What is an attitude of gratitude, and what difference will it make in my life?

"If you are breathing, then there is more right about you than there is wrong." -Jon Kabat-Zinn.

"If you are breathing, then there is more right about you than there is wrong."

Everyone, not just people with chronic illness, sometimes falls into the trap of taking the good things in life for granted. Instead they focus on the things that are wrong or not to their liking. The constant background noise of negativity creates stress, which makes you sick. You become more and more negative so that soon no one wants to be around you. You don't even want to be around yourself!

The goal here is not to become a Pollyanna who walks around saying, "Well, at least I don't have leprosy like that poor fellow." The goal is to become aware of what is actually happening in your life on a minute-by-minute basis. Try going through your morning routine and thinking about things in the way that follows. Of course, you will modify it to match your own life experience. Here are a few examples of ways to think about and be thankful for what you have in your life.

• Waking up: I am thankful that I sleep in a bed, that I have a roof over my head and walls around me, for the people who built this building, for the people who made the tools that were used, for windows and doors that keep out the elements, for pajamas, that I am breathing, that I know that I am awake, that I can feel parts of my body even if they hurt. What else comes to your mind?

• The bathroom: I am thankful that I have a toilet and don't have to go outside, for toilet paper, for people who make toilets and toilet paper, for the shower, for hot water, for people who work in well fields to bring me water, for those who maintain the pipes, for hot-water heaters, for electricity and gas, for the people who bring those to me, for soap and shampoo, for towels and wash cloths.

• What else comes to mind?

Try continuing this line of thinking throughout the day. Multitasking is a myth. Your mind focuses on one thing at a time. You will find, with practice, that you may even forget your illness for a few minutes. The stress of negativity will stop. Even if you don't believe all of this, just fake it till you make it. What do you have to lose?

What is mindfulness?

The majority of people spend most of their present moments with their minds in the past or the future. For people with chronic illness who are not as likely to be busy with the tasks of everyday living, it is even easier to have the mind anywhere but in the present. Mindfulness is a way of relating to what is happening in your life right in this present moment. When you practice mindfulness, you have a way of taking charge of your life and dealing with you illness. Over the past 28 years, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts has scientifically documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Their Web site states, "Restoring within yourself a balanced sense of health and well-being requires increased awareness of all aspects of self, including body and mind, heart and soul." Books have been written on mindfulness meditation from spiritual perspectives and from purely scientific perspectives. A lengthy discussion is outside the scope of this book. But if you'd like a little appetizer, visit the Center for Mindfulness online at umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=41252.

The majority of people spend most of their present moments with their minds in the past or the future.

You can try practicing mindfulness at home. Carve out some time for yourself, maybe 20 minutes. Turn off the phone, pager, TV, radio, and anything else that might distract you. Wear comfortable clothing. Sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes. Simply notice your breathing. How does the air feel as it enters your body? Where does your body move as you breathe in? As you breathe out? Be still and follow the breath. Your mind will wander. Minds do that. Notice where the mind goes. Are you noticing discomfort or some other sensation in the body? Observe the fact that you were thinking and gently bring yourself back to the breath. Imagine a lake. Your thoughts are like bubbles that rise from the bottom of the lake. You can't hold onto them. Just observe the bubble or the thought passing. If you get restless or agitated, observe that too. But stay still, following the breath just a little longer. When you are ready, resume your normal activities.

You can also bring mindfulness to your daily activities. When you eat, eat slowly. Notice the temperature, taste, and texture of your food. When you comb your hair, pay attention to how your arm moves, to the feel of the comb on your scalp, to the movement of your hair. When you sit, notice the surface under you, what parts of your body are touching surfaces, pressure, the air touching your skin.

After some experimenting, you may decide to study mindfulness-based stress reduction in a more formal way. Many hospitals are now offering 8-week programs, and there are professionals around the country who can also instruct you. You can search for a local program through this link: umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr/.

What is the difference between cure and healing?

We hope and pray for a cure. We explore alternative therapies. We surf the Web and hit the library. We latch onto any tidbit that we hear on the evening news that gives even the smallest ray of hope. We want our health back. We want to be cured. Most of us will never be cured.

Healing is different. Anyone can have it. You can have your disease and be healed at the same time. We are healed when we experience all the raw and painful emotions and let them go. We are healed when we learn to incorporate the disease into our lives without placing it at the center. We have a disease, and we can have a life too. For many people with chronic illness, the disease experience becomes a crucible, burning away all the useless things in their lives. Chronic illness can be a destructive fire or a refiner's fire. You get to choose. Healing empowers us to take responsibility for our health, to value each person and each minute, and to treasure everything we have.

Our wish for you is that this book will be a part of your journey to healing.

Doc Rob and Linda

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Follow Linda's blog at copingwithchronicillness.blogspot. com

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