THOUGHTS…Thinking, reflecting, musing

THOUGHTS…Thinking, reflecting, musingBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

THOUGHTS are funny because they seem to have a life of their own. During the night, sometimes it seems impossible to turn THOUGHTS off. Strangely, at other times it seems hard to turn THOUGHTS on. What are your THOUGHTS? Have you bothered to get to know them?

As a person who has encountered cancer, I know thoughts can also be fairly harassing. Thoughts like, “Am I going to die?” “Will it come back?” “How will I know?” “What can I do?” Look at those thoughts. They really are not thoughts, they are questions. Questions need answers and the funny thing about the brain, almost any answer will do, because we seek closure. The cycle needs to come full circle so the brain can stop asking the same question over and over again. The answers to the above, (once you stop being terrorized) are quite simple. “Am I going to die?” is answered, “Yes.” “Will it come back?” The answer to that question is, “I don’t know. Maybe, but I will deal with that when and if it happens.” “How will I know?” “If it comes back, I will know. If it doesn’t come back, I will know that too. I am not symptomatic now.” The last question, “What can I do?” will be answered when and if it comes back. Questions are the entrance to a great ocean of worry, if we don’t take the time to answer them. But it is often a terrorizing cycle. We don’t answer the questions because questions create anxiety and anxiety creates fear. Fear immobilizes our brain and we become more afraid. Learning to stay with the question until it shifts and we can let go is the key to turning our questions into reflecting and from reflecting to musing.

Reflection is the art of slowing down the questions and thus redirecting our thoughts toward truth. Truth is not always absolute but in some cases it is. For instance, the answer to the question, “Will I die?” is “Yes.” We all will die as no one gets out of this world alive. And if we die of cancer is that any better or worse than other ways of dying? Reflection allows us to normalize scary words like dying. Normalizing anxiety is like taming a herd of cats. Once you get one question answered, usually a million more will follow. Thus, again taking the necessary time to stay with the question will allow you to come to a resting point. Staying is a quality of meditation and reflection becomes the outcome of staying. You may feel powerless over the outcome of your treatment, but you are not really powerless over your thoughts about it. However, in order to experience empowerment you will have to teach yourself to stay with the question until it abates and washes out to the horizon where you can no longer see or feel it until next time. Here is a little model that I use that you may find helpful. Notice I said, “Stay with the question until it abates and washes out to the horizon where you can no longer see it or feel it until next time?”

One question I have wrestled with, breathed into, transcended above, journaled about, colored about, gestalted, and used any number of other techniques to get it to go away, is the question, “Will it come back?” Thus, this question has taught me the art of staying.

Now, when I first notice that nagging question running on default software in the back of my head, I begin a gentle dialogue with it. I sit with my journal and say, “You are back, my good friend. You must need some of my attention. Are you trying to tell me something I need to know? Do I need to adjust my diet or change my exercise routine? Is there anything that I need to be paying different attention too? In order for me to get into this sort of abstract dialogue I allow my question to take a believable form, such as a scared child, an ugly deformed monster, or even a small pesky mosquito. I am a visual person, thus I need to see who I am talking to before I can hear a response. Once I address the question with more questions, I allow myself to freely write the answers to what the image is trying to tell me. If, the image has brought me information, I thank the image and then tell it that it must go for now and I use my breath to watch the image take the next wave and continue to assist the image with my breath until it disappears over the horizon. I go about my day unafraid, making any necessary adjustments that have come to my attention. However, more times than not, this question, “Will it come back?” has nothing useful to offer me. I believe the question is part of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that a cancer survivor lives with. By staying with the question until it abates I am allowing my brain to create new pathways, endless options, thus gaining insight and courage each time I stay with that pesky question.
The art of staying includes:

  1. Stop and take time to be with the question.
  2. Create an inner image of the question. (What form does the question take?)
  3. Dialogue with the question through journaling or active imagination.
  4. Advising the question (image) that is now time to go.
  5. Assisting the image with your breath until it is completely disappeared over the horizon.
  6. Greet the question with acceptance when it returns and repeat.

Since thoughts are going to come and go, you can either continue to be harassed by them or learn to stay with them until they become manageable. Taking time for yourself is the most important tool of self care, so spend some time with yourself today learning to stay with your thoughts until the inner fear dissipates. Enjoy your creativity as you become your own best healer. Healing is within you, not out there somewhere.

“May you awaken those parts of you that have fallen asleep, open the parts of you that are thirsty, and discover anew the magic of growing.” rbdilley

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

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  1. Well written article – thank you Robin Dilley for sharing this helpful advice!


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