Category Archives: Meditation

Am I the caterpillar, the chrysalis or the butterfly?

I think the second Buddhist meditation I was taught was one on finding my “I”. In essence one tries to identify just where one’s”I” is: is it in your body, if so whereabouts? If you lose your finger, a hand, an arm etc is the “I” still within your body, has it gone with the limb or has it ceased to be? This meditation came back to me very powerfully the day my hair came out in the shower and I subsequently found myself looking into the mirror at a head the shape of which I simply did not recognise! Suddenly me head had ceased to be mine! The face was sort of familiar, but the head shape very definitely wasn’t. Since then the same has happened with my body as the chemotherapy takes its toll of my body hair, fat and muscle. Similarly my brain and thought processes are often as ephemeral as gossamer. There are times the only thing which seems to continue to be me is my own sense of identity and yet even that seems to be up for grabs on many a day when the chemo claims payment for saving my life by draining all the energy from me or takes away all power for sustained (i.e. longer than one minute) thought. I may look as if I’m listening. I may sound as though I am listening. I may even have been listening to start with, but, that doesn’t mean I have the faintest idea of what is happening right now.

So, who am I? That sounds like a really important question, but I think a more important one is, ‘Who am I about to become?’ It occurs to me that the cancer/chemotherapy process can, and possibly usually is, seen as a destructive process, but, perhaps, one should think of it instead as a time of metamorphosis, a time when the old me will turn into the new me, rather like a caterpillar entering its cocoon and leaving it as a butterfly. The question is, what will this new-look me actually look like? That sounds such a simple question doesn’t it? The answer is a bit scary as I really don’t know. Oh, I know that I want to be compassionate, loving, honest, a good husband, father and friend, but then I wanted to be all of those things before I discovered I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. During the chemo treatment I’ve discovered my emotions have come to the fore on many occasions when I’m sure they previously wouldn’t. It’s not unusual for me to have tears in my eyes and on my cheeks several times a week. When I read the blogs of other cancer sufferers it’s not at all unusual for me to have tears streaming down my face as I realise how very fortunate I have been and just what strength many of you out there demonstrate as you get on with your life and plan for a future. To start with I found it difficult to deal with crying in this way. It’s not something I’ve done. I’m reasonably sure that I would like to keep the ability to empathise and to have my compassion touched so easily, but I’m not sure I want to have tears springing from my eyes unexpectedly in this way.

Any thoughts on the kind of butterfly I should try to be when I leave my cancer cocoon?

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Filed under Buddhism, Cancer, chemotherapy, Hodgkins Lymphoma, Meditation

Haiku

Friendless and alone
I must learn to face the white wall
Of  my cancerous life

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Filed under Cancer, Haiku, Meditation, Poems and Poetry

Hamlet, Androids, Dreams and My Cancer

Yesterday I came across the blog oldermanyoungerman which touched me enormously, so much in fact that my wife asked why I was sniffing so much. Naturally, as a bluff, hale, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, I couldn’t admit to the tears which were about to gently roll down my cheeks, but the words which I’ve quoted below really got me thinking:

“Tomorrow I will lie on a table that will convey me, like an auto body part on a conveyor-belt in a factory, into a tube where I will be photographed and analysed. Not “I” but the body that I am, because the imaging will not record my terrifying thought that the cancer may still be there, nor will it pick up the sinking feeling of someday having to leave behind the man I love, nor the prayers I send up to St. Anthony and St. Michael–though I never pray that way on a normal day.

The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.”

I found the images created by the blog to be as powerful as the images which may, by now, have been created by the PET scan. I’ve lain on the PET scan table where I felt more like a piece of luggage going through security at the airport and wondered, just as I’ve done at security, “Will they see something I’m unaware of? Something which appears to be a threat that I don’t know about?” Stupid thoughts at the airport where I’ve knowingly complied with all the restrictions but not on the PET scan table. Unlike the author of oldermanyoungerman I didn’t distinguish the “I” from “the body that I am”. I should have done that: I really should have done that. I accept the teachings of the Buddha and try to live according to the Dharma. In many ways, such as in this instance, I fail to achieve what I would like to achieve but there’s a teaching in there too, I think. Anyway, the reason I should have distinguished my “I” from “the body that I am” is because in Buddhism there is a meditation, which I’ve done many, many time, based on trying to find the “I”. I’ve tried to find something on-line which would explain it clearly but have been unable to do so, so, here goes. In essence the meditation involves considering your body as your I and asking yourself the question “If I lose a finger am I still my body, is my body still me and what is the missing finger? If I lose a second finger am I still my body?” and so on until the body has been thoroughly explored without at any time discovering just which part of your body contains your “I”, thus leading to the conclusion that “I” and “my body” are not the same thing at all. I’ve explained this extremely badly and can only apologise to Steve, and to Gandon “but my mum still calls me Malcolm”, for not being better able to express their valuable teachings, for which I was, and continue to be, very appreciative.

