Are you living or existing?
I was recently asked to do a talk at a Macmillan Cancer Coffee morning and I immediately accepted. Like many others, its an illness very close to my heart. Then I thought … Ah …. how am I going to speak about an illness as serious as cancer whilst making the message positive and hopefully inspiring?
21 years ago, my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was in its advanced stages. We lost her just over 12 months later.
Many of us will sadly be familiar with this scenario.
Of course I went through the usual stages of shock and disbelief. My mum was 46 years old and fairly healthy so what the hell?! Then I was angry …. My dad had smoked since he was 9 years old 9!!! – he had to have half of his lung removed due to his smoking and it’s my mum who gets cancer … how is that fair?! Then guilt – of course there I was asking why my Dad didn’t get cancer instead of my Mum.
I spent a lot of time swaying between anger and despair. I felt I had no control over my emotions and even if I had – I was fully justified in my outbursts because my mum was dying right?!
The word Cancer is full of negativity – just saying the word let alone watching what it does to people casts a black shadow over everything in its wake. Its a shitty, scary word – the word one no one wants to be associated with. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
What cancer does give us … is a sense of our own mortality. A sense of how nothing is permanent. It reminds us that nothing is forever. The words cancer and death are inextricably linked but the reality is that we are all dying – from the minute we are born. It just disease and illness comes along sometimes to speed up the process.
In the western world we hate talking about death but its inevitable – Albert Einstein talked about the planet having 7.5 billions years left before life – in all its forms – ends. Steven Hawking believed it was much less.
We all know what cancer is ….. but did you know that cancer tells you lies!
> You deserve this.
> You’re not good enough.
> You’re no longer a real woman or man.
> Your life is over.
For the loved ones watching cancer from the sidelines it lies to you too. It tells you – I’m making you depressed. Its my fault you feel sad and angry. I will make you feel guilty.
Those lies worm their way into your heart and mind and set up camp there and they will surface every time you let your guard down.
They will consume your thoughts and eat you up and bring you down and ….. it doesn’t have the be that way.
Here’s the rub – The way you feel about cancer – is not cancers fault.
As human beings we have free will – the free will to choose, so you can choose not to listen to the lies.
Almost all of us have alarm clocks to get us up in the morning but who enjoys their alarm actually going off and waking us up at silly o’clock!?
I’m no fan of the alarm clock honking at me to get up at 6am in the morning for sure!
Cancer – or any other serious illness – is like a massive honking wake up call to life.
The alarm clock on my bedside table however does not make me reflect on the time I have left on this planet and it does not remind me to live – so why does it take a serious illness such as cancer to make us do this?
Someone asked me once – ‘are you sad about your Mum because she died or are you sad because she didn’t live.’ Initially I thought WOW what a question! But it’s an interesting and thought provoking question and the answer I have is this. Of course I’d love my Mum to still be here with us, but I am sad that she didn’t live.
Some people spend all day – every day doing nothing . 24 hours of a day letting life pass them by because they think – Its ok – I have tomorrow. But do we?
You have to make each and every moment count – don’t wait for cancer or some other crisis to be your alarm clock to start living.
Life is precious … its a beautiful unique gift – with an expiry date and we have to learn to live every single minute – every second of it because that second, that minute is gone already.
What you did this morning when you got up, what you did 5 minutes ago before reading this – its in the past – it only now exists in our memory.
As for the future – that doesn’t exist at all yet. We really only have NOW.
And making a difference to the rest of your life – whether you are ill or not – is all to do with thought – your thinking in the moment.
And boy I wish I had understood this 21 years ago!
Here’s the thing, human beings have roughly 45-60 thoughts per minute and we are in control of what thoughts come into our head zero % of the time.
For example, if I say, “think about a pink and white striped elephant”, or if I say, “Don’t think about a pink and white striped elephant” – both times your thought created an image of a pink and white striped elephant, that popped into your head – whether you wanted it to or not.
Now, thinking about that elephant doesn’t make you feel good or bad because that thought doesn’t hold any meaning for you. You just let that elephant thought float away. Just as it should.
However, the difference comes when the thought does hold meaning for you – when it is something you care about. Like the illness of you or a loved one. This is where it gets tough because those thoughts …. seem real to you. Especially when the thought is understood as sad, angry, anxious etc.
