by Sally Miller
I have a savings account that's tied to my spending. I started it as a medical savings account to cover doctors' visits and blood tests when I had no insurance.
The more money I spend, the faster my savings account grows. I do this by pocketing ALL one-dollar bills I receive as change when I shop for groceries, hardware, gas, or the occasional piece of fabric for a new dress. Luckily I do much of my grocery shopping at the local Amish Farmers Market. Besides bountiful fresh vegetables and fruit that I get from the Korean greengrocer, I can get cheese, crackers, pasta, spices, organic meat, eggs, and a whole scrumptious section of baked goods, all sold in individual stalls under one roof. Each stall has its own cash register and I get lots of one-dollar bills in change. I often have a late breakfast there in the little coffee shop with Amish women in native garb waiting tables and speaking what sounds like German/Yiddish/ Scandinavian/ amongst themselves, and this is the only place I part with a few of my ones for a tip.
Every week I come home from the farmer's market with many dollars bills in my pocket. They go immediately into a large wide-mouth vase I keep convenient in the front hall. When the vase gets full, or when I'm going to the bank, I count out all the ones, putting the odd ones left over back in the vase for the next deposit. I usually deposit $20 or $30 at a time.
Over the years my savings account has provided me with a number of weekend forays away from home (including one recently where I met some long unknown relatives), mini-vacations I use to cleanse my soul. I've been able to enjoy these opportunities because I've not had any medical expenses at all for a number of years. I am now nine (9) years post ovarian cancer. I have learned how not to make cancer. I didn't do this feat alone. I had some old friends along the way (some very old) who traveled the path within earshot of me. I made lots of new friends. Not only do I have a savings account at my bank, but I have a savings account of people I've collected along my healing journey. I find myself energized and renewed by each person I have in my life.
On the other hand, people who purchase an oxygen tank from a medical supply house get screwed because they are not part of the cash cow that sick people who need oxygen are part of -- the ones who rent their tanks and pay for their oxygen as part of the Medicare program. Thousands, perhaps millions of people pay $50 per month to medical supply houses to rent a tank of oxygen. Well, your tax dollars pay $50 per month. For this $50 someone will come out to the home, deliver a full tank of oxygen, install the new tank, replace the gauges, and return the tank to the oxygen push cart that makes it so easy to take with you. I'm not talking here about one of the small, portable tanks that people with serious emphysema or other chronic lung disease wear around their necks for a constant supply of oxygen, but the big, stand up canisters that hold, for me, almost a year's supply.
I have an extreme sensitivity to pollutants, or to the lack of available oxygen in the air, whichever it is, I'm not quite sure. All I know is that once a day taking 50 to 75 very deep breaths of "medical" O2 set at the relatively low setting of 1.5 liters/minute, supplied to me through plastic tubes that go directly into my nostrils, will get me through a New Jersey summer with the greatest of ease. I have come to be quite aware of my need for additional oxygen, and use it as needed (under the supervision of my physician, of course).
It was obvious when I first got my oxygen supply that paying $50 a month for tank rental meant my summer oxygen would cost 12 x $50 or $600 a year, instead of the $150 purchase price (with the comparable $18 refill fee). It was a no-brainer. The medical supply house where I purchased my tank replaced or refilled it each year the first three summers I used it.
Recently my medical supply house decided to drop the service of refilling tanks they had sold. They referred me to a welding supply place 15 miles away from where I live, up a busy four-lane highway that is filled with stoplights and toxin-belching cars and trucks (something I normally try to avoid, at least during daylight hours when the heat of the day turns the car exhaust into toxic air). I had to drive up early in the day, before the pollution had gotten too bad, to get my not-quite-empty oxygen tank refilled before the heavy summer pollution set in like a fog over the (recently announced) worst polluted state in the United States.
My (rented) country home is nestled between New York City, Philadelphia, and the Appalachian Mountains (Poconos). My state is one I'm proud of and happy to be part of in many ways; but in the summer, New Jersey is bad. Some years its high summer ozone level, often supplemented with high levels of particulates, starts as early as late April. The high levels of pollutants, heated by the summer air, make it difficult for us to breathe.
The algae grow rapidly in my pond around the same time as the air pollution rises to unhealthy levels, in late April if we've had a series of days with hot temperatures. Luckily spring rains bring cleaner Canadian air so there is not a serious build up of pollution until later, in the "real" summer. The algae gets washed away, too, with rain storms. We who thrive on oxygen-fresh air love the time after a storm -- turtles, beavers, herons, and me.
For anyone with lung problems, the high pollution days are hell. The effect of polluted air makes us want to sleep all afternoon, turn cranky, eat badly, crave diet colas, and have road rage. It means our infections are slower than usual to heal, our inflammations give us pain in our joints. As a matter of fact, many people I know, all of them people with normal lungs, feel these ways at times in the summer, but they don't realize what the solution is. The simple anecdote is oxygen.
Will it take 50% of people hooked up to oxygen tanks for us to get smart and figure out how to clean up the air? 60%? . . . 70%? . . . 80%? We all know that industries are never going to stop polluting the air, and we Americans aren't going to stop driving our cars. Is there another solution to oxygen tanks at taxpayer expense or oxygen bars, like you see in California and Texas?
Well, I have an idea. I figure that if they can build those gigantic dump trucks that help construct roads, and giant backhoes that dig tunnels through mountains, gigantic dams that hold back big rivers, and huge stadiums that hold a hundred thousand people, they ought to be able to build a gigantic sucking machine right in the middle of Central New Jersey. It would suck in all the polluted air from New York and North Jersey and Philadelphia and the Camden area, clean it, purify it, add extra oxygen or whatever they needed to, and push it back out -- a huge nuclear power plant-shaped structure to clean up the air so we wouldn't need oxygen tanks in the summer. What would be so hard about that?
If I were in charge, I'd build the gigantic sucking machine and pay for its maintenance with monies received from a new tax on air exhaust of any kind, so those of us who pollute the air would be paying for its clean up. That way taxes wouldn't go to subsidize medical supply houses who rent oxygen tanks to Medicare patients. Let them supply nutritionists to sick folks, instead.
