Of all the main spiritual traditions, Buddhism probably focuses the most on attachment.
Attachment is the central theme of the Four Noble Truths which lie at the heart of Buddhism.
I am not a Buddhist, however as a spiritual tradition, I feel it is possibly the most practical as it provides a clear understanding of the egoic mind (which is what stands between us and knowing ourselves as spiritual beings), and also gives very clear direction on how to get out of suffering. Isn’t that what we all want? – to not suffer and be happy?.
So, the Buddha says that the cause of suffering is attachment, and freedom from attachment brings freedom from suffering. Makes sense right? From my experiences, I have found this to be very true, and you have probably noticed that I constantly return to the notion that all suffering originates in the mind, and the way out of suffering is to not resist what is. This is just a different way of saying don’t hold on to ideas of what or how things should be so tightly that you resist what is happening right now. In other words, let go of attachments.
It sounds simple – but it’s not so easy to do.
Our mind loves attachments. It is a big part of its construct. We form attachments for things our minds have decided will bring us happiness. So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with seeking happiness – we all want that, and rightly so. The problem arises because the foundations of our attachments are mostly established when we are young and have little to no discernment about what is really going to bring us happiness. Adding to the problem, the attachments are often born out of our pain. Born out of need. That is never going to end well. We develop attachments not only to people and material things, but we also develop attachments to ways of thinking, beliefs and feelings.
The extreme form of attachment is addiction. A very painful state of uncontrollable need for something. Often causing severe suffering. I have an addiction to sugar. My sub conscious mind strongly associates it with being happy. I love it, and I eat it even knowing it is bad for me. I really struggle to stop. It has a power over me that seems stronger than my conscious will. That is an addiction.
Many attachments seem valid and worthy. For instance attachment to our spouse or children, our career, world peace. Others are not so innocuous – an attachment to being right, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, power, etc. All attachments will cause suffering however because if we lose whatever we are attached to we will be unhappy. Ranging from mildly unhappy to devastated depending on how much our mind believes we need that object/person to make us happy.
You may be getting annoyed at me and saying “of course I have an attachment to my husband or my children – what sort of mother or wife would I be without that attachment. Indeed. What sort of mother or wife would you be? One who was capable of loving your husband and your children with unconditional love.
You see, attachment creates conditions of the “must” variety.
To release ourselves from attachments allows us a deeper capacity to love without conditions. It allows us to accept life as it is without being devastated when things and people we love leave our lives. It allows us to live more fearlessly because we no longer fear loss. It allows us to accept change. So much more potential for happiness…
Living without attachment is not about not caring. On the contrary. When we know we don’t need something, we can let it go without suffering.
I am going to risk making myself very unpopular here and say that grief is an expression of attachment. I’m not talking about sadness or missing someone or something. I am talking about grief that is overwhelming and causes suffering. This sort of grief is grounded in attachment and need, and possibly un-supportive beliefs about life after death.
Our mind thinks it needs many things, so it forms attachments and desperately tries to hold onto them. Our soul knows we have everything we need and holds everything gently.
When our life is threatened by disease, the tendency is to tighten our grip, desperately holding onto it (life). Our mind’s greatest attachment is to physical life and this can bring us much suffering. In actual fact the best thing we can do is let go, surrender to what is, let our attachment to physical life at all costs go and surrender to the peace that follows. This does not mean curling up our toes and dying. Not at all. Done properly, it creates a greater space for healing to occur because fear has gone. It creates a larger space for loving and really living life because fear has gone and left a space that is filled instead with love and gratitude and awe.
Freedom from attachment brings freedom from suffering. The first step to freedom from attachment is developing an awareness of what we are attached to and examining our motives. Why do we think we need that person, thing? Can we come to a place of willingness to let it go? If not, why not? The best way to do this is to write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.
The less attachments we have, the lighter we feel and the greater our capacity to love without conditions.
Hope fell out of favour in medicine.
Physicians used to believe that the mind, body and spirit were equally important in healing from an illness, but over time a shift occurred in the teaching of medicine and the body became the domain of medicine, the mind the domain of psychology and the spirit the domain of religion.
Rene Descarte, a Polish philosopher in the 1600’s believed that the only way humanity could build up a body of scientific knowledge based on absolute certainty was to engage in analysis and reductionism – with God in the middle. This approach still drives science today, although God got lost somewhere along the way.
This focus on the parts rather than the whole absolutely had its place in the evolution of medicine, but while it has given us a greater depth in understanding the individual components of our bodies, it has very much created a medical model that can’t see the forest for the trees.
