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I am filled with joy and gratitude.

by Michael Ketterhagen

“I want the old Michael back. All I see is a stone-faced body with no joy!”

--Mary Ketterhagen

Mary, my wife, and I were watching television one night last week and out of nowhere she came out with the above quote. Although lovingly said, it hit me hard.

I felt surprised and began to realize that she hadn’t seen the spark of joy and enthusiasm in my eyes during much of my time with her except when she saw me talking with people who stopped over to visit, or when I would talk to our friends and family on Zoom. It seemed as though when others asked me how I was doing, I would shine and sparkle with joy and enthusiasm. I would raise my spirit and present a very positive, and truthful, message that I am truly getting stronger each day and that I believe I am on my way to a complete recovery after my stem cell transplant. But when we were alone, I was a “mope.”

This reminded me of the young child who comes home from school and starts yelling and throwing a fit because of the frustrations that the child experienced at school. At school the child would keep it all in and didn’t create any problems for himself or the teacher or the kids who might have been causing the frustration. As a kid, I knew that mom would love me no matter how I acted and that I just needed to get out my frustrations. I was safe to do this at home but not at school.

I again realized that I (like most humans) put on a happy face for others and don’t want to express the negative things in my life. Even though this was a human-truism, so to speak, I didn’t want Mary to know only my “stone-faced” moments of healing, even though I would often just be blah and in a “cancer-healing, immunity-building, emotionally-zero health” state, that seemed to focus only on the “coldness” of life. I wanted her also to know the deep joy that I was experiencing.

As yoga would suggest, there was a deep, unconscious pattern (samskara) of “joylessness” that was permeating my demeanor when I wasn’t asked “How are you doing?” or wasn’t actively and consciously connecting with my internal joy. My samskara of “not feeling joyful” became my general ambiance at home.

I had to do something about that. So, I began to put myself to sleep at night, saying to myself: “I am filled with joy and gratitude.” This was the truth but my unconscious, joyless feelings, which I developed through the cancer treatment and stem cell process, were overshadowing my conscious awareness of joy and gratitude that I had overcome my ill health. Much psychological and scientific evidence and my own personal experience indicates that our unconscious ”self-talk” controls much of our behavior in the conscious world.

Well, after a few nights of putting myself to sleep with “I am filled with joy and gratitude,” I noticed that I was joking around more during the day. Mary noticed it too and enjoyed seeing the spark return to my eyes. I had unconsciously set up a pattern of stoicism and joylessness and painful, stone-faced looks because of all the stress and pain that I had experienced in the past nine months of cancer fighting. Luckily, it was not some negative pattern that I cultivated over many years. If so, changing it would have been much more challenging.

After this whole experience, I have learned so much about the human mind and our thoughts and so much about what yoga psychology can teach me about them. I will continue to share what I am learning. Maybe you will find it beneficial, too.


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