Change, Personal, Uncategorized

Doing More isn’t Being More

Several years ago, Oprah recommended a book called A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. She even held an online class to tell the world about it because she thought it was such an important book to help us awaken to our life’s purpose.

I studied that book carefully because it reflected many of my personal and religious beliefs. But when I recommended it to Doug, he raised his eyebrows all funny at me like I’d fallen into some rolling river of philosophical weirdness.

Basically, the book is about discovering and developing our divine essence. Tolle’s contention is that most of us identify only with our physical and psychological forms, never realizing that we are more than that.

“Trying to become a good or better human being sounds like a commendable and high-minded thing to do,” he wrote, “yet it is an endeavor you cannot ultimately succeed in unless there is a shift in consciousness…You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.”

I love the concept that we are full of deep, pure goodness, and that the way to become better is to excavate that goodness like a miner diligently unearthing gold.

In theory, most of us know there is a difference between spirituality and religion.  Having a belief system doesn’t necessarily make you a spiritually strong person.  “In fact, the more you make your beliefs your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself,” Tolle said.

This is where it sounds like I’m in the rollicking waters of weirdness, but stick with me here…

His point is that when we realize we have a divine or spiritual self, we then can see ourselves as infinitely better and more valuable.  “You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking.”

In other words, you are more than the voice in your head.

We see everything through a veil of self-talk, and unfortunately most of it is negative or laced with worry and fear. What if we could get beyond that and get in touch with our divine essence or the place where all the pure goodness resides?

Through all the philosophical blather of the book that Doug teases me about, there is this wonderful and liberating thought:  What if I could live believing I am more than my thoughts? What if I could get a sense of my being that has nothing to do with my mind?

The real beauty of A New Earth is in that question.

Tolle’s teachings line up with ancient beliefs that we have an inner and outer body. Most of the time we are only in touch with the outer body, but when we still the mind, slow the steady flow of pounding thoughts that we let define us, we can find an inner life where there is more beauty, love, and acceptance, and potential than we ever believed was possible.

I’m writing about this book today because I need to be reminded of the value of a quieter mind and a more fortified spirit.  I need the reminder that I am more than the voice in my head.

At the risk of tiptoeing back into the raucous river of philosophical pronouncements, consider this: Thinking is only a tiny aspect of who we are.

So even when my brain won’t stop spinning and my body feels weary, if I pause for just a few minutes and breathe a little slower, I can feel my divine essence emerging, reminding me that I am more – and even better — than I think I am.

Tolle said, “Doing is never enough if you neglect Being.”

Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things that we forget why we’re doing them in the first  place.

I had a few life changing thoughts during the months I lived in a chemo stupor simply because cancer drove me to a deeper place. It actually helped me lose some of my dysfunctional thought patterns like that doing more meant being more.

But that was five years ago and I’m slowly forgetting some of those lessons.

During those months when I couldn’t do much of anything, I realized that doing less didn’t make me less. In fact, it put me in touch with the still, creative, deep, rich essence that was behind, under, and around all the doing. And I think that’s what Eckhart Tolle is trying to teach.

“In form,” he said, referring to our physical and psychological selves, “you will always be inferior to some, superior to others.  In your divine essence “you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization.”

My lesson for today is slow down, breathe, and remember that doing more doesn’t mean being more.  In fact, like I learned from spending too many days curled up on the couch in a chemo coma, the reverse is actually true. Sometimes doing less gives us more, and reminds us that we are more than the reflection in the mirror.


Awash In Pink

The world again is awash in pink. Pink pajamas and t-shirts, pens and notepads, cups and coffee mugs, earrings and necklaces, bookmarks and backpacks.  Anything you could ever want you can now find in breast cancer pink. October used to usher in a transformation in the woods behind my house from lush shades of green to autumn’s shades of orange, burgundy, purple, and gold. Now it means everything, everywhere is pink.

Even the NFL will wear breast cancer pink.

As a breast cancer survivor, my October calendar is full of check-ups with the breast surgeon, the oncologist, the gynecologist, and it is time to schedule another mammogram.

Hard to believe but this year marks my fifth year as a breast cancer survivor. After a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery, and five years of adjunct therapy in the form of a daily dose of tamoxifen, the doctors predict my chances of a recurrence of cancer will be below two percent.

Five years cancer-free is a milestone to be celebrated. But, is it the “crucible of combat” that it’s made out to be? Sometimes when I read articles about breast cancer survivors, I feel uncomfortable because we are portrayed as heroes, warriors who should hoist heavy trophies over our heads and proudly parade our accomplishments around like Olympic gold medalists. But if survivors or “thrivers,” as some like to call us, are heroes, what do we call the ones who die or the ones who fight it their entire lives? Almost two years ago, my friend Connie, who lived in Richmond, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.  She had a mastectomy and was ready to start a heavy dose of chemotherapy when I saw her.  She looked beautiful even though I know she didn’t feel that way with one breast removed and a horribly uncomfortable and noticeable breast expander stretching the skin around it and bulging out of her chest.

“I feel pregnant,” she said, “like a baby is growing inside me.”

I panicked and worried the cancer had already spread to her organs.

A few weeks later, she told her doctors she felt bloated and uncomfortable.  More tests confirmed my fears.  The cancer metastasized in her liver, causing a tumor that she thought felt like a baby.

For over a year, she tried different chemotherapy regimes, trying to beat back the cancer.  Nothing worked. Last spring, worn and thin, she returned home from the hospital, and told her sister the fight was over.  The cancer could not be stopped.  Her liver stopped functioning, and her body was quickly shutting down.

“Are you mad at me?” she asked her sister.

“Why would I ever be mad at you?” she asked.

“Because I’m giving up,” Connie quietly said.  “I just can’t do it anymore.”

But Connie did not give up.  She got real.

To me, that is most heroic act in life.  Nothing requires more courage than facing reality and accepting it, especially when reality is dying and leaving the people you love.

For Connie that meant leaving a husband and four kids.

After my first dose of chemotherapy five years ago, I felt consumed by a fear I never imagined. I sat down at my computer and thought, “I am in for the fight of my life.  What am I going to do to make it through this — not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually?”  I made a list of everything I thought I needed in my arsenal, starting with contacting the people closest to me and asking for their support in very specific ways.  I assessed everything in my life.  My wide array of activities and responsibilities suddenly narrowed down to two things – take care of myself and maintain the most normal home life possible for my family.  It was my first step in getting real with what was happening in my life. My cancer fight took every ounce of my mental, physical, spiritual and emotional energy. I know Connie’s did too, except that she had the added knowledge that her fight would not end with her standing at the finish line with her gold medal. I think in her heart, she knew she wouldn’t survive the minute they told her the cancer had spread to her liver. But, she did not give up then.  She looked at her family and fought for them for as long as she could.

I remember calling a friend to ask her to help me find a Homecoming dress for my daughter because I knew I couldn’t make it through a shopping trip without some help.  She asked how I felt, and I started crying. “It’s harder than you thought, isn’t it?” Oh, was that an understatement. Then she said, ”Just remember, you’re not doing this for you.  If you were, it would be easy to give up.  You’re doing it for your husband, your daughters, your other family members and friends.  If you remember that you’re doing it for us, you won’t give up.”

She was right, and I believe that’s what motivated Connie to fight so hard, even when she probably knew she wouldn’t survive.  She wisely used the short time she had with her family to show them her true self, the strong-willed, funny, and wise lady that would never give up her life with them without a fight.

Her life and her motto, “Faith in God means faith in his timing,” are daily inspirations to me.

I recently sent a donation to my friend Brianne in Arizona who is registered to participate in her third Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk to honor her mother who died of breast cancer over a year ago. In her fundraising letter, she said, “I hate cancer and I’m determined to do everything possible to stop it in its ugly little tracks.” (Click her to help her raise funds

Brianne pushing her mom in the 3-day walk

Her mom, Shelley, was diagnosed in 1997 and had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.  For nearly eight weeks, she drove two-and-a-half hours to and from the hospital for her radiation treatments.

In 2004, the cancer came back in her bones.  Just two weeks into her radiation treatments, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, so the two of them drove together from a tiny town called Koosharem, Utah to Provo for their radiation treatments.

She took a chemo pill for two years after that, which made her hands and feet turn black.  Still, the cancer moved into her spine, ribs, and neck.  She returned to the hospital for six more weeks of radiation, driving the long distance to and from the hospital every day, and somehow managing to maintain her full-time job in the cafeteria of an elementary school. A year later the cancer moved into her femur, all up her spine, and into her pelvis.

Later they found tumors in her kidneys and stomach, and she knew her fight was over.  She begged Brianne not to put “cancer” as her cause of death.  After such a hard fight, she could not let the cancer have the final say.

While I am happy to be five years out from my cancer diagnosis, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it, either because a lingering chemotherapy side effect reminds me or a friend is either fighting it or has died from it. I also know that even though the odds are in my favor, there is no guarantee that it will never reappear in my body. I don’t think any cancer survivor ever feels completely sure that a recurrence won’t happen.

Cancer humbled and changed me in permanent ways, and while I have recovered and moved forward, I am always reminded of it.  While I am grateful to be a five-year survivor, I am no hero.  I just did what I had to do to save my life.

The real heroes are the ones who have died, and their families that supported them. While their physical bodies were beaten and battered to the point that they hardly recognized themselves, their spirits were strong, determined, and brave.

In the end, they did not “give up” like Connie thought and Shelly would not have “let cancer win” if it ended up as the cause of death on her death certificate. Their lives were given up for something much holier.  They gave their lives back to God.  That requires a rare kind of bravery, the kind rooted in the deepest humility.

They had faith in God and his timing.

They are the ones we need to remember every time we see a pink ribbon.