I met a man on my last road trip that told me he'd driven with his wife all the way from Pittsburgh out to Portland Oregon and back, and he hadn't had to use his oxygen at all while he was out west. As soon as he got back to the Chicago area, he needed to start up with it again. So the problem isn't just around where I live. It's around most cities, some worse than others (Houston just passed Los Angeles as the most polluted city). Perhaps my gigantic sucking machine will catch on across the country.
In the meantime, I'm thinking of opening a summer oxygen bar.
When I first got to know Keith, he was seventeen and dealing with whether he should come out to his mom and to the students in his high school. I was studying the sociology and psychology of sexuality in college and interested in sex therapy as a potential career choice, so I was happy to counsel him.
My favorite Thanksgiving of all time was when my boyfriend and I were invited to Keith and John's house. One cooked, the other helped serve the turkey with all the fixin's. Put eight gay guys together with a liberal straight couple and you get sexual jokes cracked even before the grace is said! We both loved it. Everyone was open, talkative, accepting.
I had another gay friend, a man, who was much more like a sister or a girlfriend than a heterosexual man had ever been to me -- he had overcome most men's resistance to embracing their softer, more feminine, more "helpless" side, making it so easy for us to get along.
I share these friends because they are typical, perhaps, of the experience of other women. All my gay friendships over the years have been on an equal basis. Perhaps the non-gay man should take notice.
Most of the long-term gay relationships I've known were more like partnerships than marriages. Marriage implies to me a kind of yin-yang connection between members of the opposite sex, with its push/pull attraction and resistance. Partnerships are more equal, like oxen in a yoke, the two pulling together toward common goals.
I was married to a man for 17 years, and we had more of a partnership than a traditional marriage. Though he was the breadwinner and I took care of the house and children, other roles were more blurred. He always attended teacher conferences and volunteered in the children's schools; I was the one who designed and put together new bright blue kitchen cupboards and the fire-engine red backyard playhouse/climber. He took care of the children two nights a week while I attended college classes at nearby Rutgers, feeding them food I'd cooked and supervising their baths, homework, and bedtime. I was the one with the higher sex drive.
Luckily we were both happy with our marriage, and my husband died a happy man. Well, as happy as you can be hooked up to toxic chemicals being loaded into your veins at the largest cancer hospital in the world. But don't let me digress. He felt successful in his marriage: he'd chosen well, given that he was 27 when we met, and he had four smart, healthy children. He worked for a large corporation and earned a good salary, enough to pay the mortgage and support the family. He was a whiz at bridge, earning respect throughout the Midwest and East Coast duplicate circles. He was New Jersey's 2nd Life Master, and I was happy to support him toward that end.
We had both come from loving families, and saw how working in accord was beneficial to parents and children alike. My father treated my mother with respect and love. That was what I found in my husband -- a man who respected and loved me. We created another loving family, and taught our children early how to strive for equality and how to treat others with respect and love.
If two gay men want to do this -- live together in respect and in love, with or without children -- who cares? Who cares what the two parents do in their bedroom, in their social circle, in their subculture, as long as they're respectful and loving? If two women want to raise a child and teach their son a variety of possibilities that women can be, what's wrong with that? (If he eats lots of meat he'll want lots of sex and be considered a Man, no matter who raised him or who he wants to have sex with!)
Isn't that better for children to have two gay parents than be raised by a heroin addict mother not married to the heroin addict father? Or be slapped around by an unhappily married father who constantly cheats on his wife? Or worse, who beats on her, too? Or who behaves in one of the myriad of other ways deemed detrimental to children? Should we not screen better for the right to parent (other than biology)?
If we agree that gays have the right to a partnership, how do we make it fair, with or without children? How do we make it "legal"? Should gays get married willy nilly just because they can? Certainly not. Then they'd fall into the same trap as heterosexual couples -- no preparation, and decisions based simply on hormones ending in over 50% divorce.
Let Marriage embrace the variety of unions designed to produce and raise a child. This would include any two or more people, over 21, who desired to love and respect each other and their children, whether natural, artificially produced, or adopted. Require all parties to go through relationship and parenting classes, and pass a test to get their state license just as we do for driving a car. Requirements would vary from state to state, and would reflect local interests. They might or might not include a religious ceremony.
Let Partnerships have a legal equality for partners, whether they be gay, straight, or several. A new legal definition of equality would go far to helping redefine social sex roles, which have been due for a major overhaul for years.
I so applauded newly elected President Clinton for accepting gays in the military. I thought the shake up was beginning then. But he caved to political pressure and the gay activists had to continue on their own.
Isn't making society grow better than holding on to an antiquated notion of the Judeo/Christian marriage? Let's get real. Let's enlarge our perspectives of marriage, partnerships, relationships, and love. We need all the good ones we can get -- in our society, in our world, in our time.
May 18, 2004
Once a dentist took my broken front tooth, covered it with glue so chemically toxic that I momentarily couldn't breathe, and jammed it back onto the stub in my mouth.
This action came after a long explanation about bridges and root canals. I had exclaimed to him, "If it's dead, why don't you just glue it back on?"
He did, and I still have that tooth.
This incident reminds me of the time I was at a New Year's Day party at my married lover's house (sounds odd, now, saying that our suburban social circles overlapped). I guess in the excitement of trying to cover our intimacy we both drank too much.
In a moment of passionate response he charged into the kitchen, retrieved the wall phone lying attached but unmounted on the floor, and jammed it onto the wallboard where it had formerly been properly connected before the kitchen got a coat of paint several months earlier.
My comment, no doubt echoing one similar to his wife's, had been, after his long explanation of why the kitchen phone I wanted to use was buried under a pile of papers on the floor, "If the phone works, why don't you just put it back on the wall?"
The phone remains there to this day, 25 years later, stuck into the wallboard and working.
Sometimes the simplest ideas executed immediately are the easiest and work the best, to say nothing of the frequently lower cost.
If the simple, expedient, efficient way doesn't work out longterm, holes can always be filled.
December 3, 2003
Write he said
October 15, 2001
While you folks here in Hunterdon County in New Jersey and in the rest of the USA were trying to get back to normal after September 11, were trying to get on with your lives like the politicians and other talking heads admonished you to do, I was taking a road trip.
