Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Living in the Moment - Happiness

I gave this presentation to the Women's Cancer Support Group this past week.

“This” Was Not in My Plans: Living with Cancer”
Joy in the Journey or Celebrating the In-Between Times

“Life is short and we never have too time for gladdening the hearts

of those who are traveling the dark journey with us.

Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”

—Henri-Frederic Amiel (1821-1881) Philosopher, Poet, Critic
When I was diagnosed with cancer I was told that I would be doing cancer full-time, and to drop commitments and focus on cancer treatment – and living.
There have been times in my life when I’ve been so busy being busy, that I haven’t been able to “fit one more thing” into my life. But I tell you, when this crisis came, I was amazed at how easily and quickly I was able to simplify my life. In fact, I really felt like I did as a new mother – wanting to really really really savor (Yikes) every moment; I know this sounds weird, but as I told a friend, “I want to live cancer to the ultimate – I want to make sure that I learn everything there is to learn, while I’m in this state.” And my friend told me, “Ronda, you’ll be learning from this experiences for years to come.” Yes – journey – not destination. Just like rearing children.
So I began living day by day, minute by minute, second by second, with chemo and radiation and doctor appointments becoming my social life, and the time-tracker as I moved through cancer.
Slowing down allowed me to really stop and smell the roses, living in the moment, with no plans for the future, except to nap!
Cancer moved me from where I was to where I am now. All of us, of course, go through similar alterations and changes. The difference between the changes in my life and the changes in yours is only in the details.
And as sick as I was, I learned that life is worth living, not just getting through. I promised myself that as sick as I was, as much as I hurt, I would not get angry, and I would not let my cancer define me. My mottos during my twelve month treatment journey were:
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau
“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” Margaret Lee Runbeck
In this goal driven, 12-Step focused, promotion preparing, dollar strengthening, daylight extended, with the end in mind society, it’s tough to focus on the here and now, the right this very minute, the one step at a time, perspective. Yet it’s not the beginnings and endings as much as it is what’s in the middle, the middle part is the most important – living in the moment.
What are you doing today that brings you joy?
Can you live in the moment, being grateful for the here and now?
Real life most often happens during the in-between times when we are not celebrating a special occasion. While moving from one moment in time to the next is seldom considered a significant occurrence, I think we all know how important and difficult it is to live in the middle, in that in-between time where we’re not able to make plans, planning for the future, let alone tomorrow, is not always possible. So we learn to live in today.

And here I am today, 3 ½ years post-treatment, and I am so excited to be alive, to be healthy, to be continually learning from my cancer experiences. I often celebrate the simple fact that I am alive and that every day is a chance to spend time with the people I care about and do the work I love. And as I look at the good that exists in my life, I see many reasons for celebrating the in-between times: a cup of my favorite tea, a beautiful sunrise, snow on the mountain, a grandchild’s laugh, a joke, a good book, and the smell of fresh air.

Celebrating these times can be as easy as paying special attention to them when they do happen, rather than taking them for granted. We can also pay homage to these times by slowing down and allowing ourselves time to look around and allow our hearts and mind to take in all of life’s wonders. Far too often, we can let those simple moments of awe pass us by. And when we do, we lose the happiness that can so easily be ours.
Throughout our lives, we must deal with change. Some changes are welcome – like a new child; some are not – like cancer. There are changes in our lives which are sudden, such as the unexpected passing of a loved one, an unforeseen illness, the loss of a possession we treasure.
Yet the longer we live, the greater is our realization that life is short. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by. Instead, find joy in your journey—now. Find happiness in the middle as well as the beginnings and endings.
“Be in love with your life. Every minute of it.” Jack Kerouac 
“Stay patient and trust your journey.”
Of course, there is no going back, but only forward. Rather than dwelling on the past, let’s make the most of today, of the here and now.
Pre-cancer it was easy to be busy and take myself, my husband, others for granted, but when I knew my days may be numbered, I did not want to be left with feelings of “what if” and “if only.” Author Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” I knew I had to relish life as I lived it, finding joy in the journey, and sharing my love with those I initially neglected.
Some of you may be familiar with Thornton Wilder’s classic drama Our Town. If you are, you will remember the town of Grover’s Corners, where the story takes place. In the play Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and her husband, George, and their four-year-old son grieve the loss of Emily. Emily does not wish to rest in peace; she wants to experience again the joys of her life. She is granted the privilege of returning to earth and reliving her 12th birthday. At first it is exciting to be young again, but the excitement wears off quickly. The day holds no joy now that Emily knows what is in store for the future. It is unbearably painful to realize how unaware she had been of the meaning and wonder of life while she was alive. Before returning to her resting place, Emily laments, “Do … human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
Said one well-known author (Sarah Ban Breathnach), “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”
The ancient Roman philosopher Horace admonished, “Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”
Despite the changes which come into our lives and but with gratitude in our hearts, may we fill our days—as much as we can—with those things that matter most. “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, all the fears you have overcome.” Unknown
I’m not saying life is hunky-dory and that you should put on rose-colored glasses, and see life as a Pollyanna movie. I’m saying wallow in your sorrow, your pain, your anger, your fear, your anxiety, and then put it down and move forward; let it go.
Now that’s easier said than done – last month was freak-out month! September is when I found my tumor, and all my surgery, etc., happened that month. On top of this, I began teaching another semester at UVU, and another chaplain was questioning my ability to think clinically. And as often as I took deep breaths, went for walks, exercised, wrote, and prayed, I could not calm myself down. Even Ativan worked only temporarily (I only use in Sept. and April). My angst became a bigger issue than my issues! Finally (why didn’t I think of this earlier) I pulled out this worksheet, and with a friend, we walked through the steps. It was then I felt like I could put my burdens down. That and school is going fine, my mammograms are clear, and the chaplain was asked by someone above us both to calm down!
“The struggle is part of your story.” How do you define your struggle? How is it a part of your journey?
Surprised by Joy is a book written by C.S. Lewis. This is a recollection of his coming to faith. He talks about how joy was something he searched for and experienced in brief “stabs.” He tried often to induce joy by reliving the things that had at one point or another given him joy.
My favorite quote from the book is, “All joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.” In the end he realizes those “stabs of joy” were the everyday happenings, just like sign posts that were leading him in the right direction. Upon this realization, Lewis was more at peace, not so preoccupied with trying to find and experience joy.
It will be interesting to look back on this chapter of our lives in 5 years – I wonder if we will have clarity to see the reason behind all of it, to understand the pieces that needed to come together to get us to where we are supposed to be.
“Stop on our life's journey to look for the joy instead of dwelling on the negatives, joy that is possible because we are loved by God.” Max Lucado
As much as I really hate cancer, and some days I’m really pissed that I am a “cancer survivor,” I’m blessed for the lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn. Happiness is where I want to be, regardless of how long I have to live. I am choosing joy.
Won’t you join me in happiness, not toward, but wallowing in the beauty of living in the present, and being grateful for today?
My sincere hope is that we may adapt to the changes in our lives, that we may realize what is most important, that we may express our gratitude always and in doing so find joy in the journey. Live my friends, dream and live.

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