I’m thinking about times and seasons today. These natural transitions of seasons are like embedded mileposts marking my progress through time. I am home sick in bed today with some terrible bronchitis/walking pneumonia concoction. It’s not very often I have a day to lie in bed and the company of my pillows, the sunshine and the gentle breeze of the ceiling fan. My body has demanded that I take this rest, but usually when this happens, I think it’s also a demand of my soul. Life gets so busy and I love energy of it. I genuinely love the rhythm of life: working, caring for my son, caring for my home, spending time with friends, exercising and studying. An unplanned break in the pattern initially causes me some anxiety. I have thoughts about saving my PTO for vacations or my looming trip back to NIH for cancer follow up. I have thoughts about my patients and coworkers who count on me. I have thoughts about the finite time I have to spend with my son before he is 18 and moving out of the house. But today, 13 days into this illness, I’ll succumb to rest.
And that brings me to my central thought today, a soft reminder to myself to relax into the seasons of life. This is a lesson I keep learning over and over again. One of my lovely church friends is a woman in her 60s. She is in the process of being diagnosed with some type of cancer. Her diagnosis and prognosis are still undetermined. This is something I faced 13 years ago. When I went to see her, I thought, “What advice would I tell my former self if I were facing this again?” I believe this would be to relax. Relax into the uncertainty. Let go of the expectation that things will be clearly defined for you. As I communicated this to my friend, I saw in her face that this seemed impossible to her. And I realized my second piece of advice to my former self would be to be compassionate with myself when I’m not able to do step one. 🙂
The natural response, when life throws a curve ball, be it cancer or bronchitis, is to resist. Resisting is work. It feels like hustle. It’s the thought storm of “Why me?!?” and all its derivatives. It’s the 100 different five-year plans I churn through to get out of whatever situation. It’s panic or anger or confusion. Resisting wants to take action even when there is no clear action to take. Glennon Doyle describes it this way, “My grief is a solid brick wall in front of me. I want to bulldoze throughout, scale it, tear it down a brick at a time. I’m desperate to get to the other side of the wall so I can see what’s waiting for me down the path. But the wall will not budge, or let me climb, or let me remove a single brick.” I think resisting is natural. For me, I think it would be a pipe dream to give it up completely. But I’ve realized there is something beyond resisting, and the first step is consciousness.
By consciousness, I mean becoming conscious of the fact that there is something deeper and more powerful in me than my mind and my body. And THAT is the part of me that knows how to REALLY relax into something. To access it, I have to turn down the volume on my brain and be still. I love Glennon’s description of this, “I’m stuck in anxiety quicksand: The harder I try to climb my way out, the lower I sink. The only way to survive is to make no sudden movements, to get comfortable with discomfort, and to find peace without answers.” This, I believe, is the key to an extraordinary life. To be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being diagnosed with a rare cancer, with few answers at age 21 gave me a huge leg up on this lesson early in life. For some problems, there are no answers. There is only waiting. So for me, becoming conscious of the process has been key:
1) Curve ball is thrown.
2) I resist.
3) I realize I’m resisting and try to be compassionate with myself on days when this feels like the only option.
4) I relax into it.
Relaxing requires that I let go of expectations. It means that I get quiet and listen for the still, small voice inside me to guide my next step. The still, small voice is more of a feeling than words. If it’s sentences in my brain, it’s probably chatter. I’m looking for a deep knowing. It means I have faith that only knowing that one next step is enough. I trust myself that I will be able to access this deep knowing at each step down the road. I trust myself that I will be able to hear God within me. I trust that I am prepared for whatever is coming. I trust that this is the exact experience I’m supposed to be having at this moment in my life. This is my prayer—that we can all relax…now I’m going to take a nap.
PC: Megan Cook, sister, friend, mentor, confidant, iPhone photographer.
This is an insightful and well articulated life lesson, Michelle. I agree with you; being comfortable with discomfort is a key to an extraordinary life. I love it!