I tread a path with one foot in one world and one in the other and if you see either just my complaints and suffering or just my peace and curiosity you are missing a part. It’s both, it always was.
Miriam Grace 2017
I see it as if I’m prodding Death with a stick and you are all around me watching it unfold or even prodding it with your own stick. Some people can stand well back from it but I have a curiosity that makes me look at it. Sometimes it lies there sleepy and harmless, other times it growls and snaps it’s jaws and I jump back shrieking! It lies in everyone’s path, of course, but normal life helps us ignore it and walk on by. My current experience makes it much more visible on a daily basis and it becomes a significant part of the obstacle course each day.
Many have said how well I am handling this experience and someone the other day said I was handling it, ‘like a goddess’ which made me laugh a bit and wonder too what it was she saw because I don’t feel that way! My counsellor thinks it’s because I’m able to be both curious and articulate about the experience. My curiosity being bigger than my fear and my ability to express myself maybe looks like mastery of the subject?
My current experience is a limbo experience. As if I’m hanging in a hammock, held and safe in the Now. But if I put my foot down one side I’m in the Past, full of nostalgia for the good times and grief for the loss of my world and my life as it was. I’m not in the same house, in work, having an income, holidays, my children have grown up and that past life has gone. If I put my foot down the other side into my Future and try to picture where I might live, work, holiday, visit, inspire I have a proviso of ‘as long as the cancer doesn’t get me’ in brackets behind each hope. I think as time goes on I will be more able to dismiss my consultant’s predictions as simply that – guesses – and that I will be able to live out some of my hopes and dreams and do some bucket list adventures when I’m strong enough, however as getting strong enough or having time enough are uncertain (and the doctor wasn’t encouraging hope) the only healthy place for me is in the Now.
Now. People spend a lifetime trying to live in the now. How lucky I am to have this next lesson in mindfulness pushed upon me. It’s quite an experience to have my multitasking, superwoman life over and to spend considerable time not simply observing, but noticing and registering, sunlight, trees, skin, tastes and smell in a strangely protracted way as if these experience are sacred. In fact they are.
I’m so glad I’ve spent my lifetime learning to be unafriad of emotions – they do come thick and fast on this path I can tell you, but their intensity doesn’t faze me. I can own my capacity to navigate emotions and I can own my curiosity and courage to look at things, including prodding death with a stick.
I wondered for a moment if I’d prefer to be without these resources, as being experienced in therapy and meditation and contemplation of the true nature of Self (from my psychosynthesis perspective) seems to oblige me to a path of wisdom and grace – as if I ought to be like a goddess, as if it’s my calling to do this well!
But I realised it is still a choice. And what I want to express today is the two worlds I’m in.
One me in one of my worlds is resourced and wise and laughs at how seriously we take life and take ourselves. This world is very beautiful and amusing by turn and feels spiritual and almost detached. I feel prepared. I watch the autumn and feel every nuance. There are four stages of leaf on the tree I’m looking at; crisp and dry at the outer edges and then plumper nearer the trunk. When it turns dark outside my window and I’m still sitting here looking I feel an ache and a pain of ending and the sun having gone. I sort of like it too and indulge it a few minutes before closing the blinds and putting the lamps on and feeling the cosines of home, snuggling under a blanket on the sofa and listening to music or a meditation. Feeling how heavy and tired my limbs are and letting go into it. Tasting every ingredient in my supper, stroking the cat, feeling her transfer her weight from paw to paw as she walks across me, laughing with loved ones, feeling the support of an arm or a hand in a new way, without either guilt or desire but gentle acceptance. Seeing things with different eye. I’m on my Viewing Platform* and it’s sublime.
The other world is real too and it’s basically shitty and physically painful and tiring and I worry about money, I get frustrated with injustice**; I worry how many Christmases I may or may not have left and sometimes stress about this one working out ok. Standing and walking are painful. I can’t manage much, progress is slow and I have to cope with some rather unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. I find it hard to get out of bed, things get lost, passwords forgotten, my Twitter got hacked and sometimes I cry with frustration. I miss my long hair with a pang each day which seems superficial but it’s true. Sometimes I don’t manage to get up and dressed and the days when I do, which is 90% of the time, I have to be incredibly determined and push myself to get each item of clothing on and to do whatever exercises I’ve set myself. Last night a terror visited me when a dear friend was suddenly without warning admitted to end of life care when she’d had her all clear from cancer just 3 months ago.
On balance, with both worlds being true my stress reaction is minimal, I am so much calmer than might be expected, so perhaps I am appearing to handle this well, it’s not an easy situation to remain fully open and aware in and yes I am, but I’m no goddess!
“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always more bearable.”
taken from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
I tread a path with one foot in one world and one in the other and if you see either just my complaints and suffering or just my peace and curiosity you are missing a part. It’s both, it always was. The ‘both are true’ idea (similar to working with polarities in Gestalt) is something I use a lot in therapy work, you are scared and you are capable, both are true. When you acknowledge and talk about a perceived negative feeling or weakness (though I don’t like to call them that), think also about what else is true. It’s great when we are able to register and own our feelings, our anger, grief, fear, powerlessness, but not at the expense of denying our courage, power, love, insight, strength. Perhaps there is something right now where it would be good to say, ‘both are true’?
I hope it helps both of us when you read my blog. It helps alleviate my sense of loss around my role if I can be helpful and useful and it gives meaning to my wonderings to share them and I hope it is helpful or thought provoking for you to be witness to my experiences along this new and challenging path that I’m on.
Dedicating this blog to Yvette who died yesterday morning after I wrote this,
and to Dawn who is broken without her and supported by love as well.
* The Viewing Platform is a concept I came up with and use in my therapy work with others to describe a technique where we build a client’s unique and safe viewing platform through meditation so we can avoid retraumatisation but enable clear viewing of what is; observing without being ‘in’ the story.
** My Employment Support Allowance of £70 per week took 5 months to come through; my house purchase and mortgage fell through because I had no income; I had to move house because I could no longer afford my rent; I’ve been granted some Disability Allowance nearly 11 months after getting ill and they’ve decided to pay me from August though I was ill from January! In Derby the Citizen’s Advice Bureau has been closed and there are zero housing benefits officers any more. The frustrations of being kept on hold for an hour to speak to someone in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who then gives incorrect information don’t bear thinking about. I don’t mention this for a pity party but to highlight the terrible unjust state of the DWP and knowing full well that others who have worked hard all their lives, as I have, and paid National Insurance and tax, as I have, without the family support I have, are using food banks and have mounting debt, I’ve been very shocked by the system which was designed to take worry away from people who became ill and now is one of the biggest stressors sick people face. I’ve felt more powerless and anxious about the benefits system than I ever have about cancer. There’s a whole terrible scenario taking place outside the public eye that is so much worse than I’d imagined and I feel unable to gloss over this as I’d hate to collude with the whitewash. I am OK and won’t starve or become homeless, I have a beautiful view from my own nice warm flat that is clean and healthy and affordable, so don’t worry about me, recently I’ve come to accept that I am held gently and won’t be dropped and my spiritual world balances the harsh reality of the other world but not everyone has that luxury.