Writing a blog is like trying to show your best face to the world. I’ve been silent these past few weeks because there is a lot of chaos in my life now. It began at the end of October when my oncologist’s office called me up and told me my liver enzymes were elevated and that I needed to get another PET/CT scan because the cancer might have come back. I had been feeling strong and joyous, feeling 98% my old self all through October, looking forward to continuing to gain strength and focus for the rest of the year. When I got that phone call I fell apart on every possible level, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
As it turned out, I do not have cancer. I am now six months into complete remission, and that is cause for joy. But my gallbladder is full of stones and sludge, so I’m opting to have it taken out, in spite of pressure brought upon me by a holistic practitioner to try and do a gallbladder purge. I’ve had a urinary infection for three weeks after three courses of antibiotics. I got my teaching job back at the University of California at Irvine (more good news since it’s hard to get health insurance when you’ve had stage 4 cancer and my COBRA is about to run out). But it’s a mixed blessing because I fear not having enough time to write if I go back to teaching. I have to give up now on getting my voice back naturally from my paralyzed vocal cord and choose one of the many options available to enable me to start talking loudly enough to teach a room full of 18-year-olds, and I have to do it soon. I’m headed to Santa Monica tomorrow for one last consult with one of the area’s best ENTs to make sure I understand all my options. In other words, there’s a lot of decisions to make now, a lot on my plate. And it all has to be taken care of within the next four weeks.
A Month of Chaos
In October I was writing poetry in this blog with titles like, “My Body Is an Archangel of Love.” In November there’s a lot of chaos. In December there will be a lot of surgery. I’m pretty depressed and anxious, quite frankly. Me! The eternal optimist.
However, there are precedents for this kind of upheaval. Unbelievably, I’m not the only person in the world to have ever felt this way, imagine that. Lately, I’ve been reading Pema Chödron’s book When Things Fall Apart. At the end of her Introduction she quotes her teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche, “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.”
As a woman on a spiritual path, who believes that God loves us and that whatever happens to us is truly for our highest good, an opportunity to learn things that can make us stronger and more joyful, I am choosing to regard current events as “good news.” A tall order, but I’m going to do my best. I’m choosing faith over fear.
Loving Kindness Toward Oneself
Pema also writes about taking a 12-month sabbatical and going through boxes of her writing. The one theme she kept coming upon was “the great need for maître, (loving kindness toward oneself) and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.”
Oh, boy, do I hate to look weak, to not always have the bon mot, the ultimate words of inspiration. But I don’t feel like myself unless I am writing, and these three weeks have been hard because I haven’t been able to write, haven’t had those glowing words of inspiration and wisdom to share. So, taking the title of another of Pema’s books, Start Where You Are, I will start where I am, which is here, in this place of sometimes fear, sometimes uncertainty, trying to do the Buddhist thing of dancing over the abyss, but stubbing my toes and banging my shins instead.
Living with Uncertainty
Lately, I’ve been reading books and editing manuscripts by people I would consider to be very “together” and very spiritually wise. Yet one theme keeps coming up again and again, even in the writing of the most enlightened and admirable people, “We are all afraid. I have been afraid. I am afraid, right now, today.” I’m not the only one. Whether we admit it or not, sometimes we get so scared that our teeth chatter and it’s hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I have a dear friend who shared with me another Buddhist saying, “We must learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.” Even though she knows it’s true, she hates that saying. She struggled with it for months. It made her head spin around 360 degrees. It makes me feel the same way. But life is filled with uncertainties, damn it.
If a Fairy Godmother appeared right now and offered me three wishes, here is what I’d wish for:
1. To stop worrying and put everything in God’s hands. To just breathe a big sigh and finally let go.
2. To be kinder, more loving, and more forgiving toward myself instead of beating myself up.
3. To be able to live one day at a time, seeing the joy in life and being more present with myself and the moment.
I’m hardly a font of wisdom now, but an idea occurred to me lately, maybe a way to get through those times that seem so difficult: No matter how hard life gets, there is something in our nature that is wild, that cannot be defeated, that is special to our essence: our One Wild Thing. For me, that thing is writing. That’s the way I can best show loving kindness to myself and best love others. That’s where the heart of my compassion lies.
So, no matter what our life challenges, our sorrows, or our griefs, we can just keep doing that One Wild Thing that our hearts long to express—in service to life. And perhaps a quiet joy is not far behind.