Tightropes

I woke up this morning thinking about how soon after I was first diagnosed with cancer, I went to see a lecture by Buddhist teacher Soygal Rinpoche. He gave us a visualization to work with that was about a Buddha floating over your head, who poured a kind of golden elixir that would enter the top of your head and slowly fill up your entire body, (kind of like a plastic honey bear). He told a story of a woman who was trying to find healing, and so she carried this visualization into her life. When she took a shower she imagined it was the golden elixir that washed over her and healed her, when she breathed the air, it was a golden air that entered her body and healed her. When I was sick, and since then, I have tried to work with idea. When I eat food, I take a mental moment to be thankful “for this food which nourishes and heals me.” It is hard to do sometimes, when I think I am eating poor quality food—which is easy to think, because when I researched about the causality of cancer, so much information about our food is bad news: Pesticides on the plants, antibiotics in the meats, mercury in the fish, toxins in the water etc. So I try to choose the best quality food I can, when I can–organic, healthful, prepared well is optimal. But at the same time, it’s not always convenient or possible and I don’t want to categorize half the world as poisonous to me—even if it is. Because I do believe our thoughts can help or hinder us in a search for balance and health.

It becomes a mental tightrope to have good thoughts and yet not ignore reality completely. This is not unlike living with the likelihood of disease. What is the phrase? Live like you will die tomorrow but plan like you will live forever? If I plan to live forever, of course I should be in school now. I will have forever to reap the enjoyment of writing, and to pay off the loans. If I was to die tomorrow, then I probably should skip it. Part of the enjoyment of a project like grad school comes from the idea of a goal at the end, if I knew I’d never reach that goal, then certainly I would just spend the last day goofing off with family, maybe writing a farewell note to friends—which is the kind of stuff you should do anyway, which of course is what the saying means to begin with. You should not neglect spending time with family, you should tell people what they mean to you. And yet, if you are going to live longer, then your friends will eventually get tired of farewell notes delivered everyday, they would like to plan a camping trip next summer or dinner and a movie next week. In everyday life, we are wired fro the future.

And then, what about the in-between land that the saying conveniently ignores? None of us will live forever, and very few will die tomorrow. Especially in the life of a cancer survivor, one is more often faced with the dilemma of “How do you live like you will die in five years?” Should I set aside worldly considerations, or do I gamble that maybe in that time I might achieve some small portion of what I’d hope to achieve in my life. Many poets and musicians die young, and if they had known, and decided to chuck the whole artistic enterprise because of that, the world would be poorer for it. (Although they might have lived longer after all, because often the art itself seems to be one of the main stressors). But to embrace this ‘cram it all in” philosophy, is like living an accelerated version of what is already our modern day stressful lifestyle.

For me, I guess the pole that I hold on to for balance, as I walk my tightrope, is gratitude. It is easy to be grateful for one day, or for more. One can be equally grateful for frozen pizza covered in salicates, or an eight-dollar, all organic green drink. I can be grateful for the air, even when it’s smoggy, and grateful for my loved ones, even when they’re pissy. This does not make me unaware of the differences between things, it doesn’t remove the obligation to make decisions. It simply changes the emphasis, and in some way that is hard to explain, that changes everything.

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