There has been a lot written about the mind body spirit connection. These pages are designed to offer a perspective on how that is affecting you specifically with your cancer.
Cancer for most people is something that arises slowly and seemingly without reason. There was no toxic exposure, or gross malnutrition it just kind of showed up one day (uninvited I’ll add) and they don’t understand why.
In your body there is a part of your nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic system is really cool. It’s primary function is to control all the stuff that’s going on in your body that you are not thinking about.
Right now your heart is beating, your lungs are drawing oxygen into your blood stream, your gut is digesting food and your endocrine system is monitoring and regulating all of the hormone production in your body. This is all happening while you are reading these words. Thank god because if you had to focus and remember all of these things your body does automatically our species wouldn’t have made it very far.
The proper function of this system is critical to maintaining health, if even one of the functions starts to get outside of the safe parameters there is a potentially life threatening issue.
The autonomic system is also called the “fight and flight” system. When you are in a potentially dangerous situation your body automatically makes changes through the autonomic system to adapt. It sends resources to the parts of the body we need to get out of danger, stay safe and stay alive. Consequently it must draw resources from other systems that are not necessary to keep you alive in the short term. The tiger example is the easiest way to understand this.
If you were drinking water by the side of a pond in India and you heard the roar of a tiger behind you. Your body would generate a response that would allow you to run (probably faster than you’ve ever run) or defend yourself (good luck against a tiger). The physiologic events in the stress response are as follows
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Blood glucose (sugar) levels
- Insulin resistance (insulin is responsible for letting sugar into your cells)
- Blood lipid (fat) levels
- Blood cholesterol levels (especially the “bad” cholesterol)
- Blood clotting factors
- Vasoconstriction (arteries and veins tighten to help increase blood pressure)
- stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol)
- Cortisol (additional stress hormones)
- Feelings of anxiety, nervousness, worry, concern
- “sensitivity” systems – including emotional and physical pain
- Cellular immunity
- Serotonin levels (satisfaction hormone)
- Hormones that build make changes in the body (testosterone, Luteinizing Hormone)
- Bone density, muscle fiber, R.E.M. sleep
- Ability to maintain calcium and magnesium levels
- Sex hormone binding globulin (transports sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen)
- Ability to regulation inflammatory response
In the scenario where you are being attacked by a tiger these responses are great! Your body dumps a bunch of sugar into your system to burn as quick energy; your blood pressure and heart rate go up so you can utilize oxygen in your muscles for running. You clot in case you get cut and you have all these stress hormones to tell you to “get the hell out of there!”
When the tiger is attacking you your body is not concerned about fighting off the cold virus (immunity) or having a sense of life satisfaction (serotonin). You don’t need to grow chest hair (guys) or be fertile so you can have a baby. You definitely don’t need to sleep.
Your body demonstrates absolute genius! It turns down all the stuff that makes you want to just hang out and relax and turns up all the stuff that helps you get your ass out of there and stay alive.
So if this response is good, why am I writing about it? One simple question.
What are your tigers?
You are very rarely faced with true life threatening situations. There are no tigers in suburbia. There are no bears in the city. What you are facing now is a chronic and pervasive input and lifestyle that triggers the exact same response!
You look at your phone and you get a text that your son is locked out of the house. You check your bank balance and you realize someone must have stolen your credit card numbers. Your work environment is constantly demanding and the threat of being fired is constantly present. You fight with your husband or wife in front of the kids. You see your daughter talking to a boy that you think is bad news.
These are your tigers and you’re surrounded by them.
Every time you get that twinge of fear in your gut that nervous twitch in your chest your autonomic system is firing that stress response.
If this was happening once or twice a week that would be one thing but you are constantly bathed in this. You are “stressed out” all the time and your system responds that way.
If you watch animals like the antelope, after a tiger has chased them you see something interesting. After the antelope evades the tiger and knows it’s safe it shakes its whole body and goes back to eating grass. It doesn’t hold on to the encounter and live in constant fear of it. It watches for signs of danger and then reacts. Afterward it goes back to living life.
Here is another really cool thing about your body. It’s a learning system. So when you are in a state that requires a certain physiologic response often your body is going to set that state as its new baseline from which to start.
So the more stressed you get the more easily your body responds to stress and fires this stress response. Before long your body is living in a persistent state of physiologic stress even when there are no tigers. Interestingly this internal physiologic state also creates a perceived sense of danger in your environment. So the perception creates the physiologic changes and the physiologic changes create additional changes in the perception. This is a classic “downward spiral” and is the reason for a lot of lot of physical conditions and diseases.
I’m going give you a flash forward to the spiritual section of this conversation here and just let you in on a little secret. There are never any tigers and there never were. Download my free ebook Your Body’s Secret Healing Language here to get the rest of this story.
Create A Consciousness That Heals
So what happens when your body is constantly in a stress response?
- Blood pressure, heart rate, vasoconstriction (blood vessel tightening – makes high blood pressure worse) are constantly elevated – no wonder why so many people are on hypertension medication?
- Blood cholesterol is constantly elevated (instead of being used to make hormones, its natural function) – no wonder we have so many people on cholesterol medication.
- Blood glucose (sugar) and lipid (fats) are constantly elevated and insulin is decreased – no wonder we have so many people who are overweight and have diabetes.
- Acute and Chronic stress hormones are constantly flooding your system – no wonder we have so many people on anti-anxiety medication.
