take off the mask, you beautiful mess.

The Moment
~Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Yesterday I was running errands when all of a sudden I was saturated with an overwhelming feeling of anger. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and irritated by anyone who was in my way. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted the library that I was encapsulated in to disappear and for everyone to shut up. I needed silence. And for some reason, libraries are no longer the sanctuary they used to be…

I usually love going to the library, but at that very moment, I didn’t want to be surrounded by library walls and library books and enthusiastic school children. I was suffocating in my awful mood and feeling too large to be held by four walls. I was pissed at the woman in front of me who was patiently teaching her son how to use the self check out, and I was irritated when one of my books didn’t register on the machine. I wanted to scream at the librarian and push everyone out of my way so I could beeline to the park where the trees were undoubtedly continuing to change colors under a hazy autumn sky. I was missing the show.

The funny thing about these moods is that I notice right away just how irrational and awful they are. But there’s a sense of urgency and intensity that is hard to shake off, let alone rationalize. If I slow down enough and utilize my breath, I can instantly notice the judgments that happen in my mind and the ways I want to lash out at other people who are around. Apparently, I want to make everyone else feel just as crappy as I do. Don’t they know I’ve had a hard day? Don’t they know I’ve had cancer? Don’t they know the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that I’m missing the trees changing in the park?

ahhh, the joys of anger

Brené Brown clarifies in her book Daring Greatly  (which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone wanting an amazingly life changing read on tapping into personal courage and living more authentically and wholeheartedly) that anger is a “secondary emotion, one that only serves as a socially acceptable mask for many of the more difficult underlying emotions we feel” (p. 34). Oh, right. My anger wasn’t really anger after all. It was sadness.

It’s true that my outward frustration was more socially acceptable than me melting down in a puddle of tears, but I felt like one of those monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. I was a beast who could have ripped my books apart and busted through the ceiling. I didn’t seem to have any ability to manage myself in that moment and, in hindsight, I should have listened to my gut in the first place and just bypassed the errands to go directly to the park. But I didn’t have that insight at the time. I just had my crappy mood and my sadness masked as anger (is there a Halloween costume brewing, here?).

I suppose the moral of the story (and I’m reaching, here) is that I need to take more time for myself and to notice when I’m feeling sad. Even if it means losing the books I have on hold at the library or not picking up my beloved coconut creamer at the grocery store. It means not checking my email or twitter or facebook to see if there’s anything I’m missing. Sometimes life is more important that the chores or tasks I have imprinted in my brain- those “shoulds” and “coulds”. And the real connection I long for is the one that doesn’t exist inside or online.

So, my friends, my personal assignment is to become more aware of my own needs in any given moment and to listen to my gut, which happens to be right a good portion of the time. If I need more outside time, I’m going for it. I’m going to (try to) admit my imperfections, even it means looking like a watery mess, and honor that this moment is another opportunity for growth. This is what I love about yoga- it’s all a practice and a journey.

The Yoga Sutras begins with Atha Yoganushasanam, translated as something like “now begins the practice/discourse of yoga”. It all leaves room for improvement. That was then, this is now. The past and the future do not exist. There is only now, and this is my yoga practice.

finding a path

Rejoice! My counts were decent enough yesterday to send me on my way to my twelfth chemo infusion- which, in my continual count-down, leaves six to go. Six resonates in my body as a good even number, and somehow I’m not daunted by it. I’ve done twice that many so far, which means that I only have one third of my treatment left. Math genius, I am not, but I can certainly appreciate the power of a good old fashioned count down!

My phenomenally beautiful friend Lena attended my full Friday of cancer treatment yesterday to give sweet Reen a much needed respite. It was a treat to have another day with Lena, and also to have the gift of seeing my regimen through her eyes- a perspective filtered out of love and openness. Even in the long periods between having my port accessed, waiting for my dearly adorable yet perpetually late oncologist, and then awaiting a chair in the infusion unit, Lena was radiant, upbeat, and on the task of advocating for anything I may need. After our nearly seven hours at the clinic, Lena zipped me home and we were greeted by a cozy, candlelit home with pizza and salad on the table, Reen and Marcos standing by, and a lemony delicious cake with fruit chaser to complete the meal. Who could complain about that? I went to bed as pleased as a girl could be, and had a night of deep and delightful sleep.

Today, after using moxa and sage on my fingers, hands, toes and feet, I’m trying not to obsess about my darkening nails. The pain of neuropathy hasn’t been as bad after taking the two week break from chemo, but I have one nail on the verge of falling off, and every day brings a new hue to each nail (fingers and toes). My task today is to research cryotherapy- a suggestion from one of the infusion nurses- and to send positive energy to each digit, despite my urge to cringe at the appearance of yellow, brown, green, and red on my nails. There must be something to learn from this…

Living this experience has taught me to be humble, but also that I have a deep potential for anger. I have found my patience in everyday life to be short and temporary, and I am continually having to remind myself that it would not be appropriate to scream, spin around, and fall to the floor in a fit when I feel overwhelmed by the world. And the world is so overwhelming these days. I’m not just talking about the people that drive through crosswalks when there are pedestrians or the folks who avoid looking me in the eyes when talking to me, but also the perpetual violence happening on a personal, community, and world level every day. My little case of breast cancer seems so minor when I consider people living in or near a war zone or the people in my very community who have no access to safe homes, clean clothes, or a daily meal, let alone health care. So what if I’m boobless, bald, and that my nails are falling off? I’m sitting in a lovely little condo with a cup of tea and heat, and, as Lena reminded me yesterday, I am rich beyond words when taken in the context of the world. I am lucky. And the anger and outrage that I hold are awaiting a path of action.