Steps in the Healing Process

Introduction: Mobilizing Our Inner Resources

At the relatively young age of 41, I was diagnosed with advanced cancer. What happens when we find out that the life we have taken for granted may soon end? What do we do with the flood of questions and emotions that pour in? “How can this be happening to me?” we ask in disbelief. “Why?”

Turning down proposed radical surgeries, I focused my attention on attempting to come to a place of peace before dying. In the process I experienced complete healing and a return to radiant health. The profound healing I discovered was not about surviving physical illness. It was about deepening a spiritual reality separate from and much greater than the body. It was a bigger picture perspective of healing - not just the cessation of symptoms, but the deep spiritual healing that can come whether we leave this body or remain with a more expanded awareness.

Early in my journey I began writing a book, Dying Well to help navigate the journey ahead. It included 12 steps to dying well. After fully recovering, the book was published as Profound Healing. I had found that the steps to dying well were the same steps for living well. Subsequent reflections on physical, emotional and spiritual healing were summarized into twelve self-help practices so that others might use these insights as a source of hope, inspiration, and practical advice.

Focus on the Present

Step 1: Take charge

It isn’t enough to pray for a miracle. We have to take responsibility for making good choices - life and health enhancing choices - and acting on them. Once we've done all we can for ourselves, then we can leave the results in higher hands.

When cancer brought me face-to-face with a health emergency I found myself in the midst of a confusing swirl of diagnoses and treatment plans. Appointments and information were coming at me so fast I couldn’t take it all in. I kept hearing, “Hurry, don’t wait, there is no time.”

Even in the midst of the storm I knew that time was exactly what I needed. The voice within was saying, “Slow down. Breathe.” When you are calm and your mind is clear you can decide on the best path to take. I can assert with clarity now that it isn’t possible to make good, conscious decisions in the midst of confusion and shock. I began following a guideline that came from within myself. I didn’t rush. Even better, I slowed down. I listened to my inner voice and took charge.

It wasn’t easy to step out of the comfort of having someone else make the hard decisions. I was brought up in an era of passive health care when doctors had complete authority over treatments even if we did not understand or choose them. Now faced with a radical surgery that would alter my body and the quality of my life forever, I knew I was the one who would live with the consequences of any treatment choices. I chose to take authority over my own body.

Taking charge of my treatment options put me in an empowering position. It was something I couldn’t have done without being deeply in touch with my intuition and sense of inner guidance. I was keenly aware that each of us – I and every member of my medical team – was seeing through the filter of personal history, training and belief systems. When the surgeon was telling me about the radical surgery that was necessary he described in great detail a very delicate procedure that would greatly impact the quality of my life. He was one of a dozen with such specialized training. While he was talking I went into an altered state in which I spontaneously saw an image of myself dead on the operating table. It wasn't an emotional reaction - it was just a clear image that came with a sense of knowing. I paid attention to this.

Against all advice I opted to trust my intuition and decided against the surgery. I wasn't in denial. I accepted the probability that I would die prematurely of this cancer but I also knew it wasn't inevitable. I decided to take a holistic approach - to find ways to create balance in all the areas of my life.

The first thing I did was to stabilize my body with the best possible nutrition, rest, exercise, lifestyle, and so on. There was not a lot to change as I was doing everything "right." I had a retreat center, teaching health and spiritual practices. I had been living with a common misconception that I was somehow immune - cancer or catastrophic illness didn't happen to people like me. Now I had to dig deeper. My first step was to stabilize my body so that I could live as well as possible for as long as possible while I tied up loose ends.

Tying up loose ends meant exploring the deeper inner healing to restore emotional and spiritual balance in order to come to a place of peace before making that final transition. This inner exploration was a journey into altered states of consciousness through prayer (asking for guidance) and meditation. I simply followed the insights and guidance that came. I didn’t bring my rational mind, the great debater, into it.

Research helped me to understand that there are many options and experts in any given field see the benefits in terms of their particular training. Every treatment modality has some measure of success and failure (looking strictly at physical symptoms). It is also true that sometimes illness serves as a special time for us to prepare for that final journey.

Meditation or quieting the mind help us get deeper in touch with all the parts of our mind and potential: our inner knowing and even that collective unconscious. My mentor and dear friend, Peace Pilgrim, would say, "Don't look to me. Look to your own inner teacher. That's your guide." We are all connected to that source of inner knowing and guidance. Quieting the mind can help us to get in touch with that connection.

