My brother is really sick. He has been fighting cancer for three years and, although following his latest chemo drug, the scans have revealed miniscule lesion growth; his feet, ankles and legs are so swollen that he can no longer walk without fear of falling. And he does fall. Often. This summer while staying at their summer place, he fell on the dock face down and could not get up. Eventually his wife found him.
His immune system is radically compromised. He suffers from raging thrush in his throat and mouth, a split in his jaw, and neuropathy in his hands. He now has what is rather hideously referred to as “chemo brain” which means that he can’t remember things and his brilliant, funny, creative mind is fuzzy and blurred.
Never mind that the side effects have become the main effects. The doctors are pleased with the test results. Their job is to see that the cancer doesn’t kill him.
“Life is difficult.” That is the opening sentence of M. Scott Peck’s penetrating book, The Road Less Traveled. Fr. Richard Rohr writes in his profound work, Falling Upward, “Life is tragic.” The Buddhists teach us that all life is suffering. And every spiritual teacher tells us that we intensify our suffering by trying to avoid the pain that is fundamental to human existence. Carl Jung insists that our neuroses arise out of our attempt to escape normal human suffering.
None of the above stops me from grieving for my brother’s suffering. I want to fix it, fight it, hold him in my arms as I did on the day when I was three and Mom brought him home, tiny and pink and swathed in a blue blanket. “May I hold him?’ I asked her, stretching my arms toward the most beautiful being I had ever seen. “Sit down,” she said. I did and she handed him to me. From that day forward he was, in some sense, mine to raise.
So today at Yoga, my heart so heavy that I could barely stay in the room and with the teaching of Peck, Rohr and the Buddha in mind, I sought the balance point: that delicate and elusive place between acceptance, pain and grief. I sought it in my body, dedicating the balancing poses to my brother. I stood as tall and straight as I could on one leg while the other was bent and pressed firmly into my thigh, executing the Tree pose and wobbling some as I focused on finding that essential still point.
For Eagle pose I wrapped my lifted bent leg around my bent standing leg, once again breathing and, wobbling a bit less, I allowed my body to steady itself into the center of the pose. My body does this far better than my mind. Always.
Suffering is. My brother’s and mine for him, are different, but in life’s Big Picture, it is all one suffering: his, mine and yours as well. Our natural response is to resist grief, loneliness and despair; we so much prefer joy. But in order to hold in our hearts equally the inescapable sadness of life and the constant joy, we must find a way to embrace the fact that, in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr, “everything belongs.”
Easier said than done.
Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com