To be honest, there are days when I don’t feel like being a model cancer patient. This is one of them. The cause may be the meds I take or have taken. It may be lack of exercise or lack of sleep. Lately, evening movies from Netflix seem to have had a disturbing effect on sleep and dreams. Two, about people serving prison terms for crimes they did not commit, had me waking the next morning in a dark and troubled mood—one time with the weight of a heavy sadness in my chest. No arguing with that. Something was up.
Meanwhile, our doctors encourage both of us in the practice of mindfulness meditation. Sitting in the patio of a morning, I’m surprised how 30 minutes of it pass so quickly, when there was a time that a half hour of just paying attention to my breathing would have seemed interminable.
My internist turns out to be well versed in the subject. He can talk at great length about various Eastern practices and will sometimes start a sentence with “When I was in Nepal…” Current theory is that meditation helps hold one’s mental-emotional state in a sustainable range that does not jump into the flight-or-fight response under stress, which produces unwanted effects for one’s treatment.
|Flowers in bloom at the Cactus Mart|
My doctor has also pointed me to a meditation group in Palm Springs, which meets weekly and sponsors retreats and workshops. I have to check them out, but I hope I’ll be able to to connect with and meet others there to extend a needed social network that has been hard to form in the relative isolation of the desert town where I live. It has become clear to me that two people (my wife and I), despite our love and caring for each other, are not enough to fill that need all by ourselves.
Another bit of advice from my doctor and the Cancer Center psychologist is to devote more of my time to creative activities, specifically visual rather than verbal. The idea is to give my mind a rest from all the focused analytical mental activity that tends to block intuition and crowd out awareness of what spiritual traditions have called the transcendent. This will sound like more magical thinking to some, but when I hit the mute button on the noisy chatter in my head and pay attention to what at first sounds like silence, there’s a difference that makes a difference.
For instance, I noticed when a hummingbird “joined” my meditation for a while the other day. I heard a whirring sound and opened my eyes to discover him hovering over me, studying me—or maybe only what he could see of the red T-shirt I was wearing. But I became aware that I had awakened from a state that had seemed normal enough, but was more like sleep.
And it was a moment that called out for more than the words I’m using to describe it here. They do little to capture the sensation of discovering myself an object of interest in this tiny creature’s world. Besides my visual memory of his darting flight and the flutter inside me echoing the buzzing flutter of his wings, I realize that with my limited creative ability I’m not anywhere near translating that experience into a visual image right now—but there’s a poem, or a haiku in there somewhere.
Instead of lazily reaching for the kindle to start into a new novel today, I’m thinking maybe I’ll give it a go.