Monday, March 29, 2010

What Springs to Mind

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.
Rainer Maria Rilke

I marked the return of spring and warmer weather in an unusual manner recently. I decided to feel sorry for myself. Until just the other day, the world outside the window where I receive chemotherapy was rather cold and gray. That felt about right. Then, suddenly, the sun crashed through the window like a brick with a note tied to it that read, "What the hell are you doing in there? Get outside! It's spring!"

Thus began my first chemo-related pity party. While it's true that misery loves company, pity is not afraid to go it alone. Hand it a bucket of worries and you're ready for an all-nighter. To my credit, I did not let this go on into the wee hours. Still, there it was in all of its non-glory pushing me closer to the edge of "I can't do this anymore." While this was happening, however, there was a part of me that was able to observe where this was leading me and ask, ever so quietly, "Do you really want to head down this path?" "Yes," cried the chunk of brain that was still in control of most of my senses, "you do want to go down this path. Look at it outside, this is fishing weather; you could be on the boat hauling in a trophy-size bass!"

I decided to break this inner dialogue by mentioning it to my nurse, who had already shared with me that she had gone through her own cancer treatment. Quietly and with clear understanding, she said, "You're gonna feel that way, just take it one day at time." I didn't share with her that I was way past "one day" and was knee-deep in one minute at time. However, her words clearly came from that deep place inside her that had squared off with the same demons I was wrestling with now, and that helped pull me out of my thoughts. My mindless wandering interrupted; I was able to return to the practice of mindful breathing.

In this state, I reminded myself that one need not corral the runaway mind and, in fact, attempting to corner and trap it only makes it more dangerous. Through meditation and other present moment experiences, one learns to simply let thoughts be as they are. No longer fed by endless attention, thoughts move on into their own silent void. As the Tao Te Ching says, "No fight, no blame."

I would be stretching things a bit to suggest that the next warm, sunny day I'm in the chemo recliner or on the radiation table, I will be one with the universe. I will, however, use my mindfulness techniques to keep from going into my mind and into the empty caverns of "poor me." This way, I can save the pity party for a true spring ritual; having a monster bass jump off my line before I get him in the boat.