Since we cannot know with certainty what a particular outcome will be, we can best use our time by choosing to live consciously and lovingly, supporting an inner sense of what is right for ourselves. We stay far more empowered when we take charge and make decisions that we feel good about.

Step 2: Acquire an empowered attitude

A certain attitude emerged in new age thought that we create our own illness. Of course we are subject to the consequences of poor choices. If we smoke for example, we’re gambling with the possibility of lung cancer. We also know that strong emotions can create chemical reactions in the body that can have certain physical effects. Laughter and love, on the positive side, are said to release endorphins and chemicals that boost the immune system and create a sense of well-being. Ongoing resentment, rage and grief, on the other hand, deplete the immune system and can lead to illness or debility in some area.

When we find ourselves confronted with a life-threatening illness, it is disempowering and guilt producing to be charged with having created it. This attitude has devastated many individuals already struggling with a major challenge. A catastrophic illness or other life challenge can become a great catalyst that moves us forward. We don’t set out to create cancer or illness but if it happens we can receive it, if we choose to do the inner work, as an opportunity to learn and grow.

An empowered attitude is always in sync with inner guidance or a sense of rightness about something. Developing an empowered attitude requires a conscious effort to change any habits we have adopted that make us feel weak, overwhelmed or powerless. An empowered attitude is one that knows that whatever the circumstances, you can and will find a way to keep or regain a sense of rightness and strength within yourself.

Whenever we face any difficulty or challenge, we have an opportunity to learn, to grow, or to be of service in some way. A particular illness or condition or experience or lack, may be a response to our own request for healing in some area in our life. It’s not uncommon for adverse situations to open up a whole new pathway in life or to add a new dimension in our relationship to God, to ourselves, or to others. It takes patience and trust. We don’t ordinarily see the lessons we’re working on when we’re in the middle of them. Insight usually comes in retrospect and grows and develops through time.

Paying attention to our feelings is another realm that effects our sense of empowerment. I remember the sadness and fear that would wake me up in the middle of the night. Those awful feelings would wash over me or grab me in the stomach. This would signal hours of miserable insomnia as my emotions went on to engage my mind in one drab scene after another. It was very disempowering.

Over time I realized that if I allowed myself to be quiet and simply feel the feelings, its source would usually reveal itself. And when I thought about it, feelings of both sadness and fear usually had to do with something that had already happened or that might never happen. The few fears that were realized over the course of my illness released their hold on me as I dealt with them in the moment. The present is always our point of power.

My challenge became how to get through the dark nights without churning up all that emotional discomfort. I found many creative solutions. The feral cat who had been living on my roof moved inside and became a great comforter in the night. It would have been hard not to resonate to the soothing sound of Socrates purring. All it took to get his motor humming was a few strokes along his soft furry body. Inspirational guided meditation tapes provided another way to set my mind in a more positive direction. Then came morning’s light, when I always felt more grounded and grateful for the day.

An empowered attitude is an unshakable knowing that you are centered and strong: whatever the circumstances, you can and will find a way to keep or regain that sense of centeredness and strength within yourself.

Step 3: Simplify life

Our lives are often so cluttered and busy that we find ourselves racing to keep up. What we lose are the simple basics of life that provide the balance we desperately need: walks in nature, unhurried time with our loved ones, precious quiet time alone for meditation or reading or just being mindfully grateful for the many gifts around us. Changes don’t have to happen overnight but if your life is tied up, start loosening the knots.

What it means to simplify life is different for each individual. Sometimes it can mean leaving a job that isn’t in sync with ones values or integrity or sense of being in our right place. Or moving out of a family home or even leaving a relationship. Prior to my cancer diagnosis I was in a relationship that was declining. We were both good people but had taken different paths in our values and percspectives. Our communication was deteriorating. I remember saying to my husband during one stressful interaction, “This has to stop. It's killing me.” I meant it metaphorically, as a description of my growing feeling of helplessness over our deteriorating communication, yet it played out literally. I was diagnosed with advanced cancer within weeks of making that statement. A vivid reminder of the mind-body connection.

