Reliving the Fear of Cancer as Hurricane Irene Approaches


Talk about an uninvited knock at the door! Last week, while I was trying to practice the “Gracious Declining” meditation practice of visualizing a rambling thought as an “uninvited salesperson, knocking on your door,” we had an earthquake, hurricane and a few small tornadoes here on the East Coast.

I have to admit that the prospect of Hurricane Irene bearing down really freaked me out. Heeding all the warnings and preparing for the worst (days stuck in the house without electricity, a tree falling through my roof) didn’t quell my fears. If anything, all the constant news coverage and discussion made it worse.

In reality, we experienced a lot of water and heavy wind, but didn’t lose power. The winds were heaviest after the rains, and caused a large limb from one of our trees to come crashing down onto the front yard.  (It missed the house, but crushed my poor purple plum tree.) Given all the flooding and damage to so many neighboring communities and throughout the East Coast, we were very lucky and grateful we escaped with so little damage.

I’ve learned there are two types of people in the world: those who expect the best, and those who expect the worst. I am a member of the latter group. Some people I know are amazingly optimistic despite a personal history that would suggest otherwise. The rest of us take our personal history and create an expectation: if something bad happened to me before, it can happen again.

I guess that’s why my breast cancer diagnosis created cold, naked fear, but not a hint of “Why me?” Years of miscarriages and infertility taught me that, despite today’s good health, you never know about tomorrow. All that “awareness” wasn’t lost on me. Each yearly mammogram was an act of preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.

What does this have to do with meditation? Between vacation and the natural disasters of last week, my daily meditation practice has been sporadic at best. Vacation was filled with happy distractions, but last week was filled with fear. As my fear increased, I finally managed enough mindfulness to ask myself, “Why are you so emotional?” Just asking the question brought the answer: The uncertainty of a hurricane is not unlike the uncertainty of going through cancer. I’m getting sucked again into a world of unknown conditions, with no way of knowing how well I will fare. Making it worse, not only am I afraid of losing control, but my fear is exacerbated by the familiarity of losing it again. I’m right back in that place, riding that emotional roller coaster.

My oncology therapist told me that I have the emotional memory of an elephant. What I remember, I feel. I am still like that elephant and always will be. But now, because of therapy and meditation, I am a more mindful elephant. I still re-experience the emotions of what I remember, but I am getting better at mindfully looking at what I am doing. That mindfulness creates the moment of calm I need to break the cycle and the fear diminishes. Not to say it disappears, because it doesn’t, but there is relief.

I keep remembering that man I saw in the shoe department peacefully meditating, while shopping women swirled around him. I am not that able a meditator. I am, however, able to recognize the rambling, emotional mind when it seizes me by the throat. Ironically, having cancer both increased my fears and gave me the tools to deal with them. I’ve learned various techniques, such as Watching Your Breath,  Naked Sound MeditationNoting Body SensationsThis Magic Moment, and Gracious Declining. More importantly, I’ve learned to keep at it, because even a far from perfect meditation practice is better than no practice at all and serves me well when I need it most.

This week, because of all the interruptions, I’m going to stick with Gracious Declining, rather than moving on to the next technique. Here’s a repeat of the process, because I know I could sure use a refresher:

1.     Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.

2.     Set your timer to eight minutes.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Allow your body to relax and rest your attention on your breath.

5.     When a thought wafts through your mind, visualize it as an “uninvited salesperson, knocking on your door.”

6.     Be aware that the thought is demanding your attention, but you can graciously decline to grant it that attention and send it on its way.

7.     Return your attention to your breath.  When another thought comes knocking, recognize it as uninvited and again, graciously decline and send it on its way.

I’m hoping for a little more peace this week, but I will be thinking and sending blessings to all of the people dealing with Hurricane Irene’s aftermath.  Please let me know how you’re doing with your meditation practice and, if you are one of the millions of people Irene dropped in on this weekend, please let me know how you are coping.


Survival > Existence,


Image courtesy of Peter Roan

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