One year ago, I finished chemotherapy. According to the oncologist, that’s when the countdown (count up?) of survivorship begins. Not with diagnosis. Not with surgery. But the end of chemo. So this has been the first year of my survivorship.
And a new perspective.
I am – like most of us – looking back to make resolutions going forward. I’ve spent the year immersed in healing techniques on this journey toward wellness: colorful stones and other good health charms, massage, Reiki, acupuncture, therapies involving sound and mind, prayer, yoga and many other approaches.
And this is how it all shakes out for me (your mileage may vary):
I don’t know if the stones and charms make any difference, but it’s comforting to have them on hand (or in pocket).
Of the various mind/body therapies, craniosacral, yoga, sound healing, and what little meditation or breath work I’m able to do seem to help most. Through these I’ve recognized the essential importance of working out stress through the body and voice (in singing and chanting, not just talking). Talk therapy is good, but limited, and the body has its own energy that dispels, perhaps more effectively, the tensions of the mind and spirit.
I wouldn’t say my body actually talks to me (though I did hear an internal voice saying “I’m in trouble” shortly before the lump appeared). But I can now read its signals better and identify when it feels clear. The yoga and sound therapy in particular have changed my perspective. I see myself less as a single, solitary being holding on to concerns and events and more a spirit connected to the flow of life.
This change in perspective is difficult to describe, but I think now in terms of letting events and worries flow through me instead of getting stuck in me. It’s that process of “letting go” that we hear about, but for me was only an intellectual concept before.
So that’s looking back.
What resolutions take me forward?
This year, I’m limiting it to one: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness appears in Buddhism as the concept of being in the “ever-present now.” In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle gives this example:
If your current task is to look up a number in the phone book, that is all you give your attention to – looking up that number. It is the only thing you are meant to do, your sole purpose at that time. If you give your full attention to looking up that number, then you are truly alive in that moment.
Strangely, this idea actually appeared in the practical, Midwest American advice my dad used to give me as a child: Pay attention to what you’re doing! (I suspect he might have occasionally said that as a warning, or in exasperation. I was a child, after all.)
Who knew there were Buddhists disguised as accountants in Ohio in the 1960s?
Richard Berger, M.D., at the University of Washington, covered this point in his presentation at a cancer seminar I attended last spring. As he put it, mindfulness is “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Good concepts for anyone, not just cancer patients. Mindfulness enables you to feel like you’re living, not just waiting for something to come or watching your life slip away, wondering if it has any meaning.
I “get” the concept, but am not very good at it yet. Too many years of learning to worry and being “proactive,” as they say in the business world. It’s only recently that I’ve really understood that worrying is a waste of time (and an addiction). It’s unavoidable, sure, but you can get the worry under control. And you do that by being mindful.
Nothing frightening happens when you give up the worry and focus on the moment you’re in. When I’m able to do it, I find relief – space, lightness, breath — it goes by many names.
And there, I think, lies the secret of the fountain of youth.
Prolong your life by being present in it.