“The problem with this approach is that researchers cannot watch the whole body working in its entirety, let alone observe the impact of the sun, moon, food or our thoughts on the molecular processes under examination.” Cry for Health vol 1 by Jesse Sleeman.
When you are dealing with something like a broken leg, a wound needing stitching, acute trauma or a diagnosis, science is incredible. The problem becomes very evident however if you have a chronic illness like diabetes, cancer, MS etc. I will speak very specifically here in relation to cancer because that is what I am familiar with. Doctors are great with the diagnosis part and quick to direct you to the prescribed treatment, but they appear to have very little clue how you can support your body to heal.
This focus on reductionism and analysis has made for a medical system that is disease/illness focused. Not health/wellness focused. I think it is really important to understand this. (Hence the bold type). If you want to know how to keep your body healthy – don’t see your doctor.
So, you might ask, what has this to do with hope?
You see, medical science tries to work only with absolutes. It ignores subjective human experience. It ignores the very essence of what it is to be human – our beliefs, thoughts, values, intentions, spirit, feelings. And these “intangibles” have a huge impact on our physiology – our body.
Hope is an intangible. You can’t see it, touch it, taste it. It’s very subjective, you can’t put it under a microscope and study it. But you can clearly see the effects of it. See the person who is without hope, and one who has hope, and the difference is obvious.
Oncologists in particular seem to have a fear of giving “false hope”. Now, the Webster dictionary definition of hope is “desire and expectation combined”. So, false desire to heal, and false expectation to heal. Really? Says who? Who has the right to tell me that my desire and expectation to heal is false? A medical system that ignores two of the three aspects of what it means to be human – mind and spirit? I think not.
The mind needs to believe in a future – it is part of its structure – and when it cannot imagine a future it struggles to cope. Depression, despair, hopelessness and lethargy can result and these feelings all release chemicals that have negative effects on the body. Now it is not just the body that is unwell, but the mind also. Not conducive to healing.
Hope gives a feeling of buoyancy, it is uplifting, encouraging and has a positive effect on the body. Conducive to healing. Conducive to making today an enjoyable experience. A valuable tool in the healing toolbox I would have thought.
Why take that away?
If someone has their affairs in order (And commonsense indicates that everyone should at any given moment), then what does it matter if they are in denial or insist on holding onto hope? I think I have mentioned it before, but it is worth mentioning again – an Oncologist can only recommend surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drugs and immuno-therapy (the last at a pinch – I think it is still relatively experimental). Unless they are an Integrative Oncologist (good luck finding one of those near you), then this is pretty much the limit of their expertise. Their prognosis is based on statistics and their treatments. On a prediction of a mainly physical based progression of disease. But you know what? We are all unique. We all possess a mind and spirit and once these are consciously bought into the quest for healing, all bets are off. Anything can happen.
I want to make it clear – I am absolutely not dissing Mainstream Medicine, I have the utmost respect for it. However, I am pointing out it has limitations when it comes to supporting the body to heal. It focuses on only one aspect of the triune of humanness. The body. Nothing wrong with that, if it is clearly understood by everyone using their services and it isn’t thought they are the be all, end all of healing. The last word on the matter.
This is why we need to take responsibility for our own health and utilise all aspects of creating wellness – our mind, our body, our spirit.
Hope is important – Don’t let some-one make you feel ridiculous because you have hope. The future is all potential – it is not absolute.
Apparently, statistically I should have died a long time ago. Me and many others.
For extra hope read the following:
This is Monty.
Monty is a dog. (No kidding)
Monty has taught me a lot about how to live life joyfully, lovingly and enthusiastically.
But before I tell you more about loving life like a dog, I want to share a story about Monty.
Monty was my partner Ian’s dog. He came into Ian’s life as an eight week old puppy, and they became inseparable. Where Ian went, Monty went. He was a “tradies” dog. His favourite place was on the back of the ute. It had to be on the drivers side, head out in the wind, jowls flapping, eyes squinting, glorying in the plethora of smells wafting in the wind.
He loved the building sites too. Monty believed that everyone loved him – because he loved everyone, and on the sites there were other people to pat and praise him and feed him a tasty morsel.
Monty was devoted to Ian. He loved other people and would go with anyone happily, but he really loved Ian.
As Ian got sicker, and wasn’t able to work as much, Monty was by his side. He even stayed in Ian’s room in palliative care (and scared the life out of a night nurse who hadn’t been forewarned that he was there).
If Ian was in hospital, and I went to visit him without Monty, when I got home, he would run past me to the car, and search to see if Ian was there. So I used to worry sometimes how Monty would be when Ian died, and if I would be able to cope with his grief as well as my own.
