Saturday, February 25, 2012

Manifesting True Dreams

Affirmaion:  I am always manifesting, I manifest to my highest and best.

This week, the third week of February 2012 marks the opening of the new Cancer Center at Duke University Hospital and my husband, Sandy and I were invited to a couple of the ceremonies marking the occasion. 

The new center was the dream of Victor Dzau, the chancellor and CEO of the Duke University Hospital system.  Many people told him it was a crazy idea, an impossible idea for many reasons but especially because of the economy but he refused to believe them.  He had this vision and he set out to make it come true.  This week it became a reality.
I love to see dreams come true.  It’s one of my daily prayers for my children and my grandchildren.  It’s great when I’m a part of it but even if I’m just the observer and can be present for the event, I am thrilled.  Sandy and I went to Nashville for one of my significant birthdays and for part of our trip, we toured the Ryman Auditorium.  It’s the home of the original Grand Old Opry.  We were on the tour with one other couple.  They seemed like simple people.  They were farmers from somewhere in the south.  When we reached the dressing room that use to be Johnny Cash’s the man from the other couple became very quiet.  His wife leaned over to us and said, “Being here is his dream come true.”  To this day I can remember the feeling of honor I had at being present when this man’s dream came true, even something as simple as a trip to the Ryman Auditorium.
It’s been twelve years, almost thirteen that I’ve been out of cancer treatments but I can still feel, with every one of my senses what it was like to walk into the old cancer center.  It filled me with dread.  It was dark and overflowing with people and it had a strange odor.  If my husband had not been at my side, I’m not sure I could have remained standing.  After the visit with the doctor, we then toured the infusion center, the chemo room.  If the hospital seemed to me like a foreign country, the chemo room seemed like an alien planet.  I couldn’t breathe.  And, I knew this was my future, my destiny and my hope.
Fifty thousand people came to be treated at the Duke Cancer Center in 2011.  They came from all over the world. One of the speakers at the ribbon cutting called cancer “the scourge of the 21st century.”  I am sure it has touched your life either you personally or someone you know and love or worse yet, knew and loved.
When I finished treatment, I had an End of Radiation Celebration and invited anyone who had helped me along the journey: family, friends, doctors, nurses and technicians.  I took the opportunity to accept donations toward the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.  They had helped me so much through some very difficult stages and I wanted to give back.  A friend and I made an appointment with the then head of the Cancer Center and gave him the donations and told him something needed to be done to make the place softer, more comfortable, less frightening.  He said he understood our concerns and he agreed but it was an issue with money and it probably wasn’t going to happen.
Yesterday when I walked into our new building and then into our new Self Image Boutique, I cried.  I know I’m not the only one.  One other survivor was there with me and she too had tears in her eyes.  It’s a beautiful room full of light and soft colors and hope.  The lobby of the new building has a fireplace and a piano and light pouring in from cathedral like windows.  The floor has inscribed in it word of faith and hope that came from the book Finding the Can in Cancer written by four women cancer patients who worked and volunteered with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.  The infusion center has small private rooms with TVs and recliners and looks out over a roof top garden. 
I know people who come there for treatment will still be frightened, confused and overwhelmed.  Cancer creates those emotions in the patient and their loved ones but maybe now with a softer, kinder environment and state of the art technology, people will know they will not just be cared for but as the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program mission statements says, “they will be cared about.”
Victor Dzau looked at me that evening and said, “Jean, you have been a big part of this happening.”  I thought. “He’s such a nice man and so good at his job.  No wonder he’s accomplished this amazing feat.  He makes everyone feel important and valued.”  But, that’s not fair is it?  It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to him.  Our program which began twenty five years ago by Rachel Schanberg at the bequest of her young daughter Linda has been working for compassionate care of the whole person since its inception.  It began in a closet with eighteen volunteers.  Now, they have over two hundred and fifty volunteers and four counselors.  All of their services are free of charge. 
I’ve been a part of the program for over twelve years giving time, talent and treasure.  My husband Sandy has been right by my side supporting me and my efforts in their mission.  We have been working towards creating an atmosphere of love, nurturance and compassion for the whole person, mind body and spirit.  “Treat the whole person, not just the disease!” we’ve shouted.  “Listen to me!  Listen to us!  Listen to all those who have had this disease!  Hear us!”  I’ve shouted it with all of my being, every cell, every way I know how and last night I was told by a gracious visionary, “I listened.”  Thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from all of us who have worked so very hard to create a place of true healing.  Let the healing begin.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Affirmation:  I let go of ingratitude.
Lent is almost upon us.  Ash Wednesday is next week.  Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Wow!  What a story!  And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey.  We are called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth.  It’s a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the fullness of “spring.” 
One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a time of Sacrifice.  We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of mercy.  Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do something so that we are more aware of the 40 days; so we stay more present to the Lenten season.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.
How can denial and service be a gift?  Well, it takes 40 days to develop a habit and this type of exercise can be seen as an opportunity.  I know many people who use the Lenten sacrifice as a time to diet.  I can’t count the number of people who have shared with me that they have given up chocolate or sugar.  Maybe that’s worked well for them.  Perhaps every time they have that craving, they find themselves more present to Christ and his sacrifice.  But, besides a restrictive diet, we need to take up the badge of service, find something we can do for another.  There are so many in such dire straits right now.  How can I be of more service than I already am?  Maybe I need to go through the house and give up a few coats and other items of clothing.  One of my dear friends is always reminding me that someone else could be using the items I have left untouched for months and in some cases, years.  Perhaps, it’s a time for me to be a prayer warrior.  How can I add more prayer to my daily practice especially for those most in need?  Maybe I can send a note or make a call once or twice a week to friends I haven’t touched base with in a while?  I can pray for them, offer up a day for them, send them a visible sign of my love, like a note or a care, even an email might work.  I’m sure you can think of many other ways you can give back.
And, what can I give up?  What new habit cans I develop over the Lenten season that won’t simply reduce my waistline but will add to the quality of my life, my life and hopefully the lives of all those I touch?  I have decided to give up ingratitude.  Ingratitude is defined in the dictionary as “forgetfulness or poor return for kindness received.”  A synonym is “thanklessness.” 
I live a life full of abundant blessings.  I am a very lucky woman.  I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends.  I need and want nothing.  I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful.  I have hit the jackpot of life.  I am safe, secure, and healthy.  But, every so often envy slips into my psyche.  I’m admitting it.  I can still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong.  Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their lives appear so easy, so full?  Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issues.  But, that doesn’t serve me or anyone else.  Whether I credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong.  With my newest affirmation; “I let go of ingratitude” I find myself noticing when I am undermining my own happiness and I stop and let it go.  Perhaps by practicing letting go of ingratitude for 40 days, I’ll develop a new habit.  Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Loving Speech