On a very basic level simplifying life can mean clearing out the physical environment: going through closets and anywhere things are stashed and giving away what isn’t being used and probably never will be. If I’ve stored something for a year without missing it, or if I haven’t worn a piece of clothing in that time, I figure I’m ready to let it go. It’s a good rule in general. Pass on the things that clutter up your space to someone who can really use them.

Many of us become so used to the things that are tying us down that we don’t realize we’ve lost our freedom. Work is one of those areas. How many people in this world are working at jobs they hate in order to put food on the table? Our right job in life is always something that we enjoy. Sometimes we need to change jobs. If that’s not possible, we can we work on changing our perspective or attitude. What might happen if we were more cheerful, more compassionate, more appreciative, more willing to do our best, right where we are.

Everything has challenges and usually includes some degree of stress. With a good attitude and willingness we can find the balance. If we’re doing too much, we’re doing more than our share. If we’re not doing enough we’re not doing our share. If we’re not happy there are always options. If we think something can’t be done, we won’t even try. If we think something might be possible, we may be surprised to find that it is.

Step 4: Build a support system

It’s common to feel isolated when facing a life-threatening or debilitating condition, even when surrounded by loved ones. We need and can appreciate the support from family and friends but we also need support from more neutral sources, who can hear what we’re feeling without being hurt or shocked, or who have had similar experiences. A supportive counselor can be invaluable, as can a support group with empowering guidelines.

No matter how much we empathize with someone facing a difficult challenge, only those who are facing or who have faced something similar can convey a sense of real and deep understanding. Many studies have shown that people in support groups cope better. Being with others who share the experience can provide a sense of community, along with new information and varying perspectives. The emotional support from such a group can offer people in crisis a connection in life to help them through the rough places, as well as prepare them for the possibility of death. What we all learn is that life is temporary in any case. From that, hopefully, we take in that every moment is a moment to be treasured.

Along with outer support building a core of inner support helped me move into an active and strong role in my healing process. Journaling helped me to find a good friend in myself, and meditation connected me to God and an awareness of higher guidance.

I learned to confide in and talk over important decisions only with family, friends and professionals who could support me by accepting and rallying behind my choices, whether they agreed with me or not. My daughter once told me, “Mom, I couldn’t make the choices you’re making, but if anyone can do it, you can.” Her words touched me profoundly and gave me a sense of confidence. They also took away any guilt I was feeling that I was disappointing my loved ones. True support is always empowering. On the other hand we are sometimes confronted by loved ones, who albeit with good intention, try to sabotage our efforts or dissuade us from our choices when they don’t agree with them. As difficult as it may be, an especially when we’re experiencing major illness or crisis in our lives, it’s essential to set personal boundaries and learn to communicate in ways that keep us empowered to remain true to ourselves.

Setting personal boundaries helps to prevent emotional and physical distress from the start. When we know we can trust ourselves to communicate truthfully and make decisions that are in sync with our inner guidance, our emotions and bodies remain clear and empowered. As we honor our need to be in charge of our own lives, we learn to honor the rights of those we’re close to, so that we can experience truly supportive relationships.

A lack of healthy boundaries might look like this:

* A need to camouflage our feelings or not tell the truth in our personal relationships.

* A need to control other people or allow ourselves to be controlled by others.

* Rigid or inflexible thinking in which there is only black and white, or only one way to do something - our way!

* Being swayed by the opinions or actions of others because we want to feel like part of the group.

* When asked what we think about something, depending on another person's perspective to represent us.

* An inability to say "no" when we're asked to do something we don't want to do or that infringes on other responsibilities.

* An anxiousness to do things so that people will like us.

Healthy boundaries might look like this:

* Being able to communicate our feelings without putting blame outside of ourselves or taking on guilt.

* Taking responsibility for making our own choices and supporting our families and friends in their choices, even when they differ from ours.

* Respect for the opinions of others and a willingness to look at the other side with an open mind.

* Strength to stick with the opinions or choices that we know are right for us.

* Trusting the worth of our own ideas and opinions.

* The ability to know when to say "no" and to do it.

* A passion for the things we do because we enjoy doing them.

Release the Past

Step 5: Explore underlying attitudes and beliefs

Beliefs and attitudes can become so embedded in our subconscious minds that it’s easy to lose sight of them. We can even hold conflicting beliefs without being aware of it. The words we use to communicate are symbols of our internal beliefs and as we pay attention to the words we use – and the thoughts we think – we may discover attitudes and beliefs within ourselves that don’t support our healing.

