I recently finished The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. A very interesting and profound story. A sentence that one of the characters utters is a guide not only for the protagonist, but to all of us. “You don’t have to understand life, you just have to live it.” Mrs. Elm
I sometimes allow my mind to take over with its endless chatter while I just sit there wasting my minutes away. It’s like a social media feed going on in my head. Jumping from topic to topic, trying to make sense of world events and conversations with people. As a mindfulness practitioner and certified teacher, I know I’m not supposed to judge myself for this but, sometimes I do anyway.
One thing is for sure: there is no fix for this situation, because nothing is broken. I am a human being. My mind has evolved as everyone else’s, to engage in this chatter in order to protect me. This ancient urge still follows all of us. It is the most common excuse people give for not meditating. “I can’t quiet my mind” they say. Well, neither can I nor anyone else for that matter. Our minds have a mind of their own. Judging ourselves, as I sometimes do, is the hurtful part.
Our job is not to quiet our mind. It is to become aware of all the chatter. You then get to choose whether you want to relive those events in your mind or live the current moment that is unfolding. We are responsible for living our lives the way we see fit. Sometimes, it is just better to understand life than to do laundry. As long as that choice is made in awareness and not mindlessly.
Most of the time though, I choose to live the moment and get a rush of good feeling because of it. I get rewarded with perhaps an opportunity for an amazing photo of the Chicago River (above), or a sparkling kitchen sink, or clean socks to wear, or what have you.
Wishing you many rushes of good feelings and much love
American Psychoanalyst Allen Wheelis wrote: “Of two equally true accounts of the same life, the one we choose will depend upon the consequences we desire, the future we want to create.”
In my last post, I mentioned I was getting my last biopsy. I am happy to announce that the results showed no cancer. So I’m done! At least that’s what I thought at first. One doctor still recommended I get this high dose specialized Chemo drug as a prophylaxis, in case my disease returns and affects my central nervous system. After talking it over with two additional oncologists, and finding out I have 7-12% chance of relapse and no appreciable preventive efficacy of this drug (less than 2% difference between taking the drug and not), I decided I will opt out of injecting more powerful toxins into my body.
The consequence I desire, of course, is to be healthy and have hair for my daughter’s wedding in December. While at first I thought wanting to have my own hair was vanity, my doctor reminded me that it’s actually a quality of life issue. I’ll go with that.
The future I want to create is a healthy one filled with the love of my family and friends and the joy of my grandchildren. It includes the continued success of my two companies, both of which are built with love and on the premise of helping people. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that this disease will not come back, but the numbers seem to be on my side.
Life is a series of choices, isn’t it? I am at peace with my choice. Actually, come to think of it, I am at peace with all the big choices I made in life. How about you? Are your choices aligned with the consequences you desire, and the future you want to create? If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.
Today, I am scheduled for my 6th biopsy. In the last six months, I’ve been poked and prodded, and scanned so many times that I describe myself as a glowing colander. To get ready for the six hour fast, I woke up at 5:15 so that I could get a bite to eat and take my meds. I checked the sunrise time on my app, turned out I had just enough time to see it.
Lake Michigan is 1.33 miles from where I live. It is a great walk any time, but especially very early in the morning before the rush hour traffic starts. Of course the biggest reward is catching the sun rise over the lake. This morning, not only was there a yacht near the sun but a water skier too. (S)he was speeding toward the sun behind another boat.
Hopefully, I am nearing the end of this cancer journey. Possibilities of potential new treatments are laid out depending on the results of this (hopefully) last biopsy. One possibility is to do nothing, but watch and see if there is new activity. I like that one. Do nothing, not more chemo toxins to my brain, not some new therapy that can potentially kill me.
I sat on the bench by the lake and watched the sun rise, like my hopes for doing nothing. I watched the skier disappear like my fears of more treatments. I am ready for this (hopefully) last biopsy and doing nothing more. I am ready to end this journey. Even the little bits of hair on my head are signaling that yes, end of cancer is near.
There is always hope!
Well, it seems I was a bit ahead of myself in declaring that I had gotten myself a new life, almost to the day last year. Turns out, I’m still working on getting that new life. Between November 2022 and now, I have been dealing with cancer. It’s not over just yet, either. I am grateful that it is a curable kind, but the normal prescription of six rounds of chemo hasn’t cleared all of it. There may be more of that or other treatments in my future. I am feeling strong though so whatever this disease is intent to throw at me, I say: bring it on!
