Growing up there were tornados, and there was the Cold War. Constant threat of catastrophic death in one form or another. I lived in a sleepy farming community and did not fear random acts of violence – unless you consider farm accidents, single car crashes and hunting fatalities as random acts of violence.
Once during a tornado I recall sitting in a long line of students in a darkened hall, back against the cinderblock wall, text book over head, arms wrapped around knees, a greenish light coming through the window. I still remember the pulsing panic in my chest. I dreamed of nuclear winter and had nightmares of tornados often during those days. If the end was going to come, it would come from the sky.
Redemption, and then Death by poison
Then in high school there was the harmonic convergence, an alignment of the planets that foretold the possibility for peace. It was my first attempt at meditation, in a summer garden profound peace surrounded me. A few years later the Berlin wall fell and it seemed that it might just be possible for life to be less bleak. In a hopeful rush of optimism I moved to Oregon in September 1990. A land of no tornadoes and big trees. The Cold War was finally over – and we could start focusing on what is really important – taking care of each other and the Earth.
Not foreseeing of course fracking and GMO’s and all of the other amazingly bad ideas that would take hold in the years ahead. Not realizing that the California earthquake potential is also alive and well in Oregon, just wetter. As in Tsunami wetter, our instability out to sea, via the Cascadia subduction zone. Not realizing that the desire to support healthy intact natural ecosystems was in no way universal.
My fear of tornadoes inspired my move to the west coast in no small measure. A choice that could be seen as moving out of the frying pan and into the fire. Irony abounds. This is when I learned that Death will come not from the sky after all, but from a long slow poisoning, or a drowning on dry land.
“That which you fear the most, can meet you half way.” Victoria Williams
Cancering entered the picture for me at age 43. A prime number. At the time of my diagnosis my children were 11 & 15. It did not come as a surprise, I had been struggling with my health for three years. A diagnosis is a certainty however, not a vague fear. At that moment I realized that the long slow poisoning version of things had just moved up on my probability scale.
The truly amazing community that surrounds me saturated our family with love at that time. I was granted a somewhat miraculous outcome to treatments. From stage 3C to Stage Zero, confirmed as a pathologically complete response. Cause of death became a bit more of a mystery again, if only a bit. But there is no certainty after that very certain diagnosis – there is always the probability of my cells again falling into a pattern of cancering.
If our fears of recurrence caused one, 100% of cancering folks would die of stage four disease. Even so the looming possibility is always available at the back of the mind. Because it is equally true that cancering is a leading cause of death. Recurrence does occur fairly often. There is no cure.
There is a difference between ruminating and the acknowledgment of cold hard facts. Falling into fears of recurrence is feeding the bad wolf – it is inviting that which we fear the most to meet us halfway. When worry and fear reach saturation they can lead to a swirling selfish whirlpool within. What is required is a special balancing act – to live with the realization that there is no cure, really – and that the important thing is to live as though there is until proven otherwise. This can be applied in so many other areas of life.
There may be transformation. There can be healing. I love the stories of those who live long happy lives after a diagnosis, as well as the stories of those who die with peace and grace, luminous with love. The goal of course is to have both – a long life post treatment with a conscious death at the end.
Three cards pulled from an oracle deck recently; Generosity, Gratitude, & Surrender. The spread struck me as spooky perfect. Maybe this is the holy grail? Maybe this is the path to Joy. Another version of grow, give, celebrate – three aspects of a purpose filled life. The Mary Oliver poem that I wrote about in the last post states, “Love yourself, forget about it, then love the world” seems yet another version. Surrender, forgetting, and growing are all called for, all are intents that let the dark visions of the whirlpool fall away.
These Times we Live in
Last week we traveled to the Oregon State Fair for M to show his chicken. We came back via the coast road and ate dinner in Manzanita. The damage from last winter’s freak tornado is still very visible there. It occurred to me that I haven’t had a tornado dream in years despite having one devastate a beautiful town so near to me. Today the air is filled with smoke from forest fires – the light is strangely golden- “sunset” the last few days has been a glowing red ball within a smoky sky. There is a stillness not often felt on the coast that reminds me of the sticky stillness during tornado weather.
