Looking through my notebook, I found this piece I wrote last November, after Ellen Bass and I spoke at an event celebrating the publication of the 20th anniversary edition of our book, The Courage to Heal. I was struck by the sense of harmony I had at the moment I wrote it. I don’t have that sense of equilibrium anymore…
Sometimes, like right now, I feel happy. This happiness has nothing to do with any event in my life. If is as if I am sitting in a place of equilibrium inside myself. I imagine a hammock stretched from the tip of my head to my toes and myself lounging on it easily. There is no tension in my body that wants to spring up and do the next thing. There is no longing for something I do not have. There is no desire to make anyone around me different than how they are. I am satisfied, no pleased, with what I am doing in my work and in my life and for the first time in a long time, the first time ever? I feel as if I am in balance.
I have always had a to do list or two, a yellow legal pad that stays handwritten no matter how technological I become. I have always cherished the items on the list, crossing them out (and yes, I am one of those Type As who puts items I’ve already accomplished on my list, after I’d done them, just for the pleasure of crossing them out). The past few days, I can’t remember where my list was. Today I did not look for it to bring it to class. The list, which has been my constant companion is not with me and I don’t care.
There are a lot of things I don’t care about anymore that I cared deeply about, things which brought me great distress, like why doesn’t Karyn do things my way or why can’t I control the number of hours Eli spends on the computer? What I feel instead is a deep pool of acceptance, as if I am sitting inside my head, peering out through my eyeballs, my feet swinging contentedly, thinking, “What a great show it all is! Everyone playing their parts just perfectly!” I am not striving, wanting, needing. I am not feeling deprived or less than. I am not hungry for something I do not have. I am not looking for my life to be other than it is.
I have always known intellectually, by objectively looking at all the data, that I have a good life, but I have not felt it. I have not been able to feel it in each of my cells, normal or cancer ridden. I have not been able to know it in my toes, even when those toes are numb from chemotherapy. I have not known it in my foggy brain, but today I know it. I feel it. I sense it in everything I see, hear, touch and taste.
I spent half a century operating from a sense of scarcity and disconnection, 50 years of striving, and trying to become, and wanting to achieve and waiting for a better future. I spent 50 years trying to escape the bad, when really it is the bad, the hard, the difficult, the challenging that have been my greatest teachers. That’s what I forgot to say the other night when I was speaking at the celebration we had for the 20th anniversary The Courage to Heal. That one of the greatest things I have learned in the last two and a half decades of healing is that the most painful times of unimaginable anguish, grief and suffering, are the true agents of change.
Everything I did not need, all those unnecessary coping devices and habits, were scraped clean by the cancer, layer upon layer. And it is as if I am slowly waking up from this long period of limbo into a new world. A world that moves slower, a world that holds more wonder, a world that is satisfied unto itself, a world that waits with excitement for what is next. I no longer have to take my life in my hands and fashion it into what I think it should be. I have only to notice and to watch and to step into what is already in front of me.
For weeks, I have just felt a strange emptiness where all that striving and distress used to be. I couldn’t have answered the question, “What do you do?” or “What are you doing these days?” with anything other than, “Well, I’m learning to relax.” “I’m savoring being alive.” Or, “I don’t know. I’m just in between.”
Now that emptiness is changing into a glorious yet quiet sense of peace, a quiet where all the constant mental wrangling used to be. By doing nothing, I am achieving something far more profound than all the things I have accomplished in the world. I am finding peace by letting go. I am finding peace by meeting each moment with curiosity and acceptance and wonder. I am finding happiness sprouting up unbidden in the rocky cold terrain that used to be my soul. If I am to “do,” it is going to come from this quiet place naturally, not because I tried to manipulate or maneuver or create anything. I am experiencing the quietude that comes with a life without momentum
Wednesday night’s event showed me in a very graphic way just how far I have come. Today I am floating in the sense of ease that comes with a job well done, a life well lived, a covenant fulfilled. A cycle has been completed and a fallow field waits happily for spring.