Affirmation:  I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.
What do you like to talk about?  What topics make you sit up and get interested in the conversation?  I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.”  It was in the movie Steel Magnolias and it was spoken by Olympia Dukakis.  It’s a famous quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) who actually said, “"If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me."  All I can say about that is I hope I’m remembered for saying something more along the lines of John Lennon, “Let’s Give Peace a Chance” or for something like the above affirmation, “I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening” by Tich Nhat Hanh as written in Coming Home. 
When I heard those words in Steel Magnolia I was shocked.  I was so surprised that someone so openly relished talking badly about another.  I don’t know why I felt that way.  I think most of the people in my life make an effort to be kind to and about one another.  Sure, there’s the occasional slip but I don’t I have a lot of people in my life who talk maliciously about others. I must confess that I can be guilty, guilty, guilty about getting caught up in the conversation when it becomes “gossipy.”  I can be very curious about what they have to say and there have been times in my life when I have had a tough time with someone and felt a desperate need to share the experience with another, all from my slanted point of view. 
Is it alright to talk about others?  Do you think it’s OK to tell tales about people?  When you begin talking about another is there a way to do it with love and kindness even when they have injured you?  When I am wounded or slighted, I usually seek support from loved ones by telling my story.  It’s not usually just the facts.  It’s usually about my emotional reactions. Most of us need to seek comfort from others when we have a difficult experience.  We need to tell our story but we get to choose how we tell it.  Do we tear down and berate the other or do we do it with kindness and gentleness, even towards our enemies? 
I am very judgmental about judgmental people.  When someone in my life has a tendency to label people as “good or bad”, “nice or mean”, or as “someone they like a lot” which means there are others they don’t like at all; I find myself recoiling from them.  It seems to me if they are going around judging everyone else, they must have a very definitive opinion about me and I become very leery. 
Many years ago I hired a young person to help me do some painting around the house.  In the process I needed to empty out my closet and I was somewhat embarrassed by the number of shoes I owned.  I mentioned it to him adding an apology and he stopped me before I even got all the words out.  “I’m not here to judge anyone.”  I’m not here to judge ANYONE!  Yes, I would like to claim that as a character trait.  I do affirm “I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and non graspingly.”  It’s an intention I’ve set for those who are close to me in my life but when it comes to the rest of the world, can I be non-judgmental?  Probably not, but, I can try.  The truth is I seldom have the whole picture.  I only have that little piece that I can see.
I belong to a gym that has a huge senior population.  When I was there this week, there was a new plaque on an easel and I stopped to check it out.  It was a photo of a plane from WWII with a huge hole in the right wing.  Framed with it was a thank you from one of the members, Hal Shook, for the service of the people who work at our gym and an award, The Legion of Honor, that he received in 2011 more than sixty years after the end of the war.  He had sent it to the facility as a token of his gratitude.  After I viewed the framed presentation I found myself wondering about all those people I usually see there.  I began to wonder about what I’ve been missing by not getting to know some of these individuals.  I am sure this gentleman is not the only hero that’s walking around that gym.  I wonder if I were to see him, what sort of judgment would I form?  I would not have even guessed at his honorary past.  Why then should I judge at all?  My job is simply to observe.
In Kripalu Yoga they incorporate BRFWA into their practice.  It means we “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.”  Nowhere does it tell me I need to judge my practice or myself.  The other lesson is not to make Yoga into a completive sport.  “Stay on your mat; don’t go invading someone else’s practice, watching them and comparing yourself to them”.  These are the same lessons we can take with us into the world. 
I actually think the affirmation should be, “I am committed to cultivating loving thoughts and deep listening.”  Maybe if I worked on that regularly, the loving speech would simply become second nature.