When I was in yoga teacher training, I learned a meditation and visualization technique for overcoming obstacles. I found it tremendously helpful in helping me to find my teaching voice and to be more confident in my ability to communicate. I have been using this same practice at each of my chemotherapy sessions to aid me in climbing over the obstacle of my cancer. The technique is nothing complicated, yet I am always amazed at the insights I glean from this simple practice, and I am often surprised at the direction the meditation takes me.
I always have one full uninterrupted hour during chemotherapy when I am getting my Taxol infusion, so I put on some headphones, lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and start with a simple survey of the body, systematically relaxing everything from head down to toes. I then follow my breath, letting it become even and relaxed.
The meditation begins as I visualize a garden gate. This gate will open only for me. Nobody else is allowed in my garden, and the gate is sealed behind me. I follow the pathways of the garden that lead me to a set of stairs that brings me to the door of a room. Sometimes the stairs go up, sometimes they go down. Again, the door to this room can only be opened with a key that I possess or with the touch of my hand. Most of the time when I do this meditation the room is not very fleshed out. It's usually a little bit like the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry momentarily dies and is in a very white soft looking version of Kings Cross Station. There is always a set of french doors in my room that open to the world. At this point, I visualize whatever my obstacle is and hold it in my hands. I then throw the obstacle out the window and watch it fall away.
When I first started doing this meditation at my initial chemotherapy sessions, my cancer manifested itself as a black, gooey, tar-like substance that covered my hands and was so sticky, that there was no way I could simply throw it out the window. I had to enlist the help of a brilliant and cleansing stream of liquid light that helped to take it away and wash my hands clean.
Each week, the visualization of the cancer in my hands has changed. It has become less sticky over time, and just a little easier to release out into the world. This week, however, was different. This week, the cancer was not black or sticky. It was relatively easy to handle, more like a smooth, malleable clay that I formed into small balls. This time I didn't throw them all out the window but I instead put them in a woven basket. As I placed them in the basket, I had a startling realization. I knew at that moment, that the real obstacle at this point was not my cancer. There was something else that needed to be released.
I have been, without fully realizing it, mourning the loss of the me that was "before metastatic cancer". I am no longer that person who can just eat or drink something without thinking too much about how it will impact cancer growth. I am no longer that person who can confidently put age 92 in her retirement planning calculator. I am no longer that person who beat cancer. All the plans I had for that person are now shrouded in uncertainty. I was pretty attached to that person and the plans I had made for her.
I recognized in that moment that I was suffering because of the attachments and the expectations that I had for myself. I had to allow myself to let go of my attachment to those plans, and I had to embrace the idea of simply walking the path each day as it unfolds. I was reminded that none of us is guaranteed a thing. We suffer because we try to hold onto that which has no permanence, that which has no guarantees.
So, I held in my hands the hurt, the pain, and the sorrow of lost expectations, and I rolled them into little heavy balls and put them into my basket. There was the cancer, the sorrow, and the expectations, all nestled in the basket, waiting for me to figure out how to release them out the window. I didn't quite know how to let them go, so I walked to the window and held the basket in my arms, contemplating what to do.
At that moment, an elderly grandmother of sorts came to my window. She was a beautiful old woman with long gray hair framing her face and kind eyes full of wisdom. She took my basket from me. She gave me a hug, smiled at me and touched my cheek, and then disappeared with my basket in hand. I don't know who she was, or what she represents, but I felt the weight of those attachments disappear. I walked out of my garden feeling the sun shine on me, and a deep peace within me. I even found myself with a little spring in my step all afternoon.
It is entirely possible that I may beat cancer again. It is entirely possible that I will live to age 92 or beyond. I am still making plans for the future even though I don't have, and have never had, any guarantees. None of us do. But what we do have is today. We do have this moment right here, right now. We do have the sweet ability to breathe in and breathe out. Whatever happens, we can live our lives as well as we possibly can today. We don't have to be so intent on a destination. We can just travel lightly and enjoy the view on the journey. Maybe we'll arrive at a place that is better than what we had expected.