When I got cancer, every book and healer told me I needed to relax, meditate, and get grounded.
As a life-long, stressed out overachiever, I wanted to accomplish this quickly and proficiently. Spoiler alert—tackling relaxation as part of a Type-A checklist is counterproductive. Here’s why. My lists went something like this:
>> Schedule appointment with oncologist
>> Investigate supplements from nutritionist (do I really need 52?)
>> Try to walk to end of street again
>> Talk to therapist
>> Pick up kid from school
>> Finish How to Cure Cancer book
>> F*cking relax
When we make “f*cking relax” a part of our over-packed agenda, the entire purpose is lost. But the problem is, who has time to relax and meditate? That 10, 20, 40, 60 minutes we need to relax or meditate can seem like a luxury we just don’t have most days. The irony is that the less time we think we have, the more our bodies and minds need to relax. As the old Zen adage goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
We don’t need cancer to be so wound up that we can’t find the time to relax. If I had been able to relax for the last 10 years, I may not have even gotten cancer. But I can’t change the past. Now, I was being told that relaxing was key to my survival. I had to figure it out.
Recently on a family vacation, I discovered a relaxation hack so simple and universally easy that it seemed even the most uptight might achieve a few minutes of mind clearing.
I’m behind Niagara Falls in tunnels rumbling with thousands of gallons of water barreling over me every second. My husband, son, and I are dressed in bright yellow ponchos like garbage bags pretending to be bananas at Halloween. From the back of the tunnel, I see the colored lights shining into the water through an arched viewing point. Several other banana-imposter tourists are blocking my full view, but the nighttime light show is sending colored prisms inside and around the archway and tunnel.
We patiently wait our turn to get to the front of the arch. We walk to the guardrail. More water than I’ve ever seen pounds a few feet away. This is a special moment. I want so savor it. I want to make a lasting memory for the family.
I grab my son’s and husband’s hands. I make all of us close our eyes. I tell them, “Take 10 deep breaths with your eyes closed.” From a source I can’t identify, I tell them to “just listen.”
Suddenly, the falls roar even louder. I can also hear “drip, drip, drip” from the top of the tunnel.The water spraying my face is colder, sharper, and even wetter somehow. The power of the falls makes my body shake with energy. I’m engulfed in a smell of fresh water so powerful I feel deeply cleansed. I want to stick my face in the falls to taste what I imagine to be the cleanest water in the world. With my eyes closed, I can almost taste the water. So pure, so clean. Cleansing my body and soul.
I feel a connection to something so much bigger than me. This tunnel a small pinprick hole in this giant wonder. My body is as small as an ant.
We open our eyes. Take our obligatory selfie. Move out the way for the next banana-imposters to take their turn. My body was refreshed. My mood lifts as we walk out of the tunnel.
To clarify, here’s the hack in five steps:
1. Close your eyes.
2. Relax your body.
3. Just listen. This is the key: just listen.
4. Take 10 deep breaths while listening.
5. Continue as long as you can and want.
I tried this hack at multiple points around Niagara Falls, and it was brilliant. It makes sense that these massive rushing waters could inspire moments of serendipity, calm, and universal oneness.
But I wanted more. I didn’t want to only feel this way on a two-day trip, once in my life. I continued trying this hack for the rest of our week-long vacation: an air show, a beach, a restaurant, and on a bus. Again somehow:
>> The jet fuel I hadn’t noticed burning the inside of my nose suddenly came into my consciousness
>> The waves seems to crash harder, moving the sand I stood on
>> The smell of butter wafted from every table at the local lobster shack and made my mouth water
>> The voices on the bus became sharper, so I could hear a giggle and a lisp I had missed a second earlier
I felt closer to everything around me. Part of a bigger world, and less myself. A fragment of the universe, rather than a spectator of it. Each time I open my eyes after these 10 intentional breaths, I find my mood had lifted. I was more relaxed and more present.
I’m no meditation expert—just a girl trying to heal cancer. This hack may work for some but not for others. And that’s okay. Relaxing is as personalized as entertainment. I don’t like horror movies but it’s a billion-dollar industry, so clearly someone does. Relaxation is the same way.
What I have learned in this healing journey is a little mindful relaxation can go a long way to changing how we feel. If a minute-long hack can brighten our day, every day, isn’t it worth trying to f*cking relax?
Author: Tracy White
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman