Friday, January 6, 2012

A Warrior's Sense of Peace

"Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way we like to dream about.  The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don't get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It's a very tender, non aggressive, open-ended state of affairs."
                 ~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

One of the reasons I adore Pema Chodron's teachings/writings, is that she shines such an honest, gentle, light on the darker shadows of the mind.

I have been feeling disjointed - disassembled - as though the old me (or my perception of the old me, at least) was being deconstructed one bit at a time, just as my tumor is destroyed, little by little, piece by piece.

My external and internal worlds are getting smaller, simpler. And Pema Chodron is right - this off-center place is where I can open my heart and mind beyond their usual, well trodden paths.  There is a tenderness to it, too, because my horizon has suddenly been pulled right up close, like a sheet tucked under my chin.

Until I got sick, I don't think I fully understood my Ego's desire to fly from the mundane.

I don't get up in the morning with a head full of ideas anymore - for writing, or jewelry or adventure. My mind was often like a house-afire .. always groping and searching for the Next Big Thing. Anything to save me from Tuesday, from the dull, repetitive thump of my days.

I wanted to feel something extraordinary, or do something extraordinary, every single day.  Maybe it was to write that piece that would finally set the internet on fire, or have a creative idea that would launch my business into the stratosphere, or find more ways to spread the word about women and addiction - bigger platforms, louder megaphones, more ears listening.

Next, Bigger, More - those concepts drove me much more than I realized.  I hardly ever just woke up, stretched, and said, "why, hello, Tuesday".

These days my thoughts revolve around medication schedules, traffic patterns to get to radiation on time, side effect management, what I will (or won't) be able to swallow today.  I experiment with soft foods - banana yogurt is a hit!, chocolate pudding is not! - and gently move myself from one end of the day to the other.

I spend a lot of time waiting.  In my car in traffic, in waiting rooms, in exam rooms.  I've gotten really good at it.  I sit in the Radiation waiting room and study the increasingly familiar faces there. Sometimes we exchange a smile or a nod, as we sit in our polka-dotted johnnies and socks.  We keep a respectful silence; this is not a place to exchange symptoms, side effects or diagnoses.  It is a place to simply be.

Simple tasks like folding laundry bring me pleasure.  The fresh, clean scents, the making of a messy pile into something orderly - I am noticing the simple pleasure in these things, and they are a balm to my darker thoughts.

I am finding the extraordinary in the small places - brushing my daughter's hair in the morning, helping Finn sound out a word, teaching them a card game.  I know they were here all along, these moments, and sometimes I would see them, if I stopped long enough on my mad rush to the Next Big Thing.

But now they feel like little gifts, these moments, not something to get over with quickly.

And when the darker thoughts come - and they do come - I am learning to open my arms and embrace them, because I can never, ever outrun them. It's futile to try.
"To stay with that shakiness - to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge - that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic - this is the spiritual path."
                 ~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Although nothing about my life feels familiar at the moment, being ill is bringing me closer to my center.  It is forcing me to walk through boundaries, through walls that I thought protected me from fear and vulnerability, but really only separated me from true peace of mind.

As I slash and whack my way towards truth, shed light on dark corners of my mind that I never thought I'd have to visit (hello, Cancer Patient; hello, Pride; hello, Avoidance; hello, Fear) I am getting closer to a true sense of self, a warrior's sense of peace.


  1. Oh, you have brought me to tears.

    A warrior's sense of peace.

    That is exactly what it is.

    When you have struggled, and seen it through, and every ounce of you is just spent.

    There is this peace.

    I can barely see the keys here, but I have to tell you: I AM OVERCOME with what you've written.

  2. Oh, Ellie, this is just stunning. Thank you for the reminder to notice what is here. Thank you. xo

  3. Beautifully expressed. Thank you.

  4. Oh Ellie. This is a good one. This is a really good one. I am also in tears over here because this is a lesson for all of us. So cliche to say and so true. You really hit me with this "Next, Bigger, More" statement. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about with that and when I read this post, it makes me feel kinda guilty for feeling that 'cause after getting older and maybe wiser, I feel like I should KNOW that life is not about next, bigger, more but I still get caught in that trap. This post is a gift Ellie. Your writing is truly inspired I have to say. Thank you for being willing to continue to share your story because it moves me and helps me and gives me a fresh perspective on my messy pile of laundry. My heart aches for what you are enduring but wow - these posts you have been writing are gifts.
    Miss you and plan to party with you sometime in 2012.

  5. This is a beginning. A terribly painful beginning, but so huge in its potential. And you are shining so brightly.

  6. After being in the sun that shone so bright I couldn't see, I'm in such darkness. It's blinding but a frightening blindness. This isn't the safe place I was just in. Even though I'm standing in the exact same spot. If I just open my arms, the sun will come back. I need the courage to open my arms.

    You give me that courage.

  7. Ellie, what a wonderful post. Thank you so much.
    I agree with zeghsy above, you and your words give me courage.

    Prayers to you.

  8. That scoundrel Ann Imig turned me onto Pema and I now love her. And Ann. My wish for myself this year was to LET GO and BE THERE NOW because I too am NEXT, BIGGER, MORE.

    After Kirk Douglas had a massive stroke that nearly killed him he came out of it saying, "This was the best thing that ever happened to me." At the time I thought he was crazy but he said he finally SAW his kids, his life, in the proper perspective.

    I think you are there now.

    p.s. You're a doll.

  9. "but now they feel like little gifts, these moments..."

    thank you... this post is a little gift!

  10. "... Anything to save me from Tuesday, from the dull, repetitive thump of my days."
    Such a treasure you have inside of you Ellie. The way you describe those feelings, I just step back and say, "Wow, that's exactly what that's like!"

    Do you see the wondrous things that are happening in you? do you know how inspiring it is for the rest of us to see you go from that mind-numbing perception of the mundane, to "I am finding the extraordinary in small places - .... I know they were here all along, these moments, and sometimes I would see them, if I stopped long enough on my mad rush to the Next Big Thing.
    But now they feel like little gifts, these moments, not something to get over with quickly."

    Thank you for just being. You are a miracle.

  11. This is my first time to your blog and I had only read a few lines before I was immediately captivated by your spirit.
    "If I just opened my arms the sun would come back"
    Sending you much love and strength on this journey.

  12. Human being to human being: I love you, Ellie. Thinking about you.

  13. Oh Ellie. Look at you. Look at how quickly you are grasping the lessons, the gifts in all of this. The shadow and the light, you are seeing it all and bringing it to all of us so incredibly clearly, so beautifully.

    I found Pema on a similar stretch of my path - there is no better companion, in my opinion. I'm glad she has her arms around you, as do many of us. I'm so grateful to you for reminding me of these learnings. It's so easy to forget, to get back to Doing More before Something Happens and I have to Slow Down again.

    Hello Saturday. Hello Ellie. I see you.

    Love and massive amounts of Xs and Os to you.

    Thank you.

  14. This post reminds me of something I heard recently, a rabbi speaking on an NPR program about Jacob wrestling with the angel and refusing to let the angel go until he blessed him.

    You are dealing with all this in noble fashion, Ellie. Thanks so much for continuing to share.

  15. Hi Ellie, I think about you so often. I thought maybe you'd like to meet another warrior:

    Stay strong!