Personal/Health update: I’ve now officially completed chemo, at least for now! Though I’d like to report that I’m already feeling markedly better, recovery is apparently every bit as slow as they say… 3-6 months for the body to clear out the chemicals. In January, I’ll get some scans to find out if the chemo “missed” anything. If not, I’ll be on a five-year monitoring plan before they declare me “survived”. Meantime, starting on Monday I plan to gradually get back to this work I love!
Note: I have especially viewed my medical leave as an opportunity to “retool”. For several reasons, I believe that my inability to effectively process the grief inherent in humanitarian work may have played a significant role in my developing colon cancer. (Colon and breast cancer seem to be especially exacerbated by emotions.) I drafted the following meditation on July 4th, and even though I hadn’t polished and ‘published’ it, I’ve been working a great deal on its themes: emotional wholeness, and the healthy process of re-deciding what we keep, release, or add in each stage of life…
Today I cancelled our flights to/from Paris. It was the final nail in the coffin of our big trip to France next month. I wasn’t looking forward to the task.
It took time to navigate the websites and make phone calls to both airlines during a holiday, and because I was concerned about getting everything refunded, I carefully documented everything, sent it all to Janet and saved it for future reference.
Once it was all done, I pushed right through to the next item on my to-do list. And I did so while kind of marveling at myself, with a small sense of pride as well as accomplishment. “Even when the task is painful or distasteful emotionally, I’m able to ‘suck it up,’ be efficient and just push through, and then I just move right on to the next thing. No use drowning in my feelings about a trip we wisely chose to cancel!”
Then I ran across a very simple one-page sheet on Mindfulness which included this tip (italics mine):
INCREASE YOUR AWARENESS: Rather than tuning out as you complete tasks, bring more awareness into what you’re doing. Notice what your mind and body are feeling when you’re doing them.
This was the exact opposite to what I’d just done!
I couldn’t help but think of Marie Kondo’s TV show “Tidying Up” (on Netflix). She’s a petite Japanese célébrité du jour, and out of curiosity we had watched the very first episode last night. Before Marie began her organizing project in this family’s home, she paused on her knees to thank the home for its shelter, warmth, love. She did this in the presence of the homeowners, a young family with two fussy kids, inviting them to also be reflective and thankful. As Marie knelt in dignified silence, both kids became completely calm and fell asleep; the mom got weepy. As their hearts and minds became conscious of gratitude, the parents’ mindsets changed as they realized that being messy was a dishonor to their home as well as to themselves.
Marie was practicing mindfulness, and it was beautiful to see. Rather than jumping into the organizing jobs while thinking about the numerous steps ahead, she brought more awareness to the task… not so much greater awareness of the task, but awareness of what the mind and body was feeling about the task.
Thinking about Marie’s example as I now read the mindfulness tip above, I stopped being “productive” for a moment just to feel. Very quickly and easily, I felt sadness about striking this final necessary death-blow to our long-planned Paris trip. Indeed, I had felt sad as I cancelled the flights, but I had chosen to ignore the feelings and simply push through. And I realized that I usually use sleight of hand with my feelings: I focus on successfully completing the unpleasant task and making it disappear, so I don’t have to feel the unpleasant feelings. Instead, I pretend the feelings have disappeared, as well.
Afterward, I felt extremely tired and somber, and I needed a nap. I felt overwhelmed with the implications of this new realization, that it might be “required” of me to change who I am at a deep level, in how I pride myself as being efficient and effective… how much I can get done.
Later, when I shared this later with Janet, I recognized that this not something required of me, but rather an invitation to growth and better balance. And moreover, it illustrates very positive reasons to slow down and pay more attention (“being attentive” is a prime invitation I sense in this cancer chapter of my life).
It’s not about slowing down or sloughing off because I can’t do as much as I age. Instead, this is an invitation to pay attention to life, like Marie Kondo invited that young family to do, welcoming emotions along on the journey. For that young family, doing so set the tone for their reorganization and tidying task to be much more serene and meaningful, even “thanking and releasing” each possession that no longer fit their lives. They became closer as a family and as a couple as a result of working together thoughtfully on this project. (You’ll enjoy watching the episode if you haven’t seen it.)
I felt overwhelmed with the possible benefits and blessings of making this life change, felt invited into more meaningful engagement with others, at a deeper level. Maybe not as many connections, but each one deeper. This doesn’t represent a loss of productivity, but instead a conscious and positive choice toward depth and wholeness.
Perhaps even a choice toward greater joy and meaning and impact than I’ve been living previously.