Sunday, December 26, 2010

Volcanic Moments

A volcano erupts in Iceland. Tens of thousands of flights are canceled and millions of passengers stranded...  Have you experienced any of these typical reactions in the face of an oy vey moment -- lost your sense of humor, became fixated on what wasn't working, gave up completely, felt annoyed and resentful, looked for someone to blame, pretended it wasn't happening?" Larry Dressler, "Volcanic Moments: Four Practices for Facing Surprises with Grace."
Dressler's post miraculously arrived in my in-box on December 24, minutes after my surgeon told me I have cancer in both breasts. Definitely an oy vey moment. My typical defense in the face of unwanted news has been to pretend it wasn't happening. Of course everything bubbles below. Indeed, my personality style has been characterized metaphorically as a "volcano" -- apparently calm, with complex layers beneath the surface. 

I'll be even more particular, and suggest I've been a shield volcano, formed of layers of fluid lava. Unable to pile into steep mounds, these layers create a gentle, sloping cone and spill from several vents. Attempts to shield myself have created a calm exterior but have also led to lifelong digestive problems, joint pain, and occasional bouts of magna-lava anger -- the symptomatic "vents" my body developed to blow off steam when the rumbling could no longer be contained.

Our bodies give us messages and this one is clear: another vent has appeared, cancer erupting in both breasts. So I'm taking Dressler's advice to heart:
  1. Check-in:  Notice without judgment what you're feeling physically and emotionally.
  2. Name It:  What underlying thought, judgment, or belief are you holding too tightly?
  3. Pause:  Instead of acting, take deep, deep, conscious breaths.
  4. Shift:  Ask questions that shift you to a more productive mental, emotional, and physical state: "What beliefs can I let go of right now in order to serve my highest purpose?" "What are the hidden gifts and opportunities in this moment?"
Some of my thoughts and beliefs:
  • "I'm not the cancer type -- my issues have shown up in stomach aches and arthritis." 
  • "Death is unacceptable." 
  • "I must fight this." 
Obviously the first belief has been refuted. The second is simply laughable; we all, eventually, accept death. Third, trying to "fight" the cancer would reinforce the dysfunctional belief that I must shield myself from reality -- instead of fighting I want to embrace and transform this energy for healing. 

On Christmas Eve I extended Dressler's Pause and Breathe stage, spending hours reading about double mastectomy, searching for post-surgery apparel, sending love to my breasts, letting in the messages cancer brings, terror echoing all the way down to my toenails:
CANCER, cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer.....