I was with him at the hospital when he died. My sons who were in their late teens had decided to go home to the farm, and they were there with Monty.
Ian died at 7.40pm and I arrived home at 10pm after washing his body to tell the boys their stepfather had died. They were very upset naturally, then my oldest son suddenly said to me “mum, what time did Ian die?”. When I told him it was about 7.40pm he looked at me and said “We were sitting in the lounge and around that time, Monty suddenly got up off his bed and stood wagging his tail and licking the air and staring at the wall. It was as though he could see something that we couldn’t, and I said to him Monty, has he (Ian) gone, and he was totally oblivious to me. After a minute he turned around, went back and laid down on his bed”.
From that moment on, Monty never looked for Ian. Didn’t mourn Ian. I believe he knew that Ian had died because Ian came and saw him to tell him.
We had a celebration of Ian’s life a week later at his favourite beach where he and Monty loved to go, and Monty came. During the celebration, he ran, and barked and played, joyfully living life even though the human that he had loved the most had just died. He was an inspiration to me and others there. He showed us that when we surrender to life and accept what IS, with no thought of “why did this happen to me?”, “it shouldn’t be this way”, then we can continue to live joyfully even in the face of great loss.
Always, always it is our mind that causes our suffering.
Next month it is five years since Ian died, Monty is now almost 13 years old and still full of life and love and happiness.
There are other things that my dogs have taught me:
Enjoy the simple pleasures in life – the soft bed, the warm sun, freedom to run, the wonderful scents in the air, a loving touch, a back scratch, meeting new people, the beach, the bush, rolling on soft grass, a walk, food, attention, snuggles, the delight of a loved one returning home….
There is one more lesson I want to share… have you noticed how your dog greets you with joyful affection and excitement every time they see you again after an absence (it may only have been an hour)? Dogs have the capacity to meet you anew in every moment. As humans, we can’t seem to do that. Each time we meet our partner, children, friends, we don’t meet them as the person they are in that moment. We bring into that meeting all the accumulated past experiences with that person, good and bad and our preconceived idea of who they are and this affects our interaction. Sometimes badly.
Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. The person you married 15 years ago is not the same person walking beside you today. They have changed, you have changed, the world has changed, and yet so often we don’t notice because we have locked into our mind a belief about who and what they are.
The past is gone.
It is now only a memory.
Let it go.
There is only Now. … each moment is new and filled with potential. Greet it joyfully.
You are alive.
Love life like a dog, Joyfully, passionately, lovingly. (And life will love you, joyfully, passionately, lovingly).
So today I went for a 6km hike in the bush. It took 1.5 hours in 28deg Celsius heat.
I know, its hardly a marathon, but can I remind you that statistically I should have been dead along time ago, have lived with cancer for 13 years, am 2 years into a terminal diagnosis and my scans last year showed cancer in my breast, lymph nodes, chest, both lungs, upper and lower spine, shoulders, most ribs, pelvis and both femurs.
So how can I effortlessly do a 6km hike in pretty warm weather? (although I may be so stiff tomorrow I’m not be able to get out of bed in the morning!). I am not an athlete (my father always maintained my sisters and I were built for comfort not for speed), and I don’t exercise everyday (although for the last 4 days I have been taking a morning walk of around 1km).
So how can I effortlessly walk 6km when my body is so compromised? I was pondering this question as I walked.
It’s not because I’m special.
It’s not because I have an exceptionally strong body.
It’s not because I have an exceptionally strong mind. Some people have said to me “you are so strong” as though I am above ordinary in mental strength. I don’t agree. Initially, my refusal to have mainstream treatment was based in fear. I was terrified of hospitals and pain and sickness. My partner had terminal pancreatic and liver cancer when I was diagnosed. Being diagnosed with cancer myself wasn’t exactly great.
I don’t think I am of exceptionally strong mind. You see, its all about beliefs – get them sorted and life becomes effortless. I had, back when I was diagnosed, just recently come through my “dark night of the soul” that I have posted about earlier, and I felt very strongly that this cancer was on purpose. By that I mean I believed it wasn’t chance or random, meaningless misfortune. It was on purpose, on time and meaningful.
In the beginning, there were some nights when I would awake at 1am and lie in the dark anxious and afraid, thinking “I am going to die and my boys are so young”. (They were 12ys and 13yrs old). But I couldn’t sustain the fear in the light of believing that everything that was happening was meant to be.
At that point, I believed that it was meant to be, but I hadn’t yet learnt to love it. I wanted it gone, I wanted my partners cancer gone, and I wanted an easy, stress free, cancer free life.
