Mary Jaksch is an authorized Zen master, a pyschotherapist, and an author. She practices karate, dances Argentine tango, and luckily for us writes at Goodlife ZEN.
I’ve been reading Goodlife ZEN for a couple months and have found her a refreshing good read and a great source of useful information. Reading all her website has to offer has given me a renewed sense of energy and focus in going after my biggest goals in life.
I have asked her to answer a few questions for me because she specializes in something all of us diabetics could use more of-inspiration in knowing just how in contol of our lives we truly are.
GG: Diabetics suffer from constant abuse in the sense that they cannot take a break from their health management routines or there could be grave consequences. Can you offer us any tips on finding an inner strength that can withstand a never-ending hardship?
Yes, chronic illness is a ‘never-ending’ hardship. However, how we respond to the hardship is our choice. In my experience what really grinds us down are constant ‘what if’ thoughts. ‘What if my diabetes gets worse?’, ‘What if my kidneys fail?’, ‘What if I need dialysis?’ – those are the kind of worries that sap your energy.
True inner strength comes from experiencing the moment right now, and not anxiously imagine the future, or mourn the past. There is so much to enjoy in life: the simple moments of gazing into the sky, or seeing a flower, or hearing birds chirp, or being with loved ones. When you focus on the joy of what you experience right now, inner strength builds.
I’m not talking about a kind of Pollyanna happiness that is a denial of reality. The positive mindset that I mean comes from accepting our condition and suffering – without getting pulled into the stories of ‘what if’ or ‘if only’.
GG: Why do you think some sick people are happy and some healthy people are unhappy? What do you feel is the main difference between the two?
I think that people who are happy – even though they are sick – are most likely to marry two seemingly conflicting mindsets:
One mindset is a dogged determined to fight for as much quality of life as their sickness allows (and more), and the other is to make peace with their condition, accepting limitations gracefully.
GG:How have you managed to accomplish so much? What would you say has been your greatest asset in doing so?
I always remind myself that life is short – and may be over by the time this day is done. This thought gives me the determination to really live this life and enjoy it! I want to make a difference to other peoples’ lives, and to use whatever talents I may have to the fullest extent. Many people spend their energy on thinking about themselves – how they are, how they should be, how they were. I don’t.
Of course Zen meditation has been a mainstay of my life (I’m an authorized Zen Master). Meditation has taught me to savor each moment and to treat each thing and person with tender regard.
GG: When it comes to people and how they are motivated, have you had a chance to notice whether or not people with chronic illnesses require unique approaches?
I actually suffer from a chronic illness: rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t really talk about it that much because talking about it seems to weaken my resolve to live joyfully, despite limitations.
I think it’s important to take control of your health management. This means doing some research, understanding our condition, and working out how best to manage it. When we do that, we take back the power we tend to give health professionals.
GG: In communicating with fellow diabetics, I often find out that many of us blame our disease or our lack of money and many times we don’t get to the root cause of our irritability and stress. Is there any sort of self-analysis we can do to help us understand what is really getting under our skin?
There is a simple way to get clearer about your emotional landscape. The first step is to acknowledge your present emotions. For example, if you are angry, acknowledge the feeling by saying to yourself, ‘I feel angry.’ Once that’s clear, ask yourself the question, ‘And below that anger lies …?’ If you leave the question open, your mind will give you an answer. Maybe not at once, but in time it will tell you what lies below. So often anger or irritability masks other emotions, like fear or loneliness.
GG: If you could only dispense one piece of advice to everyone you know, what would it be?
The most important thing is to treat yourself with kindness. If you notice unkind thoughts, place your right hand on your heart with utmost tenderness. Then hold it there, taking a few deep breaths. This will comfort you and help you to become your own best friend.
Here are some resources on Goodlife ZEN that you may find helpful:
How to Fight Your Way Back to Health After a Bad Diagnosis
Three Breath Meditation (Video)
How to Recover from Spiritual Fatigue in 1 Day or Less
How to Start Meditating: 10 Important Tips
Thank you, Mary. I encourage you all to check out her website. There is something inspirational and helpful for everyone there.