Enjoy Every Sandwich

This is the title of a new book by the late Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. It’s a meditation on how he learned to fully live in every moment through his journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately his own death. What can we learn from death that will help us to live joyfully in every moment? Perhaps it is best summarized in a single word: Gratitude. How can that be? How could a man facing the agony of cancer treatment and his ultimate demise be grateful? I think Dr. Lipsenthal would say “How could it be otherwise?”

He writes: “A healthy practice of gratitude is simple. You don’t need to whitewash the bad, just remind yourself of the good now and then. Remember, what you look for is what you find.”

He suggests a few ways of doing that, both of which I fully endorse.

One:  Use a gratitude journal. Keep a notebook by your bedside and each night, write down three things you are grateful for from that day. If you think you have nothing to be grateful for, try just finding appreciation for your ability to breathe, or your capacity just to comprehend language, or the bed you are crawling into under a roof that houses indoor plumbing and electricity. You have to work pretty hard to find nothing at all to be grateful for.

I learned a little something about this very directly. I watched my aunt pass away–the result of 9 years of cancer treatment finally catching up to her. It’s amazing that the cancer didn’t directly take her life. She had among the most virulent of diseases–cancer of the pancreas. But she kept it at bay for 8 and a half years longer than she was supposed to. And she had beaten kidney cancer, twice, and breast cancer before she faced the tumor in her pancreas. So even as our family gathered around her bed, grieving as she slipped away, little by little, day by day, there was so much to be grateful for. I found myself grateful for relationships that I had not really appreciated in a long time. I saw my parents through new eyes. Every time I ate or drank something, I was aware of two healthy kidneys and a digestive system that is utterly miraculous in its complexity and efficiency. I was awash in the formerly mundane, and gratitude.

Two: Dr. Lipsenthal recommended the use of the HeartMath technology that I use in my practice to help develop the capacity to shift one’s thinking away from negative emotions and their concomitant physiological impacts toward gratitude and to activate that shift in the body–in a felt sense of positive energy.

If you find yourself feeling blue. Start where you are. Find gratitude in the mundane. Enjoy every sandwich.

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