August: Entering the Inner Cave

August 6, 2021

Approaching our Inner Self

Holistic care has provided me with a new understanding of “self”. I’ve accepted I will experience different forms of healing as I continue my life as a cancer survivor. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, while wellness is defined as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups” and is expressed as “a positive approach to living”. In our group, we’ve experienced and shared many aspects of individual wellness and how each are interrelated to each other: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, financial, occupational, and spiritual.

There are days when I feel I am surging upward in all aspects of my health and individual wellness. And then there are times, like this week, when I feel the weight of our reality. Not just our reality with cancer. The reality of the larger picture. My brain is hardwired by the negativity bias to remember negative, harmful events and situations, while positive mental and emotional progress needs reinforcement in my mind. I become depressed and dismal, like any other person with a firm grip on reality.

However, I’ve learned to cheer myself on and hack my brain’s motivational mechanism. Our brains are also hardwired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and expend energy efficiently. I learned I can mentally reward myself for engaging in healthy behaviors, such as practicing mindfulness and making healthy choices, to recondition my brain to default to healthy choices and behaviors. But, like I’ve said in the past, this is work. It does take consistent conscious effort. I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself, and recognized the “good” and soak it in. I don’t make excuses for myself and I don’t live in naivety, instead I make a conscious effort to cultivate everyday wellness in my life.

Moving Toward Self – turning my dreams into my reality

I’ll admit, I’ve got some lofty goals. I really want to make my own home somewhere between the coast and the mountains, near the giant redwoods that I love. Land with plentiful sunshine for veggies and fruit trees. A mixed microgrid of solar and wind-power. A community farm and communal living.

My household has a goal of being at least 50% sustainable by 2025, and I have grand dreams to get us there. A native food forest: permaculture to feed our bellies and soil. River and land stewardship for the rest of my days. These are the dreams that make me feel whole. This is the dream of my Vital Self.

But what do I need to get myself there? I am at a point in my journey when I dare to dream of a future. I have a sense of purpose, a community I contribute to, and I feel fulfilled by giving of myself. I want to help heal the land and our relationships.

Shifting Aspects

Because of cancer, there was a time when I was physically too weak to even dream of doing this work. Then, education sustained me, and I was supported and encouraged to take all the time I need to heal physically, emotionally, spiritually. I sought help for my mental health too. I navigated therapists and support groups, finding many paths to the treasure trove of coping tools I utilize.

However, my financial situation needs attention, especially if I am looking to buy a home and steward land. I admit, I have foregone my medical debt long enough. I have not been in the position to pay it and I really do not have income to pay it all at once, but it is time to craft a strategy.

I already reduced some of my medical debt related to my time in the hospital due to cancer and the bowel resection afterwards. In 2019, I worked with my local tax preparer and applied for financial assistance from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka. Most of my medical debt from that time was forgiven, and a huge burden was lifted from my spirit and body. It was life changing; reading the letters from St. Joseph’s filled me with hope and gratitude. 

Last year, I paid off my therapist who I stopped seeing suddenly. I was so proud of that final payment.  And now, I am making small monthly payments to UCSF. I am doing what I can, so that is my strategy for now. I cannot stress myself out over medical debt, but I can take small steps (and make small payments) when I am able.

Nothing to do but live…

So, I am working on it. I am leaning into all aspects of my individual wellness to create change in my life and pursue my dreams. I am all too comfortable knowing I have only one life to live, and by golly I want to live it. I see the challenges before me and my global community. And yes, it is daunting most of the time, but something won’t let me give up, even when I come close to that line, even when my heart hurts for humanity, the planet, and what we’ve done to ourselves. I cannot think of any other time that I would rather be alive than right here, right now.

“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment” – Rumi

Prompt 1:       See your vital self, your true self, or your future self. See where you want to be. See your needs being met. Where are you in this vision of your vital self? What do you really want?

Prompt 2:       Take stock of the process. Identify changes; changes to make, changes to keep. What will help you get to this vision of yourself? What values, strengths, lessons do you carry with you now that will help you on your path and in the future?

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