The Connections That Carry Us

Marie Pechet reviewed my book Writing & Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors on WBUR’s CommonHealth Blog a few years ago. In the review she mentioned her blog which was helping with her own cancer. There was a link; I clicked and have been following her ever since. As I am blogging for a time for it seemed a great time to showcase Marie with a piece about connections.


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Many years ago, I had a late miscarriage and during my depressed state afterwards, I joined a mind-body group designed for women who were trying to get pregnant. These groups were initially formed to help reduce the stress of patients diagnosed with cancer, but then expanded to other stressful health situations.


So I joined a group focused on fertility. The program met once a week for six weeks, and I started with about as much enthusiasm as I brush my teeth. Actually, less; it was a last-ditch effort to get out of my “funk.” Our group shared our stories and we practiced meditation, yoga, journaling and other ways to reduce our stress levels.


Once the six-week program finished, I found myself emotionally connected to the group, and many of us decided to continue meeting to support each other’s efforts to build a family.


We called ourselves the Treasurehunters and we created rules around communication. For example:


  • When sending an email that might announce either a pregnancy or a failed attempt, use the subject line “I have results.” Then each person could decide when and if to read it.
  • There was no pressure or expectation to respond to any email or verbal comment. Respond if you are so moved. But know that you are being heard.
  • Listen with open hearts and without judgment, helping us to speak honestly and from our own hearts.


At first, we met every week in one of our homes. In between meetings, we stayed in touch by email. Though we were from all walks of life and had varied interests, our almost-constant contact deepened our ties. As time went on, our meetings became less frequent, moving to every month, then once a year, but our emotional ties remained strong.


We became a group of women who could support each other with unconditional, non-judgmental love. We had been through the wringer and in our group, we could drop any façade of bravery or perfection and could air even our ugliest, most embarrassing feelings. We knew that each of us was more than any bad experience, and that the ugly feelings were not who we were, just a by-product of working through a difficult time.


We initially connected around our desire to have children, but soon we connected over normal life changes. We found ourselves supporting each other in decisions like whether to live child-free, struggles with marriages, deciding to get a divorce.


So when I got a cancer diagnosis, I turned to them. I could share my myriad of emotions, and knew that I would feel heard and supported.


Subject: I have results


The doctor told me to call today to get the results, so I called but couldn’t reach him.


I didn’t worry about it. I have enough experience to know that, if the doctors have news for you, they will track you down.


But THEN…the doctor called me. At 8:30 p.m. on a Friday – that can’t mean good news. Maybe it was professional courtesy, since my husband is a doctor. Nope.


The polyp was, indeed, cancerous. He feels like they got it all, but it was really close to the colon wall and he recommends surgery to removed that part of my colon, just to be sure. He will coordinate with my primary care physician and we’ll see what the next steps are.


It is nice to have an answer, so at least I know where to go from here.


When I got the phone call, I had just finished watching a lecture that left me feeling pretty upbeat. I was riding on the good feelings from that, which softened the blow a bit. Instead of being stunned, I actually felt fortunate that they found this and that it is a curable disease. So, a reminder to live while we are living!


That’s it for now,


Love, Marie


Sounds upbeat, right? But they knew me, and they knew I was still scared at some level. Not everyone answered my email messages, but I didn’t need that. I just needed a place to air my feelings and, during a time when one can feel incredibly alone, I knew that I wasn’t. One or two responses felt like support from the whole group.


Writing to these dear friends helped me through the scary initial diagnosis. A few weeks later, when I wrote about my dilemma around where to get treatment, they could decipher, through my writing, which way I was leaning, and they helped me to see what I couldn’t. During a period where I didn’t write, they showed up AT MY DOOR with food and healing objects and conducted a healing circle for me in my livingroom, and the memory of that gesture that still brings me to tears.


As much as I wanted to be strong and self-sufficient, I learned that I cannot walk this path alone. Our interconnectedness carries me like a net.


Many of the tools we learned as a group have become a way of life for us. For some, physical movement like dancing or other exercise is critical. For others like me, writing became a way to understand myself and manage stress.


As more friends learned about my diagnosis, I started to include them in my email updates (which have now become a blog). I appreciate those who read it, and those who respond, and my writing truly helps me to make sense of my life situation and to heal. And each time I begin to write, I connect to the Treasurehunters with my heart, and speak directly to these women with whom I feel blessed to walk this earth.



Marie Pechet, The Connections that Carry UsMarie Pechet is married and the mother of two school-age boys. They live together in Cambridge, MA, where she tries to do something every day that heals her body or soul.










Mindfulness, Creativity, and Healing

Mindfulness and guest blogging



For the next few months, I will be blogging as a guest blogger at



I will post there, about every six weeks. The first one Writing & Healing: Using Mindfulness and Creativity to Become Whole Again is already up; there will be six more.



