Holy Sit: Making Peace With Dis-Ease

Making Peace With Dis-Ease

At the time of my cancer diagnosis, I was working at The Shift Network as the Chief of Peace, a title I created for a variety of reasons:
•    First, I had witnessed how powerful titles can be in transforming organizations when Steve Ballmer became the Chief Evangelist at Microsoft and when Zappos introduced the Chief Happiness Officer. Titles serve a purpose in setting up a tone, a culture and reflecting values within a person and an organization.
•    Secondly, corporations are pivotal in societal change and what happens at the top of corporations bleeds into society. I couldn’t help but imagine what transformations could occur if every Fortune 500 company had a Chief of Peace. I was hoping to start a trend.
•    Finally, I felt that the notion of Chief in the context of peace was in reverence to our Native American heritage and it was important to revive that spirit in modern-day cooperative environments filled with a melting pot of employees.
All that said, I learned quickly that one must be ready to embody the title that she claims. Sometimes I embodied peace and sometimes I didn’t.

When I looked at cancer from a macro-level through my Chief of Peace lens, I could easily see the parallels between cancer and violence. For example, when someone commits a serious crime, we often lock him/her up, quickly cutting him/her out of society. This happens without asking deeper questions such as; why did you commit this crime? What happened that caused you to act out this way? What do your actions reveal about you, your life, and our collective society? How can we heal all aspects of this crime including the perpetrator, the victim and the community?

In the more humane peace practice of restorative justice, the focus is on asking those questions and on repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. The approach focuses on the needs of the victims, the offenders and those in the immediate community. Those affected take an active role in the healing process while offenders actively work to repair the harm they have caused. Restorative justice creates a higher level of healing and fulfillment from the victim, greater accountability for the offender and a lower likelihood that s/he will be a repeat offender. In fact, a recent study in Colorado shows a 92% success rate. This means that re-offense did not occur in 92% of the cases. A restorative justice approach can ultimately save lives, not to mention, millions of dollars in incarceration costs.

We can look at cancer in the same way we look at violence or crime; we can label cancer as the perpetrator in which case the patient takes the part of the victim. We can follow the “rules” of western medicine and quickly cut the disease out of our bodies much like we cut criminals out of society - no questions asked. We can poison any remaining “offenders” and in doing so, risk poisoning our own bodies. We can change nothing about the host, the habits or the family unit. We can essentially fight violence with violence and hope that it doesn’t come back. That is one choice and it works for some situations.

Unfortunately, that traditional approach was contrary to my role and values as a peace officer. I quickly made the decision to take a nonviolent approach to healing. Treating cancer as a perpetrator put me in the role of victim and that was the most dis-empowered place to be. Instead of making cancer a perpetrator, I made it the messenger. I asked it what is was here to teach me. Instead of quickly cutting it out and looking away, I looked directly at it. In shining a light on the shadow called cancer, I found the answers I needed to fully heal this disease as well as other maladies in my life.

On the macro-level my beliefs, values and philosophies held up. However, on the micro-level when I had to face my daily fears and uncertainty, as Chief of Peace, I was anything but peaceful. I’d love to pretend that I systematically called upon the numerous tools in my toolkit. The truth is I panicked and found myself reverting to old vices in my vice chest to deal with the overwhelming fear and emotions of a cancer diagnosis. That about sums up the dichotomy of my “peaceful” existence, wrought with inconsistencies. It made me think of the old joke relevant to titles.

Question: Why does a therapist become a therapist?
Answer: Because s/he needs therapy.
Question: Why did Emily become the Chief of Peace?
Answer: Because she needed inner peace!

Now that there is some distance from the diagnosis and I am working on healing the core issues that led to my illness, it’s easy for me to see that I had not yet fully habituated the practices that I KNEW to employ. So, for the benefit of anyone reading this and searching for peace tools in a time of crisis, here are just a few of the inner peace tools that I now employ on a regular basis. 

Personal Peace Tools

Morning practice: My morning mantra is “God before technology.” So, before I turn on the computer or reach for my cell phone, I do the following:
  • Meditation: Before breakfast, I practice mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes. This gets my day started with deeper awareness, connection to source and strengthens my ability to be an observer in my life, rather than a reactor to circumstances. Sometimes, I practice other kinds of meditation such as guided meditations.
  • Prayer: I recite the St. Francis of Assisi prayer every morning to reinforce my role of peacemaker in the world. Picking up a great habit from my Dad, I now pray for my ancestors, the recently deceased, friends, family and those who are ill. This prayer helps me stay connected to our larger global family of which we are members.
  • Visualization and self-love affirmations: When I was sick, I couldn’t see past my situation, so I had my sister Jennifer write down my words as I described my ideal, post-cancer, future life. Nearly every morning, I read this story to myself and visualize my dream life coming true. Then, I read a list of my personal characteristics to affirm that I am whole and complete as a spiritual being regardless of my human accomplishments – this is important for recovering workaholics like me who often base their self-worth on their job.
These practices combine to start my day off fully alive, hopeful and connected to myself and spirit. 

