I met my friend for lunch today. It is a tradition we have maintained for many years. The two of us met at a mental health clinic over thirty years ago (hard to believe). It was before I knew of mindfulness-based stress reduction and we were both clinicians, young, idealistic, and eager to help people. Both of us had recently lost our mothers to cancer and we connected over this shared grief. My mother, a non-smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and died within six months of this diagnosis. I watched her suffer through chemotherapy and her fear of dying. I missed her presence in my life and was sad that she died before meeting my husband-to-be. My friend had two young children and grieved that her mother would never be there to see them grow up. My memories of this period were of unhappiness. I think I complained a lot. …and my friend listened.
During this period, I remember getting up early and going to the meditation center to cope with my grief. My mind was filled with negativity, regrets, loss and disappointment. It was hard to believe that this would pass. Sitting with others was comforting but practice was difficult and required enduring the states of loss and grief that arose in my mind. I remember being impatient and wanting these feelings to go away—quickly. I longed to achieve happiness but couldn’t force it to happen. My teacher seemed happy, could I? The meditation talks fed my mind with new perceptions and were inspiring. Misery and hope kept me on the cushion.
In time, my life and my perceptions about how things “should” be began shifting. I started teaching MBSR and working with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The clinic was still in its infancy but the work was inspiring. It astounded me how much transformation could occur within people during the MBSR eight week program.
After teaching MBSR for twelve years, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was then that I came to truly believe the words we expressed in class, “there is more right with you than wrong…it is possible not to suffer.” Through eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant and a close encounter with death, I was often happy, at peace and …survived. I am now as old as my mother was when she died. My friend’s children have grown and they have children. We have experienced some tragedies and many joys. I have had recurrences of cancer and I live with uncertainty but that too is a gift. It helps me appreciate what I have. I know I will die and I know today I am alive. Every day is a gift, things go wrong, things go right. Being able to return to this breath, this moment and be able to meet what arises is a blessing. I breathe in and note my nose is stuffed, it will pass, it is winter and the air is dry. I breath out and feel the flow of air and this happens without thought or effort. My house is warm, I am in bed, and the blanket on the bed, a pale green, is warm and comforting. The dog sleeps, the electricity is working illuminating the night, and I have the ability to write. Amazing. I savour the ordinary–how miraculous.
By Elana Rosenbaum