“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
I posted this quote on my youngest son’s first day of kindergarten, the day I had an appointment to show my new PCP the lump that I had found. The quote struck an emotional cord, not only was I sending my little one off into the world to explore this question for himself, but as a reminder that no matter what the outcome of the doctor’s appointment, it was going to be vital that I remember that I am still here on earth, living and breathing. And no matter how much time that I had left, my life could still have meaning and purpose. This core belief was the foundation from which I built resiliency to constantly adapt to the ups and downs of being in treatment.
Spirituality comes in many shapes and forms, for some it is based in the structured practice of religion, for others it is deeply personal and unique to the individual. It bears the qualities of hope, acceptance, faith, love, surrender, and peace in the face of turbulence. It is the glue that holds us together when things fall apart. It’s the gentle reminder that you can show up and face this incredibly terrifying place you are in. It is the warmth that simply sits with you as a companion, rather than trying to solve or fix it.
Yet we need to nurture our spirit to keep it strong. Facing a life threatening condition can challenge our spiritual beliefs and doubt can creep in- causing a crisis of faith as we confront beliefs that made promises of what “should” or “should not” happen. Some of our core culture beliefs in the United States suggest that if we just try hard enough, we can accomplish anything. As you can imagine, this is a highly simplistic view of life that suggests we are to blame if we don’t “make it”. Confronting the reality of pain and suffering can shake our sense of trust in God, the Universe, or fairness depending upon your personal outlook.
Take some time to think about what nourishes your spirit, for me it is the act of creation and being in nature. When I am feeling depleted, I know that it is a red flag indicating that it’s time to stop and rest up. As an empathic person, that meant cultivating the practice of placing myself on the list of people I care for. I am of no use to myself or someone else if my well has run dry. It took time to value myself in this way, but the rewards have meant I am much more capable of facing life’s adversities.
If you are facing a spiritual crisis because of a life threatening circumstance, be gentle with yourself. Pema Chödrön reminds us that life is continually falling apart and coming together; therefore, the more accepting of this process we are, the less critical we can be of our reaction to it. Gently accepting our response to an overwhelming situation is an act of self love. It allows us to settle in and feel our way through the doubt, fear and crisis that we are experiencing, allowing us to grow and deepen into ourselves and our spirits.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting: www.creative-transformations.com, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.