From that September morning on, when the cameras abruptly changed during the news segment I was watching to a shot of an airplane flying into the World Trade Center, I became riveted to the TV. I wondered what this meant a plane flying in, silently, right into the building no newsmen commenting, no broadcasters with lispy false teeth, no distractions such as the incessant prescription drug ads (may cause nausea, diarrhea, headaches, or liver damage).
At 9 o'clock I called a friend of mine who invests in the markets, thinking he might still have time to call his broker. By the time the second plane hit I had called my son, my daughters, and my sister, knowing none of them would ordinarily be watching TV at that time. "You'd better turn on your TV," I warned each one.
That first afternoon a young couple I knew came over and spent several hours with me (their retail store had closed for the day), and we watched the events unfold on TV. We commented and discussed, feeling remote but so close (we were about 60 miles from Manhattan).
Other friends joined me for some retreat time over the next couple of weeks and always we discussed the attack, its ramifications and meaning. We set out my map-of-the-Middle-East jigsaw puzzle, and many of us worked on it during that time, learning the geography and cities of the area.
My neighbor and several other local rescue workers declined to give me details of their time spent at Ground Zero, but they did all tell me one thing: It smells like death! I'd smelled that before, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and I had no wish to do it again.
I was, however, hooked by the live broadcasting, just as I had been for the Watergate hearings and the Gulf War. I kept four New York and Philadelphia stations plus four 24-hour-news channels programmed into my cable remotes.
Whenever I didn't have my hands busy I would flip from station to station, watching, listening, trying to comprehend. The rest of the time I listened to whatever station was tuned in on a particular TV. I kept all my TVs on during the day while I was moving about and doing my work (I was testing recipes for a new cookbook); at night I slept with CNN and the mute on.
One young woman's questions about what I remembered of World War II made me start having memories of my childhood war experiences our family Victory Garden, my daddy making tomato juice in a basement centrifuge, the sirens when the war was over, rationing butter and meat and gas and sugar.
That wasn't so hard, I thought. We don't need all that animal fat and sugar, anyway.
Going to sleep at night being afraid that a bomb was going to fall on me during the night was another memory I had. Later I went to sleep at night being afraid that I'd wake up in an iron lung after contracting polio. Today's kids can worry about both bombs and bugs at the same time.
Wigging out over the increased media hype on anthrax (in spite of having a microbiologist brother-in-law who supplied me with facts early on) and having difficulty controlling my obsession for more news, I got increasingly anxious and slightly paranoid. For those of us who are in a state of heightened awareness much of the time anyway, having the government ask us to be on increased alertness can easily send us over the line.
I kept hearing myself tell people that I was restless: I needed to get away from the closeness of the disaster area: I didn't feel safe in my own house, which had been intentionally designed to be restful and healing.
I decided to drive west hopefully to leave some tension behind. I'd been trying to make a trip to the Midwest for several years, but had never felt quite up to it, especially driving the long distance alone though I'd done it many times before, not only alone, but once with a gravely sick husband and four active kids!
Hurriedly I packed enough clothes for two weeks, coolers of food and drink (I'm on a special diet), a CD player with several new CDs, vitamins and meds, well water, plus blankets, quilts, and coats in case it turned cold (later I was sorry I didn't take my boots).
After getting the house ready to leave, business concerns finalized, and the car packed, I set out for Interstate Route 80, which crosses New Jersey about 40 miles north of where I live and continues on west all the way to California. I chose a warm October day to begin my trek. When I finally reached the Delaware Water Gap I gave a big sigh of relief, letting go of much tension in my body and spirit. The Gap is incredibly beautiful, especially in the fall.
Once I passed the Pocono Mountain resort areas (Sites Available, Private Pools), I knew I was on my way Reality reality instead of Reality TV and 24-hour news channels.
A hundred miles from home the large silos of Pennsylvania farmland began to appear, and I began to climb. Not like climbing the Rockies, but gentler, and steady, up and up.
Further west was a spectacular view of the Appalachian Mountains, with multi-colored fall leaves and the clearest blue sky, unfettered with airplane exhaust trails and New Jersey smog. I felt like an Indian, rounding the trail west. I felt like a pioneer on the way to new land. Everywhere cars and trucks alike were putting on their brakes and slowing down. It took our collective breaths away, mile after mile of perfection, the rise of tree-topped mountains against the sky like a completed jigsaw puzzle. The colors numbed my mind to any disaster left behind.
The further west I got, the more I felt like a well human being. No longer a cancer patient (it had been over five years since my diagnosis of ovarian cancer, anyway), I allowed myself instant gratifications, which momentarily lifted my spirits. I found a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike that had the most delicious black bean soup and whole grain bread, which were entirely within a healthy diet, but I also stopped in Illinois for a pork tenderloin sandwich to die for. I had junk food every afternoon around four and coffee once or twice a day, like other people do.
I didn't once tell anyone I was a cancer survivor, my MO for five long years. Instead I was a writer who shared copies of her most recent publication with several people along the way. Without the stresses of the world on my shoulders, I could be myself; I could be okay. In turn I felt physically better. I stopped the self-indulgent handicapped attitude, toting my own suitcases and cooler, pillows and water jugs, overnight case and shoulder bag, going in and out of motels without a problem.
The amount I drove alone limited my news: my car radio was broken, my CB didn't work, and my carry-along ghetto blaster that ran on batteries was too difficult to reach while driving. I did listen to CNN every morning before I left my motel at the obligatory 11 am check out, and again in the evening whenever I checked in to a new room. That was enough to keep me informed but not anxious.
I was in a major minority of long-distance travelers. I had traveled often in October, and always the highways were littered with RVs, retired people in Subaru station wagons, young single guys in red cars. This year I was nearly alone.
I decided to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who live outside Chicago. We'd last visited when they brought their show dogs to the Westminster Dog Show in Madison Square Garden, coming out to visit our family in suburban New Jersey when I was in my late twenties. They were excited to see me after so many years, and they had lots of questions for me about the terrorist activity on the East coast. We talked about the Twin Towers and anthrax, and I gave them as much detail as I could from my circle of friends and acquaintances who were affected by the disaster.
