Healing Body, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

When I was diagnosed with cancer, someone recommended the book, The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, a stem cell biologist who writes about the connection between science and spirit.  The premise of the book is that our beliefs impact us at a cellular level, meaning that cells under the microscope look different depending upon the context of the environment- ie happier or relaxed environments cause the cells to respond in kind, whereas a stressful environment causes the cells to go into a protection mode.  Dr. Lipton states that this happens because our cells are in essence mini humans.

Whether or not you can get behind this theory, I do think that it is at minimum an interesting way to think about our insides.  When you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is quite natural to fear what is happening inside of your body, and as a result we need to find ways to support ourselves through it.

Vipassana meditation is a form of meditation in which we actively observe the deep interconnection of the body and mind.  Using this style of meditation, we ask ourselves to find and follow a focal point, which I applied to my technique of cellular meditation.

Before we look at cellular meditation, let’s consider how it may be of use when you have cancer:

  • To cope with chemotherapy– chemo often stirs a lot of anxiety for people, after all it is a toxin which we are actively choosing to put into our body.  Sitting in the infusion chair is a tremendously brave act.  When you use cellular meditation, it can help with the transition into the chair and into the treatment, talking to yourself at the cellular level with soothing messages as well as envisioning the chemo being really successful at killing those cancer cells.
  • To cope with blood draws, scans, and tests– cancer causes a lot of scanxiety- the anxiety that comes with diagnostic testing.  Yet we must find a way to move through it with as much ease as we can find.
  • Recurrence fears– as cancer reminds us, we only have so much control over the outcome of our lives. If we are suffering with fears of recurrence, it’s important to check in with our oncs to see if our symptoms are requiring attention. And, we can help tolerate that process through cellular meditation.
  • To bring peacefulness and joy– during and following cancer treatment, we have to be realistic with how our bodies and minds are doing at any given moment.  Often this means that we need to tap into patience and decrease fear that we will never be the same again.  Focusing our cellular meditation on peacefulness and joy can bring a calm to the storm.

A cellular meditation involves taking a few simple steps, which can be applied in a number of ways:

  1. Withdrawing our attention from the outside to the inside, through softening our gaze or closing our eyes.
  2. Connecting to our breath- by taking breaths that travel all the way into your belly before expanding into your chest (placing a hand on your belly helps to increase awareness of this action).
  3. With your minds eye (ie attention) travel down from the top of your head into the core.
  4. Take a moment to observe what you find.
  5. Set an intention of the environment you wish to bathe your cells in, let it become the focal point for a period of time until you begin to feel the effect it is having on your system.
  6. As you notice a shift, begin to see how that impacts your internal environment, your cells, returning to your intention as needed or desired.
  7. Before ending your session, take a moment to notice how you are feeling now.

Meditations don’t need to happen always from a seated posture, here are some other ways to enjoy a cellular meditation:

  • Through art– Dr. Lipton described the cells thru the microscope, which brought to my mind the idea of using a mandala to meditate on my cells.  A mandala is a circle that is drawn on paper, in which one draws, and it is used by Buddhist monks for healing.  Imagine that the circle is a microscope that is looking inside at your cells.  Follow the above flow for cellular meditation using whatever are supplies you have on hand to represent each step- here is an example of one I did for this blog.
  • Through yoga– the practice of yoga already asks us to go inside and connect with our bodies.  If you select a more slower and gentler style, such as Hatha, it is possible to do the cellular meditation right on the mat.
  • Through music– have you ever tried listening to music with your whole body, including your cells?  It is quite an experience- you might even create a play list that takes you through different genres and feelings, ending in the final place you wish to reach.
  • Through nature– this one is most successful if we imagine the qualities of nature that we enjoy to flow from the outside into our insides, into our cells.  Whether you are walking, running or resting, this is a lovely exercise to try!

From my cells to yours, I hope that you find bliss through this practice!  Namasté.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self 0 comments on When desperation strikes

When desperation strikes

I remember my first winter after treatment ending. I had just had my final surgeries, and I was still recovering from them when I got a cold. I was already feeling pretty low physically, and this cold felt like it was pushing all of my buttons. Kind of like how your brother or sister knows how to torture you best.

I called up my PCP and did my best to convince her to give me antibiotics, citing how the radiation may have damaged my lungs and made it harder for me to heal. I was so disappointed when she said no, even though I knew deep down that it would not have been an appropriate intervention and on top of it would have killed any decent microbes that had managed to rejuvenate since the hell of treatment.

Before cancer, I hardly ever went to the doctor or got sick. I generally avoided taking medication at all costs, so this was quite out of character for me to feel this desperation.

But there are days in which that is just what cancer brings us, desperation. In this case, desperation to feel good- almost at any cost.

Of course, the above example is pretty mild in terms of the stress meter, but I share it because it demonstrates how vulnerable we can feel post cancer. Prior to having cancer, I didn’t have many qualms with my body. Post cancer, if I am not thoughtful about my stress levels and frame of mind, I can easily tumble into a dark place.

