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Learning to Swim

Between getting the cervical cancer diagnosis and my first surgery, I went a little crazy. Maybe no one is surprised by that given the circumstances, but I kind of have been in retrospect.

We take all of this time to train in meditation, to get to know our ups and downs, to bring more awareness to the ebb and flow of life as well as our feelings and reactivity. We think maybe… just maybe… we have some sort of handle on something. Then a big thing hits and BAM. We find ourselves spinning anyway. What was all that time even for?

Well… imagine if I hadn’t done all of that training already. I may have slipped straight off the side and into the deep end without knowing any swim techniques. As it was, I still had things to keep me afloat, even if the water was just about at head height and I was on my tippy toes. I may be mixing some water metaphors here, but hopefully you get what I’m saying.

All of that said, I really did surprise myself in the ways I did not go crazy. Facing a surgery of any kind, I tend to be a bit nervous and scared (as can be understood). Anesthesia is no joke and having anyone take a knife anywhere (especially into the most sensitive parts of your body) is not something you wake up hoping happens on just any random day.

But the surgery was not random. I waited six weeks between my first procedure/diagnosis and that first surgery. My body had to heal in between. As those six weeks came to a close, I started to feel a rather strange calm. I was working with my breath in some way every day. The day of the surgery, I didn’t cry or find myself worrying too much. I took a few quiet moments to myself as I changed from my clothes to the hospital gown. Any time my heartbeat started to go up on the monitor, I tuned into my breath and brought myself back to a more regular speed. I hadn’t lost it completely after all.

As I’ve gotten back around to my Regularly Scheduled Meditation Practice (and not just taking the bits and pieces the day gives me), it has also been good to feel the roots extending again. This week, I’ll find out more about the next surgery I’ll have (“the big one” as I like to call it) and I’m hoping I can do things a little differently this time. As in, maybe not lose my mind quite so much to begin with. There are still hard things to come, but what an experience to see how it all goes and find out in new ways how the tools and practices and little bits of magic fit in.

Deconstruction

In thinking about writing this blog or posting anything on the e/u social media or Patreon, I kept coming up blank. Where do I start? What do I say?

So we’ll start from the beginning.

In August, I was diagnosed with very early stage cervical cancer. As you might imagine, this threw my world for quite the loop. My boyfriend and I were getting ready to move, I had had some other medical things going on, I still hadn’t taken my acupuncture licensing board exams, etc. Because we caught it early, we anticipated from the beginning two surgeries: one that would hopefully find the margins of the cancer and another, a hysterectomy.

Cancer was never something that I thought I’d face personally, but with something like 1 in 2.5 people being diagnosed with some form of cancer, it shouldn’t be surprising. Cervical cancer itself is a pretty rare these days with the regular use of Pap smears, but it still happens and (like many gynecological cancers) it often doesn’t have a lot of remarkable symptoms. After finding out more about it myself, I had a lot of “ohhhhh….” moments.

Having the word “cancer” thrown around a lot in your general direction kind of gets your brain working on different cylinders. As someone who planned to live for as long as humanly possible, what on earth would it mean for that? What does the rest of my life look like after this? I don’t want children, but it’s still weird to have to have the choice taken away from me because… cancer. What are the lifestyle changes I need to make? What sort of plans or “affairs” need to be put in order?

I remember that there was a very specific time when I decided that I didn’t want to die. My prognosis from the beginning has been good, but regardless of that cancer is scary. It gets you to face mortality in a different way. For the most part, I try to be at peace with the idea that we inevitably all must leave our bodies, but I had a very specific moment of “No, not yet.”

On October 5th, I had my first surgery. Leading up to it, I worked very hard on staying close to my breath, being prepared for post-surgery, and so on. The surgery went well! We found out last week that there were clear margins and everything looks good for my next surgery in another month or so. I’ve had some unexpected hiccups along the healing path, but no major complications. I’ll meet with my doctor in another week to go over the next step thoroughly.

Since diagnosis and all the whirlwind of other things going on (who knew moving was stressful?), I have stepped away from e/u to focus on life. What’s happened has been a bit of a deconstructing process. I’ve had to look at lots of areas of life and see what’s helping or hurting. I’ve had to find my willingness to accept and ask for help (from my boyfriend running an errand to friends bringing food or setting up a gofundme), which is not an easy thing for me. I’ve had to look at my own expectations of what a day looks like or what my timeline of life looks like. It is sort of as if every area has had to take a little piece from here or there to cobble together what life is for the time being.

In the deconstruction, my practice looks a little different now too. I’m meeting the moment as it is in a new way and bringing a different awareness to each day. I don’t sit as formally, though this is something I am steering back toward. It’s been an interesting ride and experience to find the places in the day where the breath fits, where the awareness catches. I watched my heart rate change with my own breathing while waiting in pre-op. My chanting practices have been with me throughout this experience so far, but I am also interested in getting them back to a more formal setting. I’m starting to further experiment working with pain, the breath, and visualization. I’ve had to re-assess what yoga looks like for now.

