When I was a teenager growing up in New York City, my friend and I used to go to the Village and we loved browsing in such stores as Azuma, which had beautiful carved boxes from India, gorgeous Indian-print fabric that we’d find on many hippie couches and beds, and, of course, patchouli incense. There was also a store called Poster Mat, which had Peter Max and other similar posters that looked great hanging on a wall near the Indian-print fabrics.
I bought a postcard at Poster Mat that I kept with me for years. I thought it was hysterical and whenever I showed it to anyone, they would smile politely, apparently not really understanding what I found so funny about this postcard. Occasionally someone would give a genuine laugh, which confirmed my feelings about it. It was a red postcard with a cartoon drawing of a man leaning over a counter, returning a package. He is seen telling the man on the other side of the counter, “No, life isn’t what I wanted, haven’t you got anything else?”
I have to explain why I was so drawn to this card. My childhood, teen years, and early adulthood were complicated. In retrospect, I think that I was depressed, though not necessarily “clinically depressed”; I managed to get through life, but my mantra was often that I hated life. I was drawn to this card because, as a lost teen trying to “find myself,” it described a feeling that I was unable to express, and only remotely aware of. I was thrilled that someone out there understood how I felt, even if I did not. Eventually I stopped saying it because I realized it only perpetuated negativity. I was in therapy for a number of years, which helped me move forward. I went back to college for my bachelor’s degree and later for my master’s degree, married a wonderful man, was a great social worker, and established a lifestyle of contentment.
Seeking greater fulfillment in life led me to become interested in Spirituality. I find peace in meditating and understanding that our existence here on earth is only a small part of existence in a universal perspective. With that in mind, some years ago I went to a Dr. Brian Weiss Weekend at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, to learn about past life regression. It was thrilling to use hypnosis to bring us back to our past lives, see the lessons we learned from them, and if there are any traits or issues we still experience in our lives today, problematic issues to overcome. It was amazing to be able to tap into our potential in order to access these extraordinary experiences. One exercise he did was to bring us back to the existence in-between lives, just before we came into this one. This exercise was a most extraordinary one for me, as its meaning is now becoming clearer to me than ever.
When Dr. Weiss led us back to this place before our birth, I saw myself circled by loving, supportive beings. They loved me and were telling me I had to go. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had to. I left reluctantly; I think on an escalator. In discussing our experiences, Dr. Weiss explained that we are spiritual beings having an earthly existence (as spiritual beings we are immortal, living several lifetimes, according to Dr. Weiss) and that there are many beings who are eager to have another experience here on earth. I raised my hand and asked him if they were so eager, and I wasn’t, why couldn’t they go instead of me. His answer was simple: “Because you had a lesson to learn.”
So that brings me here today: a 67-year-old woman learning my life lessons. I see a recurrent theme of resistance in many parts of my life. It seems that resistance and angst accompany almost everything I try to accomplish. I am always fighting through this feeling. Even when I am engaged in a project I like, such as writing or embroidery, there is an ever-so-slight quality of pulling back from doing my best. I think it takes me so long to accomplish anything simply because I have to struggle through this forest of reluctance and fear of inadequacy.
I am discovering, however, that life has a way of presenting us with lessons over and over again, giving us more opportunities to learn from, like that brilliant movie, “Groundhog Day.” I say this now because I have been diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, an aggressive and rare form of cancer that affects the lymph nodes. In the time it took to diagnose, it has spread to several parts of my body. I persistently went through many tests and doctors until I found answers, and started treatment right away. There was never a thought otherwise, but my postcard from Poster Mat and my experience with Dr. Weiss’s past life regression immediately came back to me.
Several thoughts kept racing through my mind. Life has been both difficult and rewarding throughout my years. I accomplished a lot in my life. Not all that I wanted, but do we measure whether we are ready to die by the amount of successes we have had, or do we measure our life by the quality of what we did, how we did it, and who was affected by our actions? So maybe I am finished and it’s time to end this experience in this particular life. But, then again, I haven’t even been collecting my Social Security check for very long and have yet to buy my second home. I have not yet enjoyed the full extent of retirement nor have I learned how to enjoy life without work. There are still things I want to accomplish, but there is that reluctance, resistance, and fear of inadequacy that follow me through life. When I was diagnosed with cancer, my dear friend Florence’s mantra came back to me. She said, “Everything is grist for the mill.” I understand that cancer has a lesson for me.
So, this is what I am learning. Yes, I get bogged down by a lot of uncomfortable side effects of chemotherapy and it is easy to forget about the bigger picture: that there is life ahead of me. Still, I chose treatment without a second thought, so in spite of the reluctance, I already chose to live. Now, how I live it is the question. Do I continue to live it with resistance and fear of not being good enough? Or do I look at what I am doing and how I am doing it? I am fighting cancer. My stepdaughter gave me a bracelet that says, “I am brave.” My niece gave me an air freshener that says, “I’m a warrior not a worrier.” I think they both describe who I am.
I choose life. It’s not always easy but it’s also about attitude. Cancer is making me brave because I am choosing life in spite of the fear, sadness, and loss that overcome me, not just during treatment, but in all of my life. I don’t want life to end this way, not when I’m realizing that I have always been a warrior, that I have always been brave and able to work through the many obstacles that faced me. I didn’t always overcome gracefully. In fact, I see that using that word is me giving me a grade. Did I pass or fail? It is not useful to think in such a judgmental way. I am realizing that this self-judgmental way of looking at who I am and what I do and how I do it is exactly what is creating the reluctance, resistance, anxiety, and fear. I am also realizing that I am someone who learns from everything I do in life, which helps me become a wiser person. So, instead of making judgments that only lead to feelings of inadequacy, I’m going for compassionate self-awareness, which will take me further on this life journey. I know that there is more for me to experience. I want to look for positivity and love for a long time to come.