughts about the medical system

 

Late on the Friday evening of the weekend retreat, in the Q+A portion of my ‘Complete Cancer Care’ lecture, attendees frequently bring up their frustrations with the medical system. We hear stories about delays in making the diagnosis, incredibly insensitive comments from physicians, and people feeling like they are being pushed along a conveyer belt of physical care. We could discuss what’s wrong with the system and how to make it better for hours. Instead, I try to impart a wise and effective approach to getting the best possible care which will serve the attendees for the rest of their lives.

 

First, it’s best to acknowledge the emotions that emerge when contemplating the medical system. It’s normal to be angry or upset with inappropriate behavior or poor care provided by your health care team. Working with emotions and underlying core beliefs is essential for psychological growth. Holding onto resentment and frustration from the past only drains us of our life energy in the present.

 

Second, is a simple teaching: Take action when appropriate and let go or reframe the rest. (There’s a whole section of our book on reframing.) Practically, this means that if you’ve received poor care, you can choose to write a letter to a patient advocate in the hospital, or the responsible government member, or even the licensing college of the health care provider in question.  For gross malpractice, your speaking up may result in a change that will protect other people from a similar outcome in the future. If you’re going to blow the whistle, do it now, and move on. However, for most situations, you’d probably be better off focusing your energy on healing – and learning how to work the health care system for your own benefit.

 

Let’s take the example that your cancer doctor has poor communication skills and/or gives you the impression of being arrogant. The thought comes to your mind “My doctor is a jerk.”  The first decision is whether you need to change physicians (if it’s possible) which you would do by asking your family doctor or the nurse at the cancer centre to make a referral to another doctor. It’s uncommon that this is the best approach, but if you really think your physical care is compromised or if you’ve lost trust in your physician, be proactive and find another doctor.  If you decide to remain with your doctor, it would be best to reframe the thought “My doctor is a jerk.”

 

If you can recognize this automatic thought coming to mind, you can begin asking yourself the reframing questions.

  1. What emotions follow this way of thinking?  Anger, frustration. Also – depending on the core beliefs that underlie the thought, such as “Doctors shouldn’t be jerks” or “I shouldn’t have to deal with arrogant physicians, my illness is bad enough” – other feelings like helplessness may be provoked.
  2. What happens to your body with this thought? Likely a stress reaction or a depressed state.
  3. Is it helpful or harmful to think this way?  Harmful.  These thoughts don’t help you get what you need.  In fact, you may be sending him vibes that you think he’s a jerk, to which he would react, creating a vicious cycle of deteriorating communication.
  4. Is it exaggerated or irrational?  Labeling people causes us to think of the person as their label and nothing else. “He’s a jerk” sound like he’s a total jerk 100% of the time which likely isn’t true. Labelling is a cognitive distortion resulting in overgeneralization or ‘black and white’ thinking.

 

To reframe use a kind and rational voice:  Your doctor is a human being. He has his strengths and weaknesses. Almost all cancer specialists go to international conferences to make sure they are delivering the best possible physical care to their patients. Your doctor may not have good communication skills but it’s your responsibility to try to get the best care from what he has to offer. Don’t look to your physician to be your spiritual advisor. Instead, figure out how to work with him, and get your questions answered by being persistent or by another one of the team members. Tap into other resources (like talking to a nutritionist or going to a support group) by asking your nurse about what’s available.  You can empower your body, settle your mind, and facilitate healing in many other ways outside of the medical system – including reading this blog.

 

 


 

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 Seven

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 5 – Andrew: Opening the Door to a New Life

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 Five:  Andrew – Opening the Door to a New Life

Watch the Video:  Meet Andrew in person in this 5 minute video.

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

What is a miracle?

 

Andrew: Opening a Door to a New Life is a chapter about miracles.  In it, Andrew’s uncle Arthur wakes up unexpectedly from a two-week coma after having had a near-death experience. Secondly, Andrew hears about rock star Ronnie Hawkins who recovers completely from an incurable pancreatic cancer after enlisting the help of Adam the Dream Healer.  Lastly, Andrew, who has a profound spiritual experience while undergoing brain surgery while awake, is alive and well with no evidence of recurrence, eight years after being given a dismal prognosis by his physicians.