Asking questions helped me to identify certain underlying beliefs that weakened rather than strengthened me. When we connect with that quiet inner place, we find that we have access to the answers we need; often the right questions can lead us there.

I turned to meditation and then to my journal to formulate questions. Philosophical questions like, “What does it mean to love yourself?” or “Where do I find meaning in life?” Such questions give us a broader perspective and can help us begin to identify the beliefs that govern our attitudes and reactions to the circumstances around us.

At other times I found that certain questions, such as, “Why is this happening to me?” brought me into a state of helplessness. When we’re in the middle of an emotional and difficult situation we rarely have the perspective to know why. I learned to ask myself, “Is this question (or statement) empowering or disempowering?” When it was disempowering I would realize it was coming from a victim attitude. Then I could change it into empowering words: “This is what’s happening. What do I want to do with it?”

When questions or statements call for action on our part they become empowering and get us moving. The more we confront our underlying disempowering beliefs and attitudes, the more opportunities we have to turn them around. When I was diagnosed with cancer I asked, “Why me?” I quickly realized that was a victim perspective and changed it to “If me, why?” I had cancer. That was a fact. What was I going to do with it? The more specific my questions became, the clearer the answers that followed. I began to learn so much about my authentic self.

Our lives become very complicated when we look to other people’s beliefs to tell us what we need to do, or when we hold our own beliefs as best for someone else. When we straighten out the boundaries, it becomes much easier to get to that place of knowing within. We all have inner guidance but no but no matter how close our relationship to another might be, our guidance applies only to ourselves. Of course parents use their own guidance where minor children are concerned. It takes parental discernment to determine when a child’s individual perspective is valid for making sound decisions.

I continue to pay attention to my thoughts and to the words I use because they reflect the beliefs I choose. Whenever I realize that I’m thinking or speaking in a way that holds me back or causes me to think less of myself or someone else, I realize I have an opportunity to reframe a limiting belief into something that empowers me and the people around me. As Norman Vincent Peale put it, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Step 6: Practice forgiveness

Forgiveness is often one of the hardest things to practice but it is a powerful means of personal transformation. Forgiveness and letting go doesn’t mean condoning the hurtful or violent actions of others. It means that we no longer allow ourselves to be victims of those actions by holding them to us. Although it can be a holy or altruistic act, forgiveness is more often an act of self-empowerment, as it frees us from the bonds that tie us so we can move on.

When we forgive we are saying, in essence, that we are no longer willing to carry around pain in response to someone else’s actions. This drains our energy, as do feelings of guilt or blame toward ourselves. We can take that same energy and put it to use in a positive direction. As we let go of bitterness and guilt, the heart energy that we’ve been blocking begins to flow more freely, allowing us to give and receive the love we desire and feel.

In metaphysics the heart chakra sits in the middle of the lower and higher chakras, like a gateway between the two. The lower chakras have to do with the physical world, where it’s possible to be treated and cured from a medical standpoint. But to heal on every level and to fully activate the higher chakras, such as compassion and insight and wisdom, it is necessary to open the heart - and that requires the experience of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a core life lesson. It means cutting the cord of resentment we have attached to another person or group and trusting God or Spirit to bring that person or group the experiences needed to heal. When we harbor thoughts of vengeance or resentment we are only hurting ourselves. If we want to be free to heal, we have to learn to cut those cords.

There is no lasting healing without forgiveness, so if we want to heal beyond the completion of some treatment or the cessation of a physical condition or disease, it requires the courage to look honestly and clearly at ourselves from the inside. We need to move from being a victim of circumstances or people and be willing to look honestly and clearly at ourselves from the inside. I made a list of anyone toward whom I held even slightly negative feelings, and started writing letters to them in my journal. After writing each letter I would read it as though I was the other person. Very often, being the other person not only broadened my perspective but actually changed it. It is possible to connect with the highest spiritual energy - compassion - and experience an immediate cessation of blame and guilt and resentment.

Though this energy is always available to us there are times when we’re not ready for it. At those times, I accepted the sincerity of my desire to forgive and be free, and imagined lifting the burden up to God to hold for me. I didn’t have to carry guilt over my inability to forgive because it was in higher hands until I was ready. I call it “practicing forgiveness” because sometimes the anger or resentment or bitterness we feel toward a particular situation or person my come back, and we have to deep lifting it back up until we are able to let it go completely. With our hearts clear and our thoughts compassionate, we can act as a powerful force in the world. We are all needed in the important undertaking of forgiveness and healing.

