Monday, October 17, 2005

looking for perspective in the midst of a challenge


While I rode the subway to my various destinations both yesterday and today, I reread a few inspiring chapters from a small and pleasant book, which a friend gave me recently. It's called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It's All Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Carlson. It's perhaps the most fulfilling gift that I have received for some time. Reading it made me reflect upon my relationship with my illness. How am I handling the fact that I have cancer? Am I cursing the world and everyone in it? Or am I accepting, coming to terms with it, and in the process developing a positive and hopeful attitude? Yes, there are moments when I become melancholy about the tough challenges which lie ahead. It's at these moments when I start to wonder about the future. First of all, will I have a future? What will be it be like? How long will I live? Will I ever meet someone and have a family? In sum, will I ever fulfill my lifelong dreams? As you can guess, one question leads to another quickly and then, my sense of control is lost. I lose it to my myriad fears. When self-destructive thoughts like these start to pop into one's head, they can take on a life of their own easily.

Dr. Carlson's charming book is wonder to read. It's short and written in very plain prose. Most importantly, it instructs one in ways to reevaluate and refocus their life's precious energy. Although our daily challenges may seem insurmountable at times, Carlson argues that we can do so much to change our view of them and then, hopefully, learn to be in a more sound state of mind and being amidst them. I suppose the Buddha would agree for in the Dhammapada, he is recorded as saying:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

As I prepare for my upcoming treatment, I hope I can return to Dr. Carlson's book for continued strength so that I may become more tolerant and accepting of the reality of my life as the most challenging days draw near.I'd like to share with you two passages, which have encouraged me to look at my relationship with cancer in the most positive way.

In Chapter 17 titled "Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn't Fair," Carlson writes:

"Life isn't fair. It's a bummer, but it's absolutely true. Ironically, recognizing this sobering fact can be a very liberating insight.

One of the mistakes many of us make is that we feel sorry for ourselves, or for others, thinking that life should be fair, or that someday it will be. It's not and it won't. When we make this mistake we tend to spend a lot of time wallowing and/or complaining about what's wrong with life. We commiserate with others, discussing the injustices of life. 'It's not fair,' we complain, not realizing that, perhaps, it was never intended to be.

One of the nice things about surrendering to the fact that life isn't fair is that it keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves by encouraging us to do the very best we can with what we have. . . ."

In Chapter 96 titled, "Be Open to 'What Is,'" Carlson says:

"One of the most basic spiritual principles in many philosophies is the idea of opening your heart to 'what is' instead of insisting that life be a certain way. This idea is so important because much of our internal struggle stems from our desire to control life, to insist that it be different than it actually is. But life isn't always (or even rarely is) the way we would like it to be - it is simply the way it is. The greater our surrender to the truth of the moment, the greater will be our peace surrender to the truth of the moment, the greater will be our peace of mind.

When we have preconceived ideas about the way life should be, they interfere with our opportunity to enjoy or learn from the present moment. This prevents us from honoring what we are going through, which may be an opportunity for great awakening. . . .

When you fight that which you struggle with, life can be quite a battle, almost like a Ping-Pong game where you are the ball. But when you surrender to the moment, accept what is going on, make it okay, more peaceful feelings will begin to emerge. Try this technique on some of the little challenges you face. Gradually you'll be able to extend the same awareness to bigger things. This is a truly powerful way to live."

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