Ram Dass Was Right

Watching my husband deal with his illness has taught me more than just dosages and side effects that people going through chemotherapy have to deal with. As a partner, a witness, and being a survivor myself, if you ask anyone who’s had it, cancer can be one of life’s biggest teachers–if you allow it.

It was many years ago that I had my own struggle with cancer, and now, I find I’m on the outside looking in at another cancer battle. I know this fight is not about me, but I can’t help but see the lessons that are here for me, too—as a wife, caregiver, partner, nurse, woman, daughter, human being.  I cannot speak for my husband but we talk a lot about what he’s going through and what lessons there are for him in all this. It was after one of those conversations I realized that the lessons that illness can teach, aren’t necessarily limited to those directly suffering from it.

I’ve learned things about myself, some good and some not so good. I’ve finally learned where my limits are and that it’s completely okay to say, “No.”

No, I can’t do it
No, I’m not going to worry about this
God, you can take this one.

So I didn’t and God did, and because of that, I am trusting more and having faith that things will get done and whatever way it falls, things will be alright. Really.

I’ve learned how uncomfortable people are with the word “cancer”, and because of that, I have become more aware of other people’s unspoken fears.

I’ve learned that sometimes, the deepest unconditional help and love can come from the most unlikely people, so I’m learning to stop being judge and juror.

I’m learning to accept help with grace and not taint it with feelings of failure because I couldn’t do things myself.

I’ve learned how genuine the human heart can be and that there really are good people who put others first when they see someone needs help.

I’ve learned that when someone is in pain, or afraid of the unknown, or just plain feeling like crap physically, emotionally, mentally, it doesn’t matter what my deadlines are, what I’m wearing, how much I weigh, or how much the cable bill is this month. I’ve learned the most important thing is to be present with that person right there right now.

I’m learning to be out of my comfort zone and being okay with it.

I’ve learned it shouldn’t take an illness or the death of someone to find ourselves realigned and reawakened. Sometimes this has to happen—we have to get shaken up—in order to wake up. There will always be that call to make and that book to read and that TV program to watch, but there is a rhythm to life and relationships that seem only to get noticed in times of fear and problems. I’m learning to be more aware, more present, and to get more out of my head and into my heart.

Finally, I’ve learned to thank the circumstances that have surrounded my family for the past few months, because without them, I wouldn’t have learned to dance to this new rhythm and Be Here Now. As long we’re alive, we never stop learning and I don’t know what future lessons will bring, but right now, I can tell you that if you asked me what I know, I’ll say I know nothing. If you ask me what I’ve learned, I’ll say a lot.

To be continued.

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Moving Into the Bone and Learning to be Hollow

As I write my stories and share my experiences, I can see and feel what I could only describe as dominoes falling one right after another in quick succession as things in my life are coming, and going, and being twisted inside and out. Instead of being obstacles though, the fallen dominoes have created a new path for me to walk on like a bridge.

I’m at the point in my life where things that only happened to other people, or friends of friends’, are now happening to me or to someone within my direct circle. My deepest circle now contains births, deaths, illnesses, new wrinkles, new friends, transitions, and experiences, some of which I never would have volunteered for, but would do all over again to be where I am today.

No one is immune to this growth of moving into the bones of ourselves and learning to be hollow. If we are to step into the ancient wisdom and depth of love and peace that is there waiting for us, our marrows—our life, opinions, us as we know it—need to become cut, bent, twisted, and bled.  It is only then that we become the hollow bone of letting it all come through us and allows us to hold the space not only for others but for ourselves.

Or not. No one has to, of course. It’s all a choice. You can stand behind that domino and peer around it or you can push it and use it to walk over to wherever it will connect you to. It’s up to you.

I feel honored and very lucky to be able to share these experiences with people, some of whom are new companions, and some of whom have always been on the road with me.

My circle may be getting smaller as I get older, but it is certainly richer, and more vibrant as it becomes sustained from the marrow that is seeping not only from my bones but the bones of those around me as we witness and hold each other in infinite wisdom that can only come from being hollow.

Holding the Space for the Right Voice

This morning, I decided to name my inner critic Stu mainly because he stews about all sorts of things that he feels I should or should not be doing, feeling, tasting, seeing, and well you get it. So first off, apologies to anyone really named Stu.  My choice is no reflection on the name itself, only the ogre behind it.

I had been feeling irritable for the past few days, not quite able to put my finger on why (or more likely, not being able to decide which one thing was really behind my biting comments). My frustrations all came to a head this morning with the simple act of trying to clip a barrette in my hair. This normally easy task almost put me in a fetal position on the floor, because apparently even this one ordinary act couldn’t be accomplished without a struggle.

I finally got it clipped, adjusted my hair, when I heard the voice: “Eh, you made it look too flat now. Face it, just not a good hair day. You’re head’s going to be too cold. You need a haircut. You need to lose weight.” I looked hard into the eyes of my self in the mirror and out loud said, “Knock it off.” And so Stu was born, or rather named.

I had a chat with Stu on my drive in to work today, and I found it helpful to have named my judge and jury; my inner critic. It’s helped me focus my rebuttals to one voice rather than the chorus of “should’s” and “shouldn’t’s” that started to drown out my other creative “inside” voices.

