During my last two months of chemo, I have not been posting here because my brain has been mush. Now I’m over the worst my brain is starting to function again.
I guess I was hoping for some profound realisation from the experience, but so far I’ve got nothing.
However I did find this extract from Pema Chodron’s latest book which does resonate with my experience:
There have been many beautiful books written about people whose bodies just gave out on them or who had chronic pain or something, and about how they turned that into their path.
I know a little about this myself because I’m nearing eighty and I have all kinds of physical things. It’s like what Leonard Cohen says, “I ache in the places where I used to play.” …. In terms of aging, there is no reason to get so bent out of shape and upset about getting older. I mean, we’ve been warned, right? If you’re a spiritual person, you’ve been warned over and over that one of the sufferings is old age and sickness, and that it is followed by death. Even if you’re not a spiritual person, you’ve seen all these old people. What made you think it wasn’t going to happen to you?
And I’ll tell you: spirit is everything.
I watched this interview that Oprah Winfrey did with her mentor, Maya Angelou, and Maya Angelou—who died I think at eighty-six—was at the time about eighty-five,
and Oprah Winfrey asked her, “Well, how do you feel about, you know, being eighty-five?”
And she said, “If you get a chance, do it.”
And I just loved that! If you get a chance, do it! That’s attitude. Attitude is everything, and boy, what a difference it makes!
Part of the thing that people have a hard time coming to terms with when they are ill isn’t the illness itself. For example, high achievers who get chronic fatigue might feel they can’t be who they used to be in their own eyes, or in other people’s eyes, and this can be very difficult. It’s so heartbreaking, and it damages your ego, and that’s why people get depressed. But there’s no need for that, really.
…There’s just no need for that if you’re just living moment-to-moment, without the storyline about what an illness means about you as a human being or what other people are going to think of you.
I’ve been doing a practice with a lot of my students lately of recognizing our wholeness. Recognize your wholeness, just as you are—complete just as you are.
….Whether it’s a mental illness or physical disability, it hasn’t touched your basic nature. You can trust that and come back to that as a touchstone. And so the practice always, again and again, is to be able to feel what you feel without this spinoff or storyline that you tell yourself about it, but to stay with it just as it is with a lot of gentleness and even appreciation.
Spirit is everything in terms of the aging process. Looking at things as positive, something forward—let’s use the word forward instead of positive – because that includes whatever might happen.
Instead of going backward into trying to find these little islands of security that keep giving out on you, you learn instead to fly or float and be okay in the formlessness or the groundlessness or the open-endedness of things, which is who you truly have been all along.
From Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chodron, September 2015.
You never really know what is going to happen next, and you never know who you are from moment to moment. It’s all completely unfolding. You see, for myself at this stage, it’s just thrilling how it just keeps unfolding.
The parts of this that resonate with my experience is that it kind of explains why I feel so comforted going to the beach. The ocean reminds me of the fundamental nature of our existence and how small we are in the scheme of things. Which is strangely comforting. Looking at the ocean helps me drop the storyline and just be.
I also focus the whole time on going forward, getting through the treatment. Even if the future holds sickness, I have to go forward to get past this thing.
Finally I find comfort in meditation, in taking time to retreat from the ceaseless cancer thoughts and to spend time, even if it is only brief moments, in my calmer core. Where things are neither good nor bad. Where the rule of constant change means I can not better predict my future than anyone else. Where my thoughts are not me.