Serenity – Could it be yours, no matter what?
Mid-January already! So much to write, so much not written. But I am being patient on the path as I sort through my list and take my to-dos all the way to dones.
While I gather my thoughts, I thought you would like to hear from someone who is showing great grace under health pressure. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things (signed copies are available through her Two Buttons online shop), posted an update on Facebook the other day (1/14/15) about having to cancel a trip to India to take care of herself—take a look: “Trust the Timing of Your Life.” She was planning to attend a literary festival in Jaipur, a city I have visited.
Not only did the title of Elizabeth’s Facebook post arrest me—because I can so relate to her message on several levels, having canceled my own trip to India last year to take care of myself (story here)—but today I saw this lovely image of Buddha by WordPress staff member Cheri Lucas Rowlands, taken on her recent trip to Hong Kong, where she visited Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. I thought of Elizabeth as soon as I saw Cheri’s post today.
No doubt Elizabeth Gilbert would approve, and love, this image. She has quite a wonderful marble statue of Buddha outside her Frenchtown, New Jersey shop, Two Buttons (that’s me with the Buddha below), which contains troves of treasures from Asia, as well as signed copies of her books. And it’s right in my own backyard. I have visited the shop several times and brought home a few lovely items. My husband, who is from Mumbai (Bombay) and travels throughout Asia frequently,* was also very impressed and heartened by the authentic collection of mostly handcrafted objects from his favorite parts of the world.
Last summer, I also had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth speak during our Hunterdon County, NJ, tricentennial celebration (check the calendar for August 9, 2014). Now that we know the title of her next book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, due out in September, I think she was giving us not only a glimpse into her creative process, but a peek into her near future. She gave an inspiring, heartwarming, magical-yet-down-to-earth talk, adjectives that describe Elizabeth herself. Soon after, I read and very much enjoyed The Signature of All Things.
You can follow Elizabeth on any of her many social media sites. Do so—it’s worth bathing in the glow of her life, even when she is facing challenges. Her brand of serene joy leaps off of each page. And if you’ve ever had the delightful experience of hearing Elizabeth speak, you, too, will believe in magic.
Oh, yes—and read her books.
*In fact, he is leaving on Sunday, 1/18/16, for India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. I opted to wait until the next trip to accompany him to India—more about this later.
Also posted on Ellipsis Editing’s “The Art of Writing” Blog
Feeling Grounded When Your World Is Shaking
“…have a secure foothold when facing unexpected troubles.”
By coincidence—or not—my book group is reading a 2001 novel by Swedish crime/thriller author Henning Mankell, who wrote the “Wallander” series of books that were the basis for the TV series shown on PBS starring Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander. However, this book, The Shadow Girls (released in the US and the UK in 2012), is a departure in genre in that it deals with the immigrant experience in Sweden. The central characters are a poet and three women refugees from different countries. I’ve just started reading it and don’t know where it’s going yet, but near the very beginning one young Nigerian woman named Tea-Bag reflects on her father back in her homeland and his technique for dealing with uncertainty: when confronted with a problem or anything he wasn’t prepared for, he planted his feet firmly on the ground to “have a secure foothold when facing unexpected troubles.”
What a wonderful, simple, yet empowering image—tapping into your inner strength by placing your feet on solid earth while an earthquake is happening inside you.
Even if we are unable to physically stand on our own two feet, at least for a while, we can still use this image to go within and find the only true source of security: ourselves. Those of us dealing with serious illness—or any kind of trauma that knocks us out of alignment—need to find ways to right ourselves again. Even if we can’t walk, we can still fly. Anything is possible for the mind and spirit.
“My security and peace are within.”
I used the word “coincidence” above because a new three-week meditation series began today hosted by Oprah Winfrey and featuring reflections and meditations by Deepak Chopra: Finding Your Flow. Today’s opening meditation focuses on “grounding”—finding your sense of security within.
As a sample, I have transcribed Deepak’s reflections from today’s meditation below. This series is available online for free—click the image to go to the registration page. Meditations remain available for five days. Previous meditation series are available for purchase. This is not an ad. 🙂
TRANSCRIPT: We’ve learned from neuroscience that specific brain regions take on the functions of different areas of life. There are areas for the five senses, for emotions, and for basic needs like hunger and sleep. Meditation directly affects these centers, which is why the most recent research indicates that within a few minutes of a person’s first meditation physical changes begin to appear, such as [in] heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone levels. Each day on this journey we will use meditation to awaken a different aspect of the self by responding to a specific brain response. In the spirit of the ancient wisdom traditions, we will use meditation to find our flow in life. There is a wellspring of deep, quiet, beautiful energy within, and when you unleash it, it will begin to shape your intentions, shape your thoughts—and especially [shape] your actions. For centuries, the road to this inner world and its spheres has been through meditation, which allows you to naturally access its hidden energy. Today, we will awaken the flow of security, a place inside you that knows only safety, peace, and a sense of grounding. Everyone has the basic need to feel safe. Without it, life feels insecure, and stress magnifies that insecurity. We also have a core of stability inside that we can return to throughout the ups and downs of everyday life. Once you experience this safe place inside, you have found the flow of security, the core of yourself that isn’t shaken by outer events. Centered in this place, you can access a sense of safety and security—even when you’re having a bad day or facing a personal challenge. Today is about grounding yourself with the energy of safety, security, stability, and peace. As we prepare to meditate together, let’s take a moment to consider our centering thought: My security and peace are within. My security and peace are within. [Bracketed words and emphasis are mine.]
