Self Love in a the Time of Covid

Can you love yourself during a global crisis?

How do you live in a world in crisis and turn inside to love yourself? To do work on the self during a global cascade of tremendously life threatening situations is to turn in and find the faith to be kind, conscious and dedicated to be of service to others.

Love and wisdom are ways in which we can respond. The question is: What can you do to strengthen your soul to be resilient enough to handle the end of the world as we know it? And the current situation hasn’t any real understanding of how to solve anything at all. So how do you become compassionate and learn to go deeper into the heart of the human race?

Even with cancer inside along with the good in us, in a sense we reflect the crises we face now and that those that started long ago.

So many people of various groups including scientists, futurists, poets, and politicians predicted the pandemic. Nietzsche said, “those who have a “why” to live can bear almost any “how.” If we can find a reason to bear the difficulty handed us we can in turn face the world in much the same way. The way we feel about ourselves expresses our emotional state externally to anyone or any situation to which we come into contact.

Inner hope and love express through our approach but also in how people and even nature perceived us. So it’s a choice. The choice is to live in fear and terror or to find the joy in everyday life – and transmit that to others. If even to one single human being. And it does make a difference.

Ever “wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” Not a very good start to the day and the first person who comes into your preview or even your pet will feel your negative energy. And like a rubber ball, bouncing on the floor it transfers energy. That’s why an object in motion slows down and the temperature of the floor in this case becomes just slightly warmer – the molecules in the ball excite the molecules in the floor. Simple physics. Richard Feynman has a fantastic explanation of “jiggly” atoms (Feynman: Magnets FUN TO IMAGINE 4 But see NEW UPDATED file at https://tinyurl.com/ycphc432)

Energy transfers and anger can bounce from you to your partner, your cat, a stranger in line at the grocery. Love and a smile might make a huge difference in the day – perhaps a brief gratitude meditation or a few minutes in a journal reflecting on a few things that bring you joy may quickly change your outlook and thus the hug instead of a scowl starts someone else’s day off with a smile. And thus begins a positive chain reaction.

When I started the blog I hoped I could effect one person. Help one person feeling awful about their diagnosis know they’re not alone. And since the comment I’ve heard the most is: thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in what I’m going through and how I feel. We all feel differently and all handle these global crises differently. No kind of response is exactly the same – but we can choose a life of sadness or one of joy in the everyday. And from the everyday, like the bright yellow flowers poking up in the median of of a busy highway. Can they be crushed? Of course. But they can also bend towards the light while they live and bloom for the time they have on the earth. Flowers know no better than bending towards the sun and sipping a drink from the water that rains from the sky.

This visual reflects how love and beauty can overcome anger and fear. Have you ever noticed a driver scowling from a speeding car at another driver who simply wants to get to the egress, trapping them and not allowing them off of the highway? Why not allow another person to have the room to travel alongside us. We probably don’t know them but what’s the point of being mean.

A friend and spiritual mentor asked a question to those who follow along in reading his Caringbridge journal: “how hard it is [for us] to offer deep love and prayers for ourselves?” Then he asked if we’d make a deal and work on that along with him.

I answered him in the comments. I considered how I could find the room love myself and say prayers for my own healing. It felt selfish to me. At least initially. With a terminal illness or just in life itself it’s difficult to not blame myself in some way for my cancer diagnosis and all the events leading to that fateful day and all the days there after.

In reflection, I find it’s still difficult to give myself the space to love who I am – an amalgamation of who I was until right now. My choices in this moment are all I can control. So if I cannot find my own equanimity and the heart felt love for myself, how can my decisions be anything but selfish and in turn not at all helpful to the world in its suffering. We all suffer but we can take refuge that from suffering comes introspection. From introspection we can also find joy.

By giving up saying- “but what can I do? I’m just one person. I’m dying,” loses the point of being human. The point is love.

I made a deal to work on this seemingly easy quest to find the equanimity to love myself and to pray for myself. Defining equanimity for ones self is a part of this work as well. If it is composure at its most basic definition then certainly we can all gain enough composure to find the internal spaciousness for self love. But it goes deeper than that.

Is anyone truly undisturbed by experience, emotions, pain, or other even religious dogma? How do we balance our minds enough to reach a long lasting calmness and composure of the mind. Long enough to sit with the idea of loving ourselves.

I still find it difficult to wish myself my own love. The grass covered path to self love feels selfish,still. But I know this with all my soul: if we loved ourselves, we’d be able to love more fully – everything (and everyone).

It’s said that in our dreams we only see people we’ve already seen before. While I’ve got a fairly good memory, not quite as sharp as before chemo dulled the edge a bit, lately there’s so many people I can swear whom I’ve never seen before. Is the mind so expansive that say one lives in a great crowded city like Hong Kong or Paris or London or Mumbai we cannot recall every face in those crowds.

