A few months ago my husband was diagnosed with a non-aggressive form of prostate cancer. The doctors assure him this “little bit of cancer” is nothing to worry about; it just needs to be monitored for now. “My advice to you,” his primary care physician told him, “is to forget you have cancer. Live your life. At this rate you won’t die from prostate cancer for at least 15 or 20 years and something else could get you first.”
That’s not exactly reassuring. He’s 70 now and living to 85 or 90 would indeed be a good long life, but this is a reminder of mortality. Forgetting about it doesn’t seem like exactly the right response. Borderline high blood pressure and blood glucose levels add to the concern.
Instead of waiting passively for the next PSA numbers, Vic has chosen to treat this diagnosis like a wake-up call. What can he do now to support his physical and mental health and vigor for the years ahead–not to “fight” the cancer but to increase his overall health and wellbeing?
I am joining him in this. I got my own wakeup call four years ago when I was hospitalized with massive blood clots in my lungs. I’m on medication for the rest of my life to prevent a recurrence. We’ve both been attentive to diet and exercise but now we’re more disciplined about it. We’re getting advice and care from a gifted healer who is trained as a chiropractor but incorporates years of experience and intuitive knowledge in his treatments and recommendations. If I had to put Dr. Miller in a category I’d call him a shaman. Nothing hocus-pocus about him, though. He’s sharp, wise, and rather bossy; sometimes gentle and sometimes brutally frank and physically rigorous.
Something about Dr. Miller makes us trust him. Perhaps it is his quality of awakeness. He doesn’t miss a trick. He is perceptive. He sees.
Awakeness is something to strive for. I am just back from a week of “Wisdom School” with the spiritual writer and teacher Cynthia Bourgeault. She defined wisdom as “integral knowing, knowing with more of yourself. The purpose of this school,” she said, “is to deepen your ability to see.”
In order to see, you have to be awake. In order to be awake, you have to “know with more of yourself.”
Bourgeault–who is one wide-awake person herself–expands on the teaching of the mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff about three-centered or three-brained knowing: knowing with the intellectual center, the heart/emotional center, and the moving center–that is, the body in action.
Operating out of only one center and not the others keeps you asleep: you sleepwalk through life even when you are conscious. (How many people do you know who live mostly in their heads? Or only in their emotional dramas?) The sleepwalker doesn’t know who she is, what she is doing, or where she is going. She is unaware of her surroundings and her place in the universe. She can’t see what is in front of her face, especially the greater reality that is hidden from most of us most of the time.
Reminders of our mortality can serve as calls, not just to take better care of our bodies but to wake up with all of our being.
A morning exercise: Step outside, stick out your chest, and take a few deep breaths. Put your hands in prayer position and bow. Straighten and raise your arms wide overhead. Clasp your hands over your heart. Extend your arms wide, turn right and left. Lower them.
Do this three times. Does it awaken you to yourself and the day?
P.S. When I was on “awake” walks at Wisdom School in North Carolina I often noticed moss. Here are some pictures.