03/21/2013 04:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Gifts We Give Ourselves

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

What is it about catastrophe, tragedy and disaster that rivets our attention and allows us to see things as they really are? To see ourselves as we really are. Don't get me wrong. I am a sucker for a dramatic story with a happy ending. I have shared mine in a previous post. But why does it take a terrifying brush with death to get so many of us to embrace life? Can we learn the lesson without all the Sturm und Drang?

This is not just a rhetorical question. I think about this a lot. In my psychotherapy practice the number one question I get asked is "Can people change?" As it turns out, I am not sure that change is really what's needed after all. On one level we may need to change our lifestyle or our habits or our way of thinking; I know how difficult this can be, personally as well as professionally. Through my practice, I have observed patients doing the hard work of examining their lifelong assumptions with the goal of changing their lives. So often, although people have such different lives, their conclusions are strikingly similar. They acknowledge that they have changed, but much more profoundly and with deeper conviction they say, "I feel more like myself." After much hard work, sometimes over many years, this is a profound realization for them to embrace. It is also my professional observation that they do, in fact, seem more authentic to their true self.

Let's next consider this TEDTalk by Stacey Kramer. Unlike the gradual awakening of my patients after years of therapy, Stacey experienced an epiphany born out of crisis. She embraced her own vulnerability and allowed herself to be truly touched by the many people that love her. She was inspired, motivated, humbled and, most of all, filled with gratitude in the experience. She is not singing the praise of cancer, she is singing of enlightenment. Because of this more enlightened state, she was able to recalibrate what is most important and live from a newfound center.

These are two very different paths leading to the same place. Interesting to note that both routes are simple but neither is easy.

Dealing with my own illness and familiar with the anxiety of uncertainty, I am led to the conclusion that there are additional roads to authenticity and none are mutually exclusive. Whether it is the mantra meditation of yoga, the practice of mindfulness, tai chi, qigong or using an emWave to develop coherence, there are a plethora of practices that can guide us to our true selves. They center us in our heart not our minds and they shift our focus back to a place of serenity, happiness and peace.

What once began as a trickle has now become a torrent of information confirming the science of the mind-body connection. The burgeoning field of epigenetics even makes us question the old belief that our genes are our destiny.

Instead of responding in so many other less positive ways, Stacey Kramer transforms a horrible diagnosis into an opportunity. If you have not just been handed life-altering news, you have a decision to make. Will you wait for your own crisis, however it presents itself, or will you open your eyes and your heart, learn from the experience of others, and make changes now to embrace your authentic self?

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