Both mindfulness and cancer are excellent ways to learn how to stop running through life. I suggest that mindfulness is more fun though. My cancer diagnosis forced me to stop running through a life full of wonderful people and events, a way of living that often felt too busy and at times overwhelming, however much I was enjoying everything. As I was forced to focus on myself, my body and my recovery, the external noises of my life dropped away and I found a liberating silence. The silence was particularly strong in the midst of the most painful times of the radiotherapy and chemotherapy, ironically the very aspects of the treatment that I had been particularly dreading. Grateful for my mindfulness experience, I coped with the pain by just focusing on my breathing, being aware of the gentle rise and fall of my body and the whispers of breath that tied me to life and to living.
Sometimes I heard whispers of happy memories, sometimes whispers of fear, anxiety, anger…. all emotions, over time. When you rest quietly with your breathing, you notice how these emotions rise and fall just like your body as you breathe. Sometimes the waves are big and rough, sometimes more like ripples. They all return to the water if you let them, and simply notice how the sunlight reflects off them in different ways.
So as I sit here twelve months after my treatment has finished, I am still making time to listen to the whispers of my body, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Those whispers are so easily missed in the midst of a busy life. We hear them, but they are fleeting and quickly lost amidst the furore of other thoughts and demands that are shouting at us from all sides. Yet those whispers provide invaluable insight as to what is really happening for us. They provide clues about what could make us well and happy. They are worth spending time with. It is worth saying “Pardon? I didn’t quite hear that. Now you have my full attention. Please explain what you are trying to say.”
Sometimes the whispers are fears and anxieties that can easily be reassured, as they are based on beliefs and perceptions that are mistaken. Sometimes they are important and true, and I need to act upon them. Had I listened more closely to those first whispers of cancer, maybe my experience would have been less brutal. The medics have reassured me that my treatment would have been the same, as I still caught it before it reached my lymph. However it has been an important lesson for me.
I chose this quote as inspiration for the Soul Nutrition website back in 2012, two years before I knew that I had cancer. I am glad that I was able to remember it, and allow whispers of better things to help me. I hope that your whispers help you too.
“We all need space: unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently”
– Octavia Hill (Founder of The National Trust), 1883