(First, I just want to say, I love this photo. A magpie, knock-kneed, disheveled, feathers awry, completely oblivious to its appearance, just going about its business. There is a lesson in that for me.)
“Healed By Cancer” is the title of a book by a woman called Jayka Duncan.
I love this title – it perfectly summarises my experience with cancer also – to be honest, I wish I had thought of it first!. I also love the book, and highly recommend it as a raw and honest account of emotional healing that is very easy to relate to – for everyone.
Let me tell you how I came by this book and how it has helped me. It is a classic example of synchronicity – of how life is designed to support us. There is an old saying that “when the pupil is ready, the teacher arrives” and I have proven that this is true over and over again, but I still sometimes forget to simply set an intention and then be open to whatever arises rather than trying to force life to work on my terms. If we have specific ideas about what and how things should happen, we miss so many opportunities for growth and healing because we don’t even notice them.
About a month ago, my therapist commented on me being strident. I was extremely indignant, and vehemently (stridently?), asked him to rephrase it – which he did. (Ironically, it turns out it came down to perception. My idea of strident is “harsh and loud” – backed up by the Oxford dictionary, his interpretation is “forcefully putting your point forward” also backed up by a dictionary, but I latched onto the definition that fitted what I believed. We have since had a good laugh about it). I reacted to my understanding of the word, and it really rankled. About a week later, in a conversation with an old friend, I mentioned my indignation about being called strident, and he agreed that I was strident, adding “in the nicest way, you don’t have a mean bone in your body”. I was not happy. Again, fixated on “loud and harsh”. I felt that clearly I had no clue what I came across like, and to be honest, I was pretty devastated (and humiliated) that I was considered “loud and harsh” (or so I thought). It eventually dawned on me that I could stay stuck feeling indignant and unacceptable, or alternatively, investigate why I was reacting. Why I felt so defensive. This was based in fear… I needed to do some deeper inner work.
So I simply sat in quietness and said “I want to understand why I cannot accept being called strident”. I set my intention then carried on with my day.
I have been a member of a facebook page – Holistic Cancer Healing for a while. I am not often on it, but that day, I saw a post by a woman anxious about finding a lump in her armpit while having radiation for breast cancer, and I decided to reassure her not to panic, it doesn’t mean she is going to die in the near future. Then another woman added a comment – Jayka Duncan, and mentioned that natural treatments hadn’t worked for her, but she had healed quickly after doing emotional work. She named the book she had written about her experience “Healed by Cancer”. My interest was piqued because I have always believed that if I am going to heal from this cancer, it would mostly be due to emotional and spiritual healing. I downloaded her book on Kindle and started reading.
It felt like she was writing my story.
Obviously many of her life experiences were different, but what was essentially the same were the emotional wounds that had kept her stuck in playing out patterns of behaviour that weren’t healthy. You see, fundamentally we are all very much the same. We all want to be loved and approved of, but we have all had experiences in life and particularly in childhood when we are not able to apply reason to experiences, that left us feeling unworthy in some way. It is almost impossible to come out of childhood without feeling like this. In childhood, while we have limited understanding, we develop defense mechanisms to help us feel better about ourselves, and we carry them into adulthood as subconscious programs. The problem is, until something major happens that forces us into deep inner work, we spend our entire life running on a program of woundedness, reaction and defensiveness, and we project this onto the outside world.
I went to bed that night and asked again “why can I not accept being strident? and why did she (Jayka) heal and I haven’t?”.
Suddenly, with complete clarity, I could see that the reason I couldn’t accept being seen as strident was that despite all the inner work I had been doing for years, I still could not love every aspect of myself. I saw I still believed that in order to be acceptable, I had to possess certain attributes and strident most certainly wasn’t one of them. I still couldn’t forgive myself for not being perfect.
Now, as I have mentioned before, I have a very strong fundamentalist Christian background, the first 40 years of my life spent trying to love a God I was actually terrified of. I had a deep seated subconscious belief that I needed to be perfect like Jesus, and because I clearly wasn’t that, then I was unworthy and unacceptable. Obviously this didn’t make me feel good about myself. For many years, I didn’t even realise this was a driving force in my life. (Who/what do you have in the drivers seat in your life?).