Step 7: Transform negative feelings, Heal and release the past

Paying attention to how we spend our energy can provide major clues in the process of healing. Certain emotions, such as blame, guilt, anger or fear, that we return to again and again, can literally drain our life force and leave little or nothing to fuel the immune system. Unlike the burst of fear or adrenaline that temporarily fires us up to respond quickly in an emergency situation – a kind of energy that is easily replenished – the ongoing burdens of guilt and blame over what was, or fear of what may be, is draining. Holding on to negative feelings is simply an exhausting expenditure of energy that can lead to emotional and physical bankruptcy.

When we hold onto bitterness or anger or fear toward another or a group or an ideology, it is ourselves, not the object of our focus that is hurt. Holding onto negative feelings of any kind is simply an exhausting expenditure of energy that can lead to emotional and physical bankruptcy. To really heal we need to open up to the transforming power of compassion, acceptance and letting go. We cannot change our patterns unless and until we become aware of them. We become self-aware when we consciously choose to identify our habit patterns, which begin with our thoughts.

I was once having a conversation with a friend in which I was adamant that there was only one course of action open to me in a particular situation. “You’re pretty rigid in your thinking about this,” he said to me. His comment momentarily stunned me, as I prided myself on being flexible and open in my thinking. It gave me pause. Later, I realized he was right. I had fallen into black and white thinking in this particular instance. Journaling, meditation, walking in receptive silence in nature, having a yoga or tai chi practice are all beneficial examples of ways to get in touch with deeper insights, perception and expanding awareness.

Unconscious or submerged issues can also drain our vitality. It takes a lot of energy to keep old traumas from our conscious awareness; expenditures of this kind are equally exhausting and depleting. But if we are not aware of these buried problems, how do we solve them? Although they may be difficult to get in touch with, certain clues may point to their existence. These include ongoing mild depression or a sense that we’re blocking ourselves or that we sabotage ourselves from meeting certain goals. Again, journaling or counseling can begin to bring the issues that we haven’t been ready to deal with to the surface.

In a study designed to measure immune responses a group of people were asked to spend twenty minutes a day for one week writing about the most traumatic event in their lives. Comparing those results against a control group, researchers found that those who wrote about their trauma had much stronger immune responses.

It takes courage to dig up a traumatic memory, especially if it has been unconsciously stored. When we know from within that we are ready, it can be healing and cathartic to pull trauma to the surface and release it. As we heal and release the past we are released from the charge that was given to certain events. They lose their power over us and we can better learn the lessons inherent in them. When we have a healthy relationship with and understanding of the past, we can visit it without getting stuck there. We are able to move from being a victim to being free.

Step 8: Do all you can and release the rest

One of the biggest stressors we can put on ourselves is trying to control situations or outcomes that are out of our hands. We strain with all of our might to push the unmovable mountain out of our path instead of putting our energy into what we are able to do in a given situation. A life-threatening illness or catastrophic event can be such a mountain. We can drain our energy trying to get it out of our way, or we can forge a path around the mountain or perhaps climb the heights where we may find an extraordinary view of life from a new perspective.

Whenever a difficulty or problem confronts us, we can break it down into components - the parts we can do something about, and those we can release. There is a solution to every difficulty we encounter, a way through or around or over the top of the mountain. We have incredible potential and creativity within us, just waiting to be tapped.

We can’t change the past and we don’t know what will come next. Every thought and every action on our part influences the future, but the final outcome is out of sight. In focusing on the past or the future, we are expending precious energy and that expenditure will have an effect on the outcome. We can let both go and free our energy for the things we can see and respond to in the present. The present is always our point of power.

We can also let go of any aspects of a problem that are brought in by other people. It may be that a loved one or an authority figure has a different opinion or expectation of what it is that we need or don’t need to do. Or maybe we have an idea that certain people need to change in some way or do something we think they should do. We lose our power and personal integrity when we live our lives to please others or attempt to change others to please ourselves. Compromises, however, are the things we are willing to agree on that are in sync with our values and allow us to create healthy, good relationships.

