Writing and Healing-Reflections
Putting your deepest feelings on paper or into a journal can be a journey into your own soul and a tool for self-discovery and inner peace. There are also some surprising health benefits. There is research that shows that writing what you feel may be a boost to the immune system and help prevent illness. James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor, did a study where he asked people from all walks of life-prisoners to medical students to write about traumatic events in their life. The control group was asked to write superficial events of their life. The group that wrote the traumatic events had fewer doctor visits and showed a boosted immune response to hepatitis B Vaccine and the Epstein Barr virus. (Important – it seemed the writers used negative response words in the beginning and showed new incites about the incident by the end).
Another study was done at State University in New York, where 51 people with rheumatoid arthritis were either asked to be part of a group that wrote about traumatic events or a group that wrote about neutral events and again the group that wrote about the traumatic events reported less stiffness, swelling, pain, and fatigue than the group that wrote about neutral events. All of this is showing that in fact, writing your deepest feelings is every good for your health.
I started keeping a daily journal in 1985. My first journals were written on 3×5 cards. Eventually, I kept my journals in actual notebooks, and today, I have two bookshelves full of the writing I have done to record my life. Some days are simply – that -simple-what I did with my kids, how I felt, where I ate, traveled, etc. Other days the writing is deep-maybe a poem or reflections from a book I’m reading or feelings I would not necessarily want the world to read. Sometimes I think, “Who is that crazy person? Me!”
One of my goals is to go back and read my journals. I have begun the process, and it’s sometimes fun to look back and think about those early years as a Mom and an older college student pursuing a degree. Sometimes it’s hard to see how serious I was taking life and how many moments I missed worrying too much about things that today seem trivial. It will also be hard to review a time when my spiritual journey took me away from those day to day moments-maybe too much. Eventually, I had to come back to the middle way.
But regardless of how it feels to go back and self-reflect, I have always found the journaling process to be healing and an excellent tool for gaining inner peace. My journals are often my best friend.
My journal goes with me wherever I go as much as possible. There are days that I don’t take the time to journal, but I always go back to those days and add reflections on what I did or how I felt that day. Lately, I enjoy taping my daily newspaper horoscope in my journal and then write about what that could mean to me.
When I travel, I love to journal the sights, sounds, experiences, food, and people from my trips. At the beginning of the summer, we toured Eastern Europe with our Rabbi and Members of our Synagogue. This trip was structured around the history of Jews before, during, and after WWII. There were both painful and joyful moments filled with reminders of the Holocaust and the effects of the War in Eastern Europe and the Renewal of Jewish life today. I was the only one with a journal in my hands throughout the trip. I am currently transcribing those journals and my reflections and hope to include some of the 2500 photos I took while there. I plan to share some of this writing with you.
If you have ever thought of journaling, it is never too late to start. Just get yourself a notebook or writing journal and a good pen and start writing. Write as if no one will ever see it. It is your private conversation with yourself or a dear friend as in Dear Diary.
There are no rules for journaling. Do it your way-the way that feels most comfortable for you.
Here are a few tips to get started.
Choose your writing tools. The sky is the limit. You can use binders, notebooks, decorative journals, or even 3X5 cards.
Find a quiet place and time for writing. I can journal anywhere-at home, in restaurants, on airplanes, or doctor’s offices. But it is really comforting to journal with a cup of tea or glass of wine. Light a candle for an even sweeter effect.
Let go of obstacles that get in the way. If you are worried about someone reading your journal, find a private place to keep them-your secret place. You can even buy lock and key diaries, but they are bulky. A journal is for you. They can also be used if you are writing a memoir or autobiography and wish to share some of your story with others.
Let go of your inner critic. Most important is to let go of an inner critic and editor. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation. Just write. Later if you want to share your story, you can worry about editing.
Use prompts to get you started and keep you going. As I said, I sometimes cut out my daily horoscope as a prompt for writing about my day or life.
Write the good, the bad, the ugly. Write when you’re happy and when you’re sad. Write when your grateful. Get it all out in your journals. Just Write.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
You never know where you are really going because there is always an inner journey taking place along the way -yes-a secret destination-that place that moves your soul.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” –Anais Nin
This summer we had an amazing travel experience. We spent 12 days touring Eastern Europe with our Rabbi and 44 members of our congregation. The trip was entitled Adath Israel Experience, The Rebirth of Jewish Life After the Holocaust. The purpose to visit countries affected by the Holocaust, where Jews once lived in freedom and prosperity and then were eliminated as a people and culture as victims of major deportation to camps or merely murdered on the spot just for being Jews. On this bittersweet trip to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Germany we witnessed the beauty of this part of the world and the horrors left from the remnants of death camps and mass graves. Never being in this part of the world, other than Germany, I had no idea how I would feel. I went on this trip with an open mind and soul. I simply wanted to experience all of it and to learn how others experienced this trip. We grew as people together and got to know a deeper part of each other through sharing our stories in words and the silence of our emotions without words.