Eventually, I got what I wanted. Except for the last part – I still have cancer. But it doesn’t matter. Because once I worked out that an “easy, stress free life” was a state of mind, and not dependent on external circumstances, everything changed.
I worked hard on ditching the old beliefs that kept me trapped in anxiety and fear and stress. Instead I adopted beliefs that sustained and uplifted me. Beliefs that I chose, beliefs that resonated with me and made sense. Beliefs that brought me peace and joy and calmness. I’m not talking just about spiritual beliefs here although they have been very important for me. I’m talking about worldview and self beliefs too.
We all have a worldview. It is the way we see and understand the world; it is heavily influenced by our childhood, and is generally unconscious until we develop a higher level of self awareness. It is most unfortunate that investigation of personal worldview isn’t a compulsary subject at high school. The world, and individuals, would be saved from a lot of pain and angst if it was, because our worldview affects our actions and reactions and directs our perceptions – which create our experience of reality. Unless we had an exceptionally fortunate childhood, most of us have a worldview that is unconsciously negative. We often react from our pain.
I had to shift from a worldview that was predominantly negative. I believed the world was a place of inevitable suffering, a place to be endured, a dangerous place. I didn’t trust myself, I didn’t trust men and I didn’t trust God. A sure recipe for happiness and peace – — not.
The biggest change occurred when I really, truly deeply believed that I lived in a Universe that is designed to support me. A Universe that has my best interests at heart. When I believed that Life happens FOR me not To me. That everything that arrives in my life is for my higher good.
That paradigm shift was a game changer.
After that, life became largely effortless (Occasionally I have a hic-cup and revert back but very briefly).
You know why?
Because I no longer resisted the flow of life.
I began to welcome whatever came, and saw it as good. Life became easy and stress-free. It became effortless.
Our mind is the cause of our greatest suffering.
Most of us try not to acknowledge the unarguable fact that one day we are going to die, and when the thought arises, we quickly suppress it rather than think about it.
And yet, there is something incredibly liberating about facing up to your impending death. (News flash – It’s impending for all of us not just me – sorry to be so brutal).
Rather, it can be liberating if you aren’t paralysed by fear.
I was brought up to conform. To be a good girl. To do the “right thing”. And I was pretty good at it if I might say so myself. I almost turned it into an art form. The only problem was, I lost myself in the process. I hit 40 and I realised I didn’t know who I was. In fact, I went so far as to say back then that there was no “Rebecca” just someone who became whatever she thought someone else wanted her to be. I just wanted to make everyone happy. (I was a perfect fit for the psychological profile of a woman most likely to get breast cancer – funny that).
It took a lot of hard work and many years to find myself, and I still had tendencies to regress to people pleasing but the icing on the cake, the final coup de resistance was a terminal cancer diagnosis and even then it took another year for the full sense of liberation to sink in (I’m a bit of a slow learner sometimes).
I had a slowly dawning epiphany (is that an oxy moron?) – but one day I really got it -really, really got it: I could do anything I wanted, live how I wanted – people would excuse me (most people actually didn’t care anyway, and seriously, I need an excuse?) because – I’m dying right? I don’t need to conform.
Some people are born believing they can do whatever the hell they want. Right from the get go they live life on their own terms. Their parents might have post traumatic stress by the time the kid reaches adulthood, and in the worst case scenario the kid turns into a narcissist, but they seem to be born with a strong sense of self.
I don’t recall ever having that, and it wasn’t something that was encouraged in the culture I grew up in. I thought I had to be perfect in order to be acceptable. And perfect meant not rocking the boat (read – someone elses’s boat) – ever.
So I learnt how to repress myself, hold myself back, put everyone else first, conform to popular opinion etcetera etcetera, but that isn’t really living.
We all have our own talents, idiosyncrasies, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses. We are all unique. And we are meant to be. Differences add richness and meaning to life.
We are meant to live the best version of ourselves that we can. It is only our wounds that stop us from doing this. We are meant to be Real, Authentic, Vulnerable and Loving. When we are this, genuine deep connections with other people are made. Connections that are lasting, supportive and fulfilling.
And in the end, that is what really matters. We are hard wired for connection. Our physiology is designed for it, our psychology is designed for it, and it is what our soul longs for.
To our-self first, others, community, nature and a Higher Power (in whichever way is meaningful for us).
So, I ask you again…. what are you doing with this one precious life?
Are you being you? Really you?
Are you brave enough to love and be loved?
Brave enough to allow yourself to be vulnerable?
Brave enough to walk to your own drumbeat?
I hope so, because believe me, life is short – sometimes it is shorter than you think, so fill it up with love and beauty and passion and joy – all the things that feed your soul and make you feel alive.
Life is for living.
