Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life May Be Short...But It's WIDE

During 2011 I found myself facing a prejudice. I remember the first time I saw that word in print. I was pre-teen and living in Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. My English teacher was Mrs. French, interestingly enough.

Mrs. French was a very intelligent, proper, black woman with a thin frame and well pressed clothes to match her meticulous attention to language and literature.

I arrived to class early and sat in my desk looking at this word (Prejudice) she had written on the chalk board. I tried to sound it out: PREE-Ju-DICE? It didn’t sound right. For whatever reason my brain couldn’t get what this word was. I was looking at it, but it wasn’t registering to my mind.

I called her over and asked my black English teacher, Mrs. French, what that word was on the board? I felt the warmth of her kind hand on my shoulder and her whisper in my ear: “Prejudice”. As soon as she said it, I felt flushed with embarrassment. I knew one of the most poignant moments of my life had just come and gone. There was no doubt that she knew the meaning of this word first-hand. No doubt.

We looked at each other for a moment, and I apologized to her; explaining that I don’t think I had ever seen it in print before. She gave me a soft smile and forgiving gaze and said: “That’s okay dear.”

On occasion I have reflected back on that moment, more so of late. During the past year, I have come face to face with my own prejudice as I have experienced breast cancer. I don’t like esteeming anyone or anything my enemy, not even cancer; yet as I entered a barrage of traditional medical treatment I was having to look my own personal prejudice strait in the eyes.

Of the kinds of cancer, I was diagnosed with the fastest spreading grade. It was also spreading in ways that were not medically usual (toward my heart, in addition to my lymph nodes). The limited time and concern of my family and friends (especially Tom), left me centered on traditional medical treatment...Thus my prejudice.

Before I knew it, I was in a giant medical labyrinth. Hoping for “healers”, I found mostly medical “technicians”. The Doctors seemed to be more trained in administering drugs, related to statistics; but here I was a living, breathing SOUL, sitting in front of them. I longed for an approach that honored my body, equal to the energy of the condition we call cancer.

The docs were attacking the cancer, but there was not really acknowledgment that they were going through ME to get to it? They were all good men and women, doing the best they could, but my treatment was stirring up a lot. I initially just griped and moaned about how I want to just get out of this “medical wheel” I had stumbled into. I wanted to speak to the cancer in my breast, and make peace with all the deep feelings and energies that had called me into this it would be over.

After one particularly tough round of chemo, where my dear friend Kathy had checked in everyday and listened to my wallowing, she and I made an agreement. Next round she should still check in on how I was doing, I needed that for sure. But when I responded with my lamentations as to all the challenging side effects and what was happening to my body in the process, she would reply, at my request, with two words: “For now”.

The For Now response would help me remember that all this resistance, this prejudice to my own experience, was only for a moment in the broader scheme of things.

Shortly after we started using the “for now” mantra, I printed out an image of a labyrinth. It had come up for me several times, in dreams, when I was teaching yoga class, and in moments of prayer, retrospection and meditation.

The Labyrinth is a symbol for THE PATH. Walking the Labyrinth is a meditative, spiritual tool for awakening. It is a symbol that is found in many cultures over thousands of years--a universal symbol for the path into truth and self-knowledge that dissolves the ego’s resistance of not knowing the end result from the beginning.

When I would feel my own prejudice to my situation, and think about the prejudice of others and what people may say about a yogi getting cancer, or facing medical treatments, or the thought of passing from my physical opportunity of raising my son, I would print out a copy and draw my way to it’s center and back out again.

In walking (or drawing in this case) the labyrinth, we will find our perspective is constantly changing. Our mind’s tendency to fall into old patterns is interrupted, as we are repeatedly lead into, and away from, the direction we "think" we are supposed to be heading.

In a labyrinth, our vision and body are never facing the same direction for long--a technique to coax the inner-knowing outward, and we begin to let go of our ego's need to anticipate, and start to trust that the path will eventually lead us into our center and back out.

During the journey we will repeatedly head in the four directions of east, west, north, south--a message that the support we need to take us through our journey can come from any direction, person or place.

Once in the labyrinth, we find no dead-ends to block us, nor strategic choices, it is not a maze, but a path to lead us into more of who WE REALLY ARE. It's no mistake that this ancient symbol resembles a cross-section of the human brain.

In a labyrinth, we find that we cannot go in the wrong direction, unless we give up entirely. For me in my journey with cancer, after spending quite some time in the “center”, and now beginning the journey outward into balance, I have felt my prejudices transformed into gratitude. I have a glimpse of what it feels like to relax along the meandering, smooth lines, drawing me back and forth, inward and outward. In this labyrinth of my life I am feeling gently nudged further and further along.

Every time I trace my labyrinth journey, it helps me feel a sense that I will be brought "full-circle", with new insights into who I really am, and the unexpected ways my path can lead me into a more exemplary, honest, and "well-lived" life.

I have a sense now, that what I will most remember about this experience will be your love, prayers, kindness (especially the wonderful yogi teachers that have kept things centered at Bodhi Yoga, Kathy, Frank, Jeanie, Twila and all my siblings that have taken turns keeping watch over me from near and far).

My prejudices are even softening into gratitude, for what we have medically available so far (for now), that give me the chance to continue a while more in this mortal life experience.

I would wish that everyone could experience the massive amounts of kindness, outpouring support and goodness that we all really feel for one another, when faced with the chance that we may not be here all that long. Thank you for having faith and a prayer in your heart that has supported me at a time when I didn’t have the strength to myself...What a powerful lesson I am learning from all this love.

Peace & Blessings


P.S. Feel free to use the labyrinth tracing to help you learn to relax and enjoy life a little more. In the words of one of my gurus: “Life may be short, but it is WIDE”. 

We may as well: Enjoy the “Wide”