The Sweet-We had a Dinner cruise on the Danube renewing a spirit-never forgetting and moving forward
I journaled the entire trip in three small notebooks. We have thousands of photos. I am working on transcribing those journals and find it takes hours to record what I saw and then reflect on how I felt. I am writing this post just to tell you where I have been and I’m still processing that journey as I always will.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai
This trip will always remain in my heart. One cannot visit the places we did without taking inside the memories and images of those lost and martyred souls. We touched sacred places and will never forget.
The Entrance to Aushwitz with the German “Work Sets You Free.” Hardly was anyone free.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
So true-we are never the same after returning home. Every place we visit has a home in our hearts. We saw the sun rise and set and the moon over the horizon.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” –Pat Conroy
There is no way I can completely share this journey unless you someday read my journals. I am working on them. They take time and are only in the first draft. I pray I will complete them.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K.
The railroad tracks into Auschwitz-I will never see train tracks the same again.
In between my travels I continue health and wellness coaching. Together we take your journey and truly finds what sets you free.
Lately I have had several calls about simply navigating the medical system and learning what alternative and integrative approaches are available to support healing. I will be writing more about this so stay tuned.
Contact me and let me know how I can support you on your journey.
And feel free to Share this post. I always love new subscribers. And one more thing-send your questions and comments. I love hearing from YOU!
Hiking in Arizona
Looking over Hoover Dam at the Nevada Border
Looking Out from our Cruise
Beautiful and Peaceful Meditation site at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe New Mexico
Steve and Me in Vancouver
Group photon at the Natalie Goldberg Memoir Writing retreat
It’s a snow day here in Mason, Ohio. I love snow days when I have nowhere to go-just the time to catch up around the house, make final travel arrangements and sit here and blog to my readers. I hope you all had a great holiday. Here is our New Year’s letter that I send out in cards. Hope you enjoy it!!
As I reflect on our year, I want to thank you for your cards, letters, and photos. We enjoy hearing from friends and family. Hope your holidays were wonderful.
This was our second full year of retirement, and it has been a joy to be able to sleep in, travel, have time with our kids and grandkids, and all the things we do together and separately.
Steve continues to attend his weekly prayer group (minyan) and the Synagogue. I continue to write and teach my monthly Course in Miracles group. Steve also enjoys working out both physically and socially;) I enjoy taking long walks especially in Sharon Woods with friends. We enjoy watching our shows on Netflix (Breaking Bad, Ozark, and for fun The Marvelous Mrs. Meisel and The Kaminsky Method). Most of all we enjoy our travels-visiting family and friends around the globe. Time is always a commodity but when not in the routine of going to work every day, moments become even more precious, and life’s experiences can be savored.
Some of our most precious moments have been visiting my Godmother Helen and our 100-year-old frien
d Evvy -both in nursing homes. Sadly, Helen died in March, but the memory of our time together while she lived near us will remain.
This year we traveled to Los Angeles in January for a wedding and to visit friends, then to Chicago to babysit our Granddog Jax, while Marcie went with friends to Cancun, Mexico. In February we were in Phoenix for a Bat Mitzvah, and to spend time with a cousin and friends. In March during Spring break, our family embarked on a Caribbean Cruise where in Cozumel, the kids swam with the dolphins, and we explored the shops together.
Following the cruise, we visited Steve’s Aunt Peppy and some old friends in Boca Raton, then drove to Cape Coral to stay with very close friends but unfortunately, all the travel was too much, and Steve was diagnosed with Influenza B the day after we arrived. Thank goodness these friends are like family and made us feel at home – the four of us spent
ten days on Tamiflu and a week of convalescence. I was the only one who did not get the flu. Luckily, they have a beautiful home on the water with lots of separated living space, so we were able to be with each other in a healing environment.
In May, I attended a Natalie Goldberg memoir writing retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Natalie is a practicing Buddhist and the author of Writing Down the Bones and several other books. I enjoyed daily meditation and writing while embracing the sunshine and warmth of Santa Fe.
