Archive for August, 2011

Aug 22 2011

Dancing In The Rain – #78

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”-(Unknown)

Last week Tom and I went to the Summer Concert in the Park on the Santa Barbara waterfront and danced to the music of a Beatles tribute band. We moved our bodies in happy abandon in a sweet and sweaty crush of baby boomers and people of all ages. I was high on nostalgia, and at the same time, high on the present moment.

I felt that old thrill of excitement that was ignited all those years ago in the teenage me listening to my first Beatles songs, a thrill that shot through me like electricity, like a defibrillator jumpstarting my heart and my life. “Shake it up baby now, twist and shout!” It all came back. I loved the Beatles and that exciting time in my life, a time of rebirth into a new version of myself, a vibrant new burst of aliveness. I’m feeling that same bright-eyed aliveness now…a gift from cancer.

As I boogied to the Beatles music, my past and present weaved together. Back then it was the 60’s…and now I’m IN my 60’s! I flashed back in time…remembering The Travelons, the Beatles tribute band that was famous in the 1960’s on the east coast, who I loved to dance to and was a bit of a groupie. I dated the drummer a few times, but was so shy I barely spoke – I needed to drink a beer or two to help me loosen up. “It’s a good thing I’m pretty,” I thought back then. On the ride to the Concert in the Park with Tom I caught a glimpse of myself in the car mirror, seeing the fine (and not so fine) lines sprinkled on my face, and thought, “It’s a good thing Tom loves me for who I am, not how I look!” It’s an even better thing that I finally feel beautiful INSIDE. That is a monumental life accomplishment for me! And I no longer need to drink a beer in order to feel uninhibited — I feel so much more comfortable in my skin now…wrinkled though it is.

Dancing to the beat of the Beatles songs, I felt like the teenage me of yesteryear. Yet in present time, there was Tom, holding me close, looking at me with happy, loving eyes, and I felt treasured…something the teenage me never felt. I did a mind-meld through time with my teenage self and told her, “Look who we end up with, this wonderful man! Look at where we live, this beautiful paradise on earth! Look at the wonderful friends we have, dancing with us!” Thinking about the whole of my life, I tell her, “What a journey you have ahead of you!”

I kept looking at Tom, his beautiful blue eyes, his luminous smile, his sweet soul, and I felt blown away that I ended up with such a fabulous man. My history with cancer adds poignancy to my happy moments with him. The uncertainty of it is always in the back of our minds. As we dance to a slow Beatles song, he presses his forehead against mine, looks into my eyes and says sweetly, “Don’t go.” “Okay, I’ll stay” I say, smiling. But I can’t help wondering if I’ll be around for next summer’s concerts in the park. I think about Beatles John and George, gone now. We just don’t know what the future will bring. As John Lennon said, “We are all living on borrowed time.”

Though I don’t know what the future holds, I can allow myself to be fully held in this moment, in Tom’s arms, in a feeling of celebration, savoring it all. Celebrating how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned in this life. Celebrating the present moment…that I have arrived here at last! It has been a long journey to the Now, but I am Here Now a lot of the time…another gift of cancer.

At the dance, we talk to a friend who has a bum shoulder and other health issues requiring medical assistance. It is testing his fear of aging. But he tells us that he’s decided to have fun with it. When he goes to the doctor, he messes with them, playfully asking for “More needles please!” Instead of dreading it, he’s celebrating and playing with it all. Ill health can make us feel like a failure; yet, to feel joy in the midst of our challenges is a great success. As Emerson said, “To have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation — this is to have succeeded.”

I’m here, facing my worst fears, feeling my feelings fully, AND playing and laughing with enthusiasm, singing along to old Beatle tunes with exultation! I may be here for many more years to come. Or not. I know that there’s much I want to see and do — I have fully arrived at this earth party and I want to laugh and learn and play more! I’m reassured by Richard Bach’s quote: “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” I’m alive, so it isn’t!

In the Ram Dass book, STILL HERE – Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, despite a stroke that has incapacitated him in many ways, he sees how perfect it all is. It has helped him to even more fully BE HERE NOW, valuing this life, and knowing more deeply that he is not just a body, he is an eternal soul. That awareness helps make these earthly woes not so devastating. And, knowing that we will die makes life more precious. Because of that, I am not only still here, I am more HERE than I have ever been before! The 1960’s were great, but I can honestly say that this life just keeps getting better and better!

I’ll leave you with this celebratory song I wrote with Nicola Gordon (sung to the tune, The Ants Going Marching One by One):

There’s nothing I have to do today – Hurrah, Hurrah!

There’s nothing I have to do or say – Hurrah, Hurrah!

Just be in the NOW all the way

That’s all I have to do today.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Sing and dance and play!

In Love,

Jan Jacobsen

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Aug 13 2011

No Hurry, No Worry – #77

Years ago I saw a movie in which a busy, stressed-out woman was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, understandably, she was terrified.  She started working with a Chinese doctor who taught her the healing power of relaxation and told her to repeat the mantra, “No hurry, no worry.” She said those words often and followed his healing regimen and was eventually cured! Those words have stayed with me over the years and I often say them to myself whenever I feel stressed. “No hurry, no worry.” Or, as my teenage niece says, ”Chillax!”