As I continued on West, I felt like an explorer. I checked out a possible house to settle in off Route 20 in northern Iowa, but I found the sparseness of the land, essentially devoid of the trees I so loved in New Jersey, to be a serious drawback, though I could have rented the house on the spot.
As I drove from place to place, I found that what was missing was the abundance of flags. Most of the Midwest towns I drove through had flags out and signs saying GOD BLESS AMERICA, but only occasional ones. Flemington, New Jersey, my hometown, looked like a Fourth of July in the 1940s. Every house and every mailbox out in the country had a flag. Most cars flew a tattered flag until the capitalism machinery started producing plastic flags that could withstand high speed and whipping.
My sister (whose house in Fargo, North Dakota I aimed for when I left the East coast) welcomed me with open arms even though I arrived a day later than expected. A sudden October snow storm had closed the interstate between Blue Earth, Minnesota, the home of the Jolly Green Giant where I was staying, and Fargo.
She didn't mind my having CNN & MSNBC on simultaneously, letting me flip back and forth searching for more news. There were additional cases of anthrax infection coming out every day, many of them right down the road from where friends of mine lived. My brother-in-law, a microbiologist at ND State University, was an expert on anthrax and had even advised the North Dakota governor. I felt safe with family in Fargo.
November 9, 2001
I came home rested. I put away the anxiety, the paranoia, but kept the vigilance.
I remained vigilant through the complete devastation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
But no more. Now, two years after 9-11, I am fighting feelings of shame for being an American, or at least, for our present administration. What is going on in the world no longer seems relevant to me. I feel disassociated from the outside world except for a few friends and family.
I can no longer justify corporate greed, brutal slaughter of animals for food, the poisoning of our land by pesticides and corporate spilling, the clogging of our air from corporate exhaust, people being poisoned with legal drugs they can buy at the drugstore if they can afford them, senseless killing in foreign lands for oil, and especially dear to my heart, countless women being poisoned with mustard gas (disguised as "chemotherapy") for their cancer!
I am acutely aware of the failings of America and Americans. I can only try and live my life in a healthier, more peaceful, more humane way. Maybe it took September 11th to wake us up to our failings, so that we may try to correct our shortcomings. For that I am thankful.
September 11, 2003
On my 64th birthday a Chinese American friend told me that the I Ching calls 64 the year of satisfactory completion. That was how I felt, complete.
And I stopped wishing.
As abruptly as I had started wishing upon a star or a penny thrown into a fountain when I was a child, at 64 I stopped imagining what might be and started dealing better with what is. A new version of my Here-and-Now mother, only I can still choose where I want to be: I have not yet lost my faculties.
I've stopped wishing for a live-in boyfriend, a financial success in publishing, or a thin body. Horrors that I might have a thin body like other cancer patients those who choose drugs that eat away at their health and appearance. I've stopped wishing that my youngest son would reconcile with me, or that my youngest daughter would get well, or that my eldest son would stop drinking.
Most of the time at 64 I don't want to DO anything. I want to just be. I want to meditate or muse, watch the turtles or stretch, rest my eyes or work on a jigsaw puzzle. When I've done these long enough woven in with vitamins, vegetables, flowers, and walks all I want to do is write. I alternate periods of busyness with long spans of apparent inactivity, my mind buffering just like my computer does when I listen to streaming music.
I actually like my life. I like myself. At 64, it's about time.
June 26, 2003
In publishing terms leaving enough white space means not packing the page with text and pictures, giving the eye has a chance to rest before the next image appears.
In terms of thinking, it means focusing on the space between our thoughts, as Deepak Chopra calls meditation. Doing this gives the body a chance to balance within itself, and it gives the spirit a chance to connect with qi (chee), or the life force. Both of these are difficult to do if we have a myriad of jumbled thoughts keeping our mind busy and stressed. It is easier to be clear, it is easier to be creative, and it is easier to have perspective, if we allow ourselves room to simply BE, without thinking, for short but frequent periods throughout each day.
Leaving more white space means putting more space between words, sentences, and paragraphs as we talk. This gives the listener a chance to interact with us, to debate with us, to challenge us. It means allowing more space when we are listening, so the speaker has ample room to think and elaborate.
It means leaving more room between relationships, more time between dinners out, tv shows, golf games, or other pursuits we actively engage in. We can use this white space for sitting, musing, laughing, hugging, healing, praying, singing, or just being.
Leaving enough white space means running our lives, instead of our lives running us.
May 7, 2003
When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on July 2, 1996, at the age of 57, I was flabbergasted. Incredulous. How could I, Sally Miller, have ovarian cancer? Never in a thousand years did I think I'd get cancer. Alzheimer's was what ran in my family. And heart problems. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 62, and I experienced chest pains during my 40s, so I just assumed that when I went, it would likely be from heart failure.
I was prepared to die, or so I thought. I had an agreement with a longtime friend about helping me end my life if it became too painful, or without dignity. He knew, and my children knew, that I didn't want to live in happy la-la land
like my mother did. That I didn't want life without awareness and some degree of comfort.
Even before I figured out the answer to how I'd gotten cancer, I knew my having it was for a reason. But before I could figure out what the reason was, I had to get the tumor removed. My belly was so swollen that I had new stretch marks in places I'd never had them after carrying four children, including a ten-pounder! If I didn't get it removed soon, something important was going to give way in my body my heart, my liver, my kidneys or perhaps I would lose my will to live. I could feel the ugly thing fighting to take over my body, and I really wasn't ready yet to die.
With tears and determination I shopped around for the best gynecological surgeon I could find to cut out the monster growing inside me. On August 12, 1996, I was operated on for Class III mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer. Historically there is only a 20% chance of 5-year survival with traditional medical treatment.
I "knew," from the right-brain, intuitive part of me, that I wanted to have no part of chemotherapy or radiation. My regular doctor, my surgeon, and an oncologist I consulted for a second opinion all wanted to tell me of the benefits. I had watched my husband die of the effects of chemotherapy, after a team of brilliant New York surgeons cleaned him out. Later I knew a woman who went from disfiguring surgery through years of chemotherapy, more disfiguring surgery, and more chemotherapy, to a slow, tortuous death. I would never do that to myself or to any of the people I loved.
