Visualizing Lemonade Instead of Lemons

Sometimes when I have done presentations I like to use a meditation to make a point.  It goes something like this. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Imagine that I am going to the refrigerator.  I open the door and open one of the smaller drawers. I take out something roundish and yellow. I look at it carefully, noting the vibrant color, the dimpled skin.  I rub my fingers over the slightly bumpy surface, immersing myself in the texture. I hold the object to my nose and gently inhale. I put it on the cutting board and slice it in half.  I watch as droplets of juice squirt from it. I take one half to my mouth and sink my teeth into it. At this point usually everyone in the class grimaces or shudders. I do not have to tell you it is a lemon.  And you do not have to bite into a real lemon to experience the sensation of actually biting a real lemon. Your mind and body will respond to what you are visualizing just as it would to the actual behavior.   This is a powerful example of how we react physiologically to what we think about.  Are you aware of what your mind is usually thinking about? Have you considered that if you are in a bad mood, that you may be thinking unpleasant thoughts?  Did you know that you can change your mood by changing the channel in your mind? I was just wondering…………………..

I want to illustrate to you the powerful effect your mind has on your body. For instance, in Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), individuals respond to stimuli in very diverse ways.  One personality may be allergic to poison ivy, while another is not. One personality may be diabetic, yet others are not! Even more compelling, handwriting is different depending on the personality in control. These differences are accounted for by the differing belief systems in each of the personalities.  This is also illustrative of the power of the mind!

Other studies have demonstrated the physiological response of our bodies to events that we look at or watch, even though we are not physically participating.  Blood pressure and heart rate responses have been measured to be similar to those actually participating in the events. Even photos of emotionally expressive individuals can elicit a similar feeling and physiological response to the individual in the photo.  It is our ability to be empathic that allows us to connect to another in a similar feeling state. We are able to feel their pain or their joy. We share a similar physiological response with them. My mother and I always used to cry at weddings, sharing in thought the emotional joy of those at the altar.  Just seeing it in someone else could elicit in us the overwhelming happiness observed in the couple. There are innumerable daily events when we experience a reaction like this. It may come from the smile of a baby, which transports us to the same place, or the sadness in a loved one, which makes us sad too.  Our observation of these events affects our physiological bodies in ways similar to which we would respond if the event had occurred directly to us!

But here is the crux of the matter.  Even when we are not watching anything, reading anything, talking to someone, or participating in anything outside of ourselves, these same physiological responses are still going on.  They are reactions to what we are thinking about! If we spend our days entertaining ourselves with negative thoughts, then this will affect our immune systems in a negative way, and we will feel unhappy, perhaps helpless, maybe angry.  If we focus on positive thoughts and opportunities, then our immune systems will remain balanced and we will feel happy, fulfilled. When something bad or annoying happens, make a joke of it and laugh. When I had abdominal surgery years ago, my roommate and I laughed at everything, including our pathetic helpless situations!  We laughed when nurses didn’t come and we both laughed ourselves right back to healing! A friend called me this morning and in the middle of a trying work day, she stopped at Starbucks for a coffee and on her way out the door, the person ahead of her let the door slam into her and her coffee spilled all over her into her underwear!  She called me and we both laughed. Learn to see life as an adventure that will always have a new episode. See the humor in the human experience. Especially laugh at yourself!

So when you find yourself thinking of figurative lemons, quickly change the channel to one with happy thoughts and positive outcomes. Try to find the humor in the human condition.  Understand that your physiological body is reacting to your thoughts, so that in order to experience homeostasis and health, it is important to rebalance as quickly as possible. We will all have moments of sadness, disappointment.  Try to make them as short as possible. Are you willing to practice this to make your life better? I was just wondering………………………