 

These true stories fit into the classic definition of miracles:  “surprising and welcome events which are not explicable by natural or scientific laws and are therefore ascribed to a supernatural cause or divine intervention.”  It is because they are so unexpected and fall outside our world view that we are so intrigued.

 

But what if we expanded our definition of miracles?  As a medical student, I helped in the delivery of about twenty babies and every birth was a miracle to me.  At this very moment I’m sitting on the bus beside a man who told me he has stage 4 incurable lung cancer.  He has been put on a targeted therapy (chemo pill) with few side effects which has put his cancer into complete remission.  It’s a miracle that he was so sick just a few weeks ago, and he now looks vibrant, and is playing tennis again, and travelling south for vacation.

 

Even as I sit here my breath is going in and out, my heart is delivering oxygen to my brain, I feel happy and fulfilled – all without my conscious control.  It’s nothing short of a miracle. When I really contemplate my existence, I feel like shouting with joy “Oh, my God, I’m alive!”  I can feel this overwhelming sense of peace and energy that seems to be inside of me and around me at the same time. It’s a miracle that you’re reading this now.

 

Why is it important to include these everyday experiences in our definition of miracles?

 

It’s natural for people who have been given an “incurable” cancer diagnosis to pray for a miracle, hoping that God, the Universe, however you conceive of it, will find a way to make the cancer go away.  Setting the intention to heal and recover is healthy, as long as we can let go of grasping too hard. The paradox here is that although the remarkable cancer survivors set their intention to heal physically, they don’t waste their energy worrying about the future. Instead they focus their life force on living an authentic and fulfilling life now. When we truly appreciate the miracle of our own existence we invite the highest spiritual principles into our lives.  We generate a sense of awe, peace, and incredible gratitude. When we’re in this space, the inherent love we feel for others becomes apparent to us, and directs our actions and words. We fall in love with the world and life itself.  The effect on us can be miraculous. Our bodies become energized and engage our inherent ability to heal; our minds send the message, I want to live, I want to love, and our spirits begin to sing.

 

 


 

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.

 


TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

Miracles of Each Moment and a New Life

Rob’s blog above is a beautiful contemplation of this question:  what is a miracle? The consistent practice of mindfulness helps us to perceive, appreciate and rouse deep gratitude for the miracle that is every moment of our life.  In fact the cover art of our book is titled “Miracles of Each Moment”.  Created by a Japanese Zen teacher and artist living in California.  Kazuaki Tanahashi, now in his 70s, has been painting these Zen circles or Enso for over 50 years.  Zen arts such as calligraphy, painting, flower arranging and serving tea as well as martial arts such HealingCircleLogo.jpgas the way of the bow and sword are actually rituals of mindfulness that lead the practitioner to embody the principals of spontaneous presence, natural creativity and deep gratitude for the miracle of each moment.

 

My own experience in a calligraphy and painting workshop with Kaz released a powerful sense of joy, playfulness, and awe.  A poignant moment for me occurred when Kaz lovingly wrapped his gentle hand around mine while holding the brush and guided me through the calligraphy strokes for the characters of water and fire.  Something ineffable was transmitted from teacher to student.  It was as if the essence of his many years of practice, a lifetime doing calligraphy strokes, and even the lineage of his teachers, in some small way passed on to me.

 

In contemplating the chapter, Andrew, Opening the door to a new life, miracles and the theme of a new life stand out.  A cancer diagnosis is, of course, a huge shock to one’s psyche, rousing fear, anxiety, anger and many other emotions.  But as many people have pointed out it is also an opportunity to reframe loss by embracing change, learning to let go, and consciously moving toward healing and transformation.  Andrew’s story exemplifies this as he was a very busy and highly acclaimed businessman, writer, consultant and speaker who let this all go to focus on his inner healing journey.  This wasn’t easy, and he had many setbacks, dark nights and deep frustrations.

