The totally brilliant and unexpected gift that came from having cancer is that it’s given me a completely new perspective on life – and it continues to open up whole areas of no-holds-barred conversation that other people probably wouldn’t even think of having. It’s also awakened an exceedingly dark sense of humour, but if you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll have gathered that by now.
Here’s a case in point. In recent weeks we’ve been playing around with ideas for our new garden. New to us, that is. There are actually a load of plants and bulbs already well established here, thank you very much, but delightful as they are, we can’t resist trying to squeeze in the odd plant here and there, just to make it a bit more ours. We’re also digging out space for a wildlife pond – yay! We’ve been happily browsing online and through catalogues, amassing a huge wish list – most of which we definitely don’t have room for – and learning an awful lot in the process. This small fact had never registered with me before (and yes, I have had a garden before), but some plants clearly take a lot longer to get going than others. Stephen was finding plants like the beautiful wedding cake tree (see pic below), which takes literally years to mature, while I was getting excited about a very aggressive and highly scented honeysuckle that will look and smell amazing in about 3 months time. He’d love to get some bulbs for next year, while I’m all for some primulas I can whack in a pot now to pretty up the space around my Buddha statue.
After several days of this it became clear we had different agendas. During a joint browse online he was gently teasing me for my lack of patience, and for wanting everything to flower now, rather than wait a year or so for the plant to mature or the bulbs to settle in. I was pretty much renowned as a kid for wanting everything now, TBH, but it has recently taken on whole new meaning. Yes, I’m happily in remission (for which I am truly grateful on a daily basis), but having faced the real possibility of death, there is a growing and very fundamental need in me to live every second with awareness; this moment now, this moment now. Clearly my mindfulness practice is beginning to pay off – and I said as much to Stephen – but more than that, it’s that I want to experience the beauty of these plants sooner rather than later, because I don’t know how l long I have left. None of us do. I don’t mean this in a maudlin sense, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s about rejoicing in the things I, personally, can see, smell, hear, touch and taste at this moment in time, rather than living for what might be at some point in the future. Obviously there is a need to plant for future generations, and for some that may be more important, and it’s definitely a noble cause, but it’s not the point just now. In the moment before I said all this to Stephen, I could suddenly see everything so clearly, and bringing it out into the light felt so good and so honest. Not your average conversation then. Many thanks to the lovely Judy Hall for encouraging me to share it on here.
This was followed by another slightly unusual conversation, prompted by articles on the recent deaths from cancer of some high profile people in the media. All of them wanted to make it as easy and painless as possible for their partner to sort out their affairs when they had passed over, and it occurred to me that just about everything to do with the mechanics of my life is in my head, or written in really weird places that only I know about. So I’m creating a little book called ‘All About Me’ so that whenever I shuffle off this mortal coil there will be an easy way for the person left behind to sort out my affairs. In a bizarre way I’m looking forward to finding the right kind of notebook and presenting it in a fun way rather than just a boring list of websites, passwords and pin numbers – as that’s basically what our lives are reduced to when we’re gone, isn’t it? Is this morbid? Not in the least. It will be a big weight off my mind and also a rather good reference book for me in case I ever need it :-)
I want to leave you with some words from the lovely Thich Nhat Hanh, who has returned to Vietnam to live out his remaining days at the Tu Hiue Temple. Yes, more death, but not quite yet as apparently Thay is still very much alive. I absolutely loved this. In a recent interview with Eliza Barclay, Senior Monk Brother Phap Dung, relayed that Thay had instructed him thus:
“Please do not build a stupa (shrine) for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you.
If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’
Isn’t that beautiful?
Wishing you good health