We all have BS (belief systems) floating around in our heads. They influence how we feel and experience the world. They shape our relationships, careers, dreams, and overall health and wellbeing. Our monkey minds are constantly running on overdrive…have you noticed? And if there’s one thing that can propel the monkey mind into full-blown cray, it’s the C-word.
During the summer of 2015, I was feeling on top of the world. I had just become certified in a mindfulness practice called The Work of Byron Katie™ and led my first international yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I was the epitome of health; a junkie for nature, movement, meditation, and organic foods.
Needless to say, a cancer diagnosis and confronting my mortality in my early 30’s wasn’t exactly on my radar. Yet sure enough, a few weeks after my 34th birthday, life gifted me an aggressive form of breast cancer. I had spent the last 10 years training on how to manage stress, yet during the beginning of the diagnostic phase, I threw every single peace tool out the window. I turned to the art of freaking out, ugly crying, isolation, and depression. My mind was overwhelmed with thoughts like I have cancer. I’ll die young. I can’t live a full life. I did something to deserve this. I was already living in a nightmare.
This is the power of the mind.
One afternoon, curled up into a ball underneath my covers, a life-altering epiphany hit me: suffering really, really sucks. So I returned to a trusted companion, a form of inquiry called “The Work” that had already helped me find peace in a myriad of frustrating situations in my life. It’s a super simple yet profound process of identifying and questioning beliefs that create stress – it’s a way to clear the mind and love reality, just as it is. Anyone with an open mind can do it, free of charge, anytime, anywhere.
The Work consists of 4 questions and turnarounds. The questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
The turnarounds are a way to examine the original stressful thought from different perspectives. They open the mind to seeing other possibilities in life—possibilities that we are blind to when we are under the influence of a stressful thought. I started diving into questioning all of my stories about cancer. For example, “Cancer will ruin my life.”
1. Is it true? YES, dummy – this is obviously the worst thing that could ever happen!
2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? Hmmmm…well, I guess I’m not a psychic so…No, I can’t 100% know for sure.
3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought that cancer will ruin my life? Panic. I can’t breathe, my shoulders tense up to my ears. I see images of the future – me dying a slow, painful, bald death. My family is crushed. All of my dreams and aspirations vanish. I’m angry at the world and feel like a victim.
4. Who would I be without this thought? Breathing. Curious. More relaxed, present, even empowered. I see how strong and healthy I am. I appreciate the sweet support of my friends, family, doctors, and complete strangers. I remember how in the past there were billions of times when I thought something was terrible and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. What if cancer is happening for me instead of to me?
“Cancer will ruin my life.” Turn it around to the opposite. “Cancer won’t ruin my life. Cancer will save my life.” I can appreciate and embrace life more. I’m forced to really live in the present moment, slow down, practice self-care, put me first. I have a chance to truly practice what I preach. My career could take a new direction. My relationships can strengthen. I’ll learn to ask for and receive help. I’ll live out of my integrity more often. I can connect with others on the same journey. Seeing cancer through this lens feels like I’m diving into a new, exciting adventure.
Turning the thought around again, “My thinking about cancer will ruin my life.” Could this be as true or even truer than my other thoughts? It’s the scary movies playing in my head that are causing my panic attack. It’s what I’m thinking and believing about cancer, about my body, about the future, that is creating stress in this moment. It’s not actually reality.
What a relief.
In flipping my thoughts I reframed my anxieties into good news. I felt so energized so quickly that I became motivated to use The Work to meet each challenge in cancer – during a 2-year rigorous treatment plan of multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, and now hormone therapy. I used it to confornt having body parts replaced and feeling insecure about my appearance; relationships issues and financial struggles; overwhelming emotions, side effects, and physical pain; and even scanxiety and the fear of a recurrence, which led to the ultimate test…making peace with my fear of death.
Simply put, The Work works for me. When I started to keep my mind in check, it all became a truly beautiful, often hilarious, crazy, life-transforming ride. Honestly, inquiry has re-trained my mind to see #CancerBonuses everywhere.
And one HUGE cancer bonus is First Descents. When I heard about this kickass organization that creates life-changing adventure trips for cancer patients I was a big YES and signed up for a week of white water kayaking in Tarkio, Montana. Cruising down the rapids, learning to trust my body again and go with the flow of life, a group of strangers became my new FD family. I’m so grateful to be connected with this tribe and to continue our #outlivingit adventures together.
And if you want that sense of adventure to continue internally, I invite you to try out The Work of Byron Katie. To see this work in action, play around on my cancer blog where my experience and inner work was chronicled in real-time. And soon, I’ll be birthing my first book baby into the world: My Guru, Cancer.
My career has now taken a new, awesome-sauce direction into helping others cope with the mental and emotional stress of various health challenges. I offer private coaching, live events, and online group class series on topics like “Making Peace with Disease” and “Making Friends with Medicine.” If you’re curious, join my freebie introductory online session on September 9th.
Cancer can be the biggest nightmare, yet I learned it doesn’t have to be. We all have the power to pull ourselves out of pain and live a joyful life regardless of what our bodies are going through. All it takes is the willingness to shift your mindset. Thanks to this work, I’m no longer a victim of cancer; I’m simply an eternally grateful student.
So the next time you feel afraid, angry, or anxious…call out that BS (belief system) and meet it with Is it true? No matter where you are on your journey, there’s always an opportunity to free your mind and enjoy the ride.
“You don’t have to believe everything you think.” -Byron Katie
About the Author:
As a Yoga Therapist, Writer, Cancer Thriver, and Certified Facilitator for The Work of Byron Katie, Bethany Webb’s mission is to find freedom with everything life brings. Yoga & The Work has provided her with a compassion inner support system, especially during her journey healing breast cancer. More than ever, she is inspired to share her story and these empowering tools through her first book, My Guru, Cancer, as well as her blog, social media, private sessions, live events, and online trainings. Learn more at bethanywebb.com or connect via FaceBook or Instagram @bethanywebbyoga.