Unexpected Gifts

Many, many moons ago when my son was just a toddler, I was working part time as an attendant at the Dartmouth College Art Gallery.  In this capacity, I was charged with making sure that no one touched the art, and I also had a counter device so that I could keep track of the number of visitors.  An easy and peaceful job!  Well on this particular day stretching back in the recess of my memory, it was Thanksgiving, and there was a huge snow storm.  I did not want to go to work.  But I only had a short three hour shift so I plowed through the snow to my bulldozer Saab 95 wagon and drove the five miles to the Hopkins Center for my shift.  I sat quietly, reading.  There were no visitors of course, because no one was crazy enough to be out in the storm and everyone was cozily ensconced at home enjoying Thanksgiving.  Then he silently entered, the music Artist in Residence, Robert Northern, who later became famously known as Brother Ah.  He was carrying a flute and he began to play, a soft, lilting, beautifully haunting melody.  I was enraptured!  I do not remember if I spoke to him as he left, I was so awed by the experience.  But it is an experience that I never forgot, a gift from a giver who may never have realized the effect those moments had on me.  So when these earthly raptures occur, are we receptive to the beauty of the moment?  Also, can we purposely participate in creating them for others?  I was just wondering…………………..

Another not so rapturous, yet significantly memorable moment occurred for me about five years later.  I was living on Cape Cod at this time.  Fry boots were the rage.  I wanted lace-ups, which were harder to find, and I learned a leather shop in Chatham had some.  I drove the same reliable Saab to that leather shop, filled with excited anticipation.  It was very close to Christmas, and my husband and I were separated, so I was going to treat myself with this gift for which I had been longing.  I entered the store and quickly told the friendly bearded clerk what I came for.  He brought me the boots and I quickly laced them up, strutting back and forth, admiring myself in front of the mirror.  “Ah, yes, they suit me,” I thought silently, as I was thrilled to have finally found them.  I went to the counter to make my purchase, and there, hanging on a peg, was the most beautiful leather pouch bag!  It was a perfect accompaniment to the boots.  I  put the boots back on and sashayed back and forth again in front of  the mirror, now with both boots and pocketbook.  Finally, I looked longingly at the purse as I reluctantly returned it to the peg where it had been hanging.  Clearly I could not afford it.  I paid for the boots and the clerk handed me my package.  Then he said, “Come here,” and he lifted the purse from the peg and draped it over my head onto my neck and said with a big smile, “Merry Christmas!”

More recently, I learned that I had breast cancer.  I was fortunate because it was very early stage, although it still necessitated surgery followed by a month of radiation.  I couldn’t get scheduled to start at the center closest to me so I scheduled myself to have it done in Falmouth, normally a half hour ride.  However, it was July, the peak of  the tourist season, so the daily drive took twice as long.  But still, I never lost sight of the fact that this was curable and I was very fortunate! And best of all, I didn’t need chemo! I met many different people during my daily encounters.  My conversations with these people were also part of the gift, many of them struggling with much greater challenges than what I had to endure.  The gift of these conversations was the courage, spirit, and hope with which these people faced their problems.  One woman’s story remains with me vividly.  She was about twenty years younger than me and she had to take the boat every day from Martha’s Vineyard.  Then she had to arrange for a ride to and from the hospital as well.  Her courageous attitude will remain with me always.  The best part of the radiation was graduation day.  The staff explained that there would be a celebration.  Mine was even more special.  A group of five of my friends surprised me by being there while they and the staff adorned me with confetti!  Afterward they took me to lunch.  Their support at this challenging time of my life was a beautiful gift!

I am not aware of all the gifts I may have given, but I do recall being a messenger of TLC during my month long hospitalization when I was 33.  The three weeks after my surgery required rest, although I was able to ambulate.  I began to make daily rounds to each room on my hallway.  The other patients, who were mostly bedbound, expressed their thanks for my daily visitations.  It was something that they looked forward to and helped for their recovery.  Little did I know that this was practice for my future!  After obtaining my doctorate, I consulted in nursing homes for many years.

Gifts appear in many packages. Some are like the beautiful experience of haunting music on that Thanksgiving day years ago.  Some are simply companionship or a helping hand.  Some gifts are physical objects, although it is the meaning behind them that is most important.   It helps if you can become more fully aware of the gifts you have received.  I have many more I don’t have the space to share, but I hope that these accounts will help to stimulate your memory so that the beauty of what you have received in your life can blossom, creating your own bouquet of gifts.  It is not so difficult to make someone’s day more beautiful. Joggle your memory and bask for a moment in what you have received.  Tune yourself to become more aware when you are receiving a gift. Then, will you join me in passing on the gift of human kindness and beauty?  I was just wondering……………………….