"Whatever takes us to our edge, to our outer limits, leads us to the heart of life's mystery, and there we find faith."--Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Full Circle

In my end is my beginning.
T.S. Eliot

I struggle with endings of almost any sort, even though I comprehend the Zen teachings that there are no beginnings or endings, just the endless cycle of life expressing itself. Still, writing a blog about cancer needs to stop at some point. In full cycle mode, my last blog went back to the beginning of this cancer journey for me and for all of those caring souls who chose to come along for the ride. What better way to say goodbye to this blog than to go back to where it started with the observation of Sheldon Kopp, "Here I am again, wasn’t I?”

The problem with time is that past and future can easily become a playground for the mind where it seesaws between "what ifs?" and "what's next?". I have learned through experience that when turned loose onto such a playground, my mind usually trips and falls, scraping knees, hands, and sometimes head. Meditation and mindfulness techniques have helped me to soften the blows and to contain my hyperactive mind that sees nothing wrong with running into the street without looking both ways or hanging from the monkey bars until all blood leaves the lower extremities.

Faced with cancer, it seemed natural to wander into the past, before the problem was identified, or saunter into the future, when the problem is no more, for relief. The problem is that since past and future are illusions created by mind, no true healing can take place there. If any transformation is to take place, it will only happen in the now.

Seven months ago, I returned home from the hospital and sat with tears in my eyes on the couch with my wife, Kathy. Grateful beyond measure to be home again, I told her that perhaps I would finally overcome my old self and all of its anxieties as a result of this experience. It's only now, with surgery, chemo and radiation therapy, starting a new job, and the death of my father in my wake, that I'm beginning to understand that being a "new" person was never the issue.

These days, I am often amazed at how intact the "old me" still is. Old fears, anxieties, idiosyncrasies, and quirks arise with almost alarming frequency. Rather than approach them with a "what are you still doing here?" attitude, however, I'm trying to face these inner demons in a state of mindful acceptance. I find that they hang around for shorter periods and are not so frightening when my resistance to them is lowered. By turning my awareness to these traits of my old self, I find that there is a new understanding of my true self hidden behind them. In a perfect Zen paradox, the new element is something very old, even timeless. That's what the search has been all about. Or, as T.S. Eliot put it:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Finally, what better way to wrap this up than quoting those two great sages John Lennon and Paul McCartney:

Hello, hello, I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello.