“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” Rumi
I remember as a kid I never wanted to go to sleep. If my parents had company, I definitely didn’t want to go to bed, I wanted to be with whoever was visiting. But on ordinary nights, I still didn’t want to go to sleep because I’d get bad dreams, or I’d be anxious about my struggles in school. If there was a test the next day, it sent me spinning with anxiety. I remember crying to my parents on those sleepless nights and I’m filled with empathy for the anxious child that I was.
School was terrible – I was always behind and my report cards were often filled with red ink showing my failing grades, leaving me with shame and humiliation. Family life was hard because my parents didn’t know how to handle the constant emotional chaos that would erupt between us, and my vision problems made me feel like I was “damaged goods.” Difficultly making friends because I was so unhappy topped off the list of horrors.
Somehow, I got through each day — that was my job. I think back on my years and see that my way of handling life was to just push ahead, like walking through a dense forest that doesn’t have a path. I guess you can say I was in uncharted territory, but isn’t that the way for all of us? How did other people get through life? But I pushed through the sadness, the inadequate feelings, and the unsettledness that comes as a result of ignoring painful negativity.
Reflecting back, I’m amazed at my persistence, because in spite of the feelings that were unsuccessfully shoved down the rabbit hole, I carried on anyway. I struggled through school, moved out of my family home at an early age, supported myself and eventually got a master’s degree in social work— all with a feeling of inadequacy and sadness. That’s quite an accomplishment! But there were times when I wondered why life was so hard. Why was I always struggling? Isn’t it easier just to be happy? But I couldn’t let go of these heavy-hearted feelings, no more than I could stop breathing. Self-hate became my companion.
Now I am retired, I had cancer, received chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant which two years later still knocks me out. I wake up and have energy, so I decide to go for a walk, or begin the tasks of the day, and suddenly my energy is depleted and all I can do is rest my body. When I sprawl across the sofa limp and relaxed, I don’t have the resistance I had as a child. I am not fighting sleep, nor am I trying to fight through all sorts of emotional issues in order to accomplish something. I just give in to my body, my muscles relax, and I feel glorious relief. In a few seconds, I am in a sound sleep and when I wake up, I am more alert and relaxed.
I learned so much about myself during cancer treatment. One thing I realized is that I spent a lifetime of resistance and not enough surrender. The resistance comes with lots of struggle with a poor self-image, but the surrender is a breath of fresh air. It is free from self judgement and criticism and is as refreshing as waking up from a nap. It’s giving into what is. I’m not fighting sleep like I did as a child. I am not fighting with anything. I am giving into the moment. As I am sprawled across my sofa with the blissful feeling of surrender, the thought occurs to me that if I can do this with my body maybe I can do it with all the negative feelings invading my heart and soul. Maybe the negativity is based on feelings and events from the past that do not exist anymore. Why did I think I wasn’t good enough anyway? Aren’t we all a work in progress? Yes, there are things I wanted to accomplish that I probably won’t get to, things I have accomplished, and other things that I will accomplish, like letting go of sad heavy-hearted feelings. How can I see myself with curiosity and love instead of shame and doubt? How can I let go of judgment?
By returning to my meditation practice which connects me to spirituality, I am learning that letting the self-effacing feelings melt away makes my heart feel lighter. Surrender feels like seeing with a fresh pair of eyes. There is vibrancy in just seeing things as they are without assessing whether it is good or bad. It’s like mornings before events of the day happen that tire us out. Or after a rain when everything feels fresh and new.
Surrender made cancer easier to bear because I got to know my new body and the persisting side effects without feeling sorry for myself. Struggles and fears still exist, but there’s also revelations that make life interesting. Without resistance and a judgmental attitude, I see my resilience and that I’m better equipped to manage whatever comes my way. I have more energy when I experience each moment without an agenda.
When I realize I am struggling with resistance I ask myself, what am I resisting and why? Where is this coming from? Does it have anything to do with present issues, is it old baggage from the past? I discovered that being aware of resistance and its origins, creates self-compassion and self-growth. We all deserve a reward for getting through childhood and we shouldn’t be blaming ourselves for anything, because whatever the issue we all did our best to survive and thrive and now we are able adults who can move forward — so I take a deep breath, and let life happen.