In five days I will celebrate the amputation of my breasts in a double mastectomy. I will probably send flowers to my surgeon, Dr. Michelle Ley, for saving my life from breast cancer and then spend the day crying. I can’t image what else could be more appropriate. Maybe I will also spend some time with Charlie, perhaps smearing some of his ashes (and ancient Indian tradition of remembering one’s own mortality) on my scars that will never heal.
Here’s what I won’t do. I won’t “meditate.” Not on a cushion with my eyes closed and ear plugs blocking out sounds. I will not try to turn off the world in order to go “in” to meditation.
I spent seven years, some of those in India and Tibet, some in a dusty remote desert retreat—all of which were beautiful. I have studied, practiced, and then taught the art of meditation.
It was always called a “practice.”
Some 30 of my friends this weekend emerged from a three-year, three-month, and three-day meditation retreat. During which they not only “practiced,” but lived the dharma (Buddhist teaching). I didn’t go.
Instead, I stayed “out” here. I stayed to first practice and then LIVE the dharma. And this is what I learned . . .
Life is suffering. Life is painful, ugly, grotesque. Life is cancer eating my beloved husband’s body to the point that he could neither walk nor feed himself. Life is cleaning bloody feces from his body. Life is drains plugged into my chest excreting bloody puss from surgical wounds.
I realize I may sound a little cynical—give me a few moments, and I’ll make up for it.
Most of those who read this know the story, so I won’t recap it again here (the earlier posts on this blog reveal my struggles).
And while I will not “practice” meditation today, tomorrow, or on April 15. I will joyfully fall into the life those years of practice have given me. It’s not what you might expect. Because grieving is unique to each individual person who deals with their own unique and difficult pain. It’s a part of life we know as being human.
Here’s what I have to offer you (and I thank Leanne for helping me realize this). My meditation today will be this. At noon, I will want to drink. I will want to fill this whole in my heart that aches for the loss of Charlie. I will want to quiet the voice that says, “you’re not good enough, Julia.” I will want to look at the beautiful roses in my garden and feel gratitude instead of anger because the hands that planted them will never again hold mine. I will want to look at the statue of an angel in my garden and believe in angels, believe in goodness, believe in love.
And so my meditation will go something like this: taking a deep breath, understand that my mind creates my world, and think what will you do? I will pour a drink. I will cuddle with my dogs. I will sit outside and pray that I can give more than I take, that I can love more than I hate, that I can learn more than I suffer. And I will toast to Charlie, the Angels, my friends, my family, the people I love.
Most importantly I will give myself permission to grieve in my own unique way. To find light and solace in whatever way my mind/body feels might work.
I honor those who have overcome addiction. (Lighting a cigarette now). I have done it too—and it felt great. I honor those who confront the debilitating addiction to substance abuse (having a drink now). I honor you, because I will learn from and with you.
But for now, despite whatever media, trends, judgments, etc. have to say. My heart, my soul, my mind need to heal. I need to heal so that I can be of more help to others. Healing sometimes requires medicine, rest, retreat.
And today, I give myself permission—with full awareness (that I can only attribute to amazing practice of meditation) to rest—smoke, drink, read, retreat. I give myself that gift of non-judgment, just as one of my friends newly out of retreat expressed to me today.
I will not pretend to be something I am not. I am a meditator. I am a human. I eat. I talk. I drink. I smoke. And I dare any of you to cast the first stone.
(Now I sound defensive—not intended).
But when you are stuck in a human body full of pain, sadness, and sorrow—what kind angel would begrudge you the small comforts of escape?
Note: I am not advocating addiction. I have watched it destroy people I love. But I am giving myself permission to spend this day, the next, perhaps the next five or more, to be. Fully and completely who and what I am in this moment. I will not hide. I will not be shamed. I will be. And I am still alive. I’ll always be alive. (Highwaymen).
And I pray reverently that all of you who read this give yourself permission to be WHO YOU ARE in this moment. Not judging yourself against the past, against another, or against what “should” be. Just be. And do so with love. As I do. Love.