I’m honestly quite grateful for this taking apart and rebuilding. It isn’t the process I’d have asked for, if I’d had a say. I had expected life to look a lot different around now. But this is it for the time being and we do what we can with it.

So what does all this have to do with e/u? I am happy to start offering a little something.

I’m hoping to be a little more present and engaged on social media, the blog, and so on. But more importantly, I’m starting to offer individual meditation sessions. For now, these will be available via phone or FaceTime and run 30-45 minutes. I’m not setting a sliding scale for these, but rest assured that no one will be turned away if it’s outside of your budget (just contact me to schedule). Hit the button below to book a spot.

I hope to see your name on my schedule and to spend some time in meditation and mindfulness with you. As life continues to change, I’m hoping to offer a little more as I am able.

Take good care of yourself and we’ll talk soon. <3

Exploring Compassion: Part One

In lots of different circles, we talk about compassion. A lot. Compassion for ourselves. Compassion for each other. But are we just… talking?

Personally, I like the Merriam-Webster definition of compassion: "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."

Other words for distress? Suffering. Pain. Hardship. Problems. 

Other words for “desire to alleviate”? Wanting the best for someone. Helping. Kindness. Taking time to consider others.

When I teach loving-kindness meditation (also known as metta), we talk about the power of even speaking words for others with the desire to alleviate their suffering. May you be happy… May you be healthy… May you be safe… May you be loved… May you live with ease.  We talk about different people that you can do the practice for. Usually we start out with ourselves, move on to loved ones, neutral people, and then the “difficult” people in our lives. This practice can be really hard, but sometimes it’s still easier than some more active ways of showing compassion.

It’s become really clear to me that compassion is hard to come by. We could all probably say that it’s been missing for a long time, but the divisiveness we’ve seen really cement on a grand scale in America and around the world, the us vs them attitude, the disregard for others… There’s that picture of the couple in Trump shirts that say “fuck your feelings.” That about sums it all up, doesn’t it?

So how do we counter that? How do we try to bridge divides whether they be on that large scale of politics or in the more personal world of relationships and family? 

I might suggest compassion. 

The truth is that we are all suffering. I know that can sound like a depressing view of reality, but really it’s looking to embrace what’s really there. The Buddha taught that we all suffer and we do so many things to get rid of that suffering (maybe even wearing “fuck your feelings” t-shirts?) or to ignore it, stomp it down. Sometimes when we think of suffering, we think of underprivileged children in third world countries, but there are many types of suffering and varying degrees. Your suffering might not be like someone else’s, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or doesn’t deserve compassion.

So how do we even find our ability to be compassionate?  It’s a big question. What does it look like in life and not just talking about or meditating on it? How do we steer tools we learn in meditation or mindfulness toward that purpose?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m planning to share some examples — mostly from my own life — of searching for that ability. It’s easy to talk about compassion and empathy in the abstract, but in real life, it can be hard to even find the direction of the path towards those things. 

Let’s take some time to explore that together. Maybe you have examples that you’d like to share along the way too. 


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Hibernation

This past winter hit me hard. It was as if the disappearance of the sun had not only taken away any light after 5pm, but also any light in how I looked at life. Everything was heavy and nothing felt right. My motivation for most things barely existed. My practice was slowly disintegrating. I wasn’t focused on anything. I found myself taking things out on people close to me, all the while not telling anyone how I was feeling.

I know 2017 was a hard year for many of us. Personally, a lot of things happened for me. I left the yoga studio I had been a part of for many years. I lost a teacher when Michael Stone passed. I had new relationship hurdles to maneuver. I started into the second year of my acupuncture education. I was doing a lot of deep therapy work. I was still processing 2016. All of this as well as all the socio-political things happening outside of my little sphere.

So what did I do? I went inward and not in a good way. To start with, I let myself get so far deep into my own head that I was running on a loop. I didn’t want to do anything. I felt isolated and lonely. That constant loop of thoughts (something I talk about a lot) was a very deep rabbit hole that I fell down myself.

Sometimes when we think we know better is just the time when things come to remind us… Anything can happen to any of us. Even those who practice most can suffer from the pitfalls that beginners also face. There always seems to be a great equalizer at play somewhere.

Eventually, that awareness we cultivate in mindfulness practice finally started to break through. It became easier to catch myself when I was behaving against my own wellbeing. I was able to recognize the patterns, which I truly think is a first step. If you don’t know what’s happening, how can you break a cycle?

I’ve spent the better part of 2018 trying to break the cycles that 2017 left me staring at. Despite being aware of them, I’m still working through. It isn’t a one time and you’re done sort of thing. Just like in practice when we focus and then get distracted with a thought and have to come back, so is the work to break cycles in our outer lives. It’s the work of attention, fading off, and then coming back.  

The trick is to remember we can always come back, to not be hard on ourselves if we’ve gotten lost in hibernation and thought loops and cycles. It’s just a time to settle into our awareness and allow ourselves the time to do a little work.

 

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