Hi Folks – The following piece, “Permission,” is an essay from my forthcoming book about my reflections on my experience with cancer.  I’m including it here because it seems applicable beyond the realm of oncology.  One could substitute many words or situations for “cancer:”  it’s really about our modus operandi and not so much about the particulars.  It’s about our choice to ratchet down into rigidity or live into the mysterious beauty of a life in the midst of transforming.

* * *

* * *

Our culture has a very yang (hard, aggressive, masculine) approach to cancer.  We go to war; we fight.  We blast the enemy with our most advanced surgical and chemical weapons.  We rally.  We hate.  We crush our fear, or try to.

Acute crises often respond well to the heroics of modern medicine.  And frequently, the shock of diagnosis feels acute when suddenly our perception of ourselves and our lives shifts instantaneously; more often than not, we respond via crisis mode, physically, mentally and certainly emotionally.  Once our fear gets triggered (usually when we equate cancer with death), we flip into warrior mode and in our desire to “beat this thing,” forge ahead doing our damnedest to keep our spirits strong, our bodies functional, and our lives recognizable.  We do all this even (perhaps especially) while undergoing the most brutal and exhausting of treatment regimes.  We want to prove to the world and to ourselves that we’re bigger than this “inconvenience.”  We want to get on with our lives.  We want this thing behind us.  And often, in our full-steam-ahead mode, we forget to pause and listen—to our bodies, to our minds, to our hearts.

So it’s easy to miss those days when we just need permission.  Permission to step back from the battle, to take a breather, to quit being so brave and acknowledge that we just feel like crap and that, heaven forbid, we’re scared.  In our desire to retain “normalcy,” we complain when we can’t get anything done, overlooking the fact that we’re simultaneously hosting serious chemical warfare and in fact our cells, both the healthy and diseased ones, are fighting for their lives.  We’re so accustomed to muscling our way through pain and difficulty.  In our lopsidedly extroverted culture, rather than pausing to reflect on the magnificent play of darkness and light occurring within our bodies and minds, we prefer to bulldoze wide sunny swathes through every shadow of uncertainty and fear.  As if by doing so we could eliminate ignorance and mystery forever.

What might happen if we allowed ourselves to rest, allowed the unknown to hold us for awhile?  In our terror, we assume that “giving up the fight” essentially equates to giving up our lives.  It’s not true, at least not unequivocally.  Yes, sometimes when we cease resisting it, death ensues.  (How we can appreciate this course of events as part of healing as opposed to failure is the topic for another essay.)  Yet it’s equally possible that when we quit clutching our conception of how life should be and merely acknowledge what is, our life force returns.  Minus our demands and judgment, previously hidden possibilities emerge.  Creativity blossoms.  Shift happens.  Healing arrives.

These movements can arise in small, subtle steps and sometimes in big dramatic turns.  This is not miraculous but rather the way that life naturally (minus egoic interference) unfolds:  the yin—soft, yielding, feminine—in balance with the yang.  This is Tao in action, the rhythm of the universe, breathing in and breathing out.  Watch a child who bangs his knee run for solace to his mother; upon receiving her undivided and tender attention, he is back out on the playground within thirty seconds building a fort, completely oblivious to his recent bruise.  Wrack your brain for the solution to a problem and then letting go (out of frustration and/or exhaustion), observe the answer appear “magically” as if out of nowhere.  Hang with a cancer patient who feels completely victimized and in loving silence, together hold the magnitude of her journey; it won’t be long before the next impulse toward healing arises and your friend takes a proactive step toward living.  When we surrender, when we truly yield, power rushes in organically to fill the welcoming void.  Even after the toughest of days, once we finally allow ourselves permission to relax and be fully human, tears will dry and smiles, even laughter, reemerge.

It’s counterintuitive, it’s countercultural, and it can feel like anathema.  But relinquishing our need for around-the-clock control and allowing ourselves to be carried by the generous and ubiquitous flow of the universe is powerful medicine.  Rest is good.  Permission to be just how you are—without having to change a thing—is radical.