So, the excitement in my life right now is that I have cancer. It is very treatable, and a short course of chemotherapy is highly likely to put it into remission. Even so, I would not voluntarily choose this for myself or anyone else. The path to discovering my cancer included a week in the hospital with a nasty case of pneumonia due to a suppressed immune system. When I tell people this, their understandable reaction is "I am so sorry, I don't know what to say. How can I help."
The sentence "how can I help?" never fails to warm my heart, even when it is expressed by people thousands of miles away. What a wonderful reaction to another human being. I love this question because it is an offer that can just be met with gratitude without any obligation.
The first part of people's reaction -- "I am so sorry" is a little more awkward for me because the whole experience has been a generally positive one. I have met some of the kindest, smartest, and most dedicated medical professionals. Ironically, the doctor who nailed the diagnosis very early -- despite the fact there are only 500 cases in this country each year -- was a student of mine when he was in high school many years ago.
I had a lot of time alone in the hospital, because I was in isolation while they ruled out several infectious diseases. During this time, I had the opportunity to reflect on what is most important to me, what I have to be grateful for, and how much kindness and inspiration swirls around me everyday. Rather than feeling lonely, I actually experienced a deepening sense of connection.
One of the most inspiring people I met was a patient care technician named Judith. She was positive, kind, and engaging. She told me how, after 16 years as a cashier at a grocery store, she lost her job when the store closed. She needed health insurance for her children so she applied for a job at the hospital. Only after arriving for the interview did she realize that it was a housekeeping job. She took the job and committed herself to doing the best work she was capable of. Her supervisor was impressed and encouraged her to apply for a training program to be a patient care technician, which is exactly what she did. She loves her job and she is good at it. I would not be surprised at all if she became a supervisor herself or went on to nursing school. The most exciting thing about talking to Judith was how she glowed when she talked about the opportunity to model for her children the value of being positive and doing your best work.
How many acts of kindness, how many inspiring stories, how many chances to offer help to others, how many opportunities to reflect on our connectedness and what is most important...How many of these are we encountered with everyday? How many do we miss because we are lost in thought, lost in a screen, or looking past them toward a horizon where we think our happiness will be found.
I know how cliche this may sound, but what if the richness and the reward you seek really is available right now in the midst of your everyday circumstances -- even the ones you don't want? What would you practice, moment to moment, to connect with the miraculous nature of existence?
Each of us has a part of the brain that tells us that today is to be survived so that we can be happy later. We also have a part of the brain that appreciates this moment as an opportunity to act on what is most important. We actually have quite a bit of control over which part of the brain we activate.
A simple and powerful practice for activating the appreciative part of the brain is taking 30 seconds to a minute to pay attention to your thoughts and sensations, open your posture and relax your breathing, focus on what is most important to you, imagine how this is an opportunity, and commit to some small way to act on this opportunity. What are you practicing right now?
Dave Mochel is CEO of Applied Attention, a consultancy that creates positive change by teaching individuals, teams, and organizations to live and work mindfully and purposefully. Mindful and Purposeful Practice (MaPP) is the key to personal fulfillment, healthy relationships, effective leadership, and positive cultures.