 

Many people with cancer might be inwardly asking, “What can I do to invite a miracle?”  Andrew’s personal mantra, noted in the chapter, “Pray as if it is up to God but act as if it’s up to me” crystallizes a wise response to this open-ended question.   It also points to the living paradox of rousing courage, strength and proactivity while opening oneself to the vulnerability of “not knowing” or clinging to an outcome.  This invites the power and blessings of something greater than oneself.  My healing teacher, steeped in the mystical Jewish tradition, said the degree to which we reach out to God is the same degree to which God will reach out to us. Similarly the great 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart said “the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” These words of wisdom begin to point us toward an awareness of a deep truth embedded in the very structure of reality; on one level we are separate and independent and on another we are all one, thoroughly interconnected and interdependent as a part of the infinite universe.

 

For me, this cold week of February has been filled with festivities, practices and teachings celebrating the Tibetan New Year.   Traditionally a time of rebirth and renewal, a phrase associated with this practice is Tashi Tendrel, Auspicious Coincidence.  This term points to this paradox; that we are at once immersed in a universe operating on the relative level and at the same time consciousness and our personal awareness are both part of this relative matrix and transcendent. Thus in a truly holistic and integrated approach to health and healing we can value both the miracles of modern medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and all of the other emerging tools of science as well as the healing power of prayer, meditation and consciousness.  There is another saying in Tibetan I have heard several times this week: “the die has been cast but the outcome is not yet determined.”  Always remember you can do something that makes a difference and the miracle of every moment is always – right here, right now – displayed before you.

 


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 Six

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog: Chapter 4 – Opening Circle

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 four:  Opening Circle

Watch the Video:  Opening Circle  During the opening circle we ask the attendees, both those with a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones, to say a little about their diagnosis, what has been most difficult on their cancer journey, and their hopes for the weekend. Warning: Listening to so many stories at once can bring up many emotions. However, like the participants, we encourage you to stay with whatever emotions come up as this is an essential step in the healing process.

 

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

After fifteen years and 43 retreats, the opening circle remains a mystery to me. The design is simple enough. Tim and I create a safe atmosphere by sharing our stories, speaking from the heart, and asking the attendees to be authentic to themselves and their deepest emotions. After our introductions and a short group meditation, we ask each person to share what’s been most difficult on their cancer journey. We are deliberately going to the darkest places, where people are suffering most, because this is the ground where the roots of profound healing begin to take hold. We know the attendees will be stretched to the edge of their tolerance listening to forty strangers sharing intimate details of their lives, many crying through their sentences, releasing grief they have held for too long.  We are purposely creating a very intense bonding experience to begin the weekend retreat.

 

But there is something more happening here. When we as individuals slow down and just listen closely to another human being talk about their greatest difficulties, an inner warmth automatically begins to shine from within. When forty people open their hearts at the same time, it’s as if a glow from each person begins to meld with the spirit of every other person in the room.  Within an instant of the first person speaking on Friday evening the circle seems to be enveloped by this vibrant and loving energy.

 

But what is this energy?  How is it related to our spiritual life or our higher consciousness?  Is this a doorway to experiencing the presence of a higher power?  Is this the energy into which the remarkable cancer survivors release themselves that facilitates the deepest healing in their lives?

 

I don’t know the answers nor do I feel a need to explain this mystery. However, I feel that there is a shift happening in our human evolution. We are becoming more conscious of the ‘spiritual’ aspect of our lives.  Even within the cancer world over the last three decades I have seen the medical system go from focusing exclusively on conventional physical care, to promoting healthy life choices, to addressing the emotional impact cancer has on most everyone’s life.  But we now are on the cusp of a new revolution. We are collectively beginning to experience something bigger. Something that can hold all of our experience in a warm and loving embrace. The light we can see in the opening circle is shining through, showing us the way home.