Speaking of security, grounding, footholds, and walking, Part 2 of “Do you always have to do what the doctor says?” will be forthcoming soon. It tells the story of how I almost became a cripple by listening to a physician’s misguided advice. I am happy to say that today I can walk—and that I’ve learned a valuable lesson, which I will pass on. Stay tuned. Read Part 1.
Illness Is Not Identity: Butterflies Are Free
“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to [me] what it concedes to the butterflies!” Charles Dickens, Bleak House.
If you’re not familiar with Bleak House, which is one of the most complex–and one of the most rewarding–of Dickens’ novels, perhaps you’ve heard this quotation in Butterflies Are Free, a 1972 film (based on a play by Leonard Gershe) about a young blind man, Don (Edward Albert), who rents his own apartment to become less dependent on his overprotective mother (Eileen Heckart). As she still struggles for control, he meets his neighbor, Jill (Goldie Hawn), a “free spirit” who inspires him to become his own person. After she tells him that the Dickens’ line is her favorite quotation, he writes a song about his spirit learning to fly.
For several years, long before I was diagnosed with and treated for uterine (endometrial) cancer, I have thought of the butterfly as a personal spiritual symbol. Many cultures and traditions turn to this beautiful winged creature to symbolize the soul and other essential aspects of life, such as metamorphosis. Few things top the list of shattering changes more than potentially life-threatening illness. Yet, even when it is serious, illness is only part of our life experience. True, it sometimes commands center stage. But in the next act–or even in the next scene–some other, deeper aspect of who we are takes its star turn.
By no means do I intend to diminish the supreme challenges faced by those who are debilitated by illness or injury or to dismiss uncaringly the anguish of those who have lost loved ones to terminal disease or early death. But the message of the butterfly is available to all, even to those who suffer. Because even if we sprout wings that don’t have the strength to free us from the pain and limitation of earthly life, they can still help our spirits to soar. If we don’t have the strength even for that, our spiritual wings can at least help us float gently on the soft winds of the universe as it continues on its infinite course, reminding us that we are part of all that is, ever was, or ever will be.
Having passed through the metamorphosis of serious illness, I think back to decisions I’ve made that both hurt me and helped me arrive at the place I now find myself. And I’ve had to face that many of the external markers of identity are now lost to time–reproductive status (first in menopause and now in the absence of organs), the joys and responsibilities of young motherhood (my only child is now a man), marriage and name change (one divorce behind me and a total of three last names), the comradeship of friends and colleagues (many losses and gains over the years), the pride and sustenance of career and income (gone and none at present), and so on. These things have shifted so significantly that at times I feel adrift in the cosmos, unanchored to earth or to anything that feels comfortable or familiar.
But these moments pass. And I realize that what remains after pseudo-identity is irrevocably altered is the emergence of what lies beneath and within, which can be surprising. Having lost so much, and having spent so much time alone confronting my very existence, I nevertheless have experienced an integration of the essential aspects of myself with how I navigate external life. I discussed some of these things in the March 14, 2014 post, “Reading & Writing as Therapy.” The message was simply this: Find, or rediscover, what you love. This tells you who you are.
It is my hope for all who face grave or passing illness, permanent or temporary loss, and terrible loneliness or even somber solitude that they can find their butterfly selves by turning inward to where they can see that the outward path is visible but ephemeral–and also by connecting with similarly affected, like-minded others, who can not only share their experience, but enter into it with them.
Just a few thoughts for the last day of March as I prepare to take THE PATIENT PATH in new directions. You may notice within the next few days that the URL for the site is now “thepatientpath.net” since I have just registered this domain name. I attempted to register “thepatientpath.com,” but a domain-name reseller had already snatched it up, I believe because visits to the site have increased recently. I should have acted sooner, a lesson I’m still learning–not only about such things as domain names, but about getting certain problems, such as postmenopausal bleeding, checked immediately (take it from me, ladies, and please reread the November 20, 2013 post, “Uterine Cancer Risk Factors”).
As we go forward, we will be addressing health topics in addition to uterine (endometrial) cancer, and some have already been written about in earlier posts. All topics will deal with health, healing, and well-being on various levels. I also hope that readers will feel free to comment and share their stories.
In the meantime, I plan to enhance the resources sections of the blog for the purpose of self-education and information gathering so that we can all continue to learn how to be the most important members of our own healthcare teams–and the stars of our own lives.
If you’re just joining us, learn about this blog from the first two posts:
- Welcome…& Please Share (Calling All Those Who Actively Participate in Their Own Healthcare)
- My Current Story: Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer (The Very Beginning of My Journey with Uterine Cancer)
Reminder from yesterday’s post: It’s not too late to sign up (it’s free): Consider meditation as one of the tools that can help you reclaim your sense of self and serenity. Today, November 11, 2013, Oprah & Deepak’s “Desire and Destiny” meditation program began. The theme for Day One is the eternal question, “Who am I?” The answer? “You are what your deepest desire is.” This is an ancient teaching from the Hindu Upanishads, and you have probably heard this beautiful lesson before: “As is your desire, so is your intention; as is your intention, so is your will; as is your will, so is your deed; as is your deed, so is your destiny.”
Download the Meditation Door-Hanger to sanctify your personal meditation space.