This past year was full of challenges but also lessons. I learned so much about myself.
I learned to accept, even ask for help. I was always proud of my self-sufficiency. But, at some point I was too weak to even shower standing up, let alone fix a meal. I learned that asking for help or support is only human, and I am human. I don’t need to prove that I’m anything more.
I learned I need to pay more attention to my body. I exercise regularly, so when I started to feel weak or fatigued, I just kept trying to push my body instead of listening to what it was telling me. I, possibly, could have caught my cancer before it got to stage 4.
I learned that all the meditating and all the self work I have been doing the last few years have enabled me to accept challenges as they come, instead of panicking or becoming their victim. Acceptance is the first step to overcoming challenges in a calm and strong way.
I learned that being bald is not the worst thing in the world!
Whew! What a year I had… As I enter my 65th year on this planet, I do it with gratitude and hope for a healthy future. I still have much more to live for and contribute.
For my 63rd birthday, I got myself a new life!
Out of nowhere and no one (not even the doctors) know why, my heart started to skip a beat. (No, I’m not in love in a romantic sense, ha!) My heart literally was pumping only half the time, even though the upper chamber was sending signals to pump regularly. Half of the electrical signals were getting lost somewhere in the middle.
My smart watch alerted me that my heart rate was below 40 at 4:30 one morning. I had been feeling a bit lightheaded and was running out of breath quickly for a couple of days, but hadn’t worried about it that much until that warning.
I am a very healthy person in general and I am in reasonably good shape walking about a 5K most days with short spurts of running sprinkled in. I do Pilates on Tuesdays and workout with a fitness trainer on Fridays. I do not take any medications. (Even the nurses commented that I was a strange patient with no meds.) So this episode was totally unexpected.
At the urging of the nurse practitioner at the urgent care center, I took myself to the emergency room. They admitted me immediately, put a pacemaker in the next day and I came back home the next. Wow!
I am originally from Turkey so the famous Mediterranean diet is natural for me. And, sure enough, my heart condition was not caused by any blockage in my arteries. Only electrical.
I am grateful to be alive, grateful for the technologies both for alerting me and for fixing the miscommunication in my heart, grateful for medical science, and of course grateful for the wonderful doctors and nurses who took such great care of me while I was in the hospital.
The H in SHAPE is for healthy.
No matter what your age, but especially if you’re of a “certain” age, please, please listen to your body. I am living proof that even when you’re doing everything right sometimes things can go wrong.
I vow to be more mindful of my body and never again take this such complex and awesome biology for granted.
How about you? How do you listen to and take care of your body?
This young man who works security at my building stopped me yesterday to ask a question. He said someone long ago predicted that he would be obese or a criminal. He said he still thinks about this from time to time. He asked if there was anything he could do to get this thought out of his mind. Now, to be sure he is neither obese nor a criminal. To the contrary, he is wonderfully personable, responsible, in shape young man with a beautiful singing voice that I catch if I am lucky to be headed to the lobby when no one else is there.
I have been reflecting on this encounter and thinking about the negative thoughts I used to have about myself in general and about my appearance in particular. I have done a lot of work to put those thoughts away, and for the most part I have been successful. This is not to say I no longer have those thoughts. I am thinking they will always be there because their origin goes back decades. My success is in noticing them and smiling at them. They seem to have lost their power over me. I am grateful!
How pervasive is this “self hatred”? Considering there are volumes of books and many poems written and countless meditations and Dharma talks given about it, the answer seems to be VERY!
How come we internalize these negative messages about ourselves? Perhaps because they come from the ones we love, the ones closest to us, the authority figures in our lives. Some of these messages are repeated regularly until we believe them ourselves. Some are uttered once but cut so deep that we can’t seem to shake them off, like Joe’s.*
Noticing that we are caught in a thought storm or rumination is not easy. I owe my success in this area to my mostly regular meditation practice. Meditation is really mind training in its simplest form. Thoughts will come, both good and bad. There is not much we can do about that. But, with mind training, we can catch them before getting caught up in them. And once we catch these thoughts they lose their power. I know exactly from whom I heard each of those thoughts, so each time I catch one I send a smile of forgiveness to that specific person. This is my simple practice in self compassion and it seems to work just fine.
My wish for you is that you too are able to understand your thought patterns and overcome any stale messages you have internalized. Whether it is through mind training or daily affirmations or any other type of practice, self compassion is an important step to get us unstuck in our thought and behavior patterns and on to achieving our goals and desires.
* Name changed to protect privacy