Instead I focused on giving my body a chance to heal itself from the surgical trauma, and I started making changes in my lifestyle that would hopefully keep the cancer from growing back again. I found an understanding doctor a young woman and a therapist who supported me in my efforts. Every three months I get a cancer antigen test to check my progress. My doctors have been amazed at the good results.
Several times during my recuperation I heard or read about places where cancer patients could learn to live with cancer, and I thought, That's why I'm different! I'm trying to live without cancer!
I'm boosting my immune system to help it get rid of unwanted cancer cells as they develop so I won't grow more tumors, by eating more of the right things, breathing consciously, drinking lots of good water, and exercising more than before. I am also drastically reducing the number of toxins I let into my body, and I'm supplementing my diet with vitamins, antioxidants, tumor inhibitors, and tonics. I'm living as stress-free a life as possible so my energy can be directed towards the healing process.
I've tried to make amends with those family members and friends that I was at odds with, and most of all, I've tried to pay back those I owed if not directly in money, then by giving to those around me who need love, a hug, or a moment of my time. I've reconnected with my qi (chee), my life energy that is part of a larger whole.
Now I am living without cancer.
I haven't felt better in years and years! Like putting in new plugs, resetting the timing, and feeding it the correct octane gasoline can make my car run better, giving myself healthy food, adequate rest, and spiritual/emotional support has allowed my body the energy to heal itself from the surgery and revitalize the immune system.
An opthamologist asked me once why I thought I got cancer. When I told him I put 10% of the blame on big business and greed, and the other 90% was my responsibility, he said, "You can't blame yourself! It's not your fault!"
Whose fault was it? It's quite clear to me now that I got cancer from overloading myself with toxic materials. In my case it was too much fat, too much NutraSweetฎ, too much sugar, too much grower-tainted food, too much processed food with all its toxic additives, too many dairy products with all their additives, too much meat, too many antibiotics, too many X-rays, too many unnecessary prescription drugs, too many cigarettes, too much polluted air and water, too many pesticides, and sex with too many different men.
I also got cancer from not taking care of myself well enough to have a strong immune system not exercising enough, not breathing deeply enough, not eating enough nourishing food, and not drinking enough water. I got cancer from not caring enough about myself.
I finally figured out that the reason I got cancer was to learn how to beat it in a natural, comfortable way that did not include being probed, punctured, poisoned, or tortured.
It is also clear to me that the reason I beat my cancer without the traditional post-surgical medical intervention was to enable me to write about it, so other people could benefit from my experiences and perspective.
If you want to explore some of the resources I did, I have listed them at the end of Part I. Some books I read after I was into my own healing program, but I included them because they confirm my more intuitive approach while adding new ideas of their own.
Breath is the master key to health and wellness, a function we can learn to regulate and develop in order to improve our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Andrew Weil MD
When I was young, starting at perhaps nine or ten, I was subjected to a basal metabolic rate test (BMR) on a regular basis. The BMR was a crude attempt by the medical establishment of the 1940s and 50s to determine the need for thyroid medication by measuring the amount of oxygen used over a specific period of time, usually an hour or two. No one explained that to me back then, though, and I remember only the inconvenience of being awakened at 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning, packed off to Dr. Rosebrook's office without breakfast, and made to lie in a darkened closet-size room off his regular examinining room. I was told to try and go back to sleep, though I had a face mask over my nose and mouth connected to a machine that hummed and clicked. After a long time a nurse would come in to change the oxygen tank, and seeing me awake, would always calm me and say, "Just go back to sleep now."
I never could figure out why the nurse said that, as I never went to sleep in all the years I was given the test. Instead I taught myself what I now know as breathing exercises and meditation. I learned how to slow down and deepen my breath while maintaining a vivid awareness of sounds, shapes, internal workings of my body. I found I could slow my heart down (though not as slow as my breath). I also practiced speeding them both up (with a consequential rise in my temperature) it was fun to see how much control I could have while "asleep." They may have thought I was asleep, but I was gaining skills that have come in useful every day of my recovery from ovarian cancer. I expect to use them the rest of my life.
Soon after my cancer "debulking" operation, when I got home to the comfort of my own bed, I started the breathing part of my healing program. I knew that deep, "abdominal" breathing was good for oxygenating the blood, and somehow I sensed this was something I should be doing. I realized later, after I became clearheaded, that it was the aftereffects of the anesthetic I had been feeling, and the deeper breathing accelerated the process of detoxification.
I began in the morning, after I'd gone to the bathroom and climbed back into my bed cave, and I did deep breathing again after lunch while I rested and watched All My Children. Late afternoon was another good time to focus on breathing and not doing, and of course, I took deep relaxing breaths before I dropped off to sleep at night.
Because of my experiences with childhood BMR tests, I was adept in the art of relaxation. I just lay there, watching my breath, feeling my belly rise and fall, feeling myself let go of tension, feeling myself begin to float in that delightful state named alpha.
I could feel that this was the place in which I healed the best, so I would often slip into this relaxed state during the day at times other than during my specific breath exercises. I began to feel more and more connected to my spirit; I felt as if my soul were getting recharged from the energy of the universe everytime I did conscious breathing. It was such a wonderful feeling that I found myself wanting to be there often when I was alone. People dropping by, tv, and noisy neighbors interrupted the focus, the concentration, the connections unless someone joined me, which occasionally happened (and when it did, it was wonderful!).
If I had difficulty letting go of my myriad of thoughts (especially just before I went for blood tests), if watching my breaths come and go wasn't enough to calm me, I would often augment my deep breathing with counting. Counting serves as a sort of mantra; it helps focus the mind on one thing while discouraging extraneous thoughts (anxiety) or fantasy. By reducing the anxiety and quieting the mind, deep breathing with or without counting frees up energy for the healing process.
It seems that ancient arts of meditation used in conjunction with other methods of healing are being rediscovered all over. The other day my sister in Fargo ND sent me a clipping about "mindfulness" meditation being taught at their local hospital "The basic idea is that by being aware of breathing, body sensations, thoughts and feelings, we allow the body to heal itself."