The folks at love the book and see it, as I do, as being all about healing. It could be used by any group or person, but since I am a cancer survivor, I chose to offer it to this population.



The blogs to follow will focus on the practices of the Sessions in my book, Writing & Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors. As well, they will include a short exercise. Some topics:

  • The Power of Mindfulness and the Breath
  • The Strength of Positive Suggestion and Nature in the Guided Meditations
  • Developing a Stronger Voice through Writing and Sharing
  • Learning to Witness another’s story.  Listening deeply is witnessing and needs to be learned and practiced.
  • How to Practice Gratitude.


Hope you’ll check in to see. The first post can be read here



Lost: Important Words


I am blogging about whatever ails me or assists me using the Sessions of my book for all Healing and not just cancer.



CD track 2, “The Breath and Writing in Stillness”


“Breathe it (the breath) out, so that you can be still and in this way move closer to your important words.”


I can’t find my important words. Have I misplaced them?  I can no longer hear them, not even a whisper….. Have they moved so far away because of my neglect of meditation and breath-work?


My back, with its strains and pains was better last weekend.  I even got into my car for the first time in almost two weeks.  I only drove to buy gas and a roasted chicken for dinner.  But what a happy drive.  I felt freed.  I was out in the world.  Alive! Later, I took a walk outside along the river—not too far—just far enough to feel a surprising, out of nowhere, wild wind on my face.  It felt like a bit of grace.


wind in the tress



Then, I went to the physical therapist the next day and the exercises he gave me made me much worse.  My back in spasm.  I had been about to post the blog about being freed when I was returned to captive.



cave image



I will use the meditations in my book to help find some words about my injured back.  Writing has always helped.  Breathing has always helped.





Here are the words that came after the drawing.


Finding words


And the writing…..


“Stillness, after out-breath number twenty, is like softly pooling water soothing my pain.  I also seem to have released the negative thoughts I was sure would come.


To find pleasure instead of complaint; to have pain and anger washed away is all I want.”




Breathe into Your Tension

My back aches, pulls and freezes my every move.

Weighted and pulled down



I am blogging about whatever ails me or assists me using the Sessions of my book for all Healing


Tension . . .

My back aches, pulls and freezes my every move. I feel stopped and pulled down when I need to be doing so many  things. The pain is where I ruptured a disc 25 years ago. I know the pain routes: back, buttocks, down the right leg and into the ankle.


I had a L5S1 rupture; a piece of disc ending up on a nerve so serious they felt they couldn’t operate without risking permanent leg pain.


I have an addition all these years later — a spasm in my upper back where they removed part of my latissimus dorsi on each side (the biggest supporting back muscle as well as attaching to the shoulders). They cut and dragged part of this muscle to my front for each reconstruction after cancer surgeries. My back and shoulders are further destabilized and my arms are weaker than they were.


My back works wonderfully well, considering. But for the last two months it has on and off tightened and ached.  Spasmed and pained.


In getting well from that first injury long ago, there were good things. That is when I first learned to meditate and spend much of a day in beautiful silence. When my children, 3rd and 6th grade, came home from school I helped with homework and played Go Fish from my bed. It was a simple time.


Now I am supposedly approaching my golden years, but I am busier than ever. My back gets a little better, and then worse. It won’t go away and I won’t give in completely. I feel agitated by my lack of productivity.


What is so important?


It is my book. I need to market it. To stop now would be like giving birth to a baby and then deciding it was too much trouble to raise. And anyway, the book is about healing. So much need for all sorts of healing. It helps with all physical illnesses, emotional turmoil, ( grief, divorce, loss). How about backs?


I realize I am still writing about Sessions Two: Breath and Stillness.



Breathe . . .

“Breathe into your tension so that you can know it.”* This line stays with me and since the tension is pain, I ride the breath into it. “IN…OUT…” After awhile I know it is exhaustion, too. Pain and exhaustion.


stranded and the tide is out

Going nowhere at low tide


I begin again; as I breathe in, I also feel empty. Empty? I am so full of things to do.  After more breathing, I know I am empty of something I usually possess. I follow the breath for awhile and know it is about the book. I have lost my optimism. I worry I am not doing a good marketing job. I am losing hope that I can get the book to the people I wrote it for.  While I wrote it, I was going somewhere. I simply had to find the best words.  It was exhilarating and fun. The elements (hope and optimism about helping others) carried me along. Now, I am stuck, literally because of my back and also because I feel I am not doing enough.  I feel like Sisyphus pushing and pushing up hill.  But I can still breathe in and . . . “Breathe out so that you can be still and in this way move closer to your important words.”



sleeping lady

Resting Lady Island (or Sleeping Lady, St. Barts)


* Writing and Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors guided meditation  for “The Breath and Writing in Stillness”


To be continued…



 Please leave a comment . . .