On the physical side, we can look at our lifestyle. What are our habits with regard to diet, exercise, rest and so on? “I won’t quit smoking,” a young woman told me matter-of-factly. “This is who I am.” It is possible to relate so deeply to our addictions or unhealthy habits that they become like a relationship in which we have lost our boundaries and our balance. Illness can push us into making important changes that we haven’t chosen voluntarily. When I thought I only had a short time to live I wanted to live long enough to tie up any loose ends. I focused on how best to support my physical body to maximize my health and the time I had left.

The specifics of physical self-care are unique for every individual, though all bodies need appropriate nutrition, exercise, sunshine, rest and fresh air. These basics are crucial when our immune systems are overloaded with illness or stress.

What I continue to observe in myself and others is that when we face the challenges that come to us head-on without trying to run or hide from them, we have tremendous opportunities for learning and growth. As we test our boundaries – finding the courage to do our best in life no matter what comes – we continually expand our potential. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle with the central pieces coming together first and the edges constantly growing. When we’re blindsided we continue to rework the central pieces, creating the same picture over and over.

If we want to grow we have to be willing to expand our boundaries. The same principle is at work in miracles and healing. If we want to experience them, we have to be willing to step beyond our usual boundaries and open up to the possibilities.

Live Your Highest Ideal

Step 9: Establish personal integrity

In order to be at peace with ourselves we need to come from a place of personal integrity. We are living at a challenging time. The laws of personal integrity are so routinely bent all around us that many have lost sight of what it means to live with integrity – even with regard to ourselves. In that sense, any difficulty that comes along offers an opportunity or reminder to step back and take a deeper look into life and the role we are playing. How well do we really know and trust ourselves? The best way to establish a sense of trust in life and safety in relationships is to practice personal integrity. It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing. What matters is how we choose to live our own lives.

Living with integrity means that we know ourselves well and can trust ourselves to do the right thing. If we make a mistake we don’t make excuses. We learn from it without beating ourselves up emotionally and do what we can to set things right. It’s so easy to establish habits of carelessness in our personal integrity that we can’t trust ourselves, and when we can’t trust ourselves, we don’t trust others. As a result we live in doubt and fear.

The exploration of this principle is so essential in today’s world. The violation of integrity is being demonstrated on every level of private and public life. We have lied and been lied to so many times that we question what, really, is the truth. Mostly we don’t know. Most of us, to some degree, have bought into the idea that principles can be compromised under certain circumstances or conditions. We give lip service to accepted virtues, but we rationalize why they don’t count in a particular situation. They always count. In the long run, when we act without truth and integrity, we cheat ourselves.

We can look to the collective view for perspective. The world is not at peace. Genocide is rationalized and perpetrated by nation against nation. The US has transferred a billion dollars in weapons to other countries to use on civilian men, women and children. There are no sides to take – brutality and the killing of pockets of civilians from any group or country is never a moral action. Hearts are hardened. Hearts are broken by these devastating atrocities. People are not speaking the truth.

The outer situation is merely a reflection of the inner situation. Peace starts within individual human hearts. Forgiveness and goodwill start within individual human minds. Integrity starts with the thoughts, words and actions of individuals. Whatever we want – truth, justice, peace, compassion, wisdom – we all need to become. The time to start is now. Today is the day. The health of our bodies starts with the healing of our hearts, our minds and our compassion.

Step 10: Trust inner wisdom, the intuitive voice within

Intuition is not a gift that some people have and others don’t. It’s a built in system that we all have, but just as muscles atrophy from lack of use, it simply stops working if we don’t pay attention. Intuition is that first gut feeling we have about something. It is a connection to an inner wisdom that comes with clarity and knowing. There is no confusion about it. Intuition doesn’t come from the ego. It can be distinguished from a reaction of fear or compulsion in that it is not based on emotions and it is always in sync with the highest spiritual principals. If, however, we allow the rational mind to jump in and negate intuition with its logic and beliefs before we act on it, the power of this source of personal wisdom goes unrecognized and the intuitive signals slip beneath the surface of our conscious awareness.

Intuition can be thought of as part of a natural spiritual unfoldment that attunes us, if we listen to it, to a path of wisdom and compassion. The cognitive mind, on the other hand, can be like a merry-go-round where rationalizations and intellectual debates often keep the mind running in circles. Of course our intellect is an important aspect of our functioning in life but we’re not meant to run our lives by cold, hard reasoning.