The only thing this explanation is missing is the spiritual connection in many ancient languages breath and spirit are the same word. I found the spiritual aspect of conscious breathing a bonus "side effect," though later I found that my healing was directly related to the amount of qi ("chee") or prana, both words for life energy, I breathed in.
During my recovery I read several books with breathing exercises, many of which were different from what I had already tried. Because variety is one of the components of balance (moderation being the other), I found that I was better able to stick to regular conscious breathing periods if I varied what I did. I began to collect breath counting exercises, and when I got bored using one, I tried another.
It seems my "intuition" has paid off in my gradual regaining of good health. The integrity and strength of my lungs has improved, increasing the percentage of oxygen in my blood, which in turn allows me to utilize my food more efficiently (on a cellular level). This frees up energy for keeping stray cancer cells at bay. Eighteen months post operation my doctor said she'd love to have my blood work (she was pregnant), and that I was healthier than most of the people she saw!
Following are some of the breathing exercises I found on my journey. For all of them, sit up comfortably to start with, or if you've had abdominal surgery, prop yourself up on some pillows so you aren't in a sleeping position. Often it is very easy for beginners to go from relaxed breathing into sleep state, skipping the state of relaxed hyper-awareness that is so valuable for healing, so avoid doing the exercises in a position that is natural for sleep. After you learn how to change states of mind and body at will, you will find it more fulfilling to do them lying down.
1. Sit or lie as still as you can. Watch your breath go in and out. Don't try to speed it up, slow it down, or deepen it. Just observe it. If you find your mind wandering, simply bring your attention back to your breath in and out, in and out. Do this for ten minutes at a time if you can, in view of a clock if you must, but please don't set a timer that could interrupt you in case you feel like staying longer than ten minutes with this relaxing exercise.
2. Take one breath in, then breathe forcefully out. With the next breath in, watch your abdomen (belly) bulge out. As you breath out, watch your belly flatten. Belly out/breath in; belly in/breath out.
If your body is not doing this, you may be limiting your breath in by holding your body tight. Try the following exercise in breathing and imagination:
3. On the next breath in, let it in through your nose and into your throat. Let it out. Then let it into your nose, your throat, and into your upper chest. Let it out. Then let it into your nose, throat, upper chest, and into your lungs. Exhale. Next breathe into your throat, your lungs, and into your stomach. Let it out. This time let it into your lungs, your stomach, and into your belly (letting your belly relax at the same time). Exhale. On the next few deep breaths in, be aware of how far out your belly goes.
Once you have mastered deep abdominal breathing and are comfortable doing it anytime, anywhere, try adding counting.
4. Count each inbreath, going from one to ten. Then start over with one and go to ten again. If you find that your mind has wandered off, gently bring it back and begin with one again. Repeat as often as you wish.
5. Count each inbreath, going from one to five. Then begin over again with one, go up to five, then start over at one. Repeat several times. This exercise is more difficult than the previous one as it takes more focus.
6. Take one inbreath, then start counting the outbreath as one. Keep counting outbreaths until you get to twenty or until you lose count. Repeat as desired. This particular exercise was quite an eye opener for me, for it showed me that something I always thought of as one way (one, two; in, out) could really be the opposite. It helped me balance my breathing, one more balanced thing in my previously off-balance life.
7. Count breaths (in or out, your choice) backwards from ten to one. Repeat several times. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to counting.
8. Count one on the inbreath, and two more on the outbreath (for a total count of three). Repeat several times. Notice what happens to your overall breathing pattern when you do this.
After you have mastered the above exercises, you can use them in any order you wish, or just stick with a favorite. Try to do about ten to twenty minutes of intentional breathing at least four times a day, more often when you remember. After several months of conscious breathing, you'll notice improvements in your body and in your awareness.
Natural Health, Natural Medicine by Andrew Weil MD (Houghton Mifflin, 1995). This book is a good introduction to a more natural way of being healthy, and contains a whole chapter devoted to air and breath. Dr. Weil's writing and approach are easy to understand, and he includes small examples from his own life (a technique I especially relate to).
Mending the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko PhD (Bantam Books, 1987). A wonderful book on the mind/body connection, with detailed instructions for breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises with excellent illustrations (good if you're instruction-impaired, as I am!).
Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra MD (Harmony Books, 1993). For a more advanced explanation of the importance of breath and proper breathing, see this complete approach to health, based on ancient healing traditions as well as Western scientific medicine.
ฉ 2002 by Sally Miller
Slip into the gap between thoughts
Illness is many Americans' only form of meditation and self-nourishment. We are so busy rushing through our lives that being sick has become an acceptable way of stopping or slowing down. Injury due to carelessness (often because of our rushing) is another way we are forced to slow down.
Both sickness and injury have become institutionalized in our society. In other words, they have become acceptable to the point that $1 trillion are being poured yearly into the institutions and people who support disease hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses, orderlies, insurance and drug companies, medical equipment manufacturers, etc.
Illness and injury are not the only ways we try to give our mind and bodies the rest, attention, and nurturing they crave. Drugs, sex, music, and prayer are other common vehicles for meditation, or quieting of the mind. We often begin using these without much thought: we just know we like the feeling we get when using them.
Some drugs (and here I don't differentiate between recreational and pharmaceutical drugs) can make you "forget your troubles" by diverting your energy to zombieland. Others elevate your mood, speed you up, help you create hallucinations, reduce your hallucinations, obliterate your pain, or otherwise change your ordinary consciousness. For many people these changes are enough to modify the inner mindscape for a short while then more of the drug is needed or desired.
"Sleep and sex are the only ways I know how to turn my head off," I used to say in the late 70s. I didn't know about intentional meditation then, and often was swept into sexual relationships simply for the need I had for internal quiet. Somehow I learned to focus my attention on sensations during sex, allowing me needed relief from a brain constantly in gear, and encouraging my sexual awareness to develop at the same time. Reading "Mystical Sex as Meditation" by Louis Meldman in his book Mystical Sex helped me reach a better understanding of my sexual seeking.
