Lynn Fuentes (Part 1) – The Unwanted Challenge of Chronic Illness: Existential Questions and Spiritual Perspectives for Patients, Caregivers, Family & Friends

Lynn Fuentes Chronic Illness

Lynn Fuentes, Ph.D., author of The Koan of Chronic Illness and teacher of a series of courses on managing chronic illness, shines a bright light of understanding on chronic illness with all of its far-reaching ramifications in this very moving and important conversation. Lynn not only illuminates what chronic illness involves physically, emotionally, and relationally, but delves also into the existential questions it engenders: How should we live? How can we love each other? How can we embrace our suffering and allow it to be our path to greater connection with spirit? Lynn speaks from personal experience, having spent many years caring for a family member with a debilitating illness, and explains how she used the Integral Map in her own struggle to help make sense of the huge, all-consuming project that inevitably follows a diagnosis. Now she teaches others what she has learned about coping with the overwhelming logistics, healing the trauma, and also about transforming illness into a spiritual practice.

This conversation really pertains to all of us, whether we are very ill or not, as aging towards death is something we all face. Can we learn to prepare ourselves? Can we reflect deeply on what is truly meaningful and important about life itself and live accordingly? Can we open to the wholeness of life, the pain and the bliss, the suffering that our cultural narrative would just as soon ignore? Chronic illness is a heartrending subject, but Lynn’s warm, wise, skillful, Integral approach allows us to see it in an expanded way, more profound, more transformative, than we may have seen it before. Recorded December 15, 2022.

“We cannot separate suffering from life, they are intimately interconnected.
Illness really shows us that.”

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Topics & Time Stamps – Part 1

  • Introducing Lynn Fuentes, founder of Transformation Teaching and author of The Koan of Chronic Illness: An Integral Approach (01:01)
  • How Lynn came to focus on chronic illness—because of her son (01:52)
  • Why say the “koan” of chronic illness? And the spiritually oriented questions that come up when facing such an illness, like “why me?” “Why my son?” (05:24)
  • How to handle this as a parent and making lemonade from lemons (08:40)
  • Genji-kōans arise out of life itself and the difference between knowledge questions and wisdom questions (11:02)
  • The all-consuming challenge of chronic illness: getting an illness is both a trauma and a HUGE project, like taking several college causes when all you should be doing is resting (15:30)
  • Be kind to yourself: this is not easy (20:22)
  • Using Integral Theory’s four-quadrant model really helps get a handle on this (20:40)
  • You need a village (22:52)
  • The medical system needs to be completely revamped (24:03)
  • Physicians’ burnout and moral injury (26:14)
  • Support groups can be even more effective than the doctors (28:51)
  • Chronic illness is not like acute illness: doctors want to be successful and patients feel guilty seeing their doctors when they’re not getting better (29:50)
  • The heartless attitude that it’s all in your head (30:44) 
  • A longstanding UK study’s medical recommendations for exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy were just plain wrong (34:05)
  • Chronic ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) and Long Covid are so widespread, they’re forcing more research (34:57)
  • Illness is actually one of the most profound experiences we can have: it’s a path for growth (37:19)

Resources & References – Part 1

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Lynn Fuentes - Chronic Illness

Lynn Fuentes, Ph.D., is CEO of Transformation Teaching, which offers personal and spiritual growth coaching and courses in adult development, life planning, and chronic illness management, based on the integral theory of Ken Wilber.  Lynn is also the author of the 2022 book The Koan of Chronic Illness: An Integral Approach and It’s Not Too Late. She has taught in the areas of conflict management, chronic illness, writing, and adult psychology at Prescott College and DePaul University, where she also founded and directed the Chronic Illness Initiative, a unique program to help chronically ill students obtain a college education. She also served for many years on the board of the Solve ME/CFS Initiative.  

Lynn’s primary focus is The Koan of Illness, a program dedicated to helping people with chronic illness using integral principles. Lynn has been a caregiver for the past 36 years for family members with serious chronic illnesses and was recently diagnosed herself with a chronic condition.


Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell


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