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September 15, 2011
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To die, or not to die … this is the question.

Well, for today it is!

A dear friend recently sent me a note lovingly and gently admonishing me for what appeared to her to be my apparent lack of fight regarding my diagnosis. Looking at my blog posts, and realizing how I often speak of my “impending” death, I do see her point.

There is a strong movement in some circles today to promote the notion that we are fully in charge of our own fate. That we can decide how successful, healthy, wealthy, we are going to be;  when we are going to die, be sick, or even how popular we will be. This idea has been promoted by uncountable books and films such as: “What the bleep do we know?”, and the “Secret”. I think it is also a combination of reactions spurned by certain fatalist notions of traditional religions, as well as the increasing awareness to the limits of allopathic medicine, or maybe even simply the increasing inaccessibility of such. I don’t know if this is the case with my friend, or if it’s simply a conclusion drawn from her own life experiences (I suspect from the flavor of her note that it is the latter), but the idea that a terminal diagnosis need not be terminal is not a new one, nor is it an isolated one. Although my own life experiences see dangers in this ideology if it is not tempered with time-tested spiritual insight and wisdom; the fact is that I don’t live very far from this “philosophical” place myself. However, the purpose of this post is not to debate the strengths or weaknesses in any self-deterministic philosophy, but simply for me to explain just how I see my own life (and death) in this regard.

The miracle of life for me is that life itself is a miracle … nothing less, and perhaps nothing more. This is a rather late addition to my teleological perspective. Earlier in life I desired to have dramatic signs of the more metaphysical sides of the Universe which would provide me with some tangible evidence of a spiritual dimension which I believed underlies all things. However, this was not meant to be part of the spiritual experience for me … at least not in any dramatic, life altering way. I learned that true faith is based on informed, reasoned belief and obviously not on firm knowledge; and that it is by having faith that I -in fact- do learn to employ my own free will. My ideas about this are convoluted and far too wordy for a blog post, so let me just say that in my own nuanced way I do believe I have some control over my fate … if not my destiny; but I really only want as much as is good for me. How do I know just how much is good for me?

Precisely!

I have often experienced in my life that fate, even when it seems bad, may have positive consequences. If I had the power at any given time to avoid a painful fate, I would have lost many good lessons that may have contributed to me being the person I am today … a person I happen to like. This doesn’t mean I always surrender to my fate, but often there is simply nothing I can do about it other than accept it.

Getting back to my illness; as I explained to my friend, before I ever got my diagnosis I knew something was wrong with me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had a deep intuition that I wasn’t going to be here much longer, which was a very new, and very uncharacteristic feeling for me. However, what I have often noticed in my life is that intuitions can point to a lot of possibilities, not just the obvious one(s). If I have a perennially vexing personal issue, for example, that I have been unsuccessful getting past in my life, illness may provide a pathway through, or be a consequence of, that … or both. I have found in my life that change sometimes comes about only when there are no alternatives left and I am left standing at the precipice and looking down. At this point, surrendering to my fate might be the best option, allowing me to drop unnecessary attachments thus helping to clear my mind and spirit enough to see a solution. However, it’s also possible that my destiny is simply to jump because I have clearly run out of options and the time to completely surrender is here.

I honestly don’t know what my fate is at this point.

I guess the best way to explain this in regard to my friend’s concern is to say that I haven’t decided to jump quite yet. I am still looking for a solution. By this I mean that I am still fully invested in life, still trying to learn all I can by being present to life, and still remaining very connected to what life has to offer … like I am going to be here for a long time yet. But I am allowing myself to let go of it, as well, should this be my fate. In other words, I am surrendering to whatever destiny might be in play for me right now so I can be more open to what the Universe is trying to tell me. It’s a strangely liberating place to be.

All that being said, as far as what my body is telling me is that I continue to experience decline. I often feel slightly sick to my stomach. Eating and keeping an appetite are still complicated procedures. I have lost the capacity of nearly half or more of my right lung, which makes navigating my day quite an effort. I have to be very mindful as to how to pace myself, and to withdraw from activity when I sense my batteries are getting low (but before they are empty). While I am successfully managing my pain for the most part, the discomfort of being in a body which is slowly being altered by an aggressive alien presence is no longer an easy place for me to live, so I have to spend a certain amount of my daily energy just trying to stay motivated and positive.

Nevertheless, I AM positive! Not necessarily because of any notion that I will beat this thing, but because -no matter how soon I might be slated to move from this place- so long as I am here and am able, I am going to live as fully as I can. And I am also positive because of my connections; the friends I have who now take the time to let me know I mean something to them. Plus my body can still give and serve and learn, and I still have many opportunities to do so.

Yes, I do have to pace myself more. I do have to be more mindful of how I use my limited energy. I do have to accept more help, and I do have to accept being more vulnerable; but these too become my current learning experiences which help to grow my spirit and my appreciation for that miracle of life I was talking about. I have a lot yet to live for, but I am also prepared for, and I accept when, this is no longer my fate. In my mind this is not the same as giving up.

Now on to attitude; it’s clear to me that everyone deals with circumstances differently. For example, there is the optimist and there is the pessimist … yet these two are not necessarily what they seem at first glance. I am a dreamer, but I am also a pragmatist. I happen to be driven by an ideological visioning of what is possible, but deal with life better when I consider all the consequences … even the negative ones. I think most people who know me think of me as an optimist; yet I think most people after hearing me speak on the subject would consider me a pessimist. Be that as it may, my pessimism is anything but “negative”. I live my life expecting the best, while preparing for the worst. By considering the worst, someone might think I am being negative, but I believe I am being thorough.