There are the more obvious triggers- such as symptoms that could be signaling a recurrence, yet in my mind what lies deep below is a sense that somehow our bodies betrayed us by growing cancer in the first place. We may also struggle with thoughts about how we did or did not do things that caused the cancer.

One ripple in the waters can set off a chain reaction. No matter where you are in in this process of healing the body, one basic recommendation that I can give you is to be compassionate with yourself when you find yourself in a desperate place (or your loved one if you are a caregiver).

When you feel desperate, it is a sign that you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of some TLC. Responding kindly to yourself or to someone else, it sets a tone that suggests that things are going to be okay. Solutions can wait until you feel stronger again, it is time to rest.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Mind, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

Have you ever had the experience of talking about one life event, only to have it trigger all sorts of thoughts, feelings and memories that initially would have seem unrelated?  I see this happen all of the time in my own life and in the conversations that I have with clients.  When it happens, people often express surprise at how the conversation can wander in such unexpected ways.

To which, I always smile and reply:

Talking about our personal lives often feels like a series of interconnected tentacles, layers or root systems, and that our bodies and minds store them together- even when we might not have considered throwing them into the same box.  It is the quality of the emotions that are present which set off a wild and spontaneous ride through our psyche

As a therapist, I am always thrilled to see this happen in session, because it is evidence that the individual feels relaxed enough to just follow the path that is being laid out by our psyche.  It can almost feel like a state of being awake and dreaming, because we are unpacking the box as it is, rather then predetermining what was in there in the first place.

To stimulate this processing, we often look for a jump off point in a person’s story, or use a prompt to get the juices going.  This is the intention behind the individual art therapy sessions that have been designed to help heal emotionally from cancer and other life threatening experiences.  To fully heal from cancer, it is going to take time, and I wanted to design a tool that people can use as they move forward with their lives.

As Shai Tubali writes:

Emotions cannot evolve though intellectual comprehension; there must be direct access to them, access that allows them to go through a transformation from the plane in which they actually exist

When we find our leap off point, and then explore through art, writing and ultimately sharing through talking, we find ourselves leaning into what has happened and experiencing the emotions through an observational place- as we are trying to represent them in some way.  This allows us greater ability to move in and out of a painful experience, rather then going around and around in an unending thought loop inside of our minds.  The result allows us to begin the process of transformation.

Sometimes we need to move in and out of something rather quickly, in order to get used to the process.  Kind of like moving your body in and out of the ocean in order to acclimate it to the temperature, before leaping in completely.  If we respect our pacing while challenging ourselves to continue to move towards fully jumping in, we will find a greater trust in our own ability to do so.

So tell me, where do you wish to begin?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

Yes, I am trying to make you smile, but actually I also believe that this metaphor has a lot of significance. Here’s how it works in my mind…

Several years ago, we bought a Tempurpedic mattress. Once it was set up, we were so delighted that we would be sleeping on the most comfy mattress we had ever had. However, in order to fully reap the rewards of the mattress, we needed to accept and move through the off-gassing process. We couldn’t avoid it, we certainly weren’t going to return the mattress, because we knew that in the long run it was all going to be worth it.

The emotional healing process is quite similar. There are going to be times that we begin to reap the reward of taking the time and energy requires to heal ourselves; however, to do this we must walk through the process of off-gassing, i.e., releasing the aspects of your experience that caused suffering. When you have been diagnosed with cancer, your body, mind, spirit and sense of self has to store these events that we can’t fully process in order to cope with the crisis we face.

As we begin to heal, the triggers which set off the cascade of unfinished healing reminders, are kind of like the process of furniture off-gassing. It can strike us at unexpected times, prevent us from feeling fully comfortable, and the only way to heal it is to find ways to support yourself through the process.

So why are metaphors important in healing?  They are important because they help to transform something that is deeply personal, quite vulnerable, and subject to self criticism/judgment into something that is more compassionate, more universal, a part of the human experience- allowing ourselves to see the possibility that we are not alone but rather a part of a community of fellow travelers who are also working through similar challenges.

Metaphors can also help to normalize and validate our experience.  We’d love to have our mattresses off-gas completely the moment we obtain them, but in reality it is a process of unfolding that takes time.  When we become more realistic about what it means to heal, we can begin to accept the process rather than fight it.  We can remind ourselves that eventually the mattress no longer smells like chemicals; therefore, if we allow ourselves to feel through an experience, one day those triggers will not be as painful as they once were.

Like the mattress, our bodies hold the most raw, unrefined aspects of our life experiences.  Our physical self is the receptacle of the energy and sensations that we have trapped inside in order to survive.  These sensations can not be rationalized or avoided, so we need to create the skills and conditions that allow them to be felt, understood, and released.

Like that song I used to sing as a kid, “Going on a lion hunt”, advised:

Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it.