I was lying in bed this morning and for some reason started thinking about how, when someone we care about is suffering or is experiencing something we perceive as suffering, we can buy into their emotions and/or feel as though we need to fix it.
I used to be a “fixer”. I wanted to fix everyone’s problems for them. I would enter into what I imagined their pain would be, experience it as stress in my body and mind, and try to fix their problem. This would happen spontaneously without any effort on my part. Commonly known as empathy I believe. I probably felt quite noble really. I thought it was a sign of emotional depth to have the capacity to feel another’s pain.
What I didn’t realise for a long time was the price I paid for being that way. I didn’t realise that while it was more evolved to be like that than to live selfishly and oblivious to someone else’s pain, there was actually a better way to be.
Living with Ian, his illness and subsequent death taught me a vital lesson. It wasn’t my pain, it wasn’t my suffering, and I was a lot more able to support him when I didn’t take it on.
I guess none of us like pain or suffering ourselves, and when we care for someone we see them as an extension of ourselves and therefore want them to be pain-free too. (Plus, to be brutally honest, it makes our lives a whole lot more comfortable if people we care about aren’t suffering). The faulty thinking in this scenario is that they are not an extension of us. They are individual free standing human beings. This means that they don’t think, experience or see life exactly the same as we do. We can only imagine what they are feeling, can only imagine what their suffering is, but our imagining is only that….. imagining.
Imagination is great. As Albert Einstein said “Logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you anywhere”. However, like anything to do with our minds, we need to use our imagination wisely, and not let it use us.
If we have been in a similar painful situation at some point, we also tend to project the emotions we felt when we experienced it, onto the person who is now going through the situation and relive our own pain. This was very apparent when my partner Ian died. I did not experience grief. In fact I would go so far as to say that I entered a period of Bliss where I saw that everything unfolded perfectly in the universe, in perfect timing, I loved everyone and believed everyone loved me. I was full of joy, and yet people would come to me in tears feeling sorry for me, mourning for my loss and sharing my grief when in fact that was not what I was experiencing. They were re-living their own grief or imagining how I would feel. I even had a counselor tell me that I would experience grief that would come over me like a tsunami and recede – repeatedly. When I told her that this wasn’t my experience, she told me that it would come. Well, that was almost 5 years ago and I still haven’t experienced it like that.
I used to be a sucker for emotional pain. Not so much physical pain because I haven’t experienced much of that so I couldn’t really imagine it well, but I could imagine emotional pain because I have experienced plenty of it. So if someone came to me in emotional pain, I would be diving right in with them. I’d be feeling it too. My mind bought into it, and before I knew it my body was feeling it too. I’d get a pit in my stomach, my muscles would tighten, my heart rate increase, palms sweaty, heavy feeling in my solar plexus. I’d be right there in a state of stress and anxiety. “I’m with you sister – I’m feeling it too”. But it was a totally misguided attempt at solidarity….
Instead of one person suffering, we now had two!
Two people in a state of anxiety. Two immune systems suppressed as two bodies prepare for flight or fight. Two bodies enveloped in negative energy.
Where is the benefit in that?
I did this for the first 40 years of my life, and the rewards I reaped were anxiety, stress, burnout and eventually cancer.
Bit of a disappointing reward for helping others and being a kind person I thought.
There is nothing wrong with helping others and being kind. Absolutely not. There is nothing bad about crying with someone in a moment of pain. But we need to be very clear about what is our pain and what is their pain. Their pain is not our pain and we do not need to take it on to be a good support for them. In fact the opposite is true. We can be much more present with them, much more clear thinking if we have not entered into their pain. And this is even more important in a situation like a loved one having cancer or some other chronic or long term illness or problem, because if we buy into their pain over a long period of time, we are going to risk our own emotional and physical health. And that isn’t smart.. or helpful.
As I am writing, I remember that Byron Katie has written about this in her book A thousand Names for Joy, so I find the book and search through it. This is what she says: “Some people think that compassion means feeling another person’s pain. That’s nonsense. It’s not possible to feel another person’s pain. You imagine what you’d feel in their shoes and you feel your own projections. What I love about separate bodies is that when you hurt, I don’t – it’s not my turn. And when I hurt you don’t. Can you be there for me without putting your own suffering between us? Your suffering can’t show me the way. Suffering can only teach suffering.”
Maybe I should have just quoted her straight up and left it at that! She writes so succinctly.
I learnt this through living with Ian. I realised that if I didn’t change the way I thought, his suffering became my suffering and that wasn’t helpful to either of us.
