Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is your heart as light as a feather??

This morning I read an article in Oprah's email newsletter about the findings of Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the pre-eminent researchers and thinkers in the area of positive psychology.  Forty years ago when he was starting his career in psychology, he didn't believe in the powerful link between emotional outlook and physical health.  "But the data has grown year after year, and it's become a scientific certainty."  (If you would like to read the entire article on Oprah's website, here's the link:  "How Your Emotions Affect Your Health").  Our mind set determines our level of health, and our ability to heal from injury and disease. 

You would this was good news, right?  Well, it is, because it means we have a lot more control over our health and well being than we usually think we do.  But for someone like me, who was born with the tendency to see what is wrong with the picture  rather than all the things that are right, this presents a challenge.  To avoid being negative about this, I will point out that being able to see what is wrong with the picture makes for a great diagnostician, a very important skill in a healthcare practitioner.  

Luckily for me and all the rest of you who tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, Stanford professor of education, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., entitled Mindset, The New Psychology of Success:  How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential.  Her message is that optimism is a learnable skill.  She calls this point of view the "growth mindset," that even if we fail to do something in this moment doesn't mean we won't be able to master it in the future.  People like me who rely on our inborn smarts to get things done become discouraged when we find ourselves unable to do something naturally.  If it requires effort, we must not be able to do it.  Carol Dweck says no, that is not so, we CAN learn to do things we don't immediately have a feeling for.  And that, of course, is very good news.  

As a practitioner of Eastern medicine, I find it hopeful that Western scientists are finally recognizing what we have been saying all along, that all illness is rooted in our imperfect understanding of the world.  (Ling Shu, Chapter 8, "Ben Shen")  Chinese medicine completely agrees with the statement that what we think and feel about ourselves and about our world determines our base state of health and also determines our ability to recover from illness when it strikes.

Several decades ago, I was an avid reader of Tom Robbins' novels, including Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Jitterbug Perfume.  In one of those books, he writes about the the passage from this life to whatever comes next.  After death, we arrive at a huge transportation hub, where we stand in line to have our heart taken out and measured on a scale.  If it is as light as a feather, we hop on the bus to bliss.  I have always loved that image, and so I challenge those of you who tend toward a heavy heart to give Carol Dweck's book a read.   It's a very interesting story that she has to tell, and she offers real help with how to go about changing your mindset to one of belief in your ability to learn and to change.  I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be helped by her book, except maybe the one or two in a million people who were born optimistic.  Good thing we have her book for the rest of us!

Have a truly wonderful day.

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