Immunity and Emotions

For the past 2 1/2 years (some of the most emotionally stressful of my life), I have been ridiculously healthy. No colds, no flu, no illness. I take my daily Protandim pill, and if I feel a tickle at the back of my throat or I am exposed to somebody sick, I take an extra one. Sometimes I remember to take some vitamins, and I eat fairly healthy.

But last week I came down with something that hit hard, and I was diagnosed with pneumonia. Fever up to 102.7, intense deep cough that triggers leaking and sometimes the gag/vomit reflex, and then painful ribs that hurt everytime I cough. I am grateful for Urgent Care Centers and for antibiotics, and I am rapidly climbing back out of the abyss. Recent achievements are: walking to my mailbox, making garlic mashed potatoes, and taking showers. Today is my 9th day sick, and I am working up to going to the grocery store.

Sickness is a strange sort of vacation in which you are removed from most of your normal obligations and routines. Personally, I recommend taking regular vacations instead, but if being sick is what it takes to slow you down, so be it. If you often say or feel “I’m sick of this,” chances are you soon will be sick. If you don’t have any other way to escape, your body will find one. You can go to the la-la land of fever dreams. You can even check out entirely.

Some folks say that every illness is a psychosomatic illness at root – caused by the mind. This is not to say that the illness is not real. Oh, it’s real, but ultimately, it is caused by the way you have been thinking about your life. Your negative thoughts can depress your immune system.

That’s what just happened to me. I thought I was doing fine, in spite of a lot happening in a short time (2 concert performances, son’s wedding, and selling him a house, giving a major workshop – all within 2 weeks). I had been perking along just fine in spite of all those changes, but then another stress entered and I spent a week feeling angry and disappointed over somebody’s behavior. Next came a conversation about it that shook me deeply (it literally turned my stomach), followed a few minutes later by a symbol from the universe that rocked me to my core. Five days later I had my first fever in 2 1/2 years. Coincidence? I think not. The wall of protection called my immune system had been breached by too many assaults of emotional stress.

When I see people with a very serous illness, I wonder what traumatic event happened to them about one year before. I know what happened to Chad in Dec 2012, and in Dec 2013 he was in the hospital dying of cancer. I know of other examples, but I don’t feel at liberty to share. If you don’t find a way to deal with the trauma event, you put yourself at risk. Take the easy vacation… or you may end up with the hard one.

In this week of massacre in Paris, I think that many of us are feeling traumatized. Understand that you need to give yourself extra care, extra time, and use extra boosts to keep your immune system strong. Whenever you experience a Trauma Event, listen to your body, because it is listening to your subconscious mind. The body has its own kind of intelligence and it can interpret your messages very literally. If you say you don’t want to go on, the body will find a way to make your wish come true. (The statistics on widows who die within a couple years of their spouse are frightening.)

Whenever you are faced with a Trauma Event, take the time to allow and then process the feelings that come up. And treat yourself with extra tender care. Your health and your happiness deserve it.

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Self Esteem

Self Esteem has very little relation to talent or brains… it’s more about who you ARE than about what you DO… and it’s a lot different from what you CAN do (and often don’t!).

In his essay on Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson had some wonderful things to say:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

“The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents… God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”


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Tears and the Now

Emotional tears are a release of tension that has built up in the body.  It is as if our emotions are spilling over, and in the process, washing us clean.

Did you know that the chemistry of tears changes with their purpose? Basal tears keeps the eye lubricated, Reflex tears wash out irritants (dust, onion fumes), and Crying (psychic) tears relieve emotional stress.  The emotional tears (sad or happy) contain more protein-based hormones – prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and Leu-enkephalin (a natural opioid painkiller) – than basal or reflex tears. All of those chemicals are produced by the body when under stress.  Perhaps the body is getting rid of these chemicals through tears.  Wiki on Tears

So in that sense, tears are beneficial, a welcome way to release hurts and feel better.  Tears are a form of emotional self-medicating (and probably a lot healthier than booze, pills, or binge eating).  An important first step in healing is the willingness to feel your feelings.  But where do you go from there?  Release of emotion does not solve the underlying crisis or instantly transform you.  Crying is also pretty darn exhausting.

Tears are a symptom of intense emotion.  But we must dig deeper – to the cause – to cure any dis-ease.

I have come to believe that all tears of sadness are a form of self pity.  Now, that may sound harsh, but I say this as a fairly recent widow who has done her share of crying recently.  I don’t encourage anybody to suppress or repress the urge to cry.  I simply want to understand the cause so that I can be more mindful in my life and find ways to experience less sadness.  Awareness is the therapy.  When you understand what’s going on, you gain the power to change it.

Fundamentally, tears are expressing that I want something to be different in my life.  I cry because I believe that something is wrong.  I am resisting “what is” – the reality of what is happening here and now.  I want something else, and when I can’t get my way, I cry about it.  In my case, I want my husband to still be alive.  I want things to go back to the way they used to be, and when that can’t happen, I feel sorry for myself.

