Focusing Your Vision on Healing
“By practicing the states of mind that are conducive to healing we can change our brains and then ultimately, our perceptions and behaviours.”
Watch the video: How to Focus your Vision on Healing
When Brandon was 12-years-old he underwent radiotherapy for a brain tumour. We make a mask for these kids to hold their heads tight to the radiation table. To help them overcome the fear of laying in the room all by themselves we offer to paint the mask with whatever design they choose. They choose sports teams’ logos, Disney characters, superhero masks, a bouquet of flowers etc. Brandon chose the mask of his favourite wrestler, Rey Mysterio (see picture). Brandon’s story got to back to Rey, who then called to say he was in the young fellow’s corner. Over the last three years the two have stayed in email contact – and both want to meet in person someday.
As a consequence of his tumour, Brandon developed occasional double vision caused by one of his eyes deviating outwards. His brain adapted to the double image by shutting down the input from the lazy eye, and Brandon became unaware of when it was happening. Brandon was referred to a physiotherapist who taught Brandon to do daily exercises like looking at the tip of a pen as he moved it toward his nose. His Mom was also instructed to observe Brandon closely throughout the day, and whenever his eye began to wander, she would remind him to focus it straight. It took a couple of months but through his hard work and willingness to listen to his Mom, Brandon has now permanently straightened his vision.
This is a classic case of neuroplasticity defined as the brain’s ability to change itself by creating new connections between the nerve cells. It’s wasn’t muscle in Brandon’s eye that got stronger, as much as a new set of neurons are now firing to tell the muscle to stay engaged. Brandon changed his own brain initially through conscious practice then over the training period a second set of neurons grew to make this process automatic.
We can apply these same principles to our healing journey. Our brains are constantly shaped and reshaped by our life experience. Whatever we practice, we get better at. If we allow ourselves to be constantly flustered our brains get good at turning on ‘fluster’ mode until being flustered becomes our way of being. Alternatively, as those who write gratitude journals will attest, if we practice being grateful for the good things in life, our perception of the world changes and we continuously live in a more appreciative state of mind.
By practicing the states of mind that are conducive to healing we can change our brains and then ultimately our perceptions and behaviours. And we’re all on an ongoing path of healing, following the following phases.
Phase 1: Being Unconscious. We are unaware that we can change our brains and ways of being (who knew that physiotherapy could correct double vision).
Phase 2: Waking up. We discover the possibility of healing but often need reminders to keep working at it (Brandon’s Mom pointing to the lazy eye). Life has a magical way of facilitating our healing.
Phase 3: Practicing. Most remarkable cancer survivors take their healing journey very seriously and do the hard work of daily practice. Hats off to you, Brandon, you are an inspiration to us all.
Phase 4: Integration: The states of mind become traits and ways of being. It’s like the wise grandmother who practices being loving to everyone – her mind simply doesn’t generate unnecessary negative thoughts.
So let’s follow Brandon’s example and learn how to keep our vision focused on healing.
Dr. Rob Rutledge
Oncologist, Nova Scotia Cancer Centre
Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
CEO / Chair of HealingandCancer.org