Ongoing practices:

  • Mindful consumption: Since food is the essence of our vitality, I do my best to practice mindful eating which means selecting healthy, organic foods that will fuel my body. I bless my food, thanking it for keeping me healthy while also blessing the many hands that were responsible for the food on my table. Typically, I don’t do other things while eating such as watch TV, read or sit in front of the computer. That way, I appreciate the tastes, texture and smells of my food and pay attention to what I’m eating which helps trigger my brain when I’m full. I avoid sugar and stimulants because “what goes up must come down.” I’m not interested in intentionally contributing to downward crashing cycles.
  • "Better than" choices: When making food choices I use the rule of “better than” so that I don’t beat myself up when I inevitably veer away from ideal foods. For example, eating 2 pieces of gluten-free, veggie pizza is “better than” eating 4 pieces of deep dish sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese, thick crust pizza. Or, having one bowl of Bliss ice cream made from coconut milk and sweetened with agave is “better than” eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream made with cow’s milk and sugar (for my body anyway). There’s no shame in eating and even indulging from time to time. Mindful eating just feels better to our bodies and is better for our health.
  • Other consumption habits: I also watch what I “consume” on a daily basis with my eyes and ears. I stay away from movies or TV shows that promote violence, mass consumption and negativity. I scan headlines, but I don’t read newspapers or watch the news. I listen to positive music that soothes my soul. If it doesn’t feel peaceful to my body or brain, I don’t consume it. It can be tricky to stay informed, and stay peaceful, and that’s when watching John Stewart comes in handy! He helps me laugh instead of cry about current events.
  • Exercise: While this is a no-brainer on the list, how I exercise differs greatly from before. Instead of harsh boot-camp type work outs, I now listen to my body and am mindful about how she wants to move. I dance, walk, hike, do yoga, bike ride, etc.
  • Community: When I am down or ill, it’s easy to isolate so I don’t have to answer questions or explain why I am not my usual self. This leads to further isolation and depression. When I was sick, I made a short-list of people I could call to come over and watch movies with me. It’s important not to be alone in times of turmoil. Facebook can be a surprising source of support and connection when I can’t muster up the strength to leave the house (note: as long as I don’t compare my life to those who have their health, vitality and energy). Asking for help can be so vulnerable and yet, being vulnerable is surprisingly what connects us most. I’m learning to be strong enough to be vulnerable.
  • Therapy: Luckily, we live in an era where there is no shame in getting mental and emotional support and no shortage of trained professionals to help us. There are too many kinds of therapy to go into here, but I found great comfort in basic talk therapy, EMDR, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) and simply receiving empathy from my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trained friends. To allow myself to be vulnerable and grow while being witnessed by another requires a strong relationship. I have looked around carefully to find professionals as well as friends whom I trust and who understand my particular needs.  
  • Language: Since I know my brain believes what it hears, I knew language itself could contribute to peace, health or dis-ease. As mentioned in the blog about Taking the Power out of “the C word,” among other things, I re-named the cancer to Uterine Space Invader which helped lighten the heaviness and victim mentality around the diagnosis.
  • Laughter: When I was really down and had no energy or if I just needed a break from my situation, I watched funny movies and sitcoms. I also called people who traditionally make me laugh and who truly appreciated my sense of humor, which was a little darker in those days.
  • H.A.L.T. Some of my friends who are in Alcoholics Anonymous told me about the H.A.L.T. acronym which is a reminder to never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. This is an excellent preventative prescription for any time in our lives. 
  • Feel in real time: This is an important practice that I now employ and it’s important in any time of distress. If something is up for me emotionally, I try to take a time out to feel the issue immediately and process it through my body. Just as thoughts come and go, emotions can do the same if we don’t block or distort them. Emotions have something important to tell us. Bottling up and restricting emotions contributes to disease in the body. Whenever possible, I feel in real time so it doesn’t fester, create stress in the body and future suffering. Note: this is different than indulging in and reacting emotionally, which often involves other people and then typically an apology. When I need support, I seek out a strong, neutral friend who is good at listening versus judging and who simply gives empathy versus advice. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) training is excellent for developing the skill of empathy.
  • Physical touch: Human touch is essential for all of us. I found that my healing was greatly enhanced through massage, acupuncture, Reiki and other physical and energetic modalities.
  • Self-soothing: Comes in many forms including music, hot baths, a nap, connecting with nature or reading a good book to name just a few. 
  • I –Scream Therapy: When things were really overwhelming and I didn’t have the capacity to reach out for support, I would use I–Scream Therapy to replace ice cream therapy. To take part in I–Scream therapy I would get in my car, roll up the windows, drive to a place where no one could hear me, and scream at the top of my lungs. I performed I-Scream therapy frequently on the freeway or on my way to work. I–Scream Therapy is what helped me deal with all of the fear, the anger, the worry, the frustration that I felt around the cancer diagnosis. There was nothing like it. I wasn’t feeding my face or the cancer, yet I was getting all of the anger, angst and fear out of my body. Next to dancing, it was the best form of immediate self-therapy I had.
To summarize, in my role as Chief of Peace, sometimes I was anything but peaceful. But, as I looked at the parallels between cancer and violence, I was committed to healing the cancer nonviolently mirroring a restorative justice approach. I knew I had to stop treating my body violently by choosing unhealthy tools from my vice chest. I recommitted to my role of peacemaker in the world and I started with myself.

By the way, I took a leave of absence from my Chief of Peace position early in 2012 and did not return to that role. As a recovering workaholic, this time-out was essential to my healing and growth. I now hold the position as Peace Officer here at Holy Sit. My hope is that I will continually be able to hold the vision of world peace on a macro level, while simultaneously practicing and sharing peace tools with you, my brothers and sisters on the path of finding inner peace in a chaotic world.

All that said, I do love you AND yet, I now know, your health and well-being are not my responsibility. To read what I mean by this statement, read the next post here.  

Your sister in peace,

Emily Hine
Note: This Holy Sit blog is one in a series of blog posts that tell the story of my journey healing from cancer without surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. It's also about spiritual awakening and finding inner peace in a chaotic world. If you want to read the full story, check out the chapter titles on the Holy Sit home page & start with this one.  Cheers to your health!