Meanwhile on the world stage threats of nuclear missiles are being thrown around by leaders as if they are a viable way to address differences. We have come full circle it seems – a world in which tornadoes and nuclear strike are possibilities. And yet I am not beset by my former fears of those things. Fear, like happiness is an inside job.
The world is very small – we are given glimpses of all the many many ways of suffering. The wind and rain has risen to meet the gulf coast again – the hubris of the petrochemical companies is coming to bear there as well. There are horrid monsoons in India this year. There are ways and means to create things more terrible than I can imagine, there are natural disasters in ever increasing measure. To connect to that universal pain, to acknowledge it and then to choose to dig deeper – to find love – to consciously send light. This is an opportunity granted us in these times.
A matter of perspective
I can see now that many wonderful things have come from my choice to move west. It is here that I have forged a life, found my wonderful people, birthed my babies. The absence of all threats is not possible, there is no way to prevent death. Death as a certainty can be freeing. It can be a motivation to live more fully, and perhaps to be more kind. To think beyond ourselves to feel our connection to all others. While tornadoes may not have been a perfect motivation, life unfolds in beautiful ways despite all things.
Moving out of the range of midwestern tornadoes could be seen in a light of self care rather than as cowardice – who can judge? All I know is that when in the midst of overwhelm I lose access to the nuances of feelings that I need to make good choices. Perhaps my fear of tornadoes saved my life in ways I can never know.
Checking out and tuning in to kindness
I’m back at my meditation practice for now – after three days I am noticing a difference in my breath and how I am within my body. From this place I feel just a bit more clear. Meditation has become a signal it seems – when I set it aside is ironically when I need it the most. Setting it aside is a red flag.
Picking it back up left room for choosing to avoid sensationalized news. I still hear about things. Even without seeing images it is easy to feel the rise in pain and worry that ebbs and flows from the world. To compound the trauma of traumatic events by repeating the images does not ease them. I find within myself that seeing images actually reduces my capacity to take compassionate action.
In these times of intensity, it is more important than ever to commit to self love, so that you may then set yourself aside and love the world. For me that means that I am taking a news moratorium of sorts. My energy becomes too agitated and distraught otherwise. I become short with those I love, my resiliency eroded by things far beyond my sphere of influence. If I want to be a force for kindness for others I need to do so within- to actively make choices that leave room for more than fear, pain and puppetry.
Aiming for the Tipping Point
I am wondering what good can be potentiated when I choose to be motivated by the holy grail ideas from the oracle cards, namely Generosity, Gratitude, & Surrender. If even actions motivated by fear can have a good outcome, how much better might actions motivated by Love, and a desire to grow, give and celebrate?
In my time of greatest need I found comfort in the kindness of not only my community, but also by many many strangers. Kindness both material and spiritual created a miracle in my life. I want to be a force of kindness – to actively promote good. I want this because I know that acts of kindness are catalysts for that world promised by my experience during the harmonic convergence.
Take courage my friends. Gather close to that which you love – it is worth it. Draw strength for this effort to turn the world towards the light. The darkness is loud, there are terrible things, there is suffering, and there is the inevitability of death. Breathe into that, then let it out. There is beauty, there is Joy, there are untold multitudes of kind actions within the mystery that unites us all. Breathe into that, then let it out. Then choose where you want to live.
Update 9/6/17: The fire that darkens the sky here now is happening up river, the beautiful Columbia River Gorge is engulfed in flames. Portland is covered in ash. Which I did not know yesterday morning while writing this post. Today I am breathing into the heartbreak and praying for rain.
I broke my moratorium on news to seek out pictures of this special area I know and love burning. 27 years ago this week I woke up on my first morning in Oregon, welcomed by that same precious and amazing place. Sending fierce love there now, to all the trees burning, to the animals and people, and gratitude to the firefighters working to protect what they can.
Where ever you are, send love to the land. Hug trees, bless birds, give thanks to Mother Earth where you are. Strengthen the ground beneath your feet, call to the most benevolent outcome for all living things. We are all one. Love what you love and you love all.