I Just Didn’t Get It.
It wasn’t for lack of me trying, mind you, I’m a self-improvement junkie. My quest for personal + spiritual development started sometime in the 80’s when I found myself at 15 years old, already halfway down the rabbit-hole. There wasn’t much structure in my life at that time – little guidance, lack of support, no boundaries – I was pretty much left to figure life out on my own. For several years I enlisted the help of drugs, alcohol + self destructive behavior to become my beloved teachers but by the time I was 21, I realized that this path wasn’t for me. I turned to books for solace, guidance + structure and hoped they would help me make sense of my very confused life.
These Authors Became My Beloved Mentors.
I read them again and again and again, never tiring of the messages I was receiving. Every sentence was a new beginning for me and every turn of the page, no matter how many times I read them, brought me one step closer to improving my life.
Fast Forward 20 Years.
In 2006, I found myself sitting with my husband who was well into his second cancer diagnosis. I felt at the time that I had a pretty good grasp on life — having been through therapy, self-improvement classes, personal development courses and, of course, the many teachings from my endless collection of books. As dire as this situation was, I had a really wonderful life and felt spiritually strong. I owned 2 successful businesses, a supportive circle of friends and had pretty much worked through my darkness — making a truce with my past. I had graduated to reading Iyanla VanZant, Deepak Chopra, and Dr.Wayne Dyer and felt I had found inner peace.
But something was still missing.
Seduced by the constant rhythm, clicking and beeping of the chemo pump and needing a reality check, I opened a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer called Inspiration, You’re Ultimate Calling… or maybe it was Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life? I really don’t remember to be honest. I just remember the chapter in the book I kept reading over and over and over again as he lay in bed soaking poison into his bloodstream. Dr. Dyer wrote that there is joy in everything —every moment, every situation, every tragedy. Just look for it he said, you’ll see it. I couldn’t wrap my brain around this no matter how hard I tried. I must have read this chapter 100 times, trying to grasp that little morsel of an AHA! moment —but it always eluded me.
Joy? Find the joy in the moment? But how? Where? In this hospital room —where we spend 3 days a week every other week trying desperately to cure my husband? In this time —over 2 years of salvage chemo that brings us 1 step forward and 2 steps back? In my home —where I have now learned how to snowplow my driveway, mow my lawn, maintain my house, plus cook, clean, caretake for my sick husband, pay the bills, feed the cat, do the laundry, organize my life around treatment schedules AND run my businesses? In this space —that echoing symphony of chemo pumps belting out their demand for attention? In the coffee area where I step out to take a breathe —only to see our neighbor has lost her fight? In the hallway –a stinking fusion of leftover cafeteria food, soiled linens, stale air covered by synthetic air-fresheners, strong perfume, medicine, sickness and death? Joy, you say? WTF?
Maybe this was the missing piece — that elusive morsel that I just couldn’t grasp no matter how much I reached. I set down my book, went for a walk and found myself at the hospital chapel. I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in Source Energy, or a Higher Power in the Universe, and so I ventured inside to find some solace. There was a small table at the far end with a small box of polished stones and note paper. You could leave a note for a loved one, a prayer or an intention, and if you’d like — take a stone as a symbol of love, or peace, or comfort. I wrote a note asking for strength for my husband and then I set an intention for myself. I closed my eyes and reached into the box of stones and took one that I felt resonance with. I pulled out a beautiful stone that was in the shape of a heart, with the top half dark and the bottom half light. I tucked it in my jacket pocket and went back to the room.
It was several weeks later when I found myself back at Unity Hospital, or what my husband liked to call his “all-inclusive vacation at 2-west resort; check in, get your yellow wristband and consume all the cocktails you can handle”. I sat watching my him sleep to the rhythm of the pump —when I just sort-of lost it. No particular trigger really, I just finally hit my breaking point. I ran to the bathroom and just sat there and sobbed my eyes out for what must have been an hour. I cried for him, and for me —for our lost future, our challenged lives, and all of our hopes, dreams and plans that just disappeared <poof> into thin air the moment we heard the word ‘cancer’. I cried for his unwavering strength —and for mine too.
Total distraction. I noticed I was holding on to the stone I had chosen just a few weeks earlier that was still in my pocket. I took it out and examined it, doing anything I could to concentrate on something better, something less painful. As I studied the two-toned balanced colors, it suddenly dawned on me what it represented. The light and dark, the high and the low, the rise and the fall, the roots in the darkness the top seeking light. Yin-Yang; the complementary forces in which the whole is greater than the parts, the balance of the positive and the negative, where the darkness cannot exist without the light.
And where joy cannot exist without sadness.
And there it was. Sitting in the bathroom in room 217 @ 2-west Unity Hospital Cancer Ward—I found my joy.
I dried my eyes, opened the door and walked out. And do you know what was the first thing I noticed? I noticed it didn’t smell in the room, or in the hallway or on the entire 2nd floor. That god-awful stench was gone and it was…joyous?!
AHA! Is that what it is all about? Is that what he meant?
Those small little moments? Thats it, thats the key, thats the secret? Thats where I’ll find joy? YES! THAT’S IT! From that moment on, my life completely changed. It’s as if my soul opened up and I was able to finally understand the bigger picture. My childhood made sense, my life made sense, this difficult situation made sense. I understood that my experiences as a young girl brought me to where I am now and all of that sadness made this joy so much more powerful. That this experience with Klink has more beautiful moments than I ever noticed before. I could choose to look at the worst of it or I could choose to look at the best of it. I have the power to make that choice regardless of the circumstances.
Every moment for the rest of that day (and every day after) were small bursts of joy. From the nurse who walked into the room shortly after my epiphany, explaining to my husband and I exactly what his prognosis meant and clarifying our confusion — to the 2 month break the doctor gave him for the summer. If I focused on the good things that were happening amongst the chaos, I’d find the joy. And so I did. And my journey became easier. AHA!
The joy was always there, I just wasn’t tuned into it.
I’ve never forgotten that moment and what it taught me. It seems so easy to focus on the situation at hand, the pain, the sadness, the illness. To justify why we are where we are, or how we got there, or what happened in our past to get us there, or why our life isn’t working because of something that happened years ago, or why its not working now, or who to blame — it seems the easy thing to do, but it’s not. It’s hard. It’s a hard way to live and a perfect way to prevent ourselves from allowing wonderful things and experiences into our lives. The trick is to find that golden nugget in the dirt and focus on it with all your might. It could be a warm jacket on a cold day, a smile from a stranger after you lost your job, a rainbow after a storm, or a chemo ward that doesn’t smell. That’s the joy. That’s the secret to a happy life.
There’s always going to be tough times but just as the saying goes…
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
React with joy!