On my life journey I also discovered rock and roll and alcohol, both of which drown out sensation and thinking (though I'm told not as well as heroin). I also found marijuana, which accelerates awareness, on my way to a more mindful way of existence. Ancient Chinese, South American, and Indian people used techniques of meditation which included ingesting or smoking various herbal mixtures to enhance the experience.
Listening to music has often helped me reach an internal balance a spiritual and emotional balance (physical balance also needs the right nutrition!). Music does this for many people. Music without words can help us turn off the intellect, the thinking/rational left brain, allowing us to get more in touch with our emotional/sensual right brain. Once we learn how to switch from left to right or right to center if we are particularly right-brained to start with (many lefties are right-brained) we can learn to use both sides of our brains in a balanced manner. Balance is what serves us best.
Prayer is another traditional way that people get the benefits of meditation, and for those who believe in God, or want to connect with the universe, prayer is a particularly good way. By allowing ourselves to give thanks for our blessings, to ask for help, to give ourselves over to a higher energy or power, we tap into the positive energy of the universe.
I am grateful to be part of a growing movement of people emphasizing a natural, nontoxic way of enabling the body (and the whole person) to rebalance and heal compared to what has been offered traditionally by our health care system. Holistic/alternative health practitioners, New Agers, senior citizens, athletes and movie stars, plus thousands of ordinary people are using and teaching traditional Eastern meditative techniques (including mantras and candlelight for focus) and yoga, a more physical meditation, for creating balance in their lives.
Just after my diagnosis of ovarian cancer, meditation calmed me from the terror of knowing I was carrying a monster within me. I imagined the mass much like Rosemary's baby part me, part evil. I meditated as often as I could, perhaps 6-8 times a day, to help myself stay centered. I knew dealing with cancer would take all my focus and energy. It was during these meditative states of consciousness that my connections to the energy of the universe became most clear, and my connection to all living things was strengthened. I'm convinced that my healing has been largely due to the connections I made, not only with the universal energy but also with loved ones, and with myself.
Meditation helps us quiet the chatter that goes on in our minds. Ordinarily our thoughts speed by so fast we can hardly catch them, and we worry about events from the past and events that haven't even happened yet (and most likely won't happen). We are filled up with other peoples' talking at work, at home, in the car, through constant television and radio.
We filter neighbors, sirens, barking dogs, whining engines, and other noise as best we can, making room for other mind efforts like reading a book, talking on the phone, or working at the computer. Rarely do we spend any significant quiet time really alone doing nothing, thinking nothing, judging nothing. To do so would be to change our consciousness.
Why would one want to change his consciousness? Leaving the intellect behind is like Carlos Casteneda being hit by Don Juan between the shoulder blades and going into another dimension. Healing is best done in this state. Breathing slows and deepens naturally; the heart and circulation slow. Biochemical balance is best attained under these circumstances as there is less for the body to do less strain less pressure, less turmoil and agitation.
By reducing the amount and frequency of noise coming into (and going on in) our minds, we allow our bodies to begin the process of rebalancing and nourishing. Meditation actually changes our biochemistry. Getting in touch with our internal workings is another benefit, as it allows us the opportunity to begin the learning process that accompanies self awareness and spiritual growth.
A "side effect" of meditation is the opening up of the pathways to your inner creativity and to your heart, allowing this creative energy and love to spring forth into your consciousness. There are no intellectual script lines from your past stopping you.
To meditate it's best if there is no television, no radio, no music on. It's hard to meditate with the TV on (but not impossible). So turn it off. If you're used to having the TV on all the time, like I was, turn it off two or three times a day. Postpone turning it on in the morning. If you've been out, postpone turning it on when you first get home. Sometimes it helps when changing a behavior to start in little steps, and learning to meditate is begun by learning to be quiet, and learning to be alone. (You can also meditate in a group, like you can pray in a group; but in the end, like dying, meditation is a solitary experience.)
Ideally you will meditate when you can control your immediate surroundings. Reduce the external stress on your body, like too much heat or noise (dealing with these divert energy from the healing process). If you haven't done any of the breathing exercises in the "Breathing" essay, try some of them first. They are excellent ways to begin building self awareness. Then try the following meditations, all of which I used during my convalescence to dissolve the anxieties of daily life through mind quieting and balancing. They put my body and mind in a better place for the healing process, and they will yours, also.
Unless otherwise instructed, find a comfortable place to sit where you can support your head, moving a chair against a wall if you need to. Close your eyes. Extend your breathing slightly, slowly taking in more and more air.
1. Thought watching
Watch your thoughts as they go whizzing by on your mental blackboard. Don't try to stop them, just watch them. You might see images, or you might see words.
Thoughts like "I feel really stupid" or "I hope I don't go to sleep" are perfectly all right. Just watch the thoughts go by.
Don't be judgmental of your thoughts. You may find yourself taking a deep breath.
Listen to the sounds in the room where you are. I hear a clock ticking, my computer humming, the refrigerator turning on. What do you hear?
Listen to the sounds that are outside your room (it helps if the window is open). I hear the wind rustling the leaves on the tree outside my window. I hear a faraway airplane. I hear a dog bark. What do you hear?
The next time you are outside, listen to the sounds you hear. What are they?
How are they different from the way they sounded when you were inside listening?
The next time you are downtown, or in a city, listen to the sounds you hear.
Someday at 3:30 pm when school is out, listen to the sounds you hear.
Try listening to the sounds you hear in a park or in the country, during the day, and at night.
How are the sounds you hear different at different times? Different seasons?
Listen to the sounds within you. I can hear my breathing. I can hear my blood pulse. I hear a faraway cricket sound in my ears. I find these sounds very soothing. What can you hear?
3. Bath meditation
Run a very hot bath, filled up to the overflow. Let the water sit for at least half an hour to let the chlorine dissipate and steam up the bathroom. If you have a separate heater, hyperheat the bathroom, also. Experiment with water temperature until you find what suits you. The hotter the better.