Tears are about the past or the future.  They are not about the present moment.  We want to return to the past, when we felt safe and comfortable.  We have fears about the future – what will become of me?

You say, “But I feel sad NOW!  Isn’t that the present moment?”

Your feelings are based on your thoughts – and your sad thoughts are about the past or the future.  If you were truly in the absolute NOW, you would be totally present to what is currently happening in your life, instead of your wishes about the past or fears of the future.  You would be enjoying the sunshine (or the rain), seeing the flowers (or the trash), and relating to the people who are around you right now (or talking to your deceased husband) without wishing anything to be any different than it is.

The true NOW is a very tiny slice of time, smaller than a minute.  Living in the true NOW is experiencing life moment to moment, thought by thought.  There are probably only a few Masters on the planet who can do that all the time.  The rest of us stumble toward the light, as we glimpse the vision of how life would transform if we did.  No worries – we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.  Life is not a contest, and each of us is unfolding at our own rate.

tattered monarch butterfly  (c)2014 Lois J Henrickson

This butterfly is worn but still drinking in the nectar of life!

But what about tears from being in physical pain?

Physical pain is a signal to wake you up to the fact that something is wrong in the body.  If you tell your body that you’ve got the message, often the pain will lessen.  If  I am lying in a hospital bed in pain, there is emotional pain caused by my fear of what the disease is doing to me and whether I will survive.   But what if I could learn to define my physical experience as “sensation” instead of as “pain”?   What if I took all the emotional juice out of the experience?  What if I could stop resisting that particular sensation and just allow it to be my experience for now?

Personally, I can’t tell you whether that works.  I think it’s Graduate level coursework in the School of Life on Planet Earth, and I doubt that I would do well in that class!

I can tell you that when my husband lay in his hospital bed with bladder cancer (which we were told was supposed to be very painful), he was medicated only by intravenous Tylenol. Mostly he slept, but one time when he woke, we asked him if he wanted to fight this thing.  He replied, “I just want to make love to it.”

I think he was “working” with the pain, embracing the experience, using his energy to keep his mind in such a tiny slice of the present that he could define it as a sensation.

You see, we so easily forget that life is a gift.  We are surrounded by wonders and blessings all the time, but we don’t focus on that.   When you had a missing tooth, where did your tongue go?  It just had to seek out that empty spot.  Noticing what’s missing is probably encoded in our body as a survival mechanism.  But we have the ability to rise above merely surviving to a life of thriving.

When we experience loss (and we all do eventually), we let our attention get caught up by what’s gone instead of what’s here.  Instead of celebrating what IS in our lives, we let ourselves get mired in the missing.

Different is never completely ALL bad (or good.)  Different is just… well, different.  You will like your life a whole lot more if you learn to find the positive, to feel a sense of gratitude, and to enjoy whatever is there for you.

So the next time you have a good cry – and please, please, please go ahead and let it out – let a thought also creep into your consciousness that you are probably clinging to the past or fearing the future.

The past is gone. It’s over, it’s been done, and it cannot be fixed.  You have no power to change it.  Your power lies in moving on.

The future never actually arrives.  Your thoughts of the future can be fearful imaginings or wonderful visions.  Your power lies in choosing what steps you will take to create your next chapter, your new normal.

All you really have is the present.  And you can handle that.  Yes, you can.  The proof is that you are alive, you are breathing, you are still here.  And if you can let go of just a little bit of your emotional baggage, you will rise more easily and dance more lightly through your life.

My mantra:
It is what it is.
I embrace all that is
with gratitude and joy.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”   — Henry David Thoreau

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How do you let go of the suffering of others?

So I asked him, “How do you let it go… the suffering you see when you visit people all the time?”

He said that he recognizes the inevitability of all of it.  “To everything, there is a season…” including a time to die.  We will all die… it’s an inevitable part of the Journey.  And everybody experiences suffering at some time in life… and the vast majority of suffering is emotional (even when it’s also physical.)

Letting it go comes from being able to watch your mind – the disciplined practice of mindfulness. A hundred times a day he asks himself, “How am I doing?”  to check what he is doing with his mind.  Is he staying in peace and acceptance…. or wandering into resistance?  Is he falling into the trap of taking on someone else’s Journey?  What is mine to do?

And if he feels called, he goes out and gives them a hug and holds their hand and sits with them in acceptance of whatever state they are in and gratitude for the experience of life at whatever level it is showing up.

When he visits people, they are grateful and temporarily distracted from their suffering.  So for a few moments of that day, they exist in a State of Gratitude, instead of a State of Suffering.  And that’s worthwhile.

And he sleeps like a baby at night.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal …
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance …
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

–ecclesiastes 3:1-8

(I wrote this in Nov. 2013. “He” was Rev. Chad O’Shea, my dear husband, who left his body on Jan 9, 2014)DSC04185

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ABC video

Watch this… and call me for more info.

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