"I can't believe I forgot to pick up this week's farm share this morning!"
"I just don't know what to do with you sometimes Noah/Ana. You just don't listen."
"The train delay this morning made me 45 minutes late for work."
These statements (or something similar) have been heard around our house recently. Those nagging things that go wrong or other than we'd planned in our lives, causing us anger and/or stress. We all have them, regularly. There's no avoiding them – but it is up to us how we react to life's little trials.
Back in January, as I was recovering from my surgery, I started thinking about how I could live a healthier lifestyle to minimize the chance of a recurrence. I've been striving for a stricter diet of less white flour, sugar, processed food and industrial meats intended to make my body less hospitable to the cancer. I decided that a reintroduction of a daily practice of meditation to complement my discipline of prayer could do much for my mind. Beyond the chemo and radiation treatments, I want to be doing all that I can to help myself.
So…I just got back from a meditation retreat in Massachusetts. It was three wonderful days of contemplation, hard work and relaxation. Three days of basic and delicious vegetarian meals, wake-ups at 4 am and total silence. Three days of being totally cut off from the outside world – no cell phones and no leaving the grounds – to meditate for about 10 hours a day. The technique is called Vipassana and it stresses observing the reality of oneself by observing the sensations within the body. I had taken a 10-day course back in 1996 and this 3-day refresher seems like a great way to jump start my practice.
A key aspect of Vipassana practice is to couple the awareness of our body's sensations with equanimity. What that means is to be conscious of everything that happens within, and at the same time not to react to it, understanding that it will change. Put another way – in more colloquial terms – is don't sweat the small (or any particular size) stuff.
Interestingly, my cancer diagnosis has taught me to be equanimous too. It gave me a new perspective on what is important in my life. There were few things that got me very upset before and fewer now. If anything, it was the small stuff that did disproportionately get to me; being too hard on me and those around me about the little things. So much of that is gone now. I am attached to far less in terms of particular outcomes and have fewer expectations. I understand that there is little else but to roll with the punches. Trains are sometimes late, to-dos will sometimes slip our minds and kids will (should) act like 3-year-olds. All of which is much easier with the conviction that it is all part of God's plan and that he walks the path with me.
Another funny thing happened to me on the way through this cancer challenge…
I had always viewed time as a precious resource, to be maximized and never wasted. I prided myself on being very efficient. Multi-tasking was seemingly second-nature to me. I have always liked to have a plan. I wasn't neurotic about it, but good planning implied anticipation and a sense of control for me.
The diagnosis of this most deadly of cancers threatens to take away my remaining time and shatters my sense of control. You would think that every minute would become even more precious to me. And although it is, in the sense that I appreciate every morning more, I am running around much less. I welcome spontaneous upsets to my best-laid plans. I derive much more pleasure from a slow and simple meal or one sip of a delicious wine than ever before. It is actually my relationships that have usurped time as the most precious commodity in my life. Strange considering that a "premature" death threatens me with less time on this earth. Family and friends have always been very important to me but never as much as now. Maybe it is exactly the recognition that time here was never ours but merely granted to us by God – whereas, our relationships are, ultimately, all that we have and all that we make and all that we take.