Be the Change...
There is a story of a woman, Marissa Panigrosso who worked on the 98th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. In an interview, she recalled that when the first plane hit the North Tower on September 11, 2001 she felt a blast of heat come through her office windows that felt as intense as opening a pizza oven. She didn't hesitate, grabbed her purse and headed immediately for the emergency exit and began the descent down the 98 flights of stairs. What she found odd was that many of her co-workers didn't flee. In fact many of them continued with their work or took time to make calls, some even went in to a previously scheduled meeting. Why on earth would these people stay in such a vulnerable position in such dangerous circumstances? Perhaps some were afraid their colleagues would deem them over-reactive or afraid? Or maybe they figured the chances of a second plane hitting was unlikely? On the descent down the stairs several people went back to their desks to retrieve personal belongings that held value; for many of these folks it was a fatal choice to go back.
What would you do? I would have been half way down the stairs in under 5 minutes. No doubt about it. At times my reaction to things has been just that--a knee-jerk reaction rather than a well thought out response. Sometimes that has not served me well but in this case I would have been thankful. The general conclusion as to why so many people chose not to flee right away is because they're human. And as human beings we generally find change to be very difficult. To choose to leave without being directed to do so was risky; they probably felt it was best to stay calm and wait for someone else to make the call. When faced with chaotic circumstances humans generally like to stay safe by doing what we've always done before.
"We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we're stepping into before we exit the old one. We don't want an exit if we don't know exactly where it is going to take us, even - or perhaps especially - in an emergency." (Stephen Grosz)
From the moment that doctor in radiology came back in to the room, sat down next to me and with heavy eyes told me they had found cancer cells on a portion of the lump in my breast, I was forever changed. Just in that one moment worlds changed and yet, little did I know at that time my own journey of change had only just begun.
Few people go out seeking change, most of us want to move through our lives with the security of all the things we need within arms reach; a proverbial suitcase of tools ready to pull out and use that will "fix" whatever disruption crosses our path. But sometimes what unfolds before us is a circumstance or event that we think we don't have a tool for. What then?
This is how I felt at the beginning of my journey. I felt unprepared. Lost at sea without a life preserver. I was bewildered. This feeling intensified as I tediously and determinedly waded through all the mainstream medical information given to me in a pink folder at the hospital. I felt the impact of what was unfolding, landing heavy and loud, like a jet liner right in the middle of my life. Nothing would ever be the same. I would never be the same.
Things began to shift for me when I started to do my own research, realizing pretty quickly that I needed to re-frame my perception of everything that was happening "to" me. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. There was no denying the common threads of information that emerged from my research, it all pointed to one solid conclusion: I needed to change.
This wasn't about changing because I'm not good enough or not accepting of myself. In fact it was quite the opposite--it was high time I started recognizing all the ways I had unconsciously talked down to myself, filled my body with the food and drink that tasted good going down but didn't offer my body any nourishment, the ways I had limited myself from experiences in the world just because some voice (fear) told me I couldn't do it.
Girl, this shit's got to change, you've got some major spring cleaning to do.
In essence, I needed to change the environment that caused cancer to thrive in the first place. How I coped with stress, how I ate, how I thought about myself, how I processed emotions, how I loved (or didn't), my lifestyle. All of it.
Where the heck exactly, does one begin to excavate the landscape of one's life?
"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful." (Alan Cohen)
Writing about this now is like sending post cards from a journey I'm still traveling. But I no longer see my healing as a journey separate from the rest of my life. This IS my life and its all intertwined and connected. My life doesn't 'start' once I'm healed. Its all happening each moment and I've come to realize that one of the key components I've needed to implement--to initiate true inner change--is stepping in to relationship.
Relationship with my Self.
Relationship with Life.
Relationship with Healing.
For healing-mind, body and spirit-- is a two way street. It requires an active participation. I knew it wasn't just about applying a set healing regimen to my body and then waiting for desired results to take effect. This was never about grabbing a tool from my handy little tool kit and 'fixing' it. Of course that's what I wanted to do--what we all want to do when life seems to be punishing us--"Just fix the damn thing and let me get back to my life! Give me whatever it takes--a pill, a prayer, heck I'll dance naked down the street singing Christmas songs if that's what it will take to just get my life back!"
But I knew that's not what this journey would be about.
I had learned enough by now to understand that cancer is not a disease. Its a survival mechanism our body implements in order to survive the barrage of toxicity that has been flooding our body- (often for years before any real lump or bump appears). The source of said toxins is usually a combination of factors and this is different for everyone. (Environmental, emotional, dietary, etc.) I knew before my naturopath even told me. I think I knew even before I found the lump--the level of stress and 'survival mode living' that had become the norm for me was, well, it was no way to live.