This approach to life simply works for me because when things don’t work out as hoped for, I am not disappointed, but am wonderfully surprised when they do. This does not seem to inhibit my determination, but it does keep me from getting too attached to outcomes, and it also protects my rather vulnerable heart. Last, but not least, it also keeps me from becoming angry or cynical toward things that don’t go my way.

So in conclusion, if all that is necessary for driving my own fate is to be engaged and to hope for the best, then anything is possible, even if I do have a terminal diagnosis. I will be pleasantly surprised if this turns out to be true, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t.

rick

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mokasiya permalink
    September 20, 2011 12:31 pm

    Dear Rick,
    In appreciation for the sharing and dialog you bring to life and death. For sharing the journey home.
    love, light, heart,
    mokasiya

  2. Laurie B permalink
    September 19, 2011 2:38 pm

    This what I’ve always liked and admired about you, Rick! Your unusual ability to soar with the celestial and yet have deep roots in the real too has always made you trustworthy in my book…The highest of compliments from me ‘-)

  3. Jo Stothard permalink
    September 19, 2011 10:17 am

    Rick, I find your approach to it ALL, quite admirable. I really appreciate your insight, positive attitude and honesty. Death Is a part of life and seeing loved ones pass is a reminder to each of us how fragile it is……….
    jo

  4. Diane Banner permalink
    September 16, 2011 3:50 pm

    Thank you, Luna. Your words strike a chord with me. Eventually, we are all going to die, sooner or later. Let us open our hearts to it all, life and death.

    There is a beautiful song entitled “Who You Really Are” that speaks to me. It is set to music with photos of flowers on the link below. I have written out the lyrics.

    Who You Really Are

    Could there be more
    to this life we call “mine”
    than a journey through space or a storyline?
    More to life
    than the body can sense
    than the mind can conclude
    from experience.
    Does who we are
    begin with breath,
    depend on form
    or end with death?
    Strip away these roles, these names
    and tell me what remains
    and who you really are,
    who you really are.

    We measure success
    by the things we accrue
    or the bonds that we form,
    or the deeds that we do.
    But these too shall pass
    as hard as we try
    to hold onto form;
    form will die.
    But inherent in this dance of form
    is the chance to see what’s yet unborn
    the choice to throw this chance away
    and be caught up in the play
    of who we think we are,
    who we think we are.

    This is your lifetime.
    It could end at anytime.
    Where is your attention?
    Where is your prayer?
    Where is your song?
    In a fortunate life, comes a call to be free
    from the cycle of bandage
    and mis-identity.
    To wake from the dream
    and finally realize
    the truth of one’s being
    before the body dies.
    So before the final scene is past
    see the screen on which it’s cast.
    See what’s seeing this me and you,
    and then you will see who. . .
    who you really are,
    who you really are,
    who you really are,
    who we really are.

    –Kirtana

  5. Lynda Schaller permalink
    September 16, 2011 1:53 pm

    Stephen Levine, a Buddhist who has worked extensively with folks with terminal illnesses, asks “What is healing?” He notes that healing the body doesn’t necessarily heal the spirit and vice versa. Healing of spirit or spirit-cum-body happens not so much in response to exertion of will as in response to opening, opening to . . . love, Spirit, all-that-is, the universe, beauty, nature, our loved ones, truth, whatever it is that we as individuals most need for a wholesome completion of this life’s journey–whether this life lasts a few more days or a few more decades. We are in control of whether we open or not. We are not in charge of the meter that dings when our time is up. So I say go for the opening!
    Love,
    Luna

  6. Lauren permalink
    September 16, 2011 10:08 am

    I echo what Charlene says: we are all dying all the time. Here’s another quote to contemplate: “dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death.” I wish it wasn’t this way: that we have to be stripped down to nothing and standing on the precipice with no other choice- to fully surrender to living our lives fully. And I am hopeful that it doesn’t have to be that way, for me, and for many others. That is what living an initiated life is about: living our lives as fully as we can! I applaud you Rick, for your courage to face whatever may be.
    Emaho!

  7. September 16, 2011 8:23 am

    Rick…as usual, a well-thought out treatise on death and life. I like your attitude a lot……….being OK with whatever happens.Then, if you live a long life, you are thankful and, if you don’t , you are ready and thankful…and I love Charlene’s quote from Saul Alinsky above.

    Death just is; it is part of life, not separate from it.

  8. September 16, 2011 8:01 am

    From one pragmatist to another – we are ALL facing impending death. ALL death is certain.
    Even Jesus died. Death is not the enemy. Death just is.

    Saul Alinsky said “Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you are free to live.”

    I know I am a bit of an oddball on this, being a part of Hospice and the Threshold Care Circle and all, but doing this work is my spiritual exercise–facing my own death each time I help someone else face theirs. So along with you Rick, I question how I spend my time, am I living according to my values, is there someone I need to forgive (including myself) or to thank, someone I can serve, I play with my grandkids so they will have good memories of me and and know they are unconditionally loved whether I am here to see them grow up or not.

    I don’t know if I will face my “real” impending death with the calm equanimity that I saw in my mother and see in you. But for now I “keep death upon [my] shoulder, it reminds [me] to love.” And I will walk with you along the way.

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