My brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in the spring. He and my sister spent the better part of the last 9 months at doctors’ appointments, preparing for or recovering from surgeries, in and out of hospitals, and dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments. Despite all of this, the cancer appeared to be progressing. Before last week, the latest news from his oncologist was that he needed to prepare for a massive surgery that had many complications. He was advised to prepare himself that he might not make it. The prognosis did not look good.
I called my sister last week, just to check in. I was expecting the hushed tones we use when speaking about something tender and difficult, but instead, my sister sounded stunned, and surprisingly, she was laughing. They had just gotten back from the doctor who reviewed the scans, the most recent biopsies. “The craziest thing Erin – the cancer? It’s gone. All those tumors they’ve been blasting – gone. All the recent growths? Benign. The horrible treatments we did all summer – they worked.”
This was the last thing I expected to hear. We laughed and cried, we breathed sighs of relief. “What? I can’t believe it,” I said over and over again. We were stupid with our shock and relief. Finally, my brother was calling on the other line and we got off so we could spread the miraculous news, so that we could share our stunned giddiness.
In one phone call, I realized all my expectations of what the future held had changed. My family and I were preparing for the difficult days ahead, of cancer that was not responding to treatment, the support they would need after surgery, and then in what seemed like an impossible turn of events, the sun burst through the clouds and a whole new future became real.
It’s funny, isn’t it – how our minds create the shape of something – an image of the future is crystallized, even though we logically know we can’t really predict how it’s all going to turn out. And then in an instant, that future we imagined disappears. It happened when the world shut down overnight with the emergence of Covid-19 into our lives. All the plans we so carefully made were postponed, postponed again, and then eventually cancelled altogether. Even doing the things we have done for years – getting up, going to work, meeting friends for a meal – the possibility and reality of these things altered in an instant.
And again, as we moved through the spring of 2021, celebrating the availability of a vaccine and the promise of a summer of freedom and normalcy, traveling, going to our yoga studio, having birthday parties, the Delta variant emerged and our vision of what the future held once again was upended.
We never know. We never really know what’s coming. The big events of our lives, the ones that change everything, are often not ones that we planned for, that we dreamt of or vision boarded about, that we strategized to get to, that we visualized. It’s the unimaginable diagnosis, the loss of someone we love, the mental health struggle, the world stuttering because of a variant. Of course, it’s not always bad news, these things that change us. The illness goes into remission, we get a phone call and a job offer that we didn’t even hope to dream of, there’s a new baby on the way, a wedding to plan.
I feel like after this year, if I want to find equanimity through the roller coaster of life, I need to stop expecting things. It seems impossible, though. The mind is so good at looking into the future and trying to stack the cards so it all frames out the life we wanted. At the same time, we struggle to accept the precarity of it all. We walk around anxious about what could happen, fantasizing about how we want things to turn out.
Some of us – the glass half empty crowd – prepare for the worst.
Some of us – the eternal optimists (ahem, me) – disregard the worst and cling to the dream of things working out. Which helps for a while, except when we are a little too ostrich-like, sticking our head in the sand and ignoring when things are falling apart around us.
I’m not sure either approach really works better than the other. When we look for only what could go wrong, we risk missing the many gifts that are right here in our present. On the other hand, when we ignore the bad in favor of fantasizing about the good, we might not actually be in reality about the real sufferings that we (and others) experience. This can leave those that are struggling feeling alone and not understood. If we can’t accept that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we want them to, we are left perpetually clinging to some imagined future.
Of course, our yoga and meditation practices ask us: can we find a place right in the middle? Can we find a place where we are neither pushing away what is unpleasant nor clinging to what feels good? Can we practice instead, a balance of things? An acceptance of the way things are – an acceptance of the fact that we don’t really know what is going to happen tomorrow.
I try. Sometimes I fail, and my mind keeps reaching to figure out what the next thing is. I keep trying to plan, prepare for, and control how things will turn out.
My practice usually helps – my time on my mat, where I am practicing being with what is, practicing accepting the reality of being in this body and mind, with the imperfections and the finite quality of this human life.
Sometimes, in meditation, there comes a moment – a feeling so spacious inside, that I realize I can hold all of it – the unknowns of tomorrow, the space of the unexpected, the ever-changing nature of reality. Then, I let go of my attachment to it all going a certain way, if only for just that split second.
And we continue on. Imperfect as we are. The future as uncertain as it ever was.
May we continue to be in practice together, finding balance and steadiness in the midst of the unknown.
Erin Joosse | she/her
Source Yoga | Studio Director
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