I made a new friend in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan Kettering. She has spent the last 15 months fighting cancer and is struggling to stay positive. She is doing an amazing job at it, but last night she wrote to me. Her last scans indicate the/ tumor isn’t shrinking. She will need another 6 months of chemo treatments. We can try to focus on the positive. It’s not our life, but to her it feels as though life IS about fighting cancer and she’s getting sick and tired of it. Not to mention she actually is feeling sick and tired. Can you imagine two years of your life in chemo treatments? Some spend even more time in treatments. It becomes a lifestyle. You get some time off, maybe, and then you may try a new course or a clinical study and more scans etc. (As an aside, when you are listening to a friend that is hurting, please honor the pain despite any good news. Hopefully, they will come around, but they need to work through the pain first. Listen and validate their feelings.)
I talk a lot about the place where I am. The place where I’m past the hard stuff and am now trying to make the best of the rest, but what do we do when we are in that really hard place? It doesn’t have to be cancer treatments. I’d venture to say most of us have been in a really hard place before. Recognizing our blessings, meditating, exercise, tai chi etc., all of that is practice for a rainy day, but what if we don’t have it in our back pocket? How do we pull ourselves out of that hole? How do we keep from slipping into it? For many of us developing a healthy habit when we feel good is tough. It would take incredible energy to pull ourselves up and jump into an everyday practice when we are not feeling well!
I was listening to a TED Talk podcast this morning on optimism (The Case For Optimism on TED Radio Hour). I was surprised to learn that we are by nature optimists. I was surprised because I know we are also hardwired to look for disaster and the negative in situations as a protective mechanism, but as I listened I could see how the two can co-exist. They said that we generally have higher expectations than is realistic. As I understood it, our expectations are optimistic and create anticipation and that anticipation in return generates excitement. You can relate, right? So we are planning a vacation and we expect it to be amazing and sometimes the anticipation is actually more exciting than the reality of it. At the end of the day our joy is actually greater than someone who didn’t have high expectations of a great vacation but ended up having an AMAZING vacation. The example used in the TED Talk was that we enjoy Fridays more than Sundays. It’s ironic because we work on Fridays but Sunday is a “day off”. It’s this feeling of anticipation that makes all the difference.
We need to be realistic to be prepared for the future, but we need some optimism to help push ourselves to achieve, create and to experience joy. It’s finding our sweet spot. How does this relate to my friend that is having a hard time? How does this relate to any of you that have been reading and thinking all this appreciation and mindfulness is great, but bah humbug, this sucks and life is freakin’ hard! Maybe we need to realize where we are starting from and set our expectations from there. Give ourselves permission to grieve, but look forward to the day when we are past this stage. It might generate some anticipation of that day and not feel so stuck in our current situation. Even if our course of treatments may not have an anticipated ending point, we can look forward to a time when we learned to incorporate them into a full and joyous life despite the struggles. One person may get out of bed in the morning and be grateful for taking a full, deep and satisfying breath and another may be grateful for being able to get out of bed unassisted. Either way, allow yourself to change your expectations and to find new beauty in life.
Deepak Chopra said in a meditation that I did recently that we can allow ourselves to see life with a childlike wonder simply by noticing things around us that we never experienced before (https://www.facebook.com/ChopraMeditation/). It could be the way someone’s lip curls when they smile or maybe how you can see the dust particles float in the air when the sun shines on them just right and they look like a whole little universe. Give yourself permission and acceptance and hold onto that optimism you were born with.
*Please note I am not a professional social worker or therapist of any kind. If you feel that life is dishing out more than you can handle on your own right now, please seek their assistance. I appreciate you reading my posts, but I also know that talking it out can be very therapeutic!
With Love, Tosha