Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in” -Leonard Cohen
When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer the cancer was already progressing fast. It had spread to my spine, bones and liver. At one stage, I was so sick that I could barely function. I couldn’t even walk my daughter across the road to kinder.
I was overwhelmed, terrified and anxious. I knew these were natural reactions to my circumstances, but I also knew that I couldn’t let these emotions overpower me. I needed to gather my strength in order to cope with the journey ahead.
Fear-based story making
I knew that my greatest challenge was in dealing with my mind and my emotions.
It was in dealing with my habitual ways of being that did not serve me.
After my diagnosis I found that my meditation practice was heightened. I could observe things more clearly. I noticed that my thoughts and the feelings they generated came in a form of many inner stories that had a compelling grasp on me. I was constantly engaged in mental and emotional story making.
These stories were fear based and they negatively affected the way I responded to this chapter of my life.
Fear and anxiety dominated my self talk.
I had to ask myself, “Will these thoughts promote healing?”.
I knew that my thoughts and feelings fed each other; what I needed were skills. I needed to find a way to respect and attend to my feelings without them fueling further stories.
I needed to feel my feelings without the stories.
Shifting mental and emotional patterns
I decided to approach my feelings in a different way. When I became overwhelmed or anxious, I paused. I took a deep, conscious breath and found a space within myself. I acknowledged the feeling by speaking it aloud. I literally said, “I feel anxious”, “I feel scared”, I feel sad” and so on. Once I acknowledged the feelings, I talked to them and said, “I’m here for you”, “I’m willing to feel you completely”, “I am present here with you”.
I asked my body where the feelings were located. I allowed myself to connect and feel all the sensations present in my body. I was also conscious of my breath throughout.
These strategies helped me almost immediately to lessen the intensity of my feelings. Now when I am practicing this method my feelings tend to come and go and not overwhelm me like before. As simple as this sounds it requires practice and commitment to be effective. We are so used to our emotional patterns. We are so attached to our old ways of being. We are used to dwelling on our feelings and being carried away by them.
I choose daily to attend and respect my feelings without being carried away by my stories.
The Train Of Thoughts
This is a wonderful, simple practice which can assist in “catching” our stream of thoughts in time and consciously not allowing ourselves to create inner stories that don’t serve us.
When we catch a train we make sure we choose the right one. We make sure we are on the train which will take us to the destination we want to reach.
It is the same with our thinking. We need to be mindful of our destination.
Thoughts are moving fast like trains and they gain momentum. When we practice observing our thoughts and identifying that we are about to create a fear- based story, we can stop and ask ourselves mindfully, “Is that really where I want to go?”,
“Is that really where I allow my thoughts to take me?”
The Healing Map
I also knew that although I was having conventional and integrative treatments there was more than I could do for myself.
I knew that healing is different to cure.
Healing comes from the Latin word for “whole”. I knew that I needed to integrate all levels of who I am as part of my healing journey – body, mind and spirit. I knew I needed to instill new and greater meaning in my life, I knew I needed to reconnect with all parts of me that I had forgotten or neglected. I knew that part of my healing was to be in touch with and create a true relationship with all things that made my heart sing, as what we love and feel passionate about is also our way back home.
This is how I have created the “healing map”. The healing map is a form of mind map that helped me think in multiple and holistic ways about what healing meant for me. It helped see clearly the bigger picture. It helped me to relate to my cancer, my crisis not as something that I need to fight but as something that I need to look at and listen to.
I have found these methods and many others which I have gathered and developed to be highly effective for coping and responding to my crisis. For refinding my centre and my equilibrium. For reconnecting with myself, my powers and my joy.
I have become more present and attentive in my life, I have found meaning and am able to trust the process. I have gained some control back. I have experienced many blissful moments and have an appreciation for life in all its infinite colours.
This has led me to what I do today - guiding, inspiring and empowering women in times of crisis and transition.
I have developed a program called “The Opportunity In the Crisis” which provides women with powerful tools, methods and practices of responding and dealing with their crises and inspires and empowers them to instill new meaning in their lives and to reconnect with all that makes their heart sing.
A wake up call and platform for growth
A crisis is a wake up call. It forces us to change, transform and shift old thought, emotional and habitual patterns that do not serve us.
We know deep within that if we do not change in times of crisis life will get too challenging to bear and cope with.
This is the opportunity that lies in the crisis. Viewing our crisis in this way strengthens us. It gives the control back to us. It gives us new meaning.
It transforms our thinking from passivity to conscious action.
A crisis can open us up to sense deeply within our true freedom. A freedom that no one and no circumstance can take from us. The freedom to choose how we respond to any life circumstance. The freedom to choose to be the victim or the victor of our life, as we are not only the characters in our life story, we are also the narrators.
Iris Bar is a narrative counselor, running her private practice.
She is also a social worker, a group leader, an educator and a Steiner early childhood teacher. She is committed to guide, inspire and empower people to view their life crisis as a platform for growth and transformation, so they can cope, respond and instill deep meaning in any given life circumstances.
She is most passionate about working with women in times of crisis, hardship and transition.
Iris is the founder of the program The Opportunity In The Crisis which is based on her own journey with stage 4 breast cancer.
Iris believes the ability to compose more meaningful narratives in challenging life events, can evoke healing powers from within and promote a sense of wellbeing.
Iris Bar is located in Melbourne, but works also worldwide (via Skype), with people all around the world inspiring them to shift and transform their life stories to internal stories that are more flexible, beneficial and empowering.
Iris is married, a mother of two, and a vigilant book and poetry lover.
She meditates every day, swims, loves to be in nature and makes sure she has also time also to wander around and allow creativity to flow through her.