- Serotonin levels are constantly decreased – no wonder we have so many people on anti-depressants.
- Decreasing bone density – osteoporosis
- Decreased ability to achieve R.E.M. sleep – Insomnia
- Decreased sex hormone production and sex hormone binding globulin – infertility
And most interestingly to you here is decrease cellular immunity and increased inflammation. Your cells can’t fight off the bacteria, viruses, critters and creepers. The inflammation leads to increased cellular breakdown. Interesting, what happens when your cells start to break down and don’t reproduce correctly? It’s the formula for a mass or tumor. Aka, stage 1 or 2 cancer.
The stress you experience is a big deal. Our culture says “work through it, everyone is stressed, you’ve got to pay the bills right?” Well its time for a new cultural message. This one isn’t working anymore. Otherwise we wouldn’t have millions of people with cancer.
Here is the take home:
For most people cancer isn’t something that you “get”. There is no cancer stork that drops cancer down your chimney. This is something that is pervasive in our culture and the belief that “it just happens to me” is potentially dangerous and certainly disempowering.
Ok, so we have a mechanism. Now lets look at what can trigger this stress response. What are your tigers?
Most of our stress response comes from our emotional reactions to the situations we are experiencing. I am going to qualify my description of emotions here as “negative” emotions. Fear, worry, anxiety, anger, self-loathing, hatred, apathy, guilt. These are all emotions that will trigger our stress response.
I put “negative” in quotation marks because it is only our perception that labels them as negative. The truth is that emotions are neither positive nor negative. They are only giving us information and it is our subjective perception that labels them positive or negative based on whether they are enjoyable or uncomfortable. Whether they are enjoyable or not is also based on history of past experiences. Something that is annoying or hurtful to one person might be seen as humorous or enjoyable to someone else.
So a “negative” emotion is really just a subjective judgment of an objective experience. But, until we are all enlightened Buddhas these situations arise, and so, we will talk about them.
Shame, Guilt, Despair, Fear, Hatred, Anger, Desire, Scorn.
Honestly, this is pretty easy to unravel. The physiologic response is all the same. When a person experiences negative emotions their body goes into a physiological stress response. Why it does that is interesting.
With shame, embarrassment and guilt at some level people are afraid of their position in their social group. They are afraid of being “found out” and being ostracized from the group. At some point in our species development this was really important. If you were in a tribal culture being excluded from that culture met near certain death because you couldn’t do all the hunting and gathering by yourself.
Anger and hatred share a desire to make a change in the presently experienced situation. When you get angry its because you feel, offended, slighted or otherwise unappreciated. The change that your emotions and psyche are asking for is to help you move more towards the life you really want. The question is this, is the anger because of something that is outside or inside? Is the fact that you feel slighted actually triggering anger because there is some part of you (way down deep inside) who believes what the person said or did. Its this wounded part of you that is triggered, this is the part that must be healed. When that happens, these events won’t trigger you anymore.
Desire, Envy and Scorn are also a belief that there is something outside of you that you want and don’t or can’t have. You see another person, group or place that is an example of something you want. Your desire for this thing / situation is so big but unconscious that it causes you pain. You project your pain onto the external pain or situation and believe that they are the reason you don’t have it or you hate them because they do.
Underlying all of these emotions is fear. Fear that you won’t be safe and won’t experience the love that you want. Love is projected and watered down into many different forms both personal and material. We may get a quick burst of Pseudo-love from buying new clothes. This is the strategy of a shopaholic and that grand driver of the economy “retail therapy”. The drive for love may show up as obsessive body image issues. We want to love ourselves so much but some part of us has a distorted view of what we must be in order to receive love. The more you go down this path the more challenging it will be to meet that ideal.
The fear that is generated by a need for safety and a perceived lack of love is the grand driver, it triggers our nervous system and we live in a baseline of stress that is hazardous and unhealthy.
Here is the big truth, thoughts are never harmful. They are either correct or erroneous, useful or not useful. The thought itself is only a finite, individual piece of data, a potential version of reality. In fact almost all thoughts exist in a paired duality and because of that they are sometimes useful (usually described as good) sometimes not (described as bad). The way we feel and the actions we take based on those thoughts are really the causes the issues. More simply said, thoughts are not harmful, attaching to and acting on certain thoughts in less than conscious or unhealthy ways can be harmful.
Here’s an example. If you have the thought “I’m not good at math, I could never be an engineer” it sets you on a certain path. First, you have placed yourself in a relative position on a continuum of “good and bad” regarding math. Compared to who, to what? How do you know? Are you convinced that this current belief is going to determine the course of things to come? Are you learning from someone who is well suited to teach you and cater to your learning style? There are a million questions here to be examined.
The important thing is that when you choose to believe a thought it locks you into a certain, fixed reality that may or may not serve the goal of you getting where you want to get to. This is what creates the “problems” and stress. If you are choosing thoughts and belief that are limited or false, or more importantly, not congruent with who you are as an individual being (or soul) then those beliefs and thoughts will create stress.
The Spirit is never stressed, it is never in crisis, and it never has a problem. There is no possible way for you to have a “disease of the spirit”. The spirit is infinite and boundless; it is the spark of the divine that animates your existence. How can the divine be flawed or ill and still be divine which is inherently perfect?
The truth is that our separation from our soul, from truly knowing ourselves and our true nature is the “disease of the spirit”.