As a result, I spent most of my life attempting to be perfect. This might seem to be a noble aim, but it actually isn’t healthy, especially when its roots are based in fear. (Aiming for personal perfection is a lost cause because it isn’t attainable. Earth is a spiritual learning and growing school. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here). The roots of my need to be perfect were based in a deep fear of being completely unacceptable the way I am. Not good enough. Unloveable. Unworthy. As I discovered, at the very deepest core, was the belief that I was so disgusting I shouldn’t be seen. I didn’t deserve to be alive.
As a child, (and in particular, a female child), I absorbed the belief that I needed to be quiet, submissive, gentle, self-effacing, humble, amenable, calm, easily controlled, patient and in control of my emotions. I tried to be these, I really did, but I was born with a very different nature. For many, many years, I managed to suppress myself and worked hard to fit into what I thought I should be in a desperate attempt to be worthy and approved of. The end result was that one day I realised I had no idea who I was. There was no “Rebecca”. There was simply someone who had shaped herself to be what she thought everyone else wanted her to be. I literally had no concept of my will being as valid as someone else’s. I had no idea who I was.
The day I woke up was over thirteen years ago, and I am now a very different person. I think a better person. Some may disagree, but that isn’t my business. At the very least, I am much more authentic. Cancer has been very much a part of the healing process, but obviously there is still a program of fear running in me if I can be so discombobulated by “strident”.
So I sat with myself and acknowledged all the parts of me that didn’t fit in with the notion of the ideal female I had absorbed in my childhood – and there were many parts that didn’t fit. Following Jayka’s lead, I allowed myself to feel the inadequacy, the fear and shame and reassured myself it is ok to feel like this. It is ok to be those things. I am acceptable. I am loveable. I surrendered the need to be seen and heard, I surrendered the need to be a certain way to be loveable. I surrendered the need to be perfect. I accepted that at times I could be strident in the worst meaning of the word, but that did not mean I was completely unacceptable as a person. I saw that I had been acting as though I was ALL strident, All the time.
Healing is a process. It usually isn’t linear. There have been many times over the last decade when I have breathed a sigh of relief, thinking “great, I have dealt with that one”, only to revisit it later.. again, and again. But each time, going deeper and deeper. If the pain and fear and patterns of behaviour are strong and deep, our mind will often only allow us to work a layer at a time. Like peeling back an onion.
These fears will arise again. I know that, but the difference is, instead of getting stuck in them and unconsciously living from the fear and reacting, realisation will quickly arise and I will see the pattern and be able to step out of it and make a conscious choice to act and think differently. This is why awareness is so important – from it we can make conscious choices.
This, my friends is real freedom. To NOT be bound in chains of reaction and patterns of behaviour that don’t serve us well. To be able to love ourselves in all our glorious, messy imperfections. We are all the same. All imperfect, all learning and growing. Some consciously, most unconsciously. If we cannot love ourselves – including the parts we don’t really like, then we are condemning ourselves to a life of intolerance towards others. Other people’s words and behaviours will impact on us, stealing our peace, upsetting us, making us feel angry or frustrated or hurt or offended. These reactions only ever arise from our own unhealed, unaccepted parts but we hide from this by believing that it is the other persons fault – if they were different, hadn’t said that, hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t feel like this. Not true.
Over the years, through utter frustration and helpless rage at what I saw as someone else’s bad behaviour they refused to address, I slowly learned that I could choose not to take it on board, I could choose not to suffer simply by looking inward and asking “why am I reacting like this?, what part of me needs to feel offended and upset? why does the role of victim fulfill a need for me in this?”
It is probably one of the hardest things we can do – take responsibility for our own actions and reactions. Own them and acknowledge that each time we are triggered to react it is an opportunity for US to heal – not the other person – the timing of their healing isn’t our business.
We are a world of people who don’t love ourselves enough. How can we tell? By the way we treat each other. By the way we treat nature – polluting the very environment that sustains our physical life. By the way we treat ourselves -the mental and emotional abuse we inflict on ourselves by castigating ourselves and endlessly worrying, anger, fear, intolerance and not attempting to heal our wounds; the physical abuse we inflict on our bodies by not nurturing and keeping them healthy, eating chemical filled non-food disguised as food, smoking, not exercising. The list goes on.
Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
And I am learning to forgive myself for not being perfect.
Love or fear.
Which do you choose?