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August 11, 2008

16 Aug
Hello everyone.
I was happy to see a recent Harvard Health Letter broadcast the finding from a study published in Cancer last year that feelings don’t alter the course of cancer.

Yes, Virginia, putting on a "happy face" doesn’t make cancer go away, any more than feeling discouraged, frightened, sad or angry makes it worse. This is a simplistic notion, popularized in the 80’s when everyone was falling in love with the "new" idea that the mind was connected to the body (doh!) - all very true. But creating this childishly linear cause and effect relationship between "good" feelings and curing cancer is incorrect and terrifying too, because it creates stress every time a cancer patient has a so-called negative thought or feeling.

The truth is, there are no negative thoughts or feelings. Feelings are just feelings, neither good nor bad. Denying them is never a good idea, because that’s lying to yourself - never a useful strategy. We need to know what’s going on inside of us so we know where we stand on the inside and can work with that.

Besides, making believe were not feeling what we’re feeling takes up extra energy that could be better used for living our lives. Feelings need to be recognized, acknowledged and allowed to move on through us, and move through us they will when we don’t bog down their progression by attaching the heavy baggage of judgments to them. (Hey, people! There’s a reason why mindfulness or vipassana or zazen or insight meditation - whatever you like to call it - is so effective. These practices are all about noticing, acknowledging and releasing thoughts, feelings and sensations, without judgment! And this has a wonderful way of clearing the mind, freeing up energy and creating internal balance, resilience and perspective.)

Now, that’s not to say that it can’t hurt to be so optimistic, focused, motivated and energized that you do everything you can to improve your health situation- and indeed, this same Harvard letter recommends joining support groups and doing meditation and guided imagery to better hedge your bets and maintain equanimity in the face of a lot of stress- But the idea of a simple equation - If I feel upbeat, I’ll lick this cancer - is more like the child’s wish: If I’m good, nothing bad will happen. Don’t even go there - we all know better - at least for this level of the reality playing field!

Okay, take care,
Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award