The part of oldermanyoungerman’s blog which perhaps got me thinking most was “The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.” This, naturally, got me thinking of my own dreams. Of the future with my wife for which we’ve both waited for seven years while I tried to support my mum as her dementia worsened. (I think I actually heard my wife threaten to kill me before the cancer could if I was going to die and leave her behind after all this time spent waiting, but perhaps I misheard). Of my dreams of spending time with my daughters who have both given me so much support and so much to be proud of down the years and sharing, vicariously, in their future achievements. Of spending time with my grandchildren and delighting in their activities and their achievements. Of seeing my step-children go on to achieve success in their lives. Of discovering more of America – I’d love to do the Dave Gorman unchained trip across the USA – this really is possibly the funniest thing I have ever read (reading it on a trans-atlantic crossing my seat-buddy just had to know what the book was that was literally causing me to laugh out loud). Of walking once more on those fabulous Pennine Hills which have surrounded me for pretty much all my life and in which I’ve spent a fair bit of time walking, mountain biking and kayaking – if that makes me sound like Action Man you should immediately lose the image! I dreamed of sharing these pleasures with my grandkids and watching them take-off on their own. Those are my dreams! I was tempted for a moment to write “those were my dreams”, but I think I was correct the first time: they still are my dreams, however, oldermanyoungerman got me thinking how sad it must be for people who, for whatever reason, do not have dreams. Perhaps they have no dreams because they are so isolated, and this cancer thing can be very isolating even in the middle of a loving and supporting family! Perhaps they have no dreams because they know their life won’t extend that far. It was this last thought which really made me sad, and thoughtful, as I began to wonder what I would feel about losing my dreams if I were to be told, “Sorry, but you only have x months left to live”. That ‘x’ might, or might not, be enough time to go on a world tour and fit in everything I’ve ever wanted to do, but if you aren’t going to be able to remember the dream is it worth living it? In the strange and seemingly random manner in which my mind often seems to work (if work is indeed the correct verb!) my thoughts then jumped to Hamlet with his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy which includes the words “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come“, and this made me wonder just what dreams we might take with us into, and perhaps even through, death? It also made me think of a book I’ve recently re-read by Philip K Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I can no more answer Philip K Dick’s question than I can Hamlet asking what dreams may come in death, but I do know that my dreams are important to me, and I know that having them will help me to come through this with the help of the medical profession and my loved ones (though not necessarily in that order) and that I will go on to dream more dreams and live them too.

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Filed under Buddhism, Cancer, Death, Dreams, Meditation

Stress and Cancer

Everything I’ve read about cancer and its treatment states that peace and calm are healing qualities, but how do you go about getting them?

Last night I flared up over something and nothing in the supermarket, and that was after a good day in which the doctor had said I was healing well following which we’d called for English style fish and chips in the Kings Head Pub on North University Drive (which really does have a good feel to it), so I was feeling good and positive and then BAM!!!, from out of nowhere. From out my own inner tension is probably a much better and more honest answer. How does one come down from such a situation? Well, a good starting point is an apology which I duly made, but, effective though that might be, it does nothing to quell the chemicals coursing around my body or the electrical surges around my brain or the winds which really do toss my mind at such times. My answer was meditation, it’s something I’ve been doing now for a good many years, and, when I get it right, I feel some sort of tickle inside my skull, it’s a very pleasant calming sensation and one which I never really understood, however, yesterday I read this article from the BBC which really made me wonder whether what I’ve been feeling are these changing electrical patterns. Anyone out there with the ability to test me for free please let me know!
So, to get back on point, I did a long and, I think, very beneficial meditation upon the breath which left me calm enough to enjoy a long night’s sleep, around 9 hours I think which is very rare for me.

Today the question of how you go about getting peace and calm raised itself once again, not from me, or from my wife, but from an external source and I find myself wondering, how does one insulate oneself from the chaos which can be introduced by a third party, a third party with emotional needs which can be both overwhelming and all-consuming? The easy answer of course is just to cut off and say “No involvement” but, short of going and becoming a hermit – something which I fear I am constitutionally unsuited to doing as I am most definitely a “people-person” – that won’t work, and it seems to me that if Buddhism has anything inherently valuable it is in enabling one to live in and interact positively with the world – to interbe as Tich Nhat Han says, and believe me I do want to interbe with the world. I am of the world, in the world, and have no wish to leave it any sooner than needs be. So, withdrawing from the world is not for me and I suppose the answer therefore lies in developing my own mind in such a way that when next this whirlpool of emotional destruction hurtles upon me my mind will be strong enough and relaxed enough to remain calm and to be calm for those around me.

This is the first time I’ve written something in the blog which I didn’t really find satisfactory, but then perhaps that’s a consequence of the turmoil I feel at the moment, so, off to meditation I guess.

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