The voice of intuition connects us to the individual path of our soul’s journey and spiritual reality. We’ve all felt it. It may be a hunch or an uncomfortable feeling that nudges us to do something (or not to do something). Too often, though, we don’t trust our intuitions when they come, especially if they seem silly or irrational, or we don’t act on them. But if we continue to tune them out, we stop becoming aware of them.

Intuition can also be a sense of knowing or rightness that persists in spite of logical opposition – even when the people you care about most, or persons of authority, are telling you you’re making a mistake. We often think we can save other people from their poor decisions – but it is only the ego in us asserting what we would do in similar circumstances. In truth, we offer a far greater gift when we bolster others’ confidence in their ability to make their own choices and find their unique path.

Intuition is an infallible guide that originates in the higher self. With practice we can learn to both recognize and build confidence in our intuitive perceptions. Quiet reflection, journaling and meditation are ideal practices to begin to recognize and strengthen this special awareness.

Step 11: Hold yourself in compassion

It sounds simple enough to love ourselves, but all too often we become so wrapped up in feelings of low self-esteem that it isn’t easy to do. Most of us carry around an inner critical voice that is often called the critical parent. Considering this, most of us could benefit from consciously directing our inner dialogue to be that of an encouraging parent. An interesting thing about learning to give ourselves unconditional love is that it creates an opening that lets others in more fully.

In my counseling work I have found that most of us carry around an inner critical voice that is sometimes called the critical parent. It might say things like, “Why bother? You won’t be able to do that!” Considering that most of us could benefit from reparenting ourselves – that is, consciously directing our inner dialogue to be that of an encouraging parent: “You’ve always been creative. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

I remember a client I’ll call Linda, a nurse who came to me when her cancer had become quite advanced. From radiation treatment she had developed scars in her stomach that made it difficult for her to digest food, and her belly was bloated and uncomfortable. Her legs were swollen from her pelvis down because of blocked lymph nodes, so she had to use a walker to get around. She had done a tremendous amount of healing work around the issues in her life and as she lay on her sofa, talking to me softly, she said, “You know, there is only one kink in my existence right now, and that is my cat.”

This was a remarkable statement, considering her physical condition. She told me she felt bad because the cat, a large male, so wanted to be with her, but she was always pushing him off the bed or couch because his weight hurt her. “I start to feel all this explosive energy and I blast poor Arnold with it. Then I feel terrible afterwards.”

Linda went on to say that she often felt frustrated by all the little things that had become so difficult, but she would hold her feelings in; then when Arnold got in her way or wanted to lean on her, she would let her frustration burst loose. “Arnold is so accepting and he loves me so unconditionally that he still comes back and wants to be with me.”

We talked about the nature of unconditionally loving relationships and how even the cat recognized that the love between them was undisturbed by her condition or outbursts. Linda loved his soothing presence and resonating purr. If he was to stay in her environment, he needed firm but loving discipline in being taught he couldn’t lie on her as he used to or get in the way of her walker. He also needed her love and soothing voice. “I know that it’s my attitude toward myself that needs to change,” Linda reflected. “And then I just know that Arnold won’t be so needy.”

I suspected Linda had a tough critical parent inside. I asked her to close her eyes and imagine herself as a little girl in the same condition she was in now, weak and unable to get around very well. I asked her to imagine that Arnold was getting in the little girl’s way and to see her explode in the same way that Linda did as an adult. Then I asked her adult self to say something to the little girl who was having such a hard time and who had just screamed at the cat. “You shouldn’t be so mean to the cat!” her critical adult scolded.

I knew that Linda was close to her grown daughter so I asked her to imagine that her daughter was a little girl with this condition. “She’s so weak and her stomach is swollen and uncomfortable, and Arnold is getting in her way. See her in your mind’s eye and watch as she explodes at Arnold. What do you want to say to her?”

In a very loving voice Linda said, “I’m so sorry that you’re having such a difficult time. I understand how hard it is for you and I wish there was something I could do to help you.” I asked her to make an internal switch and imagine that she was the daughter, feeling what it was like to receive that kind of understanding and acceptance. The tears rolled down Linda’s cheeks. “It feels so good that someone cares about me and knows how hard it is for me.”