If you are in this position, try to be aware of how your body is feeling. Our emotions become physical in the body due to the release of chemicals, so if your body has symptoms of stress when you are supporting someone in pain be it physical or emotional, be aware that you are reacting to their stress and emotion. Being aware is always the beginning to changing your mind.
We need to remember that how we are feeling emotionally and physically is our experience only. We need to own it and remember that because it is our experience we have the power to change it by changing the way we think.
Talking with a friend today about how to change their mindset about a certain situation, I directed her to the work of Byron Katie who I decided to write a blog about because I think her technique is the simplest and most direct way if done honestly, to change your perceptions.
Byron Katie is an author and spiritual teacher who endured a lot of emotional pain until one day at one of the lowest points of her life, she woke up one morning able to see the world from a completely different perspective. Some people say she is enlightened. I can’t make a judgement on that, but she certainly has a wisdom and a presence that is inspiring.
She calls her process of self-inquiry “The Work” and it is available for free on her website https:/thework.com.
The “Welcome to The Work” on her website sums it up thus:
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, but when I didn’t believe them I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always. And I invite you to not believe me. I invite you to test it for yourself”. – Byron Katie.
For what its worth, I wholeheartedly agree with her. This is my experience also. I haven’t used her process intensively as she came on my radar long after I had begun changing my beliefs and perceptions, however I Love her books and her process and I would highly recommend her.
The Work consists of four questions;
It is better if you write the answers down.
The philosophy behind her work is that as we question our opinions and perceptions, we can begin to open our minds to the possibility of seeing things differently. We challenge our thoughts.
Her book A Thousand Names for Joy shown above is one of my favourites and has sat on my bedside table for at least five years. I regularly open it and read a chapter (as you can see by how tatty the cover is!).
In July 2018 I decided to take a month off from my usual life and sit with my dying.
My foster daughter went to live with her brothers carer, and I took a month off from my job.
My idea was to spend as much time as possible alone, in silence, reading, contemplating and meditating.
I wanted to be sure that I was genuinely at peace with dying. Perhaps I was really in denial? Had I just convinced myself on the surface to be peaceful when underneath I was scared? Had I created a persona that I felt I needed to live up to? The mind is very clever at fooling itself, so I wanted to create a space of no distractions where I was going to be able to confront my dying head on and see what happened.
I wasn’t quite sure where this urge to sit with dying was coming from. I even wondered if I would actually die during this month. Did my sub-conscious know something I didn’t and was preparing me for imminent death?
What I discovered was that I felt a kind of excitement in not knowing. Am I going to die? Am I going to heal?. Which way will it go? Once, this” not knowing” would have terrified me. Now it felt exciting. Maybe this is my version of living on the edge!
I felt that I wanted to be able to welcome death joyfully as a friend.
What I came to understand during this month, is that mentally, I don’t live in the same reality as the medical profession.
My reality is one in which anything is possible. One in which (to quote A Course in Miracles) “there is no order of difficulty in miracles”. You see, for me, there is as much chance that I will live as there is that I will die. Doctors generally only see healing as originating from the physical body. I see healing as originating from the spirit and mind as well. Healing through purely physical means is limited and reasonably predictable. Once the spirit and mind is actively engaged, its a whole new ball game. Who knows what is going to happen. Read “Dying to be Me” by Anita Moorjani for an inspiring example of this.
Life is much more complicated, mysterious, powerful, exciting and miraculous then we can ever imagine. We limit the possibilities and the miracles by being stuck in rigid beliefs and perceptions.
So I meditated and contemplated, got distracted, went out, got busy at times then took myself back into silence again. I simply could not seem to generate any fear about dying. In fact, the deeper I went into silence, the more peaceful I felt.
Ten days into my date with death, I had a really busy weekend. Visitors staying, then I have my foster daughter and her 2 sisters and brother for an afternoon. With three pre-teens dashing around the house, it was very chaotic and noisy, and in the midst of this, the realisation slid into my mind that I was not going to die from this cancer. It was a realisation rather than a thought. The difference is tangible. The feeling of it remains with me to this day although until I read my journal yesterday I had forgotten about it. It came out of nowhere in the middle of noise and chaos, and although I was delighted, I was also indignant. I had taken a month off from my life to make peace with death: I felt the wind had been taken out of my sails. I think perhaps I was rather enjoying the drama of it all, and now I had to drop it because it appeared there was no imminent death to face. I feel a little nervous to trust this realisation, but I am compelled to because of the nature of it. I need to honour it without judgement.
A day later, during a meditation, I could clearly see that my whole idea of a dramatic wrestling with fear of death was totally misguided.
For several reasons.