Later in May, our family all attended our great niece’s Bat Mitsvah in the DC area. Hannah did a great job, and we enjoyed all the festivities of the weekend.
In August our youngest daughter Marcie and I traveled to London and Amsterdam, where we celebrated her 36th birthday. We loved walking London and visiting the many regal sites as well as the Churchill War Rooms, St. Paul’s Cathedral and more. While in London, we got theater tickets to The Book of Mormon, which we both enjoyed. Amsterdam was delightful. We visited the Anne Frank House after taking a guided tour of her neighborhood, which I would highly recommend. We also went to the Van Gogh Museum and enjoyed our hotel with its evening wine and cheese, and a room with floor to ceiling windows we could open to the air of the street and canal views below.
We took another trip to Chicago in September to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday. She had a great party and being with family is always wonderful.
In October Steve and I took a memorable trip to the Pacific Northwest where we enjoyed our niece in Eugene, Oregon, a Dental buddy of Steve in Portland and a niece in Seattle. We also took the Amtrak train fro
m Seattle and went north to Vancouver, British Columbia where we spent time with our great niece who is a student at UBC and enjoyed the essence of this part of the world. Our Air BnB was across from the water with views of downtown and Stanley Park. While away, we ordered an organic bed in Seattle-so comfy.
Our Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and New Years holidays were spent here in Cincinnati. Our nephew and niece from Washington DC joined us for Thanksgiving this year which made that holiday extra special-lots to be grateful for.
Love to all and Happy 2019
Mary and Steve
Florida Artist Rita Schwab is holding her beautiful glass mosaic that reflects journey, path, heart 🙂
This is a long post with a long story that begins with just a catch up on our travels including our experience with the flu, and then my cardiology journey and resistance to doctor’s orders. If you have ever felt you and your doctor were not communicating-read this post. Enjoy!!
This year we have done a lot of traveling-California in January, Nevada and Arizona in February, Florida in March and early April, and in May I went on a wonderful and writer changing retreat in beautiful and peaceful Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each of these trips have their own story and lots more to share.
It’s been both fun and exhausting and Steve has set his own boundaries around travel. “I can’t unpack and repack a suitcase without an at home for a while break. “It’s too much!” I, on the other hand have a hard time saying no to life and opportunities to travel, explore and experience everything. Steve reached his limit when after completing a delightful family Caribbean cruise, we embarked for a 10-day vacation to be with friends in Cape Coral, Florida and the second day there he was diagnosed with Influenza B. Poor Steve. For the first week of that trip he was either outside on their beautiful lanai or in the house wearing a mask. Although our friends were wonderful, “like family”, and we did enjoy many great conversations in between rest time, this did take a toll on all of us. Our dear friends hung in there with us and we all went on Tamiflu. I was the only one who did not have at least a day of the flu.
At the Urgent Care, it was noted that my blood pressure had climbed to 160/90 — yikes! I was stressed. I managed my stress by writing daily out in the Tiki Hut down on their deck and canal landing. It is a beautiful and serene place to reflect and write. Some days I would just rest in the hammock or sit and meditate and listen to the many sounds of nature. It helped that the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed an evening glass of wine, which I noticed did lower my blood pressure. Toward the end of our stay we were able to go out and enjoy the last few days of our trip. One of our outings was an art fair in Cape Coral where I met and photographed the artist, Rita Schwab and her glass piece used with her permission as my photo for this post.
By the time we got home and to our own beds, Steve was exhausted and I was concerned about my heart. I purchased a new OMRON B/P monitor and made an appt with a cardiologist.I continued to monitor my blood pressure and it varied-sometimes high and other times normal. I really focused on my breathing and although I did not sit in formal meditation every day, I attempted to stay mindful of my thoughts and pace of living.
As I sat in the cardiologist’s waiting room, I felt a bit out of place. The room was filled with elderly people, some in wheelchairs, and the younger patients were very overweight. I “pride” myself in being as healthy as I can “the middle way” through exercise, a plant-based diet, and meditation, yet here I was. I have to admit I have a strong family history of heart disease—Mom, Dad, and siblings. But I thought I was different and was on top of controlling the risk factors, at least that’s what I thought. Yet now I realize how hard it is to control the biggest risk factor-underlying tension and anxiety.
My cholesterol is high but so is my good cholesterol. I used to smoke but quit 36 years ago, and I have not been overweight since nursing school. Why was I there? My primary care physician was okay with me going although he has never seen my blood pressure over 120/70. He takes my blood pressure every time I see him, and he carefully monitors my lipid profile every year.
