The phone rang Saturday morning and I found myself talking to my doctor. A test that was part of my yearly health exam had returned with a positive result. This took me by surprise because it was so unexpected – I hardly knew what to say. Fear rose up as memory took me back to another doctor conversation when I heard the words “You have breast cancer.” Life was now throwing me a curve in the form of possible colon cancer.
Of course more tests are needed, which is the process I am in. After a few minutes of fear I said to myself, “Wait a minute. You don’t need to do fear because you’ve been here before. This is familiar territory, and you know deep within you that no matter what happens, you will be supported, loved, and cared for in meaningful and nurturing ways. Life isn’t against you, it’s for you. You know how to do this.” One of my favorite authors, John O’Donohue, writes this: “It is not what happens to us that is in the end decisive but rather how we embrace and integrate it. Often the most wonderful gifts arrive in shabby packaging.”
That was the reminder I needed to let go of fear and invite tranquility to take its place. Deep peace is now part of every day because I know this is another opportunity for growth that leads to transformation. This does not deny the seriousness of a situation, or the difficulty, or treatment that might be involved. Living with blinders on is a denial of the potential richness found in tough circumstances. I also know that somewhere in this scenario is an important message, a gift I want to find, and to do that I need to embrace the whole package. Yearning for life to be different hinders clarity. Embracing what shows up brings contentment and opens us to the benefits of what life is trying to teach us.
We may have our heart set on a promotion at work, getting in to a certain doctor’s practice, creating a pregnancy, or traveling to other parts of the world. What happens when we get passed over for promotion, can’t see the doctor of our choice, remain infertile, or have no money for travel? Unless we embrace what is, we won’t experience the benefits of what life is trying to teach us. Life is asking us to be ready for a job change, find another doctor or try again later, adopt a baby, or explore travel areas closer to home. From personal experience I was able to see the doctor of my choice by waiting until midsummer (snow birds are gone) to try again. My sister adopted two children, and our daughter and son-in-law, after years of infertility, achieved pregnancy and had triplets. I love to travel, and a while back my travel fund wouldn’t allow for anything but local exploring, until my sister invited me to join her for five weeks in South East Asia – all expenses paid! Life is a generous giver.
Gratitude is the key to contentment. When my husband and I were working full time, we enjoyed TGIF every Friday evening. Now that we’re retired, we decided to change the acronym to fit our changed lifestyle, so we now celebrate TGFE which stands for Thank God for Everything. This can be celebrated any time of day or day of the week – a distinct advantage. M.J. Ryan writes, “It is only by being grateful for what is that we experience contentment, and it is contentment with what is that makes us happy in the moment – and available to whatever else life has in store for us.”
Howard Thurman writes, “We determine what we will do with our circumstances.” As we go through challenging times, it is our response that makes the difference. We can choose to think of ourselves as powerless and feel a like victim, or we can choose to claim our power and go forward with confidence, knowing this is happening for us, not to us. The power of response is ours. Henry David Thoreau gives us this thought, “To affect the quality of a day, that is the highest of the arts.” He spent his life experimenting with what showed up each day and how he might influence that. Sarah Ban Breathnach decided to follow Thoreau’s example and kept a journal about how much influence she had on her days. She began each day by saying, “Thank you for the gift of this wonderful day.” Here is what she observed and journaled.
1 – All days are wonderful in direct proportion to the creative energy invested in them. No investments, no return.
2 – Even lousy days possess hidden wonder. Sometimes all you need is a moment of attitude adjustment to shift your perception of an entire afternoon and move forward into a pleasant evening.
3 – Weather does not seem to affect the experiment. Gray, cold, and rainy days spent in an office are just as susceptible to the warming influence of enthusiasm as are sunny days spent lying in a hammock sipping sangria.
4 – Days that are expected to be wonderful before they begin turn out to be so; much more frequently than days greeted with grumbling.
5 – The results of this experiment suggest that it doesn’t matter whether a day is good or bad. What matters is what we do with it.
Isn’t this interesting? As we take up the challenge to be willing to embrace what shows up each day, and acknowledge the power we have to influence our days, let’s remember to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. It helps if we can both embrace and bless our circumstances, which is what I’m doing right now. This last quote is from Emmet Fox: “Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you . . . . If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it.” I’ll keep you informed as my story unfolds, and I’ll continue to embrace whatever shows up because, despite outward appearances, I know all is well.
Until next time – Sylvia