“UNCERTAINTY BRINGS US INTO THE PRESENT
The elegant poise of a martial artist embodies a state of readiness. At any moment an attack may come, a block may be needed, a swift move required. Who will strike? Where and when? Not knowing brings your attention fully into the present. Being anywhere else means you end up on the floor. Times of crisis have a similar effect: they wake us up and engage our full attention.
Bringing ourselves into the present moment doesn’t mean we lose connection with the past or future. We are shaped by our history; it is part of who we are. What we add is intentionality. This choice-making is our bridge to the future, as each intention represents a preference for the kind of world we want. Our intentionality endows the present moment with direction.
When Joanna was in Tibet, she received an important teaching about the power of intention from watching the monks rebuild the monastery of Khampagar. Once a major center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning, it had been destroyed by the Red Guards during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. A shift to a more relaxed occupation policy had allowed reconstruction to begin. This policy, however, could be reversed at any moment; there was no guarantee that the monastery, once rebuilt, would not be destroyed again. That didn’t stop the monks. They faced the uncertainty by bringing to it their intention. They assumed that since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will be built. You persist. In the long run, it is persistence that shapes the future.”
“Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy” by Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone
I was stuck by this except because it is so applicable to Living Well with Illness. We have no guarantees, so if we choose to adjust the angle of our view, it offers hope and freedom. Freedom to dream; hope for good health, a new drug, a remission…because we do not know the future. So why not?
And it is why Dr Itami encouraged his patients to live in the present and put one foot in front of the other. It isn’t a waste of effort. You are doing what you can do and what you love to do, as a way to live with those outstretched arms, today, with the hope of many more days.
My surgical oncologist stated clearly, on my first visit, when he said, “Trudy, we do not know what turns cancer cells on. We do not know anyone’s expiry date. I have been surprised dozens of times in my practice, by my patients who live longer than I could ever have imagined. So, when you leave here today, of course you will worry, but attend to the medical help that’s available and do what is most important to you, while you are still breathing. Make sure you enjoy your life.”
I know an amazing human being who is in hospice, right now, and as he wakes up in the morning, he rises to the particularities of what that day offers. He has no idea if he will see another day, but that doesn’t stop him from fully embracing this day and what he can do to cheer others on. It’s as though he has embodied the idea of surprise. What delightful surprises are in store for me today, and what can I do to surprise someone else. He graciously accepts help, because he knows he needs it and because he knows how he liked to offer it. He makes it easy for his caregivers and always with that smile.
The fear of death diminishes a little, (or not, we are all different) next to the desire to be fully alive, while we are still breathing. If we can free ourselves from letting uncertainty and the unknown hold us back, we can use our vital energy for what is in front of us right now.
And taking those steps, doesn’t mean it frees us of angst. No, you just bring the angst and uncertainty right along with you. Most importantly, you no longer let them boss you around.
Please be respectful of your dear selves. We are all different. There is no set of rules that will make it all easy and have everything turn out as planned. Not sure where that notion came from. We really can learn to co-exist with uncertainty.
Still, I am gently nudging you to move a little, say yes more often to what you like and no more often to what you don’t like. Smile more often. Extend a hand to lift up someone else on your worst days. Play music, sing along. What on earth do we have to lose.
Once we get that pink slip of illness it is a reminder of our mortality and our uncertain future. Guess what? All of us have an uncertain future, even those with perfect health. But those of us who got that slip received the gift of a reminder. We have a chance to “sing while there is voice left,” to say I love you every chance we get, and thanks to everyone we meet. We discover that we don’t need perfect health to live a meaningful life.
Okay, since you insist, here is a poem.
Right Here – Dane Anthony
In gratitude to K & G
Stop moving. Stand in
one place – this place.
Breathe slowly; in, then out. Repeat.
Repeat again. Let your
shoulders sink and relax. Unclench
your jaw; slowly close your eyes.
Listen for your heartbeat; really
listen. Feel it pulse in
Lessen expectations. Under-do all your
efforts. Requisition the time
for your soul
to catch up. Lean
into the wind; feel it
like a tree and test the ground.
Learn to trust the resilience.
It would be treason
to move quickly – left or right –
from this place. It is alright to be exactly
what you are, who you are, where you are.
Right here, right now.
1:) Thanks, Gottfried, for the photos this week on Gabriola Island.
2:) I am dedicating my post tonight with love, to CR; JB; JC, and DS. May everything be the very best it can be. Thank you for who you are.
3:) “The natural world around us is a source of friendships – realize you are never alone.” David Whyte
4:) Thank you to my kind readers last week who left thoughtful comments on my blog. I apologize for not getting my replies back to you.
5:)Finally, good night dear people. It is Jan 11th and may you savour these days. Find something beautiful every day to look at, read, and breathe fresh air, even from your doorstep, if it’s too cold to go furthur. I hope you know how much I appreciate you taking the time to read these musings. Best regards and wishes, Trudy