Retreat into Stillness

Stillness drawing with non-dominant hand


I went on a silent retreat to learn about the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th Century; to learn more about total, sustained stillness. It was a book of the collected sayings of the Fathers that initially interested me. It intrigued me the way these Fathers remained so silent and so immobile for so long (life times). I was drawn to them. To what they were doing. I read they developed a deep sense or awareness of their feelings and perhaps what others felt, too, deep down. They became aware of things we never touch the surface of. Perhaps I romanticized them. But we do move too fast, talk too much, eat too much, filling all the empty spaces.


Finding Stillness

Some things I learned: you can only face up to yourself when you confront your heart without any hiding place; when you have done that, you know peace. John Chryssavgis wrote, “We come to self-knowledge through stillness, and silence, and attentiveness and watchfulness. When words are abandoned, a new awareness arrives.” (In the Heart of the Desert, p. 45)


This is what I wanted. I had 3 1/2 days. I doubted I would get far, but I’d dip my toe in.


There was another aspect that involved Intention. What was my intention for the retreat? I didn’t have to think long to tell the Brother, who would be my guide, that I wanted to discern what to eliminate from my too busy life and head (since I knew I’d never end up in a cave).


I was provided with a room, desk, wooden chair, bed, and bureau. I had a lock on my door and remained silent, except to talk, once a day, to my retreat director. On other retreats during the day I practiced following the breath, sometimes with a mantra. I almost seemed to float during those times.


This was different.


I brought my iPhone so my family could get in touch if they needed to. (Big mistake.) Not that they got in touch at all. It was my problem. I saw an email from someone who takes care of posting my words on my blog.


It simply involved something that she could see on my blog and I couldn’t. I became obsessed with this technical problem, although I knew nothing about technical solutions. There was something obsessive about this. I was truly agitated. Agitation was not tolerated in the desert, I remembered.


Of course I’d read that the Fathers and Mothers had demons to wrestle with (demons within themselves) but I had never imagined mine would involve the Internet.


I dwelt in frenzy — just the opposite of what I’d experienced before in retreats or my own practice.


I participated in more emails that soon involved a third person, my webhost.


I then put my iPhone under my clothes in a drawer, as if it were an illegal substance—and maybe it is—or at least what it did to me should be withheld. No slow hand written words—thought carefully through and put to paper with ink with no chance of a response for days. Instead, addictive words flew back and forth and back and forth like they never could before. Technology and the Internet had seen to that. And, I’m hunt and peck typing with a stylus on an iPhone—like punching something over and over. Fast and hard words. Can they break . . . these words?


No, but I can break using them this way. Having them come at me this way.


But, of course, this was my demon and I had to fight. With patience, they said. I had little of that.


The Desert Fathers and Mothers insisted on discipline. I had little of that, as well.


These were all opportunities to practice. Well, I still had my iPhone hidden in a drawer under my clothes.


Maybe what I experienced in a rocky spiritual afternoon was just an exaggeration of what I was retreating from in my everyday life.


So, I drew a picture of what I was feeling, wrote a left-handed confession and took pictures of some little cards in the Retreat House that represented what I wanted. And, I began to calm down. The breath came and went and I settled for the rest of the retreat.



After two more days I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I had found my retreat rhythm and inner stillness. On Saturday morning it was time to go home. I got what I had come for.


I got word, on Monday, that over the weekend my website had experienced an attack that my webhost had averted, but my site had to be shut down over the weekend.


Gone into silence. Into stillness . . .


joy, generosity, and gratitude cards


 Please leave a comment if you wish  . . .





Do Something You Love



Today's To Do List



As I was driving home from a week’s vacation, the Maine traffic still light and my favorite landmarks still in place after forty years, I thought, “This is great, I haven’t made a single “To Do” list all week.” After I’d said this, the traffic thickened, tangled, roadwork cut off lanes and cars braided themselves, weaving in and out, and on top of this, it was as if I’d opened a gate in my brain and the “To Do” items came out, about ten per mile for awhile.


After they’d emerged in great numbers, I realized there was an advantage to getting them out of my head and onto paper. Now they were swarming, enlarging and dominating my thoughts because I couldn’t write them at sixty-five miles an hour, both hands on the wheel.


I’d make a list as soon as I stopped for gas.  After that, I could forget it for the rest of the drive.  At home I could breathe into each one before I began.  “Pay the Bills” . . . five in- breaths and five out-breaths.  Then, I would pay the bills, or if I was still resisting, practice more breathing . . . another set of five.