Long story short, the cardiologist was not quick to put me on any medication (I liked that!) until I had some tests to determine if I, indeed, showed signs of heart disease. He ordered an echocardiogram and coronary calcium scan (CAT Scan of the heart and its major blood vessels). I was game. The heart scan took about 20 minutes and the echocardiogram took almost an hour.
The next day I got a call from the nurse who gave me the results of my tests—the echo was normal and the heart scan showed minimal heart disease, better than most for my age so the doctor would like me to take a daily 81 mg of Aspirin and 40 mg of Lipitor. Noooooooooooooo.You would have thought she told me the doctor wanted to do open heart surgery. I totally reacted with surprise, anger, sadness, and disappointment and asked that she have the doctor call me.
He did, and it did not go well. The American College of Cardiology recommends the aspirin and Lipitor for a patient picture like mine. Actually there are many cardiologists that feel we should all be on a statin. But that’s it! This doctor really does not know me and I am not a typical patient. I had only seen him one time, and we need to go beyond one size fits all medicine. My primary care physician is an MD with years of alternative medicine experience and for over 25 years has followed my health and prescribed the daily supplements I take. I take no prescription medicine and don’t want to start. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke and would welcome a plan to prevent further heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
When the cardiologist called, I let him know how disappointed I was that the nurse called and that we did not talk before I was given a prescribed plan that included a statin drug without more discussion on its benefits and its risks. Statin drugs do lower cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, but they also come with an array of side effects—muscle aches and weakness, GI symptoms, and more. There is a ton of research that is now questioning the cost/benefit of statins.
I have to admit, I did not give the doctor a chance to explain how we would proceed or how he would follow up with me. When I got off the phone, I felt sad that the conversation did not go well and I wished I had sat in a 30-minute meditation prior to speaking with this doctor. This doctor has an excellent reputation as a cardiologist, is very kind and personable and I am sure he has saved many lives. I wish I could have expressed myself in a better way to be heard by the doctor. I also wish his office would have scheduled a follow up appointment so that he could go over the results with me in his office. Most of all I have used this experience to reflect on my own defensiveness and fear and also trust that there is a blanket of universal forgiveness between both of us.
Doctor patient communication can be difficult. There is fear on all sides. I have a deep respect for the medical profession. I am a Registered Nurse and know how difficult it is to navigate around a system that is frustrating to the patient and the doctor. And I also know that in today’s world of alternative, integrative and functional medicine, there is much that medical schools and nursing schools have failed to teach. The research is often driven by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in us taking drugs when there are so many alternatives to healing. I will not take a long-term prescription without research and that is my current mission about statin drugs and heart disease prevention and treatment in general.
Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book What Patients Say. What Doctors Hear, states it well:
Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.
A week later, I went to my primary care physician. He agreed that going on a statin drug was premature, but also agreed that we needed to take the tests serious and take a closer look at my cardiac risks and current status. He was grateful to have the test results for additional information about my health. He recommended beets and cayenne pepper as nutritional support for the heart. He also recommended 1000 mg of Niacinamide (Vit B3 derivative-not as much research on its affect on cholesterol like Niacin). He also said he may want me on a low dose of of Zocor, which is a statin. I might add that my physician knows me well and suggested I relax and balance my chakras.
My lifestyle supports health but there is more I can do. I exercise (making sure I get 10,000 steps a day) but could increase the intensity of my walks and add more strength training. My diet is plant based; no red meat and I avoid saturated fat- but I am far from perfect and need to be more aware of salt and sugar. I do meditate, but I am a hyper personality and need to focus on breath awareness and slowing down in between life’s adventures. But more important than all of that is that I often feel I live in two worlds. On one hand I teach and coach a very deep spiritual path of love and forgiveness and on the other hand I have the same fears of illness and death as everyone else. Our fears fuel our defenses and often cause us to separate rather than join.
In two months we will repeat all of the blood tests that aid in determining my current heart disease risk. Since being more mindful of my diet, exercise and meditation as well as forgiving myself and the doctor, (Forgiveness is a powerful medicine for the heart), I have noticed my blood pressure has been staying within the normal range and I am hoping my blood tests show that I can reduce my heart disease risks without taking medicine.
In the meantime, I will continue my research, be mindful of my lifestyle, and stay “open hearted”. I have a follow up appointment with the cardiologist in 6 months. I’m not sure if he is the right fit for me, but it would be nice if we could meet again. I will go prepared to listen to him and hopefully he can also listen to my concerns and we can join in a much more productive manner.