 


 

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 Five

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog: Chapter 3 – What is Healing

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 three:  The Healing Circle – What is Healing

Watch the Video:  Friday Evening Introduction  On a Friday evening, fifty people affected by cancer gathered in a large circle to begin a Skills for Healing weekend retreat. Tim (Dr. Walker) and Rob (Dr. Rutledge) share some of their personal stories and the meaning of “Skills for Healing Retreat” at the start of the program.

 


TimothyWalker.jpg Blog by Dr. Timothy Walker

At the beginning of every mindfulness group I ask:  Where do you feel most at peace, relaxed and whole? The answers range:  walking on a beach, at my cottage on the lake, reading, surfing, taking a bath, walking my dog, playing tennis, holding my sleeping grandchild, listening to music, petting my cat while it purrs on my lap, in the woods, watching a sunrise.  Many people with cancer are especially good at identifying these moments and seeking them out. Something in their mindset has shifted since their diagnosis that helps them appreciate the simple little moments that shine with the fullness of life.

 

We all have these little moments of simple presence and peace no matter how brief they may seem or how often they go unnoticed. The problem seems to be that we’ve been programmed to think that they’re unimportant.  We tend to believe that we need to get on with living, which means being busy, meeting challenges, engaging with stress and worry – all for the sake of our outer accomplishments only.

 

It is in our nature to heal. It is in our nature to feel whole, at peace and even content and grateful for the goodness of life itself. Yet there is a tendency in our modern culture to stray from our deeper wisdom of wholeness and healing into a maze often structured with intercrossing pathways of struggle, confusion, stress and discontent. Many of us are split within ourselves. A wise part of us knows that we can stay connected to our wholeness and unconditional worthiness and even bring that sense of well-being into our challenges in life. Operating at the same time is another part of us that is identified with an image of ourselves based on memories of the past or in projections of the future.

 

For example in my own life I had severe learning problems in elementary school and developed an identity connected with those feelings of inadequacy.  I had an inner voice that said “try harder” and a tendency toward self-sabotage that arose over and over in those years. Every now and then when these feelings are triggered by new life situations I can either replay them or I can be mindful of the present moment, opening my mind to the possibilities that are not associated with holding on to that old identity. The new neural pathways associated with mindfulness and awareness are laid down one moment at a time and each time we choose to be mindful is a victory for healing.

By practicing mindfulness and awareness we can deliberately enjoy the little moments that shine with the fullness of life and we can gradually realize that even in the midst of stress, fear and pain, the fullness of life is still shining. In doing this we start to heal the split within ourselves and gradually come back home to our true nature of wholeness.

 


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.


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

I’m looking out my dining room window suddenly enveloped in a deep sense of peace.  Sunlight bounces off  icing cake layers of snow, the frosted trees stand completely still. Hardly a thought comes up and my mind seems to expand outward. I’m part of everything – part of life itself. I can sense my body, my emotional energy, even my thoughts coming up but I am also the presence, the deep stillness, the peace that holds it all. This is my already existing wholeness.

I find it miraculous that when we take away all our striving, all our judgments, all of our thoughts like “life should not be this way” or “I’m not good enough” what we’re left with is an incredibly peaceful and vibrant energy. There could be nothingness or even a negative energy but our default state is so overwhelmingly positive. This simple presence, the simple consciousness, the awareness that holds all of our experience is love itself. At our core this is what we are.

Healing happens automatically when we begin to recognize this truth. Jackie and John (the two actual and universal characters in the book chapter) feel their lives have been shattered because they have identified themselves with what they do.  At this level of understanding there is a lot of suffering.  It is expected that our human egos will go through mourning when we lose function. Experiencing those emotions is a healthy process that will unfold naturally. But we can also hold all of our lives with a loving energy like a mother cuddling a distraught infant.  The baby is perfect – utterly whole – even when it’s upset.  We are the mother and the child.

The second miracle is that something within our being wants us to heal. Somehow we are being drawn towards experiencing our wholeness. Our internal voice whispers “Love yourself as you are right now. Love life as it is right now – in this wonderful moment of being.”

Welcome home.

 


 

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 Four