So the real question is- what do you need in order to sustain yourself as you find your way through emotional healing?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Milestones, Anniversaries, & How the Body Reminds Us

Milestones, Anniversaries, & How the Body Reminds Us

In a few short weeks, I turn 43. My mom and her sister were both 43 when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. For 21 years, this was the milestone I thought of in my mind- if I make it beyond 43, then I won’t get cancer. Of course, I beat them to the punch by being diagnosed at 40. My aunt, 3 decades later, is living cancer free. My mom, 5 days after she turned 51, died from metastatic breast cancer. You may have already guessed what other milestones I have in my mind…

Because I have already been diagnosed with cancer, I think I assumed that this birthday would be less emotionally dense- my phrase for when my body is full of energetic sensations that come from deeply felt emotions.  But this week my body reminds me, through various cues, that the importance of this milestone has not been diminished by the fact the cancer question has been answered.  I feel a pain in my heart that has not been there for many years.

On one hand, I can feel myself wanting to distract from this pain by trying to analyze if I am being overly dramatic about it.  On the other hand, my creative spiritual side knows that this will be fuel for processing on the canvas of my breast casts, the many layers of the mother/daughter/sisterhood of cancer.  I now know what I wish to have for my birthday- the gift of time for art, to pay homage to this important milestone.

Our bodies often are the timekeepers of these milestones and anniversaries.  They are the ones that start releasing the energetic material of an important memory, almost like a reminder that we set ages ago and then forgot about.  Since many of these memories are stored within the context of grief, we often experience them as a heaviness inside.  If we allow ourselves time for introspection, the purpose of the release is often revealed to us- allowing for an Ah-Ha moment.

It can be very challenging to sit with this process of the energetic release.  Sometimes we may worry that if we fully allow ourselves to feel the pain, it will never stop.  Yet the opposite is true, the more we try to push away the pain, the more we suffer.  We can strike a compromise, when we set aside time to listen and experience the message, our body begins to trust us and with thoughtful planning we can craft a way to enter into and then exit an emotionally dense moment.  This will require listening to our personal cues of when we have reached our limits, and if that is something that you struggle with, then meeting with a therapist is highly recommended.

Process art can be an important ally when unpacking a milestone or anniversary.  It is effective because rather than ruminating over it in our minds, we are translating it onto paper.  This gives us the opportunity to literally get it off our chests, allowing us to have more breathing room as well as separation from it.  That distance can allow us to have a broader perspective of what we went through, to let go of what does not serve us, and to begin the process of making meaning.  This is the foundation of the individual sessions that I have designed as a tool for healing the body, mind, spirit, and self.

I share my story to honor the power of the collective- for the gift of vulnerability allows us to break the shackles of isolation.  “If you ask me what I came in this life to do, I will tell you.  I came to live out loud”- Emile Zola.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Mind, Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Digging out from the aftermath of cancer

Digging out from the aftermath of cancer

Most weeks, my writing process involves me going for a run, finding my inspiration and words for the week, and then recording them as promptly as I can.  This week, however, we had a blizzard and since I was the only non-sick member of my family, I was the one who did the majority of the digging out.  As I did so, I was fantasizing about owning a snow blower but knew that since we were still “digging out” of the financial hole cancer gave us, that was not likely going to happen.  And bam- I had my inspiration for the week.  The metaphor of “digging out” from the storm cancer (or any other life threatening circumstance) can create.

Let’s face it- facing a serious medical condition often involves a lot of drain, the draining of resources, time, health, stamina, and so forth.  Many of us are blessed to have our family and community rally behind us during the period of acute crisis and active treatment, which is a blessing and helps keep the individual and their immediate family’s heads above water.  When the crisis passes, hopefully you feel like things are eventually able to stabilize.  During this phase, it is typically the immediate family that is working to keep its own head above water.  Stabilization is important, but it’s not thriving.

For full recovery- financially, physically, emotionally, etc- we need to dig in in order to dig out.  Dig into the emotions that you needed to suppress in order to make it through the health crisis.  Dig out of the financial drain that the illness caused.  And just like this recent blizzard was for myself, there are many parts of that journey that must be done on your own, because each of our experiences is unique to us- my cancer experience was different from my husband’s or my children’s or my friend’s and family’s.

It seems to be that each time I think I have dug out from a particular phase of recovery, a little reminder pops up to say- there is more work to do!  Today’s reminder was a comment from my oldest son- asking about whether or not I might get cancer again.  To honor the honesty he needs from me, I can’t promise him that I won’t, but I do take the opportunity to tell him all of the ways I am working to care for my health.

So you might ask yourself- what do I need to dig into or out of to help myself heal today?  Find that question working it’s way into your body, mind, spirit or self.  Grab a journal, a pencil or some of your favorite art supplies and let them speak to you on the paper.  Give yourself the gift of time and space to breath some fresh air into those aspects of your healing that have felt buried.  And if you find yourself stumbling, reach out for some guidance or give one of my individual sessions a try.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.