The first was that I genuinely do not fear death. I am not able to generate a strong negative reaction to it. This, at times, has been a source of puzzlement to me. What I now believe, is that as we become more deeply connected with our soul, the fear of death naturally falls away. The soul does not fear death. It has no need to. Death cannot touch the soul. Death can only touch the body.
The second reason was that my mind had concocted a story about me sitting with death, wrestling with the fear of it, overcoming it and triumphantly victorious, coming out the other side. Great story. But it wasn’t really my story. What I realised, was that this whole notion of wrestling or fighting was anathema to me. I don’t agree with the language of warfare. It just doesn’t sit right. I realised it actually wasn’t about wrestling with the fear of death, it was all about SURRENDERING into death. Or rather, surrendering into the flow of life which includes death and continues on.
As I sat with this realisation, I could see that there really was no difference between surrendering into life and surrendering into death. It was one and the same. From a purely physical point of view this is patently untrue, but when we shift our awareness from the physical to the spiritual, we can see that it is true.
I got out my journal and wrote. And as I wrote, I understood that this month that had begun with a story of me wrestling with death was actually the beginning of me completely surrendering into life, and that surrendering into life was actually a return to Love. ( I deliberately write Love with a capital letter). Things are often not what they seem.
Now, as I write this blog 18 months later, I can see that it truly was the beginning of surrendering more deeply into life. A journey that continues to go deeper and deeper.
It seems a paradox that in the face of death we can learn to really embrace life. I think this is because letting go of attachments enables us to live in a freer, less stuck way.
It has been a long time since I was diagnosed with cancer, however I am going to write this post in case there is some-one newly diagnosed reading my blog.
Even if you have known something isn’t right in your body, or you have an obvious lump like I did and you suspect it is cancer, it is still a shock. If we had a choice, we would all choose a life in which we were always healthy and happy. Cancer doesn’t fit into the ideal scenario, so we don’t want it.
Cancer is associated with all those negative words that I mentioned in a previous blog called “The Language of Cancer”, so I doubt there are too many people in the world who have been overjoyed on being told they have it. Mostly, we are afraid we will die and/or experience pain and loss of our current lifestyle. Our minds will probably attach a myriad of other fears to these main ones as well.
I can’t tell you that you won’t experience physical pain, but you may not. It depends on where the cancer is, what type and your mental attitude. For the first 12 years of having cancer in my body, I experienced almost no pain. I doubt I would have taken a packet of panadol altogether over those years. The last 12 months have been a different story, however I still have no pain most of the time and I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer with many metasteses throughout my body . Don’t have the expectation that you will be in pain.
I also can’t tell you that you won’t die from cancer. You may; you may not. However, I can confidently tell you that you will die someday. It’s not negotiable. Having cancer is a good time to make peace with death. There are huge benefits to doing this that I will share with you in another blog.
What I can tell you though, is that your mind can make a big difference to how you experience cancer. Not just mentally and emotionally, but also physically.
My first suggestions to you are these:
Tell yourself everyday, many times a day, that “I am a well person with cancer”.
We have trillions of cells in our body of which there may be a few million that have formed into a tumour. Lets not forget the healthy ones of which there are many more!
Remind yourself that your body knows how to heal itself and will make every attempt to return to balance. It does and it will. Your body has not become your enemy. You have some rogue cells that have for whatever reason decided not to die (apoptosis is the official term); they are like outlaws who have decided to do their own thing and not contribute to the overall well being of the community they live in. Like any good community, the other members will do everything they can to address the situation. I repeat: your body has not become your enemy. Trust it and start listening to it.
Next, stop eating sugar and processed foods, reduce your meat intake and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. There are two reasons for this suggestion. The first is that it will give you a sense of empowerment, and you are less likely to fall into the role of cancer victim (I really, really dislike that term), and two, it will support your body to heal. Cancer cells are anaerobic – they feed on sugar. Processed foods have very little nutritional value compared to fresh fruit and vegetables and are often full of salt or sugar, plus numerous chemicals. Your body will thank you for making these changes. If you feel you haven’t got the time to be making your meals from scratch, I suggest you invest in a high powered blender or at least the highest powered nutribullet and start making yourself smoothies. They taste delicious, are nutritious, quick to make and fill you up. There are millions of recipes on line, or buy Jason Vales book Super Juice Me or Sally Obermeders Super Green Smoothie book. If you want to get really serious, buy a cold press juicer and start juicing.
Start doing some exercise if you haven’t already. There are lots of studies out there showing that regular exercise increases your chances of healing. At least go for a walk everyday, preferably in nature which comes with its own positives.
