Learning to just BE with our cancer experience

Robert Frost said “The only way out is through”, and I feel that one in my bones. Some moments in our cancer journey are so painful that it seems like we just want to curl up and hope it is all a bad dream, just bury our heads in the proverbial sand, or distract ourselves in any way possible just to avoid facing it all. We might try to stuff our emotions and fears deep down inside of us, in attempt to avoid the pain of really feeling them. But it turns out that we can’t truly heal in this way. In order to truly heal, in body, mind, and spirit, we have to confront our experience and all of its parts, be they good, bad, or ugly. And I used the word confront, but I don’t mean in a confrontational kind of way. I mean openly accepting the situation, including our inner experience and our reactions to the experience, with curiosity, with courage, with a calm heart and and a big dose of loving kindness toward ourselves. It is only when we allow ourselves to really feel our experience, without judging it, just allowing it to be what it is, that a sense of peaceful acceptance can begin to wash over us, and some of those more difficult emotions just dissolve away on their own. I’m not suggesting that this is easy, or that we just take 3 deep breaths and then everything is peachy. This is hard work and it often takes a little time. And that time, while we just sit with our discomfort, with our suffering, our pain, or our fears, can be really difficult. It isn’t something we often do, even in normal life outside the realm of cancer. We humans tend to move away from suffering in any way that we can, often at great cost to ourselves and our healing. Interestingly, in this way, cancer is a great teacher. Because really, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get away from it. So it forces us to learn how to just BE with it. To just experience it all. And once we relax into accepting this, it is a truly powerful feeling, this inner strength imbued with a sense of peace, no longer struggling or resisting against ourselves. We recognize that we are so much stronger and more resilient than we thought. That we don’t have to run away any time something feels hard. That it is ok to just stop running, breathe, and face whatever challenge is happening. A tremendous shift can then occur, and whatever suffering was there transforms itself into strength.

Yoga practice trains us in this same way, as we breathe calmly and stay in sometimes painful or difficult positions for a few breaths longer than we would like, rather than falling out or running out of the room. As BKS Iyengar put it, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured”. This practice strengthens not only our bodies, but more importantly our minds, our will, and our resolve. We learn to really tune in to ourselves, just BEing with whatever our situation requires us to do. This is some of the magic of yoga.

So next time you are in utkatasana (chair pose), navasana (boat pose), or whatever your most challenging pose is, remember you are training yourself to breathe and stay with the challenge, to overcome the reflex to just run away, freeing yourself to be the peaceful and powerful warrior you truly are. Rock on warriors, and make your way through!


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