There’s a direct correlation between stress and illness, especially cancer. We all have cancer cells in our bodies and a strong immune system is what keeps them from multiplying. However, STRESS SUPPRESSES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM, and in some people this allows cancer to grow out of control. Stress also creates an acidic condition in the body, which cancer thrives on. In addition, stress creates inflammation, another dangerous breeding ground for cancer and other illnesses.

When I think about what probably most contributed to my having cancer, the answer is stress. Many years ago I was aware of how much tension I had in my body – I noticed a habitual clenching, particularly in my stomach and pelvic area. I had the thought, “If I ever have health problems, this is where it will be.” Sure enough, three years ago all hell broke loose down there, starting with a ruptured, necrotic, gangrenous appendix, the worst my doctor had ever seen, followed by the discovery of uterine cancer, and finally recurring uterine cancer.

Since stress turns off my immune system, in order to heal I know I need to relax. I can hear a frantic part of me imploring, “RELAX OR DIE!” But it’s hard to relax with a cancer diagnosis – while tension is a precursor of cancer, it is also a natural reaction to it once you have it. Therefore, I am diligently committed to cultivating a relaxing path of “No hurry, no worry”, which includes meditation, exercise, visualization, and trusting that I am loved and guided and right where I’m supposed to be.

Lately, I’ve added a new refrain, “Viva La Vagus!,” in celebration of the amazing vagus nerve. (I’ve been singing the Elvis song, Viva Las Vegas, in my head all day!) I’ve recently learned that the vagus nerve activates the immune system, and deep, slow, abdominal breaths activate the vagus nerve. I was alerted to this when my brilliant scientist friend, Peggy LaCerra, wrote on Facebook, “When people are panicked because of an illness, I tell them to simply take 10 VERY DEEP breaths repeatedly throughout the day because, when we breath deeply, the diaphragm drops to the bottom of the thoracic cavity. The vagus nerve – the main ‘neural cable’ of the parasympathetic system runs through the diaphragm muscle. When the diaphragm drops down and then rises and drops down and rises repeatedly, it stimulates the vagus nerve and initiates a shift back to a parasympathetic state.” The parasympathetic state triggers a relaxation response and activates the immune system, helping our bodies heal, repair, and renew.

I’ve since been researching the vagus nerve and found that taking the deep, slow, abdominal breaths that trigger it promotes healing in numerous ways: it oxygenates the body (cancer hates oxygen), creates alkalinity in the body (cancer is said to flourish in acidity and wither in alkalinity), helps control obesity (which is another risk factor for cancer and other illnesses), reduces inflammation, makes our lymphatic system work better, improves memory, fights depression, lowers blood pressure, enhances brain and heart activity, purifies our blood, aids digestion, rejuvenates our skin, and reduces pain. Deep breathing delivers a wealth of health benefits! And it’s completely FREE! I just need to remember to do it!

The healing power of breath is not news to me. After all, my e-mail address of the last ten years has been JanBreathe, because I wanted to remind myself to breathe. I’ve also studied breath work with breath master Gay Hendricks, and learned well the importance of conscious breathing. Yet…I forget, I go unconscious and revert back to my old habitual shallow breath.

But now, knowing that the best chance I have of completely healing from this life-threatening illness is having a strong immune system, and knowing that deep breath triggers the vagus nerve which in turn triggers the immune system, I’m all about breathing deep, slow breaths all day, every day! I want to live, and, also, it just plain feels good! What I’m finding as I’ve been focusing on deep breathing is that it energizes and enlivens me. When I’m fully breathing, I’m fully alive. When I’m shallow breathing, I’m shallowly alive. “He lives most life whoever breathes most air.”-Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

I can see where early in life I unconsciously adopted a life strategy to breathe shallowly as a way to blunt my feelings. The flaw in that strategy is that shallow breathing contributes to stress, tension, illness, anxiety, depression and more things to feel fear about. Fully breathing is committing to being in my body and feeling my full aliveness, including being willing to feel all my feelings.

One of my favorite cartoons shows in the first frame a man sitting at a desk with a blank look on his face. In the second frame his eyes are wide open and he looks vitalized and excited. In the third and final frame he once again has a blank expression. The caption reads, “Herb has a brief but intense near-life experience.” As I breathe deep, slow breaths throughout the day, I’m having a prolonged and intense near-life experience! I’m feeling invigorated and calm at the same time.

Being a multi-tasker, when I can remember, I add a smile to my breathing, (stimulating healing endorphins), and say the words “I love you” (activating healing oxytocin). As an added bonus to all the health benefits, I’m finding that focusing on deep breathing is an instant portal to the present moment. That’s the place I want to be.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

I say a big YES to fully breathing and being fully alive, fully in my body, AND fully healed! I’ll breathe to that!

How about you? Are you committed to fully breathing and being fully alive? No hurry, no worry – just take some deep, slow breaths and join me in a spirited chorus of “Viva La Vagus!” Here’s to a stimulated immune system and a stimulating life!

In Love,

Jan Jacobsen

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