posted by Amy on Nov 27
When my cancer was diagnosed in early 2011 I began listening to guided imagery and affirmations. One of the affirmations brought me up short. It said, “More and more, I realize I can heal myself and live, or I can heal myself and die. My wholeness does not depend on my physical condition.” At that time I thought the whole point was to “beat” the cancer. What was that about dying?
As I kept doing the imagery and affirmations on the CD, and writing my own affirmations and prayers, my attitude evolved. Focusing on cancer as “the problem” and thinking that getting rid of the cancer was “the solution” had its uses, but it was too small a container for all the things I was experiencing and all the issues I was confronting. A cancer diagnosis seems like a huge emergency, and it sucks all the life and energy and strength out of you for awhile. But I eventually noticed that I, like almost every other human being, had numerous, uncountable problems, of which cancer was only one. Some of them will never be “solved” until death makes them moot. Many of them are messages or opportunities that suggest specific responses. Some of them seem completely intractable. Cancer is a significant factor in everything else I do, think, say, plan, wish for, and hope for. But it is not all-encompassing.
Thinking of myself or any change in my life circumstances as a “problem” limits my options for responding to the situation. It would be so easy to ricochet from crisis to crisis without ever stopping to think about the point of it all. Or even if there is a point.
The point, as I see it, is healing and wholeness. “I can heal myself and live, or I can heal myself and die.” This mortal frame was never meant to be a permanent dwelling place. I love my body and what it has done and can still do. I take the best care of it that I can. But there was a time before this body existed, and there will be a time that I am no longer alive. I don’t want that day to come sooner than it has to, but there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from coming. All I can do is live as well as I can here and now. And the first step is radical acceptance of those circumstances. It is what it is. Now what?
More and more, I choose relationships, projects, activities, and plans that are life-giving. I know what makes me feel fully alive, fully engaged. I also know what drains me, depletes me, robs me of hope or enthusiasm. The touchstone is love. M. Scott Peck defines love as the will to extend oneself for the sake of one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Love is not a feeling, and it’s not passive. It is not avoidance of conflict. It recognizes the inevitability of conflict in any relationship and affirms that we grow and develop as human beings by learning to understand and respect difference. Love is a verb, an act of extending oneself, and that act of self-extension can be awkward, scary, or uncomfortable, but it is undertaken in the faith that it is our human destiny, as children of God, to love God, neighbor, and self. It can’t be a solo project. It is communal. But it’s also a matter of exercising free will. I can’t make anyone love me. And if I invite someone to be real, to be truthful, to step out in faith that we make the road by walking, and the answer is no, then I will accept that no and move on.
I’m not always sure when my attempts to show love come across as I intend, though I am getting better at simply asking the loved one how he or she feels. But I can tell when I’m loved. I can tell when my name is safe in another person’s mouth. I can see when eyes fixed on my eyes are warm and full of light, and when they are not. I can choose to go toward the light, and add my own light to it. That doesn’t mean every interaction has to be sweet and conflict-free. But I expect honesty, integrity, and authenticity from the other person, and I expect that my own honesty, integrity, and authenticity will be received in a spirit of kindness and good will. If those expectations are not met, then in the words of Keb Mo, “I don’t know what it is, but that’s not love.”
Will that make me live longer? Who knows? But it allows me to be open to all sorts of possibilities. Instead of narrowing my focus to one specific “battle,” I embrace a Universe whose guiding principle is unbounded love and grace. I am imperfect. I am mortal. I am fragile. But I was meant to be here and I am loved.