“act as if”

Yesterday one of my beloved students told me she has breast cancer.  Tears welled up in her eyes… she shook her head gently as if to deny its reality.  My heart sank into my stomach.  I was speechless.  First thing I thought of was Norman Cousins and his work with laughter as a healing miracle.  I wrote down his name for her, as she’d asked, still searching for something to do or say.  I advised her to listen to her heart, to do what it’s been whispering for her to do, and to aim to be lighthearted and laugh as much as possible.  She said she’s going to go begin radiation therapy and chemotherapy.  I commend her for her courage and willingness to share with me.  I love that she came to yoga anyway.  She radiates a quiet strength. The focus and devotion of her practice was deeply touching to witness.

It really got me thinking:  What would I do if I was told I had cancer?  How would I respond?
As I have been taught, the mind is so powerful that it can determine our mental and physical health.  From my brief college course in psychoneuroimmunology, I learned the critical nature of our thoughts.  Various studies demonstrate how positive thinking leads to good health and negative thinking leads to the inverse.  Of course, this is drastically oversimplified.  And in no way do I support the idea that the patient is “at fault” for their disease.  Absolutely not!  That thinking will exacerbate the problem tremendously!  Rather, it’s about empowerment!  And that’s a huge part of why I love yoga so much.  Stepping onto the yoga mat empowers me to heal myself.  In a yoga class or studying yoga scriptures or especially meditating and practicing breathing exercises, I learn skills to become more self-aware.  When I am aware of myself, I face myself— I’m not hiding anything in any dark nooks within.  That’s how problems start, it seems.
Before I moved to Tucson I was living a fine life, and I’m grateful for everything that has come before because it has led me to where I currently am (and my life is so beautiful today).  However, I was not following my heart, honoring my Truth.  I felt stuck in some addictive patterns and painfully un-empowered to make positive and lasting change.  It’s very important the company you keep, my teachers told me.  Douglas Brooks, (perhaps quoting another great teacher… maybe Swami Muktananda…)said, “You are the company you keep, so keep great company.”  I was surrounding myself with others who were stuck in addictive cycles and we all “co-signed each other’s bullshit.”  (please forgive the fowl language)  A documentary I watched said how crabs can all be in a big bowl or bucket and when one tries to climb out the others will pull him back in!  Poor lil crabby.  That’s how it was.
One day I noticed a lump in my right breast.  “Huh…”  I thought, “Interesting…”  And I treated it how I treated many things— ignored it, assuming that it would go away.  It didn’t.  As the days passed the lump grew and became increasingly bothersome.  Finally, I decided I should take some action.  I jumped through many hoops to get on medical insurance, waited the necessary time frame, called to schedule a mammogram, and then they said that I have to be referred by a doctor… blink blink…  So then I had to find a doctor and make a doctor’s appointment in order to get a referral… In the midst of all of this I received an invitation to move to Tucson to work at a studio with my beloved teacher.  I was so honored to be thought of, let alone invited!  After much hesitation and deliberation I decided to move to Tucson to work at his new studio.  Not long after, (despite the discomfort of leaving all that I’d known and established for myself during my 10 year stay in Flagstaff) the pain and lump in my breast disappeared.  Coincidence?  Perhaps…  But I think our bodies are communicating with us.  Some of us (like me) are quite stubborn and need something louder to get our attention.  (These are just my musings.  I mean no offense to anyone at all.  This is just my experience)
This leads me back to making a new list:  The “live-like-I-was-dying” list.  What are the things I would want to do if I was told I had a year (or insert time frame) to live?
I’d still do a lot of the things I already do:  meditate, practice asana, read, write, paint… (the latter two have sprung up lately as a result of receiving orders to rest… that’s usually what I need in order to rest… unfortunately, outside insistence or an injury… usually both.)
The busy-busy, hurry-hurry of our lives (or what is supposed to be our lives) usually keeps us from really living in the way we really “want to” or dream of.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We only think this is the way it has to be and thus, our current situation.  (I’m speaking in a lot of “we’s” and “ours,” but you may have your stuff together already and are manifesting the life of your dreams, in which case, high five!  Way to go!  Thanks for your great example.)
The major difference, is that I would feel a sense of urgency to do all those things I’ve been putting off.  Suddenly I would realize what’s most important.  I wouldn’t need anymore damn Lululemon pants… can’t take ‘em with me.  Haha…  I’d want to spend time with special people like my sisters or my parents.  I’d want to apologize and ask for forgiveness from certain people and forgive certain others.  I’d go hang out on the beach, and not care one bit about what any body thought about my body in a bikini…  I’d ride roller coasters, go to water parks and play on the water slides. I’d giggle as often as I could.  I’d get lots n lots n lots of massages!  I’d walk my new2doggies, keep trying to teach them to “stay” after they “sit” because I like interacting with them in that way and I l enjoy how happy they get receiving the treats.  I’d watch more sunsets and sunrises; I’d sit and do nothing; I’d sing; I’d offer love and generosity as much as I could.
So, why not do it all now?  One of my teachers, D.R.Butler recommends that we “act as if” we were already enlightened.  I suppose the same applies here.  Instead of waiting for the threat of your own inevitable mortality to motivate you to live the life of your dreams, we can “act as if,” and open our eyes to the gift of this present moment, just as it is.

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