December 30, 2010

When Illness Becomes Your Ally: Release, Restore, Radiate

Last March we wrote a blog, Making Friends With Illness, that quoted our friend Liz who, at the time, had cancer. Last week she died. Our lives had intermingled for over 25 years, we lived next door for some of those, we knew her extended family and she knew ours, we used to spend summer days picnicking on the beach—which meant the sandy edge of a large lake edged with snow-capped mountains! Having meditated for years, Liz brought mindfulness to understanding her illness. She refused to see it as the enemy; rather she made friends with it, deeply accepting it for what it was. As she said in March:

“As a cancer patient, I can honestly say that cancer is definitely a drag. However, it has also brought many blessings. Instantly I had to start listening to my world, I discovered a sense of space and newness, and LOVE—so much love. Trungpa Rinpoche said that you just have to lean into whatever is happening. He called the experience of living with illness one taste; that whether you get well or not, all conditions have the same one taste.”

Liz also had what she called her three R’s: Release, Restore, Radiate.


Release whatever is holding you back, whether fear, doubt, anger, frustration, irritation, all the dramas and memories that cause pain and suffering, anything that is getting in the way of having a clear mind and an open heart. Normally, we tend to deny, ignore or repress such unwanted feelings and bury them inside where they fester and damage us further. Liz saw the need to recognize and own these feelings so they could be named, known and released. This is fully acknowledging the depth of the pain, loss and fear, and letting it go, letting it heal, letting it be. “We can only release something when we know it—we cannot let go of something that is hidden away, lurking in the darkness. It has to first come into the light.”


Restore your inner self by filling up with confidence, trust, acceptance, and awareness. Illness can easily take us away from our true or Buddha nature or what is sacred; we lose touch with the spiritual and heart-felt, blaming the world for our pain or getting angry at loved ones. Liz instinctively knew that it was essential to stay connected, to strengthen her trust in the unknown, and in the stillness within, to listen to silence.


Radiate by sending love out into the world so others may benefit. This is so important as illness makes us focus on our issues, leaving little space to accommodate anyone else’s difficulties. When we give to others it takes us beyond ourselves into a bigger, more altruistic space. Liz was the most giving person we have known. Even in the later stages of her illness she would arrive at our house with a bag of goodies—oddments she had seen that she knew we would love. And she did this for many others too. She radiated generosity. Kindness is free to give and it leaves the giver the richest of all.

Liz tried everything to stay alive, but when the time came to accept that she was dying she did it gracefully and peacefully.

We treasure her three R’s and hope that, in sharing them, they can help you too, so that the New Year is a glorious, joyful and radiant one for you!

Photo “Pink Tips” by Jenny Downing at Flickr.com

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