I’m like a garden that must lie fallow for awhile in each winter season. I’ve felt so dry and without a creative bone lately . . doing endless jigsaw puzzles, watching the gas fire, sleeping, napping after I’ve slept. Eventually, I think I finally just get bored with the nothing and have to kick into something . . . anything. It feels like the past few days my inner seed has sprouted. Suddenly I go to my notebook and ideas are tumbling out.
But when I get into this lightless place, my biggest fear is that it will last forever and that zest will no longer be a part of my life.
I like that word, zest. One of my teachers and mentors, Larry LeShan, wrote a very good book called Cancer as a Turning Point. Early in his life Larry worked as a Freudian trained psychologist in a terminal ward in a hospital. I think he was there for like 16 years. Early on he said he tried to wave his Freudian wand around the patients but they just kept dying. What he was doing wasn’t working. Eventually, he decided to try another approach. Instead of focusing on the process of dying he would focus on the process of living. He began to invite his patients to look inside for what in his or her life had given them “zest.” In the process, he made an important discovery. For one reason or another, all of his patients seemed to have lost their spirit or their zest for living. And when he worked with each one to rediscover and re-activate that zest, they began to feel better, do more, take a few risks, and become creative and experimental once again. And then, to his surprise, he noticed they began to go into remission more often, lived longer, lived with more fulfillment and sometimes ended up leaving the cancer ward completely.
He tells a wonderful story about a woman who had lived a very hard life. Her mother died early and she had raised her younger siblings and later her own children. All her life she had taken care of others. The one bright spot in her life had been the ballet. She loved ballet. Although too poor to study ballet or even to go to a ballet (she had never seen live ballet), she loved it still. Larry happened to know a ballerina personally and so he invited his friend to visit his patient. He even managed to take her to a ballet where she had backstage privileges. These simple “interventions” brought the woman alive again. Suddenly she was ordering books on ballet again, reading in her room, sitting up and reading straight through her meals. She had decided to write a book on ballet. Eventually she scolded her caretakers if they took too much time with her medical care—or she shooed them out of the room when she was working.
The woman did not turn the clock back on her unhappy life, or her aging body, or even her cancer. But time did slow down as she filled her days with things that she loved. Suddenly her mind and body were filled with “zest.”
Now Larry LeShan does not say we ever “cause” our illnesses by our attitudes, but he does say that when we are energetically and zestfully engaged in life, our immune systems take note and respond in a positive way.
The last time I saw Larry we went to his west end apartment in New York City. He lived in rather shabby splendor with his books, artwork, and stuff he loved surrounding him. In his eighties, he laughed, talked complex ideas with us, let us interview him, and generally made us feel younger. We walked down to a diner and had lunch and continued talking straight through lunch. Larry’s “zest” is the world of ideas, philosophies, complex thinking. That is his ballet.
Larry came into my life in a strange way—the story is too long to tell, really. I was in graduate school studying human development and went to the library to find some books that were on my reading list. I went to check out Eckart Tolle but the book was gone. Down the shelf a little way was a thin book titled, The Psychology of War by Larry LeShan. My interest in why people make war has been a lifelong interest, so I grabbed the book and checked it out. It was sitting on the front seat of my car unopened when the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11. I don’t want this post to get too long, and this one deserves its own space, so I’ll save the rest for next week.
Goal of the week.
What can you do to discover more of the zest of your life and to begin doing, thinking, acting with that zest? For me today, it was planning a way to bring my Bead People Peace Project into schools with a curriculum. I drew stick man pictures, dreamed up a lot of great activities and created a 7-step peace strategy called “RESPECT.” That, too, will have to wait for another post.
See . . . this girl is on fire!
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