So Stu has quieted down some, I think more from shock that I have identified him, and caught on to this inner critic, and that he can’t hide as a witness or shadow anymore. We all have shadows and we all have witnesses, and yes, we all have Stu’s, but they cannot hold the same space at the same time. What’s important for me is to make room for the witness to hold my space for my creativity, my divinity, and my own perfection, and not my insecurities and my shortcomings.

Now, if I could only send Stu out to shovel the snow we’re supposed to get, I’ll be happy!

Windowpanes

When we first moved to our home, I didn’t so much mind my one-hour commute.  I would tell people that if I was going to commute and if I was going to be stuck in traffic, this would be the ideal, with much of my travel consisting of driving through woods and over causeways above the lakes.

In the spring and summer, the greenness and abundance of the trees and the sunlight reflecting off the water and can be pure joy, reminiscent of childhood summer days. In the fall, there are days it seems I am driving through a tunnel of fire when all the leaves are at their height of color and fall upon my path with a reckless kamikaze abandonment. In the winter, the sun peeks through the snow-laden tree branches making the tree line look like a giant piece of lace if I used soft vision, and the water becomes a frozen oasis with people finally getting a bit of Jesus in them and walking out onto the solid water for ice fishing, skating, or just because they can. Being surrounded by such beauty did slow me down for awhile and when I got stuck in traffic, I enjoyed just staring off into the trees as I waited for God knows what up ahead to be cleared and finally being able to drive faster than I could walk.

It’s been over 10 years since we bought the house and though it’s still very beautiful where I live, there are days when the shine has rubbed off. The stress of commuting and the complications that just seems to happen as we get older and life goes on has made the extraordinary became ordinary. Mundane. Being stuck on a curvy road behind a slow driver or a delivery truck for 25 miles or having one-lane closed for construction has become pure torture more days than not.

I hate to say it but I’ve become blinded to the beauty around me when I drive and these once wondrous sites have turned into obstacles I feel I must overcome. I don’t notice the trees so much anymore, focusing instead on craning my neck to see who is at the head of the line creating a parade during prime commuting time and how much longer it will take me to get to my destination. Everything has suddenly become far.

I’ve been a die-hard commuter for as long as I can remember driving and working. A Jersey commuter who mastered the art of driving a stick shift on the Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike during rush hour while drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette, perfectly balancing them as I rolled down the window to throw in my token at the tollbooths. It was an art and I was queen.

These days, I rarely travel the Parkway and Turnpike anymore, I quit smoking, and I now drive an automatic (though I still drink coffee in the car), but the commuter queen in me has never really gone away. Yes, I know I could /should take these delays as signs to slow down, but it’s not always so easy. And honestly, sometimes I just don’t want to.  I want to get where I’m going!

There is still one thing that takes my breath away and makes me slow down and appreciate where I live that no construction, no Sunday driver, no weather system can ever take away and that is view of the sunrise from my kitchen window.

There are three windows at the back of our house that overlook the backyard and face East. In the morning, as I get ready for the day ahead, I always look out hoping to maybe get a peek of a passing animal or just to see the level of daylight that helps me gauge my degree of lateness! Typically, it’s dark when I get up. A while goes by and I look out the back window and it’s still dark. Then it gets lighter. Shadows. Grey sky. Shadows sharpen into forms. Lighter Grey. And then it happens—the sun climbs over the horizon between the trees and the most awesome pinks and yellows and whites burst open the day. Sunrise. It’s like a lamp gets turned on in the morning that starts the day.

There have been mornings when the sudden beauty of the bursting sunrise has pulled from me an audible gasp but then awed me into silence at the gorgeousness of it all. You want to know if there’s a God or something bigger than us out there? Just watch a sunrise and let’s talk about it afterward. This is when I think, “yeah, this is why I live here” and remember that there is a bigger journey I am on than just the commute from my home to my office.

Sometimes, I’ll lean my forehead against the glass and wonder what windows will I be looking out at 10 years from now and what will I see? 5 years? Next year? What will my scenery be? I have no clue but wherever my windowpane will be and what it will look out onto, I’ll never forget the sunrises.

Patterns

Patterns. Seeing patterns for what they are. Allowing the witness to step out of the shadow. Begging the sky to make it stop and allowing myself the one anguished cry, “why?????”

Today I sat by the woodpile and cried. I felt the clouds and sky closing in. I took a deep shuddering breath and let it go and as I slumped against the garage door.

And then a peaceful calm slowly came over me. The whispering in my ear was gentle yet insistent:

“She has other people who live closer that she can call if this was a real problem, a real emergency.”

“She could take a cab.”

“If it snows, we’ll just leave earlier or take a different road.”

“You can’t cure your husband’s cancer.”

And then even more insistent, “You don’t have to solve the problems. You can let it be and see how it rolls out. What would happen if you didn’t try to solve all this? What if you put down the superhero cape and just listened. No one elected you hero.” I winced.

My heartbeat applauded this sudden reveal of the subtlest of subtle patterns that I had on some level, at some time, created and now truly saw for perhaps the first time in my life. The witness kept whispering and the breeze suddenly blew a lover’s kiss upon my cheek, drying my tears.

I stood up, stretched, and looked up to the sky, suddenly feeling lighter with the realization that the answer doesn’t always have to come from me.