I wonder how full someone’s dreams of so many people show up as opposed to say someone whose small hometown is all they’ve ever know, never having ventured out into the wider world? What would that be like? I’ve seen so many faces in my life, having had the fortune of living in NYC as a kid and then globetrotting in my pre-cancer life. We’ve all had the great fortune of meeting and knowing so many different people in so many contexts.

This is one trap that creates a crowded space in which returning one’s attention to the self proves difficult.

I wonder if my dreams will change by suggestion of self love. It’s easier for me to care for you than for me. Something I know must shift if I’m to reach unicorn-hood. And at least for now that’s a good goal.

I plan to visit a dear friend who lives in Ireland. As Covid restrictions lift my hope is to go to see the land of great poets. We share a love of poetry and met virtually through our lifelong love of poetry. I consider her a caregiver from afar.

She more deeply introduced me to John O’Donohue; I love this short bio:

“He was born in 1956 in County Clare in Western Ireland. Historically, this part of the world was a crucible of Celtic Christianity, merging a strong sense of mystery with a passionate embrace of nature, the body, and the senses. The divine is understood as manifest everywhere, in everything. John O’Donohue entered seminary at a young age and was a Catholic priest for 19 years. But in the 1980s, he went to Germany to study the philosophy of Hegel. He eventually left the priesthood and devoted himself full-time to meditating and writing on beauty, friendship, and how the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, intertwine in human experience.”

Here’s another of his blessings – Aram Cara means soul friend – and I believe in our lives as we travel on grassy or well hewn roads we stop and meet one another and O’Donohue has a way with describing the ins and outs of the importance of giving our love to friends and not being so busy as to not invest our hearts in those most important of relationships.

My journey gives me something to look forward to. This pilgrimage has lived in my heart for a very long time. And may I be blessed with the self love, the equanimity, and courage to live this dream.

A journey such as this is not simply about going from point a time point b, but to reach the point of loving myself enough to make the ever changing, always difficult, journey of the heart.

For a New Beginning

John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness grow inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,

A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Fulmination: A poem in photographic parts

To my aram cara, who knew this poem prior to its appearance here, I decided to publish its parts as photographs. We may never get a chance to see our images together in a picture. Perhaps one of us hands our phone to a passerby after asking if they’d not mind, “oh thank you so much it means a lot to us.” I imagine we grasp hands, walk over to an ancient wall by the seaside on a lucky sunny day. We’re both in big sunglasses, floppy hats, blonde hair peaking out, bright smiles. Our flowing white dresses bought the day before, when we heard it would be unseasonably warm. It’s close to lunchtime. We thank the passerby and we say nothing and I slip the phone into my backpack. Sighing simultaneously, both of us know the value of that photograph. A dream.

The Fulminating Infection

Music Reactions: two friends with terminal cancer

youtube.com/watch

So, if you’ve not seen this video yet, you’ll find it entertaining, and perhaps a little sad. And perhaps you know Aimee Mann’s song, Save Me, from the film Magnolia’s sound track or if nothing else, I assure you’ll like the video. But it’s a hard song for anyone not to like. The video was created and edited by my good friend Rudy Fischman. Rudy has inoperable brain cancer, as well as two daughters and a wife – people with whom he wants to leave as much of a legacy of himself as possible.

He’s done a few more, and we’ve done several together coming to YouTube soon, so stay tuned. We’re enjoying our behind the scenes music banter as well as the time we share together developing a friendship that’s a marathon with some sprinting to catch up with the intent of a close friendship that may otherwise take years. It’s nit how long, but the quality it brings into our lives, mostly alone and misunderstood by the vast majority of those around us who don’t have terminal cancer.

Cancer friendships can end without warning. One of us will inevitably die first, and the other will mourn quietly and alone in our grief.

Rudy also produced the poetry episode 46 of The Brain Cancer Diaries by stop please watch and subscribe. You’ll find it here: Poetry Episode . It’s become a fan favorite and sadly Ben North died before it was filmed. Melissa Blank the second poet, died last week at home with her husband, listening to Nina Simone. I joined her death, quietly and alone; Rudy told me right as we began to film one of our music reaction video sessions. I put my face in my hands and asked, no one in particular, “why?” Why does cancer rob us of beautiful souls? It’s not a question so much as a statement.

It’s been another tough week, my friends, and I’ll give you a health update after I meet my new oncologist on Tuesday. In the meanwhile, farewell Ben and Melissa. I’ll carry the poetry torch in your honor best as I can, with dignity and the wisdom of your words whispering through mine. We did not need know each other to get one another. As I said, cancer friendships burn bright and quick sometimes. I’m the only one of the three of us still living. I can only believe that the survivors guilt I’m wracked with might be one of the culprits making my legs heavy with dangerous lymphedema and my belly round with at least six liters of ascites fluid, both side effucks of the radiation treatments I had back in October/ November 2020. Fuck cancer. Seriously.