|Street art, LA
I put off retirement until I was 70 because I couldn’t see what or who I’d be without a job to go to. The unstructured time always looked like a Black Hole waiting to swallow me up. I finally realized that all I needed was to be and feel useful, and blogging allowed me to do that. Cancer hasn’t so much changed that as made me see that being useful takes a lot more energy than I’d anticipated. There are days when hours slip away with little that I used to think of as accomplishment. I don’t like to say it, but cancer has become its own Black Hole.
That may sound like complaining or woe-is-me misery. Believe me, I can still joke and laugh. In fact, I continue to turn to humor as the best and most satisfyingly wholesome response to illness. I cringe at the horror cancer seems to instantly trigger in people. I’m convinced that fear of it causes the widest collateral damage. The brain chemistry, as we know from the evidence of science, is flooded with damaging surges that make us even more physically vulnerable.
From reading, I also understand how fear diminishes health-inducing abilities to exercise compassion and forgiveness, for others and ourselves. Though I continue to find meditation hard and frustrating work, it nudges me away from the stress of fear and gives a timid soul like me practice in being calm in the face of it.
One night this past week, I discovered at bedtime that I’d forgotten to take my morning meds. After some thought, I decided that taking them 12 hours late was probably less of a risk than not taking them at all. I then lay awake, keeping aware of whatever symptoms or sensations presented themselves, alert to any tingling in my face, for example (not a good sign), or increased numbness in my hand or feet (not encouraging either), finally simply resting my awareness in my heartbeat and gradually drifting calmly off to sleep—without fear, you could say—to wake again a couple hours later, feeling none the worse.
I was most struck by the focus this experience gave me on each present moment. I became more aware of my heart as the center of me, a normally elusive sensation, as my thinking prefers all the attention and usually gets it. But the mental chatter of Radio Ron had been blissfully silenced. The next morning, I saw the experience as a form of meditation, a way of sitting with myself, stepping outside of me to simply observe and keep myself company, listening and allowing care and unruffled calm to surface quietly. One lesson learned.
But that was only one.
On another day, I found myself in a dark struggle with paying bills, and my wife said she couldn’t remember seeing me in such a foul mood. A child of parents whose formative years came during the Great Depression, I have anxiety about money in my DNA. So help me, my sense of control (or lack of it) is linked to numbers written in checkbook registers. So I’m reminded, a little roughly, that my work on fear is far from done.
|A visit to Trader Joe's, Palm Springs
Franciscan writer, Richard Rohr, speaks often of the need for non-duality, finding wholeness, even while we live in a divided world that is the cause of great suffering, among divided people deprived by fear of grace, mercy, and empathy. He argues that great suffering opens the way to wholeness. Our death grip on duality (I’m right; you’re wrong) can be sustained no longer as it makes us even more anxious, and wholeness finally comes as we let go to make a soft landing in the Black Holes we so fear.
Letting go? Alas, you will find me still hanging on.
But on this Sunday morning, I type these words with my numb left hand and my still functional right one and remember that they are connected by a thread that I can think of as passing through a heart that at this moment keeps on happily beating.
Previously: Amenity, perplexity