I recently received a research survey asking how my life has been unexpectedly impacted by a cancer diagnosis. I jumped right in to answer but stopped short. The answer I wanted to give was about how my cancer diagnosis has made me a better person and go on to enumerate the many ways I have enriched mine and my fellow-persons’ lives. But that is not the truth and I’m nothing if not honest. I had to take a couple of weeks of self-examination before responding. What is true is that my cancer experience has made me desire to be an all around better person and has moved me to work on a few things, but I’m not there yet and may never be. To be honest (as if I would be anything else) I don’t think I was a particularly bad person before, but there is always room for improvement. I am mostly self-aware of my flaws and definitely more critical of them than others. To start with, I’ve never been an especially patient person and while I believe I’ve grown more patient with small day to day activities, such as traffic, shopping, chores etc. I am less patient with the bigger things. The ideals and plans for my and my husband’s retirement years become more urgent to reach. I feel a pressing need, desperation even, to make every plan happen and happen fast. I live and plan in one year increments only. Beyond one year, I don’t plan. If something I want to do or have looks to be more than a year away, I push it aside and detach myself emotionally from it. What I have learned, along with the pitiful realization that I’m still a very flawed human, is that my dance with cancer makes me extremely anxious and even more impatient than ever. I admit that I am having trouble managing this. I know my problem. I continue, as I always have, to look toward the future for my utopia instead of making right now that blissful existence. It goes something like this. When the kids are out of day care, we can…..; When I get that next raise, we will have…..; when we move to our next home, things will be…..; When the children are grown, we can do….; When we retire, life will be…..; On and on.
Maybe some of you have been there, looking for everything to be perfect someday? I’ve always done this type of speculation of the ideal. The lesson I’ve learned (over and over and over and over…) is that I will never recognize some future ideal when I get there because I will still be looking beyond it! Happiness has to be made and recognized in the here and now. But old habits die hard. There’s a Buddha quote on the wall of the yoga studio I attend that I like to park my mat in front of and read the words over and over throughout the practice.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn the past nor to worry about the future but live the present moment wisely and earnestly.
If I recite this to myself enough times every day, perhaps I will begin to actually live it. I might need a recording of it on a computer chip implanted in my brain to play on continuous loop!