By Susan Whitaker
“What brings us grace is not always pleasant, though it seems always to take us to something essential in ourselves.” Stephen Levine
I spent the whole day working in the yard, being in a state of relaxation. I was really happy because there were no demands on my time and no goals to reach. The only thing that mattered was cutting away the old, dried up growth of my plants and pulling weeds, making space for the new. I spent a little time raking, then I walked around and watered my lemon tree, then I’d go back to pulling weeds. There was a song playing in my mind, repeating a nonsense chorus. Stress was far, far away. I was in a place of gratitude, of graceful being. I reflected on the effects of stress and anxiety in a typical day, and realized that I intentionally created a simple time in which to let myself be. It felt normal.
I have heard from several of my students that they just want to have that “normal” feeling. They don’t want to constantly think, “I have cancer.” They just want to immerse themselves in work or cooking or being with their children. The constant presence of cancer is very stressful and creates a whole sequence of hormonal releases that result in the fight, flight, freeze or submit response. We all have these reactions from time to time, but when you have cancer, it seems that stress-related feelings, such as depression and anxiety, are ever-present. What can be done? How can you find a respite from the constant reminders that things are not normal right now?
Stephen Levine, one of my favorite teachers, encourages us to be with the experience, no matter what it is. He believes that in order to heal, you must be present with what’s going on. Notice the tightness in the stomach, the dry mouth, the sadness, or the hunched shoulders. Offer yourself kindness and love in these moments. Take deep breaths and release the holding of tension and grief. This is a big part of our practice in yoga, too. We get into a restorative pose, let go, and breathe. We stand in our power, shift our weight, and exhale. We sit in silence, grounding into the earth, and release our thoughts for a short time. We connect to the moment and allow our life force to flow again. With this renewed feeling, “normal” takes on a new meaning, and we can notice that our thoughts are no longer those of dread or worry. It becomes a time of freedom, even for just a little while. If you do this practice each day, even for five minutes, it can help to shift your feelings and thoughts from the smallness of negativity into a more expansive sense of what’s essential in ourselves.
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