Practices to maintain a mindset of courage and a positive outcome in the midst of illness.
How we look at the world can change the way we experience it. When facing a life threatening illness, one woman found that the way she looked at her experience changed everything.
Judy Erel helped her mother fight cancer 16 years before her own diagnosis. She saw firsthand how helpful it was to have a positive mindset throughout treatment. When Erel faced her own “incurable,” yet, “treatable” diagnosis, as frightening and earth shattering as it was, she knew how important it was to develop tools to support her frame of mind. Her experience in art therapy, psychology, meditation and dance created a framework for her to develop a lifeline through her cancer treatment. She opted for conventional cancer treatment, enduring radiation as well as multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and is an advocate for every person facing a cancer diagnosis to empower themselves to choose their best treatment with their team. In her book, Dancing With Cancer: Using Transformational Art, Meditation and a Joyous Mindset to Face the Challenge, Erel takes readers through her journey, and offers practices to maintain a mindset of courage and a positive outcome.
A lifelong student of mind body practices, Erel knew that she had to work with her thoughts in order to keep her spirits up. Throughout her treatment, she kept journals, sketch pads, pencils, and pens by her bedside so she could immerse herself in expressing what she felt needed to be released and understood. She ended up drawing renditions of what was happening in her body, letting the creation of art be the medium that would allow her to stay in the present moment, (and she insists, “morphine was a great help too!”) She suggests asking questions about what will be helpful and free-writing responses in a journal. She also found mandala drawing to be a healing tool, where she could get lost in the moment, where her pain was not in the forefront of her mind.
Erel writes, “expressive activity can be used to articulate, release and empower change. This nonverbal “doing” creates balance, increases calm and provides quality time enjoyment. When you focus your attention on what you are doing, you mindfully enter the here and now. Then the mind’s chatter stops and fosters a state of inner quiet where self-healing thrives.” Another way to invite your unconscious and its wisdom into awareness is to free-write and free-draw. Erel would often draw circles with the cups in her hospital room, and those circles would become the basis for drawings that would give her insight into what was happening in her body and her mind, and would bring moments of peace.
Above all, Erel found that taking ownership of her mindset, and tapping into her intuition gave her incredible resilience through her journey with cancer, which still continues. She remains present with the full scope of her emotional journey, and returns to the practices that have helped her through each part of the journey. As her dance with cancer continues, she sometimes finds herself in the lead, and sometimes experiences a dizzying, stumbling dance, where she is simply attempting to stay upright. Regardless, it’s the dance that she is in, and she remains grateful to be in the experience of life.