Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy Belated Ground Hog Day

After Thanksgiving, Ground Hog Day is my favorite holiday. Few, if any of us have emotional baggage around this holiday. Those of us who celebrate it don't seem to be burdened or stressed by the rituals surrounding the day. Perhaps the people in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania are under pressure to put on a good show, but I'm not. Aside from re-watching the Bill Murray film which made the holiday famous amongst us quasi-Buddhist English-speaking philosophers, I utilize the day as a catch-up for what many people do during the other winter holidays. I take time to call people and reconnect, send people cards, notes of gratitude, or bake cookies. And like the character in the film, I remind myself that "I'll do it 'til I get it right" and that "right" involves accepting the present moment and being open to love.

I'm in the middle of my 6-month follow-up battery of tests. I should have all my results back by the end of next week. I promise to post a report soon thereafter and not make you wait with uncertainty and wonder. So far things look good. The bone scan is next Wednesday and that's the test I struggle most with in terms of waiting and wondering. Several months ago, my friend Terri Mason from Commonweal posed the question about how to sit with uncertainty to the alumni group of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She is compiling all the answers into a blog to share the wisdom and coping skills of this extraordinary community of people committed to living with cancer with a refined state of awareness. I'll post a link to the full text of responses when she's done preparing the blog. The following was my answer, which appeared in a longer form in a previous blog entry, but it's worth repeating:
My challenge in all of this is to remember I’m the same person I was before the CAT scan. This result doesn’t change my actual life; it just changes what I think about my life. I had an old Indian teacher who used to say, “Your mind is a bad neighborhood. Don’t go there. You’ll get mugged.”
This is the reality of this disease. It is chronic. It will most likely come, and hopefully go, for the rest of my life, regardless of how long that ends up being. I can’t help but want to be special, be a miracle, be an overachiever, be an outlier, and I don’t want to feel like a failure or that I am to blame if things don’t go as I prefer.
This is as close as I get to positive thinking. I acknowledge my desire to live a long life and to have a chance to re-invent my life if I ever go back to doing something other than caring for myself full-time. I want to have more adventures. I want to be with my loved ones and be a part of their lives unfolding. I want to be of service to people again someday. The intensity of these desires and my longing for life feels like my life force expressing itself. How do I maintain this passion for life and yet let go of what I can’t control?
I don’t believe in positive thinking because I don’t believe that thinking is the way to guide our lives. Positive or negative thinking is still thinking, and thinking is not the most powerful force in us. The harm that’s done is obvious when people get caught in repetitive negative thinking, but positive thinking can also make a person blind to that which they really need to be responding. There’s a fine line between positive thinking and denial. And regardless of what we think, our unconscious still exerts more influence than our conscious thoughts. I believe that people who say one thing and unconsciously harbor the opposite are ultimately at much more risk of serious consequences, because they are in internal conflict and discord and not in touch with the necessity of the moment.
So I let myself feel the disappointment, the sadness, the grief, but I don’t dwell on it. It’s like bad weather; it will pass. I try not to let fearful scenarios take up space in my thinking because they are clearly only one possible future. I also try not to dwell on my desire to have my life be mended, because my desires are not reliable either. If I get too attached it makes it harder to cope with not getting what I want when that eventually happens. Inhale. . . exhale. . . It’s good to be alive and breathing as I sit here typing on this Saturday morning knowing that you all will be reading this and joining me in being alive together right now.