“It's easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top.”
Blessings sometimes come upside down. Who would have thought that when I learned to live above and beyond pain, it would come in handy for cancer? Not that pain is on the map yet, though I wonder whether my body's being accustomed to pain killers will make things more difficult further down the path.
Enter ACT therapy (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which I came across in an article on living in remission. This sounds to the point: I can't change what's happening, so I have to accept. And I can do the second part which is commit to my values, reclaim them from the muddle of emotions that go with waiting (for months) for a diagnosis to be unwound.
It is similar to my efforts with pain: live on a level that is larger than pain – or current sickness. Stop wishing illness away; build a good life with my values in spite of it.
So I try to reclaim that pain-free space, where I can feel the bounty of spirit. In the process it comes clear that we mostly live life's difficulties from below. We are down under, scrabbling and coping with problems that are tossed at us from above, like illness, accidents, job loss, you name it – the rich tapestry of life. Not helped by orthodox religion decreeing these things are sent to try us, for improvement. All this makes us feel impotent and life an endurance test rather than an opportunity.
But supposing we act from above? What if we are coming from a place that is higher and richer than our sickness? How? It is vital to keep connected to our best self, grounded and loving. To remember that what's important is not what is happening to me, but how I handle it. Just thinking this, I can feel the strength of it.
Then I am not being used by life, but life itself is a vehicle I can use well. This changes how I interact with everything. I was reading a calming book to quiet my anxious mind for sleep – acting from below and trying to get a handle. What if I act from above and choose the same book as a treat? Not even a reward; that would imply I am trying to control my mind from a position of impotance. A treat from the strength I already have.
Immediately, my vantage point changes. Instead of fearfully waiting for the results of my CT scan on Wednesday, crouching beneath the inevitable, waiting for the sentence, I am calm and feel the power of choice. Not over the outcome, but over how I accept it. I am no longer a child awaiting a slap from fate, but an adult who chooses dignity – and spares compassion for the oncologist whose day is made up of breaking bad news.
I choose to live from above. The top of the world, not in a cesspit of despair.
Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps. A Workbook for Overcoming Self-doubt and Embracing Life by Tanya J. Peterson and Sawn E. Verdin M.A