So, was I going to continue on with business as usual, hope for a quick fix and wait for everything to return to normal again or was I going to race my ass over to the nearest exit sign and be my own hero?
"Cancer is but one of the many possible ways the body forces you to alter the way you see and treat yourself, including your physical body. You may either make cancer out to be something dreadful that leaves you victimized and powerless or see it as an opportunity to stand up for yourself, your values and self-respect. This inevitably brings up the subject of spiritual health, which I believe plays at least as important a role in cancer as physical and emotional reasons do." (Andreas Moritz)
I recently spent some time with a dear friend who was visiting from Colorado and for the first time I was able to talk with her about all of this. As we walked the beach she asked me, "So, I'm curious….what's changed? We've known each other for over 10 years and you've been working on yourself for so long already, what is different about the work you're doing now? How is this different?"
That's a darn good question.
Change is a process, it doesn't happen over night (most of the time), so I consider myself a work in progress. There were a few essential things that popped in to my mind immediately as I proceeded to answer her question.
Interestingly, there have only been a few powerful elements so far that have ignited a deeper shift.
Life style change has been a huge factor. In particular for me was dietary changes and how I cope with stress. Food and drink have deep emotional ties and I've had to navigate through those murky waters as they come up. And they do. But the stakes are higher and so my tendency to sway off the path was reinforced by my commitment to my body, to my wellbeing as it is now. My body's needs today are not going to be the same as one or ten years from now. This is what it means to step in to relationship with myself, with my healing, with my life. Recognizing my needs and providing with love the way I would a partner.
Stress. Indeed, something we all live with and accept all too readily in to our daily lives. I knew I needed to change the landscape of how stress shows up and is dealt with in my life. Single-parenting, finances, work, healing….its an ongoing effort of recalibration. Seeking resonance out of dissonance. I had to stop micro-managing my daughter. She has been going through a deep healing journey of her own and I've had to constantly seek the balance of being here for her but stepping back and trusting she'll find her way. Letting go. Surrendering, with so much Love.
Perhaps the strongest element I had to face with eyes wide open, was my mortality. In the very beginning, before the shock had worn off and I had educated myself I lived and breathed fear. But once I began to follow my intuition and choose the path I did, I knew I had to-- in the words of Lucinda Williams--"get right with God." In my heart I identify with the deep, rich spirituality of the Eastern wisdom traditions. Essentially, I had to authentically open up a dialogue with this divine force that I have always felt exists in all living things and connects and unites us all; God-spirit-intuition-universe.
"You have wisdom inside of you that is connected to Universal truth. Most of us are so busy running around creating the soap opera and drama we call our lives that we don't hear anything." (Louise Hay)
I needed to go to the source; I had some things on my mind needed airing out. So I went to the places I feel most connected; to nature. I began to talk to the trees and the ocean and it was here I opened my eyes and began Feeling. Connecting. Crying. Communicating. Surrendering. Loving.
This relationship is now one that I cultivate every day and has been a powerful guide to me. The quieter I get, the more I can hear and feel the guidance.
Facing my mortality hasn't only been in a deep spiritual sense, its also been an ongoing self inquiry of practical questions that I began to ask myself. Taking a look at my life and embracing the "what is-ness" of it all and figuring out what life truly means to me. What inspires me? What ignites me? What holds true and deep meaning in my heart? How do I want to live this one "wild and precious life"?
"Cancer does not cause a person to be sick; it is the sickness of the person that causes cancer. Once a cancer has occurred, its main purpose is to return the sick person to a balanced condition of mind, body and spirit." (Andreas Moritz)
While I was working on this epically long blog post I hit the proverbial wall and was faced with waves of doubt and worry about all manner of things--mostly the usual--finances, love, parenting. I felt boxed in, small, stuck. There was no where to hide. I waited out each day for some fire to return, some sense of motivation or inspiration. Anything but the discomfort of old muck resurfacing.
Then one day I realized I had fallen in to the trap of waiting which is passive; living is an action. This is the point where I used to just 'check-out', numb out, distract. But that is no longer an option and infact, its in these tender, raw, vulnerable moments, when everything feels "off" and I'm grasping for tools to 'fix it', that I most need to drop my internal agenda, let go and trust. Perhaps its not about waiting for the storm to pass before we're ready to open up and live again, but just a willingness to get muddy. Life is not linear; Its winding and at times treacherous and also magnificent and full of surprises. And in that swirling force of light and shadow, life is here for the living. Here for the healing. Here for the exploring. Here for the playing. Here for the loving. Warts and all. XO