I learned somewhere along the way that I needed to strive to survive. That somehow who I was was never quite enough. If only I studied more, read more, worked harder, produced more that I would ‘succeed’. That I would get ahead. That in some perverse way my life would be worthwhile. Or that I would be worthy.
Until I started asking myself: what is all the striving truly for? Where was I heading? Who was I trying to impress? What did I really want to achieve for myself if I stopped worrying what others thought? How would I know when I’d done enough striving and had actually arrived at the utopian destination I was working so hard to get to?
I read ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl when I was in my twenties. Viktor was an Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. In his incredible book, he shares the trials and tribulations as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps and his quest to identify a purpose for his life to give him something to feel positive about.
As I sit receiving my chemotherapy infusions, I ponder my plight as though breast cancer treatment is my own concentration camp of sorts. Like Viktor, how could I see the bigger picture here and find purpose in all of this that might serve me in my life going forward?
These are some mighty big questions, but when your life is on the line, these are the questions that might be swirling around your head. For what purpose am I right here, right now and how might some good come from all of this? How might I derive meaning and purpose from my experience of breast cancer?
In Buddhism, they speak of an attitude of ‘non-striving’. That to achieve inner peace one must let go of the need to be anywhere but in this moment, here and now. As a high achiever who prides herself on productivity, the notion of non-striving felt so foreign it was incomprehensible. I’ve spent my entire life in pursuit. Chasing knowledge, relationships, jobs, status, money. There was always another sparkly thing to pursue to keep me from sitting in the present moment and feeling what it is to be still. What was I afraid of? What was I running from? It’s not like it was a conscious choice I was making but more like an unconscious pattern that continued to play out. Until I woke up to it.
Cancer treatment is more of a marathon than a sprint. There is so much time. I’d say too much time to sit in the uncomfortableness. For most of my treatment, I wished I could just get it over with and get to the other side. Striving for one day in the future…
Sitting in stillness was the LAST thing I wanted to do. It was like the universe handed me the perfect storm to stop me dead in my tracks and forced me to be still. Having given up my work, I had far too many days to ponder my plight and get acquainted with the parts of me I had been running from.
Since I was a teenager, I have had an aversion to the church and to God as these concepts had been thrust upon me. But, in my quietest moments, I intuitively felt I was being held by a force greater than me. Call it God, the great Mother, Mother Earth, the divine or whatever you choose to call it. It was like the universe had my back.
Let go and let God.
Enduring a diagnosis and associated treatment is just too much for one soul to handle. I knew I couldn’t manage it on my own and out of sheer desperation, I began to pray. Pray to the infinite, divine source that holds us all. I literally handed over my fears, my doubts, my worries and said it was too much for me to bear. That I did not have the capacity to carry this burden by myself and I needed help. I was on my knees pleading for it. I was like the bird clenching so tightly on to the branch, frozen with fear. I had no control, no certainty and little strength to manage what was on my plate. I was at rock bottom facing my own mortality. I was tired of the battle. Sooo t-i-r-e-d. The bevy of treatments that made me feel sick, the loss of who I used to be and far too much time to get acquainted with my own demons.
I instinctively threw up my hands and passed the baton to a force greater than me. Sweet surrender. I trusted the same force who ensures we have air to breathe, food to eat and water to drink would take me into its arms and support me through to the other side. I surrendered to the journey and I surrendered to being in the now.
There was nothing to pursue, nowhere more important I needed to be and nothing I could do to expedite my experience. I am in the perfect place in this moment. Surrendering to what is and trusting in the unfolding. Releasing my desire for control and allowing the journey to evolve as it is intended.
The journey is the destination.
My Dad used to call me his ‘grass is greener girl’ implying that there’s some place else I’d rather be. That I am perpetually focused on the future and believing that there is some place that would be better to experience than wherever I am. And he was right. My natural inclination is to keep moving, yes moving towards more and more of what I want to have in my life. Wouldn’t you?
And I think a certain level of striving has served me well in many ways. I lead a pretty wonderful life as a result. But what I’ve missed in all my striving is the journey itself. While I’m so busy in pursuit, I’m not taking time to smell the roses or spontaneously respond to joyful moments. For me, the goal was to get to the destination, as quickly as possible. It was never about enjoying the journey itself.
What if the destination is actually the journey itself? What if, there’s actually nowhere to get to… that we’ve already arrived? I know that would make a massive difference to the way I live my life and my experience of it.
So as we collectively sit in a world grappling with Covid-19, I continue to receive treatment for breast cancer and I am fascinated by the layers of reminders I am being shown to give up the striving. And to be still.
Let go of control.
And just let things be.
S-u-r-r-e-n-d-e-r to the here and now.
Cindy Scott xx