by Lisa Wolfson
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, I knew I had to make changes in my life in order to not only survive but to thrive. My motto became “Surviving is great. Thriving is everything!”
I realized right away that I needed to find a healthier way to live. As a first step, I began working with a Health Coach who recommended a new and different approach that far exceeds traditional nutrition counseling. Rather than simply concentrating on the foods I should or shouldn’t eat, my Health Coach introduced me to a whole new world of healing, growth and balance called integrative nutrition, which utilizes the concept of primary food and secondary food.
Primary food is more than what we eat — it consists of lifestyle factors for optimal health, such as flourishing relationships, regular physical exercise, a fulfilling career and some kind of spiritual practice to fill your soul and satisfy your hunger for life. As explained by Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City: “When primary food is balanced and satiating, your life feeds you, making what you eat secondary.”
To get started on the process of finding balance in my life, my Health Coach had me complete an exercise called “The Circle of Life.” Doing this exercise with honesty and a genuine desire for improvement was transformational for me, as it revealed in simple stark terms the imbalance in my lifestyle factors — the parts of my life I was happy with and where I truly lacked fulfillment. This simple exercise became not only the foundation for my cancer prevention plan and ultimate survivorship, but also the cornerstone for finding satisfaction in my life.
I now offer this exercise to others as a starting point in reassessing their lives en route to finding greater fulfillment. And I encourage them to repeat the exercise again later on, after a period of time has passed, to see the progression they’ve made toward achieving balance in their lives. I use the circle repeatedly to help me make resolutions and decision that will truly benefit me and create better balance in my life. It’s my circle and I want it to flow constantly and give me the life I deserve and I’m most comfortable with.
Here’s how the Circle of Life works: Using the diagram above, mark each line with a dot indicating how happy or unhappy you are with that aspect of your life. The closer you mark your dot to the center of the diagram indicates the least fulfillment you’re receiving with that topic. Then you connect the dots in a “circular” fashion — though the resulting figure may not much resemble a circle — and you’ll have a good sense of the balance or imbalance in your life. It’s amazing how such a simple exercise can be so profound.
My first circle indicated to me that correcting my diet would be just one of the many pieces I would need to address to create balance in my life, and it would always be a challenge as long as my circle represented such imbalance and dissatisfaction. I had to work on my health, my spirituality, my relationships, and a few other points as well. A great diet plan would definitely get me to lose weight and look great, but the only way that diet would become a steady part of my life would be for me to better manage the interrelated topics: my stress, my emotions, my spirituality. Spirituality to me is what I bring to the world — the path I travel, the examples I set, the examples I follow, and what I exude and deliver in general to the world around me. So I began volunteer work to add a greater sense of fulfillment, and developed a gratitude ritual reminding myself on a regular basis of all that I’m grateful for. I also started using breathing techniques to help direct my emotions and my reactions to stress. I may never be a size 2 but I am a much calmer, more fulfilled person.
Through the Circle of Life exercise, I was able to recognize where I was stuck and how to improve my overall health. With a new more balanced life, I’m able to not only follow a healthy diet, but I’m also able to find fulfillment and comfort in other aspects of my life besides eating. When the circle flows in consistent harmony, you will find yourself coping with stress and emotions more easily, being more present, more “in the moment,” and simply finding and experiencing more joy. I can even view cancer as a gift now, rather than an affliction, since it prompted me to make changes in my life, to embrace my strengths, to work on my shortcomings, and to use my gifts to help others. A gift isn’t a gift until you give it away, so I share my story and “The Circle of Life” with others to help create balance and harmony in their lives and in my own.
So print out the diagram above, review the instructions, and get started on your path to better harmony and balance. That is my gift to all of you!
Lisa Wolfson lives in Rockville Centre, New York, and volunteers at You Can Thrive!, an organization that provides free and low-cost support services for breast cancer survivors.