Being diagnosed with cancer and traversing the frightening landscape of testing, waiting, chemo, surgery, radiation, more waiting (all of which are often darkened with the shadow of the unknown) can really knock the wind out of us. It can leave us feeling unsteady, unsure of ourselves, doubtful, fearful, weak, and alone. It might even feel like trying to walk in quicksand, unable to get solid footing or grasp onto anything stable, secure, or reliable. At these times, of course it is so important to have supportive people in our lives, such as family or partners who can offer a shoulder to cry on, and ear for listening, or a strong arm to lean on for stability. Also our sisters and brothers in the cancer journey can often lend some helpful advice from their own experiences. These are invaluable.
But my thought for the day has to do with the value of really tuning in and finding that light within ourselves that represents our own personal true north. The story goes that the Buddha, just before he died said to his disciples, “Be a light unto yourself”. Even though he had been their trusted teacher and spiritual leader, he encouraged them not to rely on the wisdom of others, but to learn to see it, each within himself. We can read a million books and listen to innumerable stories, but no one else’s experience is exactly the same as our own, and nobody else is in exactly the same place in their life when cancer hits as we are. Nobody else’s cancer is exactly the same as ours, nor is the complicated milieu of the rest of their body (immune system, hormones, metabolism, etc) or mind (emotions, mood, spiritual well-being, etc) exactly the same as our own. It is also sadly true that there may come a time when certain support systems are unavailable or they have their own issues and so can’t be such a help to us. So while it is important to have support from those around us, it is even more important to find the wisdom, clarity, peace, faith, and light that come from within us. We must find the light of our own spirit, no matter how dulled it might appear from the trauma of our experience, no matter how obscured it seems by our scars and the other changes in our bodies. Once we find that light and remember that it is always there, and will always be there, we can become comfortable with it, comforted by it. We can learn to trust our own light, our intuition, our true selves. And once we do, we’ll find our footing again, even in the quicksand, we’ll find a well of strength and adaptability that can handle any obstacle and figure out any challenge. That doubt and fear will give way and we will know that we are ok, even if the worst possible things are happening around us. Whenever hardship or grief arise, we’ll be able to tune in, to dig deep and channel our own inner resources for wisdom, strength, resilience, and peace.
The true practice of yoga, including all 8 limbs as originally described by Patanjali and as practiced by millions over the centuries, is the perfect training ground for developing this ability to tune in to our inner light. Yoga teaches us to cultivate attitudes and behaviors that are aligned with our highest selves, to practice breath awareness and breath control which work to settle the mind and the nervous system, to connect deeply with, understand, and appreciate our bodies in asana, to learn to center and focus the mind, and to really actualize that union of body, mind, and spirit. In all of these ways, yoga grounds us, helps us recognize the light in ourselves, fans the flames to keep that light strong, and keeps us connected to it, so that we don’t lose sight of it and lose our footing again. Or if we do, it won’t be for long, and we’ll be able to quickly right ourselves and regain that sense of peace and composure, confident that we can weather any storm. I know that this practice of yoga has done so for me, and that it has made an enormous difference in how I travel on this cancer journey. I hope that you will find the same.