“None of us are going to get out of here alive”
I phoned Swamiji the other day for a cheery chat. I am lying. I had spent several more days than I would have liked exploring the doldrums, and I needed somebody to jolt me out of it. One of the things I truly love about Swamiji is that she doesn’t hold back. At the hardest times of my life she has been there to say the things nobody else can – the very sentence or sentiment I didn’t want to hear, but probably needed to. So I guess I call her for some tough love. It always works.
The particular nugget given above was her response to me saying I’m not coping well with all the uncertainty in my life – and moaning yet again that it feels even more uncertain now because it has been touched, well, stamped all over to be honest, by cancer. I needed guidance for my meditation and an idea of where to focus my thoughts, because, as I discussed in my last post, I feel very much in limbo. I have said many times that I am a control freak, and although its iron grip has been prised slightly open by events in this year, that part of my personality needs to be given some kind of direction or it becomes very destructive. (And yes, I also need to stop telling myself I am a control freak.) So Swamiji’s little sentence dropped neatly into my mind, provoking a “Oh yes. You’re so right! How did I miss that one?’’ kind of reaction. Because when I think about it that way it is immensely comforting. We really are all in it together and there is no escape :-). It makes not the slightest bit of difference whether we are rich, poor, enlightened or complete control freaks; we will all trip our way off this mortal coil at some point and we have very little control over when that will be (barring downright stupid behaviour of course). Something in me released at that point and I feel a lot better. Her follow-up line in case I needed clarification was equally delightful: “It is a one way street and we are all heading the same way. It’s just that some of us are going at different speeds from others. Get used to that thought.” I love these cheery reminders that we are mortal; it is good to be positive and have dreams and goals, but I think it is very easy to start living in and for the future – including the things we dread – instead of the now. Either that or dwell too heavily in the past. How much do we miss by becoming lost in our thoughts, allowing them to take over like rowdy schoolboys on a day out? That feeling of driving from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and getting there without any memory of the journey. Letting worries about the future spoil the gifts of the present. I decided that I don’t want to live like that anymore and just the decision to live each moment is helping me feel better and a bit less ‘lost’ than I was. I have decided that before of course – readers of this blog will know this is nothing new – but I need to remind myself of it constantly or I get lost in concerns about the future and forget it all again. My apologies to those of you who don’t need reminding and are very ably living in the moment.
In pursuance of this thought I am currently reading ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which is a guide to coping with stress and illness with mindfulness techniques. I love Thich Nhat Hanh to bits but sometimes I need a more Western approach to these things. Jon quotes Nadine Stair, an 85 year-old lady, at the beginning of the book: “Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d have more of them. In fact I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.” Isn’t that just lovely? Stephen tells me this was one of the great self-help books of the eighties, something which clearly passed me by. The title is somewhat off-putting, but the author explains it by quoting Zorba the Greek, when asked whether he had been married: “Am I not a man? Of course I have been married. Wife, house, kids….the full catastrophe!” It embraces beautifully the feeling that we have to live the whole thing, warts and all. It’s just that some bits are more warty than others.
I haven’t been able to have the PET scan yet due to a cold, which I think has finally gone. Many thanks to all the kind people who have been gently enquiring whether I’ve had the results back, but no, as I haven’t been yet. After two rescheduled appointments I am due in tomorrow (Wednesday) at 8.30am. It is always tricky timing these things as I can’t eat for six hours before, then the whole procedure takes about an hour and a half after that, as I have to go and sit in my little cubicle waiting patiently to become fully radioactive before the serious fun of the scanning starts. The first appointment was for noon, which meant I could get up very early to have breakfast if I wanted to. Hmm. That was a tough call, so I was quite glad when I had to cancel it. The second one was for 3.30 in the afternoon, so I could have filled my face right up until 9.30am. Not bad. I think I have got the best of the lot tomorrow though – an 8.30 appointment means I can leap straight out of bed and get involved before I have a chance to get really achingly hungry. Then I can go back home and enjoy a hearty breakfast. I expect all this agonising about food seems a bit strange to most of you, but I have some catching up to do and planning meals, especially the timing, is really important in getting my strength back. My sense of taste has returned for most foods, as has my appetite, and I am eating full sized meals now but I find it hard to go for long without topping up the tank – hence my anxiety about six hours without food! On the exercise front, despite really not feeling much like it most days I usually manage to exercise enough to get my heart rate up, which is the important part. I was greatly cheered by my progress on the Isle of Wight as it proved that the exercise does in fact make me feel better once I have got my breath back. Funny that. I am sure someone has been telling me that for years…..
I am still finding it hard to take it all slowly, but I am finally starting to appreciate it is worth doing the job properly, albeit at the speed of a racing snail. I was reminded today of just how far I had come in this journey of survival and regeneration: I was at a dental appointment and heard about a lady who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Just the mention of it brought everything flooding back to me as if it was yesterday, but even as I struggled to keep my composure I was able to offer some practical help and support; seeing the fear in someone’s eyes reminded me of just how bad it all is at the beginning, and how every shred of empathy and support is welcome. Some people seem to almost shrug off their diagnosis and treatment, but it has run far deeper with me. In a recent interview Jennifer Saunders spoke briefly about her experience of breast cancer. Her attitude was very much that there is a lot of cancer about so deal with it and move on. No big issue there then. She was also told she was cured, which is a bit different. The power of the spoken word, huh? Jo Malone (of the lovely perfumes) also spoke of her experience but she put it differently, saying that she could have made it the book of her life but she has chosen for it only to be a chapter. Nice. Having a Moon/Pluto conjunction in my chart definitely pushes me, unwillingly I feel, into darker waters than these two ladies. Some time ago, and after a discussion on the darkest depths of Hades (I was in another cheerful mood!), my lovely friend Jennifer sent me a copy of ‘Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women’ by Sylvia Brinton Perera. I was struck by this particular passage which relates to sacrifice and energy exchange, and realised how it summed up my feelings about my particular experience:
“We are forced to offer what we hold dear, what we have paid much to gain. And we cannot know even that the loss will be recompensed in the ways we desire. The sacrifice may change the balance of energy somewhere in the overall psychic system where we did not even want a change. All we can know is that finding renewal and connection with the potent forces of the underworld will involve breaking up the old pattern, the death of a gestalt we were comfortable with on some level, the death of a seemingly whole identity. We will rarely approach such dismemberment if our pain is not already severe.”
And there you have it in a nutshell. As I meditate on releasing the old me and its patterns of illness, I welcome with an open heart the new, regenerated me, and an opportunity, theoretically, that is given to very few people to start over again. Gradually, painfully, I think I am getting there. You see, always a silver lining.
I will be in touch just as soon as we get the PET scan results.