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June 9, 2014

Cancer: A Lesson in Satya. ~ Michelle Rubin

Satya or Letting Go

When you know everything, learning is impossible.

I sure wish I had understood that on my first day of Yoga class, but it is proving to take more than three decades to understand and experience. Like many of us, I have allowed my ego to get in the way of my progress.

For the first decade, if a pose was challenging or inaccessible to me, I told myself it was gymnastics and not Yoga. I was the girl at the back of the Studio, silent during any expression of chanting. Little did I know that (literally) standing on my head, or singing with Yoga friends, was just what I needed to leave my sheltered mind behind, and explore the world of opportunities Yoga can offer.

So much is possible when we let go of what we think we know and allow ourselves to grow.

Creating stories in our heads to justify our behavior, lack of discipline, unhappiness and unwillingness to evolve is part of human nature.

Knowledge and understanding are constantly evolving and changing, so why do we cling to what we think is true, instead of striving to go beyond what we currently understand? Know thyself, know thy nature is one of the lessons we hear on the journey to freedom. Knowing our habits, and choosing to see how they impact us.

Do they assist or hinder us in reaching our highest potential?

Yoga is the practice of replacing ignorance with openness in order to get closer to the truth. We learn something, whether it be a pose alignment or a sutra (philosophical aphorism), and if we move forward with non-attachment to this knowledge as the only truth, it will lead the way to the next level of understanding. Yoga is a scientific experiment we perform on our bodies and minds in order to get closer to our true self, Atman (universal soul).

A simple example of this practice is the first few years I practiced triangle pose. I considered it an easy pose, I thought I knew everything there was to know about triangle, and believed I was doing it perfectly. It was only after many years that I realized if I wasn’t feeling it, I wasn’t doing it as well as I could be, and therefore was not receiving the full benefits of this challenging asana. I now know that I still have much to learn about triangle, and this allows my triangle to evolve and grow into its fullest potential.

Was my first triangle wrong? No, it was just my truth and understanding at that time, it was what I needed as a foundation to grow stronger, physically and mentally.

To begin to understand that I know nothing has been a journey, one that I am sure I may never complete. It took about a decade for me to begin to comprehend that there are many different ways to be able to experience truth. Truth can be altered based on experience (current and past), perspective, memory and nature (habits).

Some questions I repeat to myself regularly to help me see past the illusion my mind and circumstances create: Is it true? Is it really true? Is this my truth? Another top tip: always check the source. Does the source of this thought share my values? Does this source live in a manner that I respect or that inspires me? How and by whom is this source educated?

These stories we are in the habit of creating begin with thoughts. The purpose of Yoga is to learn to control these thoughts, eventually stilling them. If we tell ourselves lies, not only do we believe them, but so do others. Soon enough, we are living those lies as our truth, our reality. We create false expectation in ourselves and others.

We have a choice in creating our situation, and it starts with how we think.

Be mindful of your thoughts for they become your words. Be mindful of your words because they become your actions. Be mindful of your actions because they form your habits. Be mindful of your habits because they form your character. Be mindful of your character because it chooses your destiny. ~ The Upanishads

In the past two years, I have experienced my most difficult challenge yet. My husband was diagnosed with Lymphoma just months after our wedding. Assisting him in his journey to wellness has been an effective and continuous lesson in Satya (truthfulness). The thing about Yoga is there is always another layer, the learning is never ending.

I have told myself many a tall tale in the past two years. Lying to myself and creating unnecessary expectations has brought both my husband and I stress and disappointment. Creating expectation has always been a struggle for me, and I can consciously remember dismissing and not accepting this lesson in my original studies of the Yoga Sutras.

Life has a way of teaching us what we choose to reject.

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~ John Lennon

Expectation is the root of much suffering.

We told ourselves we would never develop Cancer because of our healthy diet and lifestyle. Upon detection, we told ourselves we would tackle Cancer with perfection, in other words, Pranayama, diet, Meditation, Asana, attitude and so on. As you can imagine, expecting perfection is never a good path. Especially when undergoing the most stressful of transitions.

Excessive positive thinking creates expectation and leads to disappointment. It is a ride on an emotional roller coaster brought on by denial. I told myself initially that the Doctors were mistaken, there was no way he could have Cancer. I continually insisted that each round of round of Chemo would be his last. I set the stage for disappointments which impacted many people, including my husband.

Because I believed my lies, each disappointment felt like being hit with a baseball bat, and the grieving process had to begin all over again.

Many people are afraid of knowing what their problems are. They just want to swallow a pill and forget everything. Instead they wake up with several new problems. They want to become ostriches. When there is danger in sight, they want to bury their heads in the sand. ~ Sri Swami Satchidananda

Cancer is not a battle you can win or lose. It is a journey with an unknown destination and distance.

Now the story I choose to tell myself is one more grounded in truth.

We do not own our bodies or our lives, they are merely on loan, and can be repossessed at any given moment without any notice. I accept that time is a gift not every human is given in abundance, and I am grateful for every second of this journey I am privileged enough to share with my husband.

I forgive myself and my husband for not being perfect, and try my hardest to be gentle with both of us. I choose to tell myself I will be okay, whatever the outcome may be. I try to mind my thoughts, choosing to be happy as we struggle, and trust that the old adage, This too shall pass, applies to good times as well as bad.

I will survive, as long as I know how to love I know I am still alive. I’ve got all my life to live and I’ve got all my love to give. I will survive. ~  Gloria Gaynor

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Photo: Courtesy of the author.

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Michelle Rubin