no fear in the dark

“There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side… The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.”

Here’s the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/20/opinion/why-we-need-the-winter-solstice.html?_r=0

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feeling alive again

On Tuesday I felt alive again.  And it felt good. Damn good.

The last time I felt so alive was the night I went into the hospital, July 16th.  I was riving in such tremendous pain, only a sentient being can experience this kind of physical suffering. I can’t promise I wanted to be alive in those hours, but it is clear to me that I was.  My shirt soaked with tears.  My throat scratchy from screams. My eyelids sore from being closed so tightly.  My heart aching with sorrow for Steve’s fear. Memories of pain don’t go away. Or at least mine haven’t yet.  Since then, life has a shadow. Even the sunny days have an unknown darkness within them. I have written about this all before. 

Yet the events of this week were kismet. And since Tuesday, I once again feel an overall sense of hope that life will be filled with brightness again one day. We will get through this and hope and laughter will be present.

You might stop reading here. Perhaps that is enough of a blog post – starts rough and ends on a positive note. But if you want the story, here ’tis:

Two weeks ago Steve and I were invited to a Whole-Farm Planning Class. I learned the topic years ago, so wasn’t inclined to go, but the class was being hosted by a farm in Naples, NY. Meanwhile, on Thursday I was invited back for a second interview for a job with a non-profit who trains people to be new farmers.  The interview was Tuesday night.  2 days with farmers and an interview with an organization that trains farmers. Coincidence? Kismet?

The farm class was in Naples, NY. Naples is a small town in a valley next to Canandaigua Lake. It’s just minutes from the cottage where my family spent hundreds of summers’ days together; swimming, laughing, eating, lounging and more. It is here where I first slowed down enough to witness that nature has her own language. It is here where, by swimming across the lake and learning to slalom water ski, that I discovered I had the strength and capacity to do anything I wanted. And it is here where a large piece of my soul still resides – always full of glee and wonder.  The farm course was being organized by a woman who owns a farm in Naples.  She is somebody I have wanted to meet for a few years, mostly because her farm is in Naples but also because the farm’s priority is to cultivate, share and inspire abundance by saving and selling seed.  The owners of this farm are selling the seeds from plants grown in a valley where my soul lives.  How could I not want to know who they are?  I signed up for the course.

Family at lake
Me, Ben, mom, dad, (Vida’s backside), Canandiagua Lake

Though Day 1’s content was repetitive and slow, I had the chance to connect with 12 other beginning (and some experienced) farmer’s about each of our business’s and also the opportunity to ask them how a non-profit that trains farmers could help each of them. This was well worth the trip in itself.

But Day 2 is when I realized I was still alive. I had been preparing for my Tuesday interview for days, not sleeping well at night, going through answers to interview questions in my head and reading about the mission and work of this non-profit. A feeling that I actually might want the job – that I want something – started becoming real.  I haven’t felt this in months. Also on Day 2, our group of farmers spent 90-minutes ‘Whole Farm Assessing’ parts of our Wellspring Forest Farm. It was enlivening, eye-opening, and humbling to have 12 farmers process our farm and our holistic life goals with me.

These few moments were the first time since July 17th I felt like I actually cared about something (other than other humans and animals).  To be more accurate, I realized I actually still care about my future.  To feel this, I realized, I am still truly alive. Yes, I am fighting a disease that shadows my every move, but that shadow is not me. And will no longer be me.

 

hating the sun

I’ve been called a lizard.  Not because my nickname has been Liz for so many years, but because I’m addicted to sunshine. On warm days, I plan my activities so that I maximize my time in the sun. If I need to sit in the house or at work, I slowly follow the sun’s rays throughout the day so it can warm my skin at it shines through the window.  There’s a special spot in the library at Cornell where I work in the winter and through the dome of our yurt the rays beam through as a circle, and Vida and I both arc our way around our circular home. The yoga studio I go to faces East and one bitter cold winter morning, there was a nice sliver of sunshine beaming through the window.  I placed my mat there and I moved it slowly to the left throughout the practice.  My yoga friends laughed with love at my addiction.

But, this morning, I don’t like the sun.  Waking up, I opened my eyes and it looks like a beautiful day. The sky is blue and the sun shimmers on the flowing pond water. But the moment I feel the beauty of this day, it ends abruptly. The feeling is squashed almost before that warm sense of gratitude even arises.