Again, I asked her to imagine herself as a little girl and go through the visualization of screaming at Arnold. This time she gave herself the love and support she had needed all along. “It feels so good to know I can have an inner parent who loves me just the way I am and who understands how I feel.” It was a powerful demonstration of the need for self-love. It was beautiful to see Linda’s ability to receive it when it was presented in a way that she could really grasp.

The next time I saw Linda her physical body had greatly deteriorated, but what was most striking was the radiance shining from her face and eyes. She glowed as she spoke about the special moments she was experiencing with loved ones and friends. It was apparent that she had found self-acceptance, and the peace she had made with herself had spread to her relationships with others. The energy she was emanating was like a blessing that reached out and drew others into a very special intimacy.

The last time I saw Linda, I held her hand as she told me about a dream she’d had the night before. “I was having a very difficult night with a lot of discomfort. Then I drifted into the most wonderful dream. I never felt more free or more well. I was able to move so effortlessly. But I knew my body wasn’t cured.”

Dreams have been called the language of the subconscious, and Linda seemed to understand the message here. Her face was accepting and radiant. Before I could say anything she said, “I know I’m dying, but what I want to focus on is life.”

As I looked at Linda, who had the same kind of cancer that I once had, I remembered my determination to learn and to teach how to die well. Now here was Linda, demonstrating the peace and joyfulness I had wanted to express if I went in that direction. “You’ve become my teacher,” I told her, and her appreciative gaze blessed me. She left her body a week later, surrounded by people who loved her.

Step 12: Create a healing environment

A healing environment is the foundation upon which we can live our lives more fully present and alive, and the place to start constructing that environment is within. When our minds are cluttered, our external environment tends to become cluttered.
Everything in our experience is influenced by the state of our mind, and the state of our mind is something we can have some control over. The mind is the first place that change begins. We create order out of chaos by bringing our focus inside and moving deeper into that centered place where we connect with all of the resources we have accumulated and expanded throughout our lives. As we move deeper into that inner sanctuary, we connect with our inner teacher and to the highest source of insight and wisdom and guidance - God or source or universal grace - the divinity that resides within everyone.

With consistent practice this inner environment becomes an empowering and healing connection to source. It can be accessed any time as we learn to quiet the mind in receptive silence and it deepens with a regular daily practice. Once we become familiar with this centered place we can slip into quiet, receptive silence.

There is no right way to enter into the stillness. Setting the time aside each day and keeping it is success. Once the state of inner quiet is established it can be recalled at any time or place. If you use a journal or make notes on your phone you can keep them near to record inspirations as you come back to your conscious mind. Just as dreams sometimes fade when we wake up, inspirations can dissipate. If we don’t move our inspirations into action they become unrealized potential. Inspiration is part of our inner guidance system, directing us toward the path of our soul’s journey. We reach our goals when we act on the guidance that comes.

Whether our practice is meditation or prayer or quiet time alone, any practice is most effectively integrated into our lives by putting aside a certain time for it each day. Returning to the same place at the same time creates an automatic relaxation response.

As Within, So Without

A healing environment is something we can create externally by consciously transforming the space around us that we have control over – our offices and home environments – to be places that inspire us, lift our spirits and connect us with our hearts. Heart energy is a powerful source of healing. Pay attention to the things that uplift you – colors, sounds, textures, art and so on. Keep yourself surrounded by the things you love.

Creating a physical environment that uplifts and supports us isn’t just about image, or what a space looks like; it’s about energy or how a space feels to us. Objects in the environment may be beautiful but if they keep us tied to feelings that weigh us down or hold us back, they can actually be draining our energy and diminishing the quality of our lives.

Most of us are more “clairsentient” – aware of the energy of people and things around us – than we realize. Take a look around the rooms you spend a lot of time in and begin testing your intuitive senses. How do you feel when you come into a particular room? Does the space invoke feelings that are uplifting or heavy? Make you happy or sad? What is your favorite room? When you tune into your feelings you might be surprised. It may be time to replace those “status” things you don’t really like, or the representations of the past that you’re holding onto. Bring in more living energy, like plants or beautiful art or colors or whatever fills you with vitality and joy.

Besides surrounding ourselves with positive, uplifting things, simplifying our external environment can be good therapy. Cleaning out our closets, drawers, attics, or any space in our domain helps us to feel clear and light. Passing on the things we’re not using to someone who needs them gives us an opportunity to be of service. As we let go of our outer clutter, we may find that it gets easier to let go of inner clutter.