Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances,
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
But don’t move the way fear makes you move,
Walk to the well,
Turn as the earth and moon turn,
Circling what they love,
Whatever comes from the center.
Six years ago, I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. I had always told myself (and others) that, if I ever had cancer, I would go for holistic treatment. The moment happened very fast, however. The doctor called me herself the moment she received the results. She asked me if I could come in that morning for the surgery. I hesitated, partly explaining, partly thinking out loud in my shock. I was scheduled to teach a Continuum class that morning. The doctor’s office was in Santa Barbara, almost two hours drive away. She stopped me. “This is important!” she admonished, adding to the shock.
Please understand; I love this doctor. She was actually an osteopath who had chosen to specialize in dermatology. She had explained to me that she chose dermatology because she wanted to see her child grow up. She didn’t want to be on call at all times of the day or night when her child was little.
I drove to Santa Barbara that afternoon directly from teaching my Continuum class (!), telling myself repeatedly how healthy my skin was. As the doctor cut into my body, she exclaimed, “Look at this beautiful, healthy skin!” I was amazed! How often does this happen during an operation? I told her I had been saying this to myself all the way there. She acted like of course that had made a difference.
I then ventured to tell her I had been on a so-called anti-cancer diet for 25 years. Why had this happened when I had been Macrobiotic for so long? Again, I appreciated her response. She pointed out that the melanoma hadn’t spread and I didn’t require extensive surgery or other interventions like many people with this kind of cancer do. Perhaps Macrobiotics had saved me from a more severe situation.
I’m still Macrobiotic and still appreciating the apparent support to my health and well-being. I also still appreciate that I didn’t require extensive medical interventions. And I am still aware of how close I came to something else.
A Wake Up Call
You never really get over a diagnosis of cancer, or at least, if you do, you shouldn’t. If you survive such an event, I believe it is a wake up call.
Recently, my body reminded me of this experience when I wasn’t paying as much attention to it as it would have liked. I felt pain in the incision site where the ghost of the melanoma lives. Of course fear arose. Could there be something there? Could the cancer have silently spread, invisible to the doctor? Could I have been discharged from regular check ups too soon?
Fear is a natural aspect of life. We can buy into it and feed it, or we can appreciate it and seek its wisdom.
I found myself thinking that I wanted to live my life as if I had cancer. What difference would it make to know if there was a recurrence or metastasis? I could just deepen my commitment to live as if there was. I could listen to the wake up call, as if it were there each day. I could just wake up!
The Wisdom of Fear
Where did that expression above about seeking fear’s wisdom come from? It is actually a new thought for me.
Can fear carry wisdom? We tend to think of fear as problematic. When children or animals are afraid, they need to be calmed, soothed and reassured. When adults act in fear, they seem to be re-living a child aspect, allowing it to rule life.
Fear, however, can also be reality based. We fear the unknown, which is at times very wise. We fear what reminds us of harmful or painful past experiences or relationships.
An important part of our brains, the amygdala, specializes in identifying incoming sensory and perceptual information as dangerous or benign. If the amygdala defines the event as dangerous, a neurobiological alarm sounds throughout the body-mind. We have the ability to quickly make this evaluation and get of harm’s way when deemed appropriate. This is extremely useful, even life-saving, if we are stepping out into the road in front of a speeding car, or about to be attacked by a saber-toothed tiger or other stranger.
The amygdala, however, can also evaluate things incorrectly. It bases its decisions on the information available to it, derived from past experience. That past influence is not limited to what we are consciously aware of. Our early experiences, like those in the womb and our earliest days after birth, can profoundly affect our perceptions throughout life. Developing awareness of our own personal history can actually help to liberate us from its effects, as awareness brings us more into present time, stimulating different parts of the brain. When fear arises, it can be a message to us to pay attention, attend to what is actually happening now, to differentiate between what happened back then and our current reality.
The neurobiological flow of information is something we can affect through regular practices that facilitate us in orienting to present time rather than staying locked in the past. Activities like mindfulness meditation, Continuum Movement, and other practices involving honing sensitivity to the ever-changing myriad of sensations, thoughts, feelings, and images we all experience stimulate the parts of the brain involved with being in present time. When the pre-frontal cortex is well tuned and connected, the amygdala is less likely to control our lives or get out of control. We need not live in fear.
Meeting Life Fully
I feel grateful for all the practices I benefit from. My ability to orient to present time, rather than rigidly responding from past experience, is supported not only by my practice of Continuum and other movement meditations, but also by being a practitioner of Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy. In this beautiful work, I spend hours each work day, sitting quietly in subtle presence and awareness, orienting to slow, subtle rhythms expressed in all of nature, including my clients. My teacher, Anna Chitty, called our work, “meditation in relationship.” What a wonderful opportunity to be as present as possible with another human being! In the process, my brain, as well as my client’s, re-creates itself. This is how I want to be living!
If I had cancer, I would spend most of my time in these mindful practices, doing hours a day of Continuum, Biodynamics and other meditations. When not actively in those practices, I would have an intention to meet all that arises in my life with that kind of awareness, being with life as fully as possible. And, yes, I would be writing about it - another of my favorite activities, which also (I hope) benefits others.
Whether the cancer, my wake up call, took over my body or not, it would take over my life in this positive sense, each moment reminding me of the importance of being. Here we return to the realm of the embryo, a little being floating in fluid, with nowhere to get to and nothing to do except develop.
I want to follow Rumi’s advice. “Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.” I intend to “circle what (I) love,” allowing my heart and love to guide me, learning from the fear.