Today is chemo treatment 10. 3 more to go. 3 is a big number. Chemo makes everything dark, everything foggy, everything painful and everything taste bad. It turns the sun into something that teases me; provoking me because I can’t be outside.  Today I can’t warm my skin from the sun’s warming rays and I can’t walk beneath it’s radiance. This type of living needs to wait. Chemo teaches me perspective. Every 14 days, the best case scenario is that 2-3 of my days are a wash –  almost as though they don’t exist. On these days I sleep, I rest, I watch movies, I read if my mind is capable and I drink tea. But worst case scenario is the side effects take hold. I am in pain. I take pills. I sleep. My years of practicing being present in the moment go out the window and I wish more than anything that the time would go by rapidly.

on renewal

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”

Wendell Berry

round 9

today is the 9th treatment.  I don’t have much to say about it except that it’s still feels far from the 12th – the last one.  I know it’s getting close to the end, but I think until I’m on the last treatment, I won’t feel like I see or feel the light. I will be hooked to chemo today thru Thursday which means I will likely feel like crap Thursday and Friday, maybe Saturday. My mouth will taste like hairy slime, I’ll feel tired and nauseous and have no appetite.  If I’m strong enough, Steve and I will join some friends on Thursday for some company and festivities. “If you feel well”. “Take care of yourself first.” “There’s no pressure”. 

There’s a lot to be grateful for. I know there is. I could rattle off dozens, if not 100’s of things I am thankful for.  But today, as I sit in the chemo suite, hooked to a tube of poisons for 6 hours, my head slightly aches and Steve is couch-ridden with a bad back and I can’t be there to care for him.

my dharma, my path

my dharma, my path

Cancer gives a person perspective.  I wonder frequently what to do with this perspective because it’s complicated. I’ll tell you why.

I mentioned before I was laid off from my job at Cornell. So normally – wait, what was “normal”, again? I’ve forgotten. Let’s just say, IN THE PAST, if I lost a job I would actively search and seek another one.  This habit is leading me to put out that same effort and energy and I’m look for and apply to jobs in my field. But perspective gives me pause.

On the surface the pause is simple. I’ve been pretty public about having cancer. Who wants to hire somebody with cancer? Cancer is considered, rather is, a disability for many people. And it is for me on many days when the chemo side effects really take hold.  Secondly, what’s the point in getting a job? I could just get cancer again and once again, it will derail my life (and the lives of my husband and family). I would again go on disability, maybe get laid off again, put my life goals on hold, etc. etc.  So I asked, why pursue the habitual paths I have always taken if they led to my current situation?

In my more intelligent moments, I pause to seek perspective on life. I ask myself how I truly want to spend my days and my time. What gives me pleasure? What gives me satisfaction? What gives me happiness? What kind of person do I want to be? What will I “do” that cultivates this person? In yoga teachings, we often call this our Dharma. So I sit, I walk, I stroll, I meditate, and I wonder “what is my Dharma”? Simply speaking – what is my truth and how do I cultivate it?

The life I lived before cancer (and much of my life that still exists when I see and feel clearly and chemo brain hasn’t fogged my mind and vision), this life gives me much joy, tremendous satisfaction and intense moments of happiness.  My favorite moments are spent outside, many of them using my body to work the land in a way that will lead to regeneration and growth.  The times I feel most authentic and thus empowered and truthful to myself and to others are when I teach from the heart. Teaching gives me these gifts – especially teaching yoga.

Again, perspective gives me pause because I desire a home. One with lots of insulation, with plumbing and a bathtub. I want a room to practice yoga in and where Steve can play the drums and an extra room for the child we hope to have one day. And I wonder, would farming and teaching about farming and yoga enable us to have this home? Is it one or the other? Can I have both? Can I have it all?

Where do these answers and reflections lead me?  In my positive moments, I don’t doubt for a second that I can have it all, and that I will. In my less hopeful moments, I assume I will have none of these things because cancer or something else will distract my life forever.

What I see on my path of perspective these days are options…and I’m going to embrace and explore them all. I’m applying for jobs that interest me. I’m writing a business plan to start a yoga shala. Shala means “home” and in my vision this would be a studio for yoga classes and other healing practices, as well as a place for community growth through learning and doing. I’m also re-writing our farm business plan to assess how we are doing and where and what we can expand and assess if it will have income.

What I do know, is that life is too unknown not to follow my heart. It’s too short not to take the path that is satisfying, empowering and nourishing.

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should i worry

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

~Mary Oliver