Let me tell you a little story about the power of thought
My Husband and I have agreed that we going to attempt to do more new things together outside of our work stuff. We both do yoga at home but have never attended a class and so I booked us a hot pod yoga session – I was excited! He wasn’t …….
He had built this scenario up in his head about how he imagined it would be … too early on a Sunday morning, too hot and sweaty, too dark, uncomfortable, the hour is going to drag so much etc. and the whole drive there, although he didn’t voice his concerns – only to say that he didn’t fancy the class – was a bit quiet – you know that energy where you feel like you’ve done something you shouldn’t have but no-one is saying what. In his mind he was blaming the yoga class and me for putting him in this bad mood.
Now in times gone by, I would have challenged the quiet, likely asked a hundred questions as to why he didn’t want to go, we’d have argued a bit – turned the car around, gone back home and we’d both have had the hump for the rest of the day.
However, my new understanding knows that this scenario – the made up yoga class movie of his imagination is all down to thought in the moment. I saw that his thinking was not caused by him attending the yoga class at all – it was all down to him over thinking a situation he hadn’t even experienced yet! So – I ignored it and let it pass.
After the yoga was over, he was in a great mood. He explained that it wasn’t at all how he had imagined it. The heat and the dark enhanced the experience and he even enjoyed the sweat as it made him feel really clean! It was nice to do something so early on a Sunday that we had the remainder of the day to ourselves. So we had a nice ride home and Sunday started and ended amazingly well.
Nothing about that situation changed. It was still a yoga class – it was still early Sunday morning – it was hot and dark and sweaty (and really really hard work!!)
But what did change was his thinking – it just settled down and his mind cleared enough to allow the joy in.
Now, if I had allowed his initial thinking to change my mind about going, then I could have reinforced his thoughts that me and the yoga class was putting him in a bad mood and not his own thinking.
Instead what happened was we both witnessed how when thought settles down, and you can get a clear mind and let your thoughts drift – the world looks different without any change in circumstances.
The good thing about this is that we don’t have to force ourselves to do it!
We just need to be aware and recognise when the thoughts we are having about a situation or challenge in life are not serving us very well.
When we cut ourselves, our body miraculously heals itself without our help. We might clean it up and maybe put a plaster on it to keep it clean but if we leave it alone it will heal all by itself.
Our minds are the same, if we just leave it alone, your natural internal wisdom will show you a new way to think about whatever was bothering you in the first place. And the best news is we are all born with it! We’ve had the ability all our lives we just forget its there because it gets buried under years of adulting.
Ok so I realise that cancer will not heal itself as a cut does and sometimes the reality is that it will not heal at all – but this doesn’t mean that we have to give into the negative and unhelpful thoughts that might plague us about it.
We are human and so over thinking something – especially that stuff thats important to us – comes far too naturally to us.
We can’t stop the thoughts, good or bad, and we don’t need to. The nature of thought is transient. Meaning that is comes into your mind to just leave and not to stay.
Thoughts are like helium balloons that float past in your mind and away again.
If you choose to grab onto a thought balloon and weigh it down with your unhelpful thinking, it will get heavier and heavier until it lands on you no longer able to just float away.
Imagine this – Its like trying to drive your car on an icy patch of the road – the more you rev up the engine (your mind) the more the wheels spin sending you in circles (trying to fix your thinking with more thinking) and the longer you will take to get off the ice – and while doing so burn out your gear box, your tyres AND the engine! (your body)
If you just took a second to breathe and recognise that this revved up way is doing more harm than good, then instead, just slowly pointed yourself in the right direction and gently move forward in a low gear with no revving a little at a time, you’ll be on your way in no time and with a big smile on your face!
So the message I want to share with you is know this;
No matter what your challenge – whether it’s a general annoyance of someones habit, anxiety over an exam or the challenges that ill health such as cancer brings.
It’s your thinking alone, that is creating your feelings and your behaviour. You can’t possibly manage 60 thoughts per minute so don’t try. Any that come along that are not serving you well – just leave them alone and know that they will pass.
This is they key to living a happy, beautiful, fulfilling life, because tomorrow never actually comes and we only have now so remember to live it.
Lisa Holton Coaching October 2018