Start saying NO. Having cancer is a great time to start saying no and begin culling out of your life the people and activities that aren’t really supporting you. As you become more self aware, you will recognise easily who and what they are. This doesn’t involve being mean, but simply making it clear that you need to put your well-being first. It is not being selfish (unless you go overboard and expect everyone to serve you). You are important.
The last suggestion (but by no means the least important), is that you take personal responsibility for your health. Unless you are fortunate enough to have an Integrative Oncologist (one who uses nutrition and other so called “alternative” treatments as well as mainstream treatments), your Oncologist has been trained to recommend surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drugs or possibly immunotherapy. Most Oncologists have no clue how to support the body to heal. This is not their fault, it is not what they are trained to do, so don’t expect them to do it. They also pay little attention to how your mind affects your well-being for the same reason.
I believe a holistic approach to healing cancer is the most intelligent. Use everything at your disposal. As well as your Oncologist, find yourself a good naturopath, herbalist, chiropractor, mediation teacher, psychologist or counsellor who will help you not only to survive, but to thrive. (And help you with the side effects of the medical treatment).
Connect with your mind, body and spirit.
One last thing: be very careful about asking for a time-frame if the prognosis is bad. Unless you are very strong minded, it has a way of lodging in your sub-conscious. The mind is a very powerful thing and can be our worst enemy. It is well known that people have been told they have six months to live, and because they believe it, that is what happens. There are many, many people out there like me who are living well with cancer many years past the date Doctors predicted they would die. There are also many, many people out there who are cancer free when Doctors expected they would die. Read about these people. Focus on the positive stories. Why couldn’t you be one of them? Get your Will written, your affairs in order (that is just commonsense), then continue living life!
Cancer WILL change you.
You have the power to make that change a positive one.
My body is amazing.
It has been designed to self regulate and will always seek to return to a state of homeostasis – a state of balance. It is an intelligent organism that compensates, adjusts, heals itself and will always try to stay alive – until it can’t.
My body is amazing.
My body is just a tool. It is not me, not the real me. The real me, eternal spirit or soul, or consciousness, just uses this body as a vehicle to experience life on earth. Most of us have forgotten what we really are and are too identified with the body.
This will bring us fear. It must bring us fear because the body is subject to its environment, the laws of nature, subject to pain and ultimately subject to death which is the annihilation of the body. This is indisputable. And fear inducing.
Years ago, at the beginning of my journey out of fear, I bought a book called You Cannot Die – The Incredible Findings of a Century of Research on Death by Ian Curie. (This book is well worth reading). The book title didn’t make much sense at the time because it was very obvious to me that every living being died at some point. However I desperately wanted to believe it. I was wanting reassurance because my partner had a terminal illness and I didn’t want him to die.
At that time I was still very identified with myself as a body – I thought that was me. I read the book, and it helped me to begin to understand I wasn’t my body. I read many more books. One common recurring theme in all near death experiences is that the person realises they aren’t their body. They discover that when they leave their body “they” still exist. In a different form. In actual fact, when we leave our bodies, we return to our natural state which is eternal spirit/soul/consciousness.
I cannot die. Only my body can die.
Releasing ourselves of the burden of total identification with the body is the beginning of releasing our-self from fear. It is empowering, and remarkably, it tends to make us more appreciative of the body; we begin to look after it better. It also allows us to make clearer decisions concerning our body when it is threatened by illness. Because we are not in fear of total annihilation we are able to think more rationally, make more informed decisions and utilise our mind and spirit in helping our body to heal. Releasing our-self from total identification with the body allows us to connect more fully with our spirit, our soul. And that my friends, is where the real power lies.
My body is amazing.
I used to be afraid of my body. I used to fear illness. I was very afraid if my body didn’t do what I thought it was meant to do. I needed to feel I was in control of it – I knew I wasn’t and that scared me. I have been blessed with a naturally robust body so I was rarely sick. I was very afraid of being sick. I was afraid of cancer. I was very afraid of dying.
Now I relax. I trust my body to do what it will do. And it does. Every. Single. Moment. Of. Every. Single. Day. It does what it does. And that is OK.
I trust that whatever is happening in my body is not meaningless. I trust that everything leads to peace and joy if I can just accept what Is, sit with it and be open to learning from it. I trust that everything is unfolding perfectly. In exactly the right time.
I absolutely, totally trust that my body knows how to heal. It may not heal – it will not if my soul has decided its time to leave, but if that is the case, I relax in knowing that it will be the perfect time for my body to die.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not sitting here waiting to die. I’m living life, I’m loving life and I am trying to show up and use every opportunity that comes my way to heal. But I am not attached to the outcome. I’m not attached too strongly to my body.
It’s all good.
You see, there really is nothing to worry about.