By Ann Berger
Spirituality is a multifaceted concept in which one size does not fit all. While there really isn't any formula for finding or enhancing your own spirituality, there are four "keys" that are irrevocably connected to using spirituality to help healing.
Key #1: Empty yourself of your burdens. Doing so gets you through pain and helps break the logjam of confused feelings. This involves giving up control of the things you can't control, accepting things you cannot change, and moving on. It involves reorienting how you think about life. It's not easy, and you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what self-sabotaging attitudes you live by, what you're holding on to from the past, why you're holding on to it, and why you need to let it go if it is still hurting you!
Dan is a good example of this. A man in his late thirties, Dan came to see me because of pain due to an abdominal malignancy. Prior to his illness, he'd been working as a psychologist, but since his diagnosis, he had given up his practice and stopped working. Dan's issue? He was waiting for the next shoe to drop. He was panicked about lack of control over his disease, he feared a recurrence, and he doubted that he could heal. He became paralyzed as a functioning person. He was alive but not truly living.
When I talked to him about this, he said, "I've put my life on hold for the past 11 months." We spoke about why he needed to let go of his feelings about that lack of control. I explained that we would need to "reframe" his thinking so he could begin to live again by accepting life as it is. For example, it was important for Dan to reconnect with what he could do -- be a capable psychotherapist -- and do it, rather than focus on what he feared he would not be able to do if his illness got worse. By the end of the interview, Dan agreed to plan a trip with his wife and try going to a religious service, though he wasn't sure there was a greater being. Even though he wasn't sure about God, it helped him to realize that his life was a part of a greater community.
Key #2: Remember that healing is a personal journey that no one can make for you. Healing is hard work, and it's different for everyone -- but every person in pain can seek help and ask for it anywhere. For many people, help is asking for healing through prayer. For others, life's creative activities -- like music, art, dance, a connection to nature, cooking, caring for others, humor, massage, or spiritually based disciplines like Reiki or tai chi -- help healing. Use all your senses of hearing, smell, touch, taste, and sight to be in the moment and intensify the experience. It will bring you peace and a sense of being centered.
Key #3: Don't be afraid to let things go. When one door closes, another always opens. You may find forgiveness and be able to express gratitude, which is so important in healing.
A patient of mine, who recently died, had been struggling with lung cancer. Pete had been divorced for many years and had a grown son and daughter who were married and living in other states. Pete was in his late fifties and lived with a young girlfriend in her early twenties at the time of his diagnosis. When his illness became terminal, he realized that he'd sacrificed important relationships with his children and wanted to have them in his life until the end. He also knew in his heart that the tempestuous relationship with his girlfriend was not where he wanted to be, and they split up.
Pete spent months redeveloping new, healthy relationships with his ex-wife and children. In closing the door to his life with his girlfriend, he opened opportunities he never thought he would have with family he'd always loved. As a result of this, Pete lived and died in peace, feeling healed and whole.
Key #4: Keep in mind that there is no magic gift box with your name on it, holding everything you ever wanted. A good, pain-free, and spiritual life cannot be handed to you as a gift. Finding the meaning of your life is possible only by looking within and examining yourself and your own beliefs. Your inner strength and the answers to your questions are deep within your soul. The closest you can get to a magic box is one that, when opened, reveals a mirror into which you can look as deeply as you like.
Most of all, you'll get the gift of knowing that spirituality is both transforming and restorative.
Reprinted from: Healing Pain: The Innovative Breakthrough Plan to Overcome Your Physical Pain and Emotional Suffering by Ann Berger, MSN, MD and C. B. deSwaan © 2006 Ann Berger and C. B. deSwaan. (March 2006; $14.95US/$19. 95CAN; 1-59486-012- 2) Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore. com.
Ann Berger, MSN, MD, is one of the foremost specialists in pain management in the nation. A medical oncologist specializing in pain treatment, she has written and edited numerous books on pain and palliative care for patients and health-care providers. Dr. Berger is also senior editor of the most widely used textbook on palliative care, Principles and Practice of Palliative Care and Supportive Oncology. She currently resides in Darnestown, Maryland.