If some  “To Do’s” were very challenging or upsetting, I could breathe my way into inner stillness (10-15 minutes) to rest before I began the particular “To Do.”


I could also be reasonable. “ OK, I’ll do three (six, twelve . . .) ‘To Do’s’ today.”  And, I could insert “Do Something you Love” in the middle and at the end.



To be continued . . .


Leave a comment 



Take Yourself on Vacation Everyday


“Stillness feels like knots of static straightening out —releasing, smoothing, flowing on and on . . . carrying me, resting me, loving me!”



The breath is portable. This is both obvious and a surprise.


Obvious because you are always breathing. A surprise because you could be using the breath to: calm yourself, relax, protect yourself from chaos. You could use the breath to experience stillness. To take yourself on vacation everyday.


Even if you don’t want to get away, following the breath will help you to stay present and to respond from a calmer, wiser, more creative place.


But how? How do you take this place into your life?


You take it by practice. A little at a time. You will be practicing stillness, too as they come together.


Start with 3 minutes (or more if you have a practice already) of following the  breath In and Out.


You can say to yourself “In” on the in breath and “Out” on the out breath. Notice that after you do this for however long you decide, you feel more “still” inside.


A Maine artist, Joy Vaughan, has created an installation, that seems a physical representation of this stillness (picture below). The outside is covered with a great accumulation of her “to do” lists. The inside has several images and writings of her favorite dreams, for her the night’s version of the Stillness.


So what will you do with your next batch of “to do” lists to come your way?


To be continued….


Self Care…Body Care


After my first mastectomy and reconstruction, my friends told me I looked like an ocean liner coming into harbor when I entered a room. My upper body was immobile. I wasn’t conscious of this, but I must have been protecting the surgery that had been complicated with a drain in my back. It was winter and, my shoulder was so sensitive that I couldn’t stand the weight of a winter coat. I wore a cotton one with a shawl which was less pressure.


Looking back, I see two things were happening. I was overly sensitive to touch and I had an unconscious fear that the side of my body with the surgeries might fall apart. I see these things now, but then I was totally out of touch with my body. Perhaps I needed to be.


The following year, I had the same surgeries to the other side of my body. The pain and tension I then carried had more than doubled. I learned to live with it…. ignore it. I ignored my body to the point of not even knowing when I was sick. Even this year I had a long busy day which I went through happily, but that night I thought the temperature was too high in the room. It wasn’t, but I had a temperature of 103 and pneumonia.


Now I try to pay attention to my body. I have added fatigue to my awareness. I do a body scan throughout the day. This I have learned: I am much more tired than I realized. I still ache where the scars are on my back. It hurts, how my neck sits on my shoulders.


So, I breathe consciously and pay attention to what I teach in my own sessions, my own book. When I breathe into these tight and painful places I pretend I am opening a vice that clenches my muscles. On the in-breath I identify the area of my body; on the out-breath I let the tension and pain go.


I am like a child who is taught (by myself) “This is your shoulder” “This is your neck” “This is your fatigue”. Good job I said to myself.


I thought I was finished. But something from my book kept tugging at me. I decided to cluster (Gabriele Rico’s method). I put the word “Body” in the center of a circle and made free associations radiating out in lines like the rays of the sun. One line finally captured what I hadn’t known. It went out from the circled word body: “tension” –“pain”–“mad”/


So, I was mad at my body. I hadn’t known it.


Now, I have a new way of breathing for my whole body. “Breathe in acceptance” “Breathe out pain.” “Breathe in love” “breathe out mad.”

Trust the Wind


A friend, who is mourning the death of her daughter, told me she is using the meditation CD in the back of my book. It is helping her grieve.  Another friend has suggested my book to someone going through post-traumatic stress syndrome.  I am pleased that the Guide and CD are being used for divergent needs because they are about healing…healing from anything…healing for anything.  I have called it Writing & Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors, because I am a cancer survivor and care deeply about helping other during and after treatment. But it is for everyone.  Even those who simply want to be happier.


Recently I used it myself to see if I can learn to take better care of myself. I used the meditation CD and Self-Care exercises from Writing & Healing Session 6:


Listening to my voice on the CD almost put me to sleep—but I felt relaxed and ready to write from a place deeper and more still than I could access before.


The first exercise is to complete the following line:
“I reached out my hand and something was placed in my upturned palm. It was ___________ and I knew it meant…”


I wrote: I reached out my hand and  a feather  was placed in my upturned palm.  I knew that it meant that I was to make myself lighter; to be more responsive to the way life blows us into hard things, into work, but also lifts us into fun and rest (if we let it).  “Trust the wind,” it would have said if it had a voice. My cardinal-red feather.