Most of us have spent a lifetime learning to avoid, or at least ignore, the possibilities we would rather not think about. I know that I have spent that long---eighty years in my case---dancing around what I would rather not think about, even when I know in the depths of me that I, like everyone, will at some point come face to face with it.
And here it is, right in front of me. Except at this early stage it is not a painful, debilitating disease that has me stressed, but instead waves of insistent dread, gloomy mind-pictures of what it might become.
Though I have never thought of it that way before, my new situation includes hints of a new reality---a sort of psychological warfare. There is no doubting the cancer diagnosis, though I feel okay---except for the way my weekly therapy treatments are wearing me down---the expected result of another sort of warfare, bacterial in nature, being waged inside me.
But at the same time I am learning that even without the pain and discomfort of a more advanced cancer, the worry and fear that accompany such an intimidating diagnosis creates its own unsettling form of distress.
For too many of us the discovery of cancer carries the unspoken connotation of a death sentence, though we know in this day of modern medicine that is increasingly not the case. Still, learning that you are hosting such an unwelcome intruder is bound to have a powerful emotional impact.
But in fact, beyond providing the battleground for their continuing therapeutic combat, I have little control over the maverick cancer cells that have become a part of me. Instead, I am left to deal with the fearful premonitions that try to dominate my thoughts. Until, that is, I realized that as long as I concentrate on the “Dying” part of LIVING WITH DYING I will never get past those dark times. It is, I decided, time to focus on “Living.”
Hopefully the internal resources I have cultivated over the years will help me move past those depressing moments and deal with what comes next.
Predictably, my first reaction to the doctor’s blunt diagnosis had focused on the down side. After all, I could be facing the real deal, perhaps for all the marbles. What was the most appropriate response to that sort of dour prospect? When I finally calmed my distracted mind-chatter long enough to ask that question, I found myself turning inward---hoping to find the reinforcement I need to deal with the emotional side of my disease.
Truth to tell, I have been there before, seeking that same elusive help in times of more mundane crisis, the sort that everyone faces in the course of a lifetime. Now, however, my overactive imagination has me thinking in terms far beyond ‘mundane, everyday’ challenges. Truth to tell, I am in serious need of renewed hope.
I have spent a lifetime creating my personal understanding of what life is like. Most of us do that. After all, the concerns we deal with are universal. Yet now, in the face of new, unyielding questions, how can I be sure my personal conclusions are adequate? No matter how confident I am in my stumbling answers, the fact remains that never once have they been tested by the harsh reality of life’s ultimate circumstances---not the way they might be by this latest dilemma.
How could I know if my fragile answers would suffice?
Early on I realized that my muddled thoughts were leading me in circles. It was time to move beyond those ‘fragile answers’ and seek a connection with something more substantial. More to the point, I need to integrate that ‘more substantial’ part of me into the unsettling real-life events that are invading my world.
For most of my adult life my personal connection to that ‘more substantial’ part of me---the divine instinct which I accept as very real, has been through prayer. I suppose it is that way for most of us. After all prayer, in one form or another, is as old as our species. The range and scope of the ways mankind has devised to connect with and influence the Divine source it calls ‘God’ is truly amazing.
But of course prayer is a human activity---by, for, and about the person offering his or her prayer. No matter how we envision the God we are praying to, it is hard to imagine that He, She, or It requires our prayerful input, no matter how heartfelt or elaborate it might be.
More to the point, it might be argued that for all their other virtues our prayers, on average, are not all that persuasive. If an actual ‘prayer score keeping’ was possible, I’m guessing that most of our stumbling prayers go unanswered, at least when measured by our selfish, all-too-human intent.
The fact is, we pray for our own very personal reasons---to acknowledge our reliance on something beyond ourselves, to receive the rewards we are seeking in the form we want, and sometimes for nothing more than the way it makes us feel to connect with the Source.
I plead guilty to that, on all counts. I think of prayer as a hoped-for union with the divine that resides in me. I envision it as an internal dialog, where I---(1) hope to intuit the divine will, (2) give thanks to the Source of life for all I have been given, (3) express my intent to be an instrument for turning the potential I have been gifted into a worthy result, and finally, (4) remind myself that love is the greatest gift, to give and receive.
Beyond that I have no religious formulas or liturgical forms in mind. My prayers are not intended for a God who hides “up there” behind a curtain, pulling levers, deciding who will be favored and who will not. Rather, I am inclined to turn inward, seeking the divine that I believe resides there.
You see, by this time of life my admittedly amateurish soul-searching has convinced me that I, like all of us, arrived on this earthly stage with everything I needed to become the person I was meant to be. Whether or not I have made use of that potential is a different matter---the product of my free will and willingness to try. Did I mention that I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with that?
In any case, I know that I have squandered much of my inherited potential along the way. Too often I turned left when I should have turned right. For too long I was busy with other matters---concentrating on grand schemes and great adventures---places to see and things to do, escapades that would confirm my daring-do and make me feel alive. Truth is, it took me longer than necessary to stumble onto what I have come to accept as the right path.
More to the point, along the way my priorities have changed. In the face of my new circumstances and what I hope are more-mature thoughts, I am less inclined to worry about “daring-do,” and more interested in making the most of my remaining years---using that time wisely, wringing all the meaning (I call it ‘Love.’) I can from a lifetime of events, relationships, and memories.
Those are the concerns that have me longing for the deeper understanding I hope to find in what I am told is my soul. Is there, as I want to believe, a sacred spark of God-stuff residing there? If so, will I know it if I find it? Most important of all, no matter how I imagine what I am looking for, and whatever name I give it, can it sense my pleading prayers and respond?
So here I am, once again in pursuit of “my spiritual side.” I have tried that before, you know. We’ve all done that in our own way. But what I found there in times past is probably not enough to arm me for what I am about to face. That in itself is not so surprising, given the half-hearted extent of my earlier efforts.
What I need now is a new and more effective means of bringing that soul-based potential to the surface. Instead of waiting for a far-off God to aim His sometimes-fickle favors in my direction, my challenge is to facilitate the emergence of what is already inside me, waiting to be liberated---to carry on with the life I am meant to live. Can I do that?
Beyond that, the question is no matter how long the fates give me, how will I make the best use of that time? I tell myself that I ought to be more concerned about misusing the time I have, than running out of time. In a word, I want to believe that I am still “Becoming,” even in November and beyond.