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Re-framing a negative inner narrative

March 3, 2019



I've been inspired to resend this reflective practice on re-framing a negative inner narrative, by a wonderful blog on the Law of Attraction by psychotherapist, Kathleen Hanagan.    Neuroscience confirms that our brains believe what we tell it.  This is probably why positive mantras and prayer have been effective over the eons.  Simply, what and how we focus our thoughts brings more of the same...either positive or negative. 


The practice here  is to pick and re-frame an inner narrative you tend to repeat that really does not serve to promote your health and well-being.  What stories do you tell to yourself which limit you?  "I'm falling apart";  "I'm too old"  "That's just the way I am."  "I'm too afraid to do that." "I won't do that"  "I'm not good enough,"  "So and so is a jerk" etc etc.


The re-frame takes practice.  Just like an athlete practicing a skill, practicing changing the brain's narrative by repeating positive re-frame statements, is what lets us eventually re-wire the automatic stories we tell ourselves.  So ----what inner narrative do you hold that would like to practice to change-up with over this next while?


My own re-frames:

I'm intrigued by perspective.  How could Mandela be imprisoned for 30 years and somehow re-frame his experience and emerge not bitter, but seeking reconciliation and unity?  How could Viktor Frankl witness the human atrocities of a concentration camp, loose his family to it and still find meaning in life?  My young friend has just had her entire large intestine removed and replaced by an ostomy bag.  She has the most impressively cheery and positive spirit about this life changing operation you could imagine.  In embracing this life altering change where she must change a shitty little bag throughout the day--- but she's even affectionately named her stoma (the permanent opening of the small intestine on her abdomen where the bag attaches), Rita!  Amazing.  

And yet, in my pretty-good life, I hold on to several less-than-fruitful inner narratives: "my memory stinks,"or, "my bones are weak," or "I’m an athlete, I should be able to keep go, go, going until I’m 70." One by one, I've been working on a "re-frame" on these.   The evidence from recently acquiring my Master's in Acupuncture, is that by working diligently and continuously, I can actually memorize things.  Surprise, surprise. And whereas I might not have the mental capacity of an elephant or a young med student, with work, I have enough for what I need right now.  That is all that matters. So it doesn't serve to keep repeating this negative mantra to myself. It does serve to recognize my strengths and weaknesses so I can work effectively.... I DO NEED to study a lot....


The next one, "my bones are weak" has been trickier for me.  And this is conjoined with the next inner narrative I often repeat --- "I didn't think I'd feel this decrepit until I was 70."   The facts are: I have osteoporosis, and I have had 3 metatarsal stress fractures.  So I've changed everything and devoted 2 full years to lifestyle changes to heal. That means learning to sleep well, not expending all my energy outward on 200K bike rides, learning to approach work and life stress in a more low key way.  I walk.  I do qi gong.  I eat differently.  I've changed my approach to virtually everything.  I have always been an active, athletic person.  It has taken me several years to transform my grief about not being able to do a lot of hard physical activity  and not to  "loathe" being 15 pounds heavier. And yet when I over do it, it stresses my feet.  So, I have borrowed from my inspirational classmate to shift from thinking about "my bones" as my adversarial villain to thinking of them as my many little friends who need support.  I decided maybe giving them a friendly name as my classmate did her stoma was a good idea.  So my bones are now my "huesitos" ----Spanish for little bones.   And I check in on them every day like I would a friend.  I wouldn't be upset if my friend couldn't walk fast with me or couldn't go on a run with me.  I'd do something my friend COULD do.


I'd like to share the following perspective-changing poem below by Lisel Mueller


Monet Refuses the Operation

~ Lisel Mueller ~ 

(Sixty Years of American Poetry, The Academy of American Poets)


Doctor, you say that there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.


Before I went to acupuncture school, I used to think about the ringing in my ears as the universe talking to me. Then I found out it was tinnitus a sign of  "kidney yang" deficiency.  That was definitely a more debilitating view of my aging process.  Recently, I've decided to re-employ my former mindset and just interpret this gentle ring as angels talking to me. 


In partnership and practice with you,

In Loving Cheer


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