In the end, its not about any of this. It’s always about all the lessons we learn along the way and as I continue the journey, I enjoy bringing you along.
Our Trip to India and Nepal
We just returned from the trip of a lifetime-a three-week journey to India and Nepal.
I have wanted to visit India since my days of studying Hinduism and Buddhism and my friendship with Sharma, a Hindu priest. Also since studying, practicing and teaching Yoga, and of course reading Eat, Pray, Love.
The fun part was that I went with my love of over 40 years, my husband Steve. We both have significant birthdays this year-my 60th and his 65th so wanted to do something special. We had three weeks off because his dental assistant was going on a long vacation in late February, early March. We used our travel agent here in Cincinnati, Laura Rinsky of Wayfarer Travel, who coordinated the trip with a travel agent in India, Naveen of Noble House Tours, whose name was given to us by Indian friends. This is the best time to visit India and Nepal. The temperatures range between 70 and 90 with cooler evenings and very little rain.
Everyone thought Steve was just tolerating my bucket list and coming along for the ride, but he was also very excited to have this adventure with me.
And an adventure it was. I filled two journals and we took 2400 photos.
Our three week itinerary included, Delhi, India's capital, Kathmandu , Nepal, Varanasi, India on the Ganges River, Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, the Pink City, and then Southern India-Cochin, Travancore, and Kavalam in Kerala, India along the Arabian Seacoast. We ended our trip in Mumbai, a city of wealth and extreme poverty melded in one huge metropolis much like New York or Chicago. We had guides and drivers at every destination provided by Noble House Tours.
Our senses were overwhelmed with experiences that we had little time to process as we moved from place to place.
India is a noisy country, very populated and very busy. Our guides in all the places we visited would say their city never sleeps. It’s true. You can hear life 24 hours a day and the roads are always crowded. Without a horn, you are a helpless driver and the roads are treacherous. With a horn, you fit right in and traffic flows in an intuitive sense between drivers and pedestrians.A frequent sound was the prayers and chanting heard as we passed and visited places of worship and meditation.
India is also colorful and full of sights you’ll not experience anywhere else. If you close your eyes you have missed something-from the colorful fabric selections of the saris worn by women, the Tibetan flags above Buddhist stupas, the costumes of the Hindu gods and goddesses, the fresh produce artistically displayed by the morning and evening vendors in the outside markets, bodies wrapped in white and adorned with red dye prior to their burning along rivers, and then the natural colors of the flowers and trees, especially in Southern India.
India is a country of many aromas and odors, some pleasant like the food cooked by local vendors in outside markets and the incense burning in the streets and temples. And then some more noxious odors from the cow manure to human excrement (more than half of all Indians lack indoor plumbing), and the fumes of the traffic vehicles in the street. It was common to see people wearing masks to prevent inhalation of the pollutants.
We love Indian food so the tastes and flavors of India were delicious to us. The meats, fish, legumes and vegetables of India are made with rich spices –cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and more. Nepalese food is similar to Indian food. Both are surprisingly mild in their preparation compared to the spicy hot Indian food we enjoy at our favorite local Indian restaurant at home.
As I reflect on the sense of touch, I don’t recall consciously experiencing tactile sensation as much. It is true that when walking down a street there was little space between people so we frequently brushed up against strangers and we did touch the fabrics in the shops. But I must say, we were conscious of keeping our hands clean with sanitizer and washing them frequently so as not to pick up a disease or parasite. The restroom facilities are sparse and primitive so we carried our own toilet paper and hand wipes and avoided touching. I had not thought of how protective we were of this sense.
Then there is the sense of emotional feeling, which is both heightened and deadened in India. We had little time to process all that we experienced and had to ignore the constant beggars that approached us in the streets. At times I felt heartless as I avoided them, averting my eyes from connecting with them, and continuing to move forward with our guides for site seeing. When we had some free time away from guides and drivers in the comfort of our many hotels, airplane flights, train rides, and houseboat adventures, we simply let our mind and senses rest in order to be able to take in more at our next destination, each a surprise and each powerfully different.
Now that we are home, we have time to look back and process some of what we experienced. When we were there, we experienced peace and stirring at the same time. We continue to experience that peace, but also the stirring and have yet to process all that we sensed and felt.
India and Nepal, lands far far away and very different, have left us nearer to our own hearts and each other, and changed forever. We are different than before this journey-a nice difference-that difference you feel when you have experienced something deep and profound.