The cusp of winter collapses into spring.
Cherry blossoms send their petals pirouetting in the breezes; the sun breaks through the cracks in our curtains.
Christians consume the metaphorical (or literal, depending on your faith) body and blood of Christ.
Some make sacrifices throughout Lent and resurrect spiritually in lightness.
Christian or not, Easter has always signified a time for me for surrendering and renewing, renouncing and resurrecting, to offer gifts to the spirit and bring the best of myself back to life.
Spending this Easter with my family has reminded me of all the everyday sacrifices and resurrections made for—and born out—of love.
We make sacrifices to be with the people we love when it’s needed: my brother’s family endured a long car ride with a two year-old and a dog to reach my father’s steps in Toronto; I flew across the Atlantic and endured in-flight rom-coms starring Adam Sadler to be home for this holiday.
As onerous or mundane as sacrifices might be, when done for love we often perform them without question.
Parents spontaneously sacrifice sleep for their newborn babies. My brother and his wife relinquish hours upon hours to care for my young nephew.
My own father, as well as extended family and friends, have been making offerings to extend their support to me as I face cancer.
It’s almost as if all good things born from love require some surrender…as if sacrifice must be endured, at times, for joy to emerge.
When I lie in bed in the morning and think how nice it would be to skip yoga and stay under the covers, I remember that a tiny bit of suffering will result in joy in the end; the satisfaction of honouring commitments I’ve made to myself gives birth to a deeper satisfaction.
Attending a silent meditation retreat requires the renunciation of time, sleep and finances but the feeling of renewal, spaciousness and lightness at the end of a retreat can feel like a figurative rebirth.
As I think of the weeks that have passed since my diagnosis with breast cancer, I’ve been contemplating the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to heal. Change is vital to surviving cancer—or to survival period—and with upheaval in states of mind and habitual lifestyles come sacrifices in all forms and variations.
While there hasn’t been any ritual slaughter (at least not yet) there have been a fair list of things I’ve given up in the name of healing: I left a stressful job, given up sugar, had my last pint of beer; I’ve offered up a good chunk of my day to energy work, surrendered myself to a pile of research on holistic cancer care and I’ve started a gratitude journal.
I’m sacrificing time to sit with myself and listen for any guidance my body might whisper to me; I’m staying as soft and as tender as I can be with myself—soft with all the fluctuation of emotions, tender with all the transformations—that are shaking me out of my comfort zone.
I feel I’ve got a long way to go but though all those sacrifices, I sense I’m developing deeper intuition and relationship with myself.
Perhaps, eventually, a resurrection will happen; Nancy will emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes of carcinoma, physically, emotionally and spiritually vibrant…provided all these crazy cancer therapies don’t burn her out first.
In my more existential moments, I ask myself, why I’m making these sacrifices? For whom? For what? For myself? For my family? For God? It is Easter after all—shouldn’t I be thinking about how this all relates with the Almighty?
While I have no fixed perceptions and conceptions of what or who God is, I sense this journey of healing is as spiritual as it is physical. Healing disease involves addressing the imbalances in the whole self and the whole self doesn’t stop at the limits of my skin.
As I address cancer, I’m confronted with just how connected I am to the world around me.
How many toxins are swimming in our polluted cities?
A typical beauty cabinet is stocked with chemicals that can initiate rogue cells to fire off in the body; a common refrigerator is loaded with carcinogenic condiments; under the bathroom sink, a host of toxins exist that with prolonged exposure to human skin can alter cellular function and DNA.
As I confront not just the outer world and its malevolent contributions to a cancerous environment, I confront my own inner environment and the rogue tendencies that could fire off unhealthy messages.
I have started to notice acutely the thoughts and feelings that fertilize disease and through that insight I have begun to seek a more profound balance in my emotional self—I sense that begins with relating to myself and to the world in a way that is genuine and compassionate.
With that shift in focus or rather the immediacy I feel in changing, not just how I think and perceive the world but how I live and act in it, I sense a subtle shift in my relationships. I have been seeking a more meaningful level of enquiry into the sources of this cancer and through that, a more meaningful level of enquiry into my life.
I have begun to see the journey of healing evolving into something as collective as it is individual.
It is a cancer in my body, an imbalance I must confront privately in the room of my own heart but with that I meet myriads of others—not just other humans but animals too—all with whom I interact and that help heal me.
The earth and the grass beneath my feet, on which I walk that nourishes me; the leaves in the teas from which I drink that cleanse my system; the flower remedies from which I ingest that make up my medicines.
I sense there’s a mystery to this illness—I can never know the ultimate cure or cause—but through enquiry into its healing, I sense I am receiving guidance by life’s interdependence.
When I resolve inside to heal this cancer—and not just the cancer itself but all the physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances that may have precluded this bodily symptom—life starts co-operating on my journey.
Like the sacrifices of sleep mother makes for her child’s wellness, I have been making sacrifices to heal my body.
Like the sacrifices of time a father makes for his family’s wholeness, I have been making sacrifices to heal my emotions.
Like Christ’s sacrifice of his body for the life of the spirit or like the Buddha’s sacrifice of fasting and meditation to reach enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, I am too, in my small ways, am making sacrifices to heal my spirit.
And like all those sacrifices—mother, father, Buddha of Christ—the right sacrifices made on my own journey of healing will be primarily ones born from and for love.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was one toe short of being paralyzed with complete fear. Much of orthodox cancer approaches function on fear.
Entering into discussions with oncologists about medical procedures and possible outcomes, I seized up in fright; I mirrored the panic I could see in my doctor’s faces as they began to describe what was happening in my body and what I had to do to rid myself of this disease. In that state of mind, I could only think of cancer in the most threatening way possible…a malignant, mindless, greedy clan of cells out to colonize my tissues and eat me alive.
In that light, all weaponry had to be unsheathed to slash, burn and poison the terrifying mass from my breast and stop it at all costs from returning.
But whether in sickness or in heartache, fear has never been entirely successful in bringing me closest to genuine health. Fear certainly has its function but sustained over too long a period of time, it only creates more stress and more disease.
When I approach the condition of living with cancer with greater softness, nurturance, patience and love; when I begin to see the cancer in my body as a process unfolding, a sign that inner conflict needs resolving, a signal that profound healing must happen—I feel empowered, courageous and less burdened by this fate.
I wouldn’t go so far to say that cancer is a gift. If it is a gift, I’d like to return this mass of cells with a full refund or perhaps for a gift certificate at the department store of diseases. Perhaps I could exchange carcinoma, for say, hay fever or athlete’s foot?
While cancer is no gift of roses, I do see this disease as an opportunity focus on healing my whole self. I am giving myself full permission to address all the emotional and spiritual places of stagnation that need clearing.
Cancer is the raven, the omen, the cipher and the ideogram from which multiple things can be read: “There’s no time to waste…investigate your life…be soft with yourself…listen to your inner voice…heal your heart!”
Maybe through this life journey, cancer is the sacrifice that has to be made and the resurrection will be a more profound feeling of what it means to truly love.
Nancy is a writer, artist, yogini and teacher living in London, England. She has taught and trained in yoga and meditation in Thailand, India, Nepal, Mexico and Canada. On March 16th, 2012, Nancy was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, or breast cancer. Through living with this disease, Nancy has been learning to trust the way her spirit dances though all things and reform what to her is yoga. (www.paperbirchyoga.com)
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Editor: Bryonie Wise