When it has cooled enough for you to get in, drop in 2-5 drops of an essential oil (these can be obtained at a health food store or aromatherapist). Stir to mix. I use eucalyptus when I feel stuffy from the smokers who live below me; lavender or jasmine when I just want to relax and meditate. Pam Novotny, a Jersey Shore aromatherapist, suggests also trying ylang ylang or juniper.
Get into the tub and sit down. Scoop up some water in your hands and apply to your face, neck, shoulders, and chest. Then lie back, knees bent or feet folded in, so your trunk is pretty well covered with the warm/hot water. If you feel chilly at all, cover your front with a wet washcloth or handtowel. If you wish, place a bath pillow or folded-up hand towel underneath your head and neck.
Close your eyes. Just be in the warmth and allow images to float through your mind. Let the images come to you, then let them go, and enjoy the warmth. Stay this way as long as you're comfortable.
When finished, rinse off and towel dry with lots of rubbing to help the old skin come off. Rest afterwards if you feel like it. On chilly days I often leave my bedroom window open while I'm in my homemade sauna, so that when I come back to my room I can imagine I'm a character in a Bergman film I saw once, romping in the snow after a hot steam bath.
If you don't have a bathtub, perhaps you can try this at a friend's house.
4. Sensual shower
Stand with your back to the running water. Lather up your hands with soap. Close your eyes. Slowly rub your hands over your entire body. You can start at the top and go down or start with your feet and go up. As you move your hands slowly over your body, focus on the sensations you feel. The idea is not to clean yourself, but to focus your mind on the messages your hands are getting. Feel the parts of you that are soft; feel the parts that are hard. Which parts are smooth? Hairy? Smooth? Focus on what feels good to you. Try not to be judgmental about your body, just enjoy how it feels. When you're finished, rinse yourself off and towel dry as above.
This is a place I love to go, and I hope you can visualize it in even more detail than I describe here.
You're driving down a country road, a quiet country road, and everywhere you look you see lush green green in the tall wild grasses along side the road, green in the leaves of the trees that line the road. The branches of the large trees nearly touch overhead. You're sitting really comfortably in your car and you're enjoying the view, which reminds you of a long sensuous tunnel. The car seems suspended over the road, not touching the road at all. It seems light, not heavy, almost like floating.
You suddenly realize you can slow yourself down just with your thoughts. Just by thinking yourself going more slowly, you can go more slowly. There is no one on the road but you, so you go real slow, enjoying the feeling of comfort the tunnel of trees creates in you. Because you can control how fast you go just with your thinking, you decide to speed up and allow the trees to rush past you. The trees rush by faster and faster. You just stay there for a while, with the trees rushing past.
Try changing speed now and slow yourself down, and slow your comfortable car down. Just go slowly now, and look very carefully for deer down the road ahead of you. There's one! You're glad you're going so slowly. As you float down the road and get closer to the deer, you smile at it and connect with its life force.
Stay close to the energy and allow it to come into you. Use the energy in any way you wish for healing, for nourishment, for pleasure feelings. Say thanks for the gift so freely given by other living things.
If there is a place you like to go to in your imagination, allow yourself to linger there often, imagining the details. Try to make it a peaceful place.
Wherever you are, close your eyes and try to identify any odors you can. Is there anything cooking? Is there perfume on someone passing by? Are there flowers? Dogs or cats? Can you smell yourself? By focusing on aroma, you become more aware of subtle differences. A dog and a mosquito can both tell the difference between a meat-eater and a vegetarian. Can you by the scent alone? I like to do this whenever I go to a mall or department store.
7. Rain meditation
Next time you find yourself caught in a rainstorm (this is particularly good if you're close to home and don't relish the thought of running through the rain to get inside), park your car in your driveway or parking place. Don't jump out of the car; just sit there for a moment. Close your eyes.
Listen to the rain on the roof of your car. Listen for any wind. Is the rain coming down hard and fast? Or is it slow? Does it change speeds? I find that the ten or fifteen minutes I linger in the car, listening to the storm pass by overhead and all around me, helps me deal with my weariness at the end of a shopping trip or other drive in the car. As soon as the rain lets up you, too, will feel refreshed and vitalized.
8. Third-eye meditations
Close your eyes. Focus on a spot in the middle of the inside of your forehead. Turn your head side to side, or at a light, or away from light, until you can see a dark spot that is shaped like an eye. This is called the third eye. Continue to focus on this eye and feel yourself relax. This focus can be used anywhere, anytime, for as long as you wish, for balance. Particularly useful when you begin to feel anxiety, aggravation, or frustration. Great when you're put on hold, or you're waiting in a supermarket line.
Close your eyes. Imagine a spot on the inside of your forehead, up near the top where your forehead meets the top of your head. Focus on that spot and as your eyes are turned up, you will begin feeling yourself relax. Watch the spot turn into what appears to be a dark eye, just how one of your eyes looks when you look into a mirror. As you focus on this third eye, place the tip of your tongue just behind your two front teeth. Remain like this for as long as you like. Doing this may make you shiver.
You can think of other ways to focus your attention on something besides your thoughts (which are what create havoc in our brains). Try a hand massage, yoga (some simple stretches are in the next chapter), or just sitting quietly in a dimly lit room. As Peter McWilliams says, "Consider ease the antidote for disease." Meditation in its many forms is the ultimate in ease, and therefore an essential part of natural healing.
If I had nothing else to do, I'd spend all day and evening and into the next day in a meditative state a dream state or in that relaxed state where I feel floaty (rather than in normal consciousness where I act and react and talk and worry). If you become comfortable and adept at the preceding mind and consciousness "exercises," you'll know what I mean. Normally I float in and out of them at will. It's one of the reasons I don't fear death.
ฉ 2002 by Sally Miller
I've been trying to explain to Don, an elderly gentleman I look after on Sundays, about letting go of time. Or rather, the labeling of time. He clings to it like a cowboy on a buckin' bronco.
Three months ago Don, a local artist who painted Western scenes for Boy's Life covers in the thirties and forties, was writing daily notes in a spiral notebook notes about the weather, who visited or brought things, and the temperature at specific times. As he showed more and more signs of forgetfulness and confusion, his daily caretaker began to provide an index card with the next day's date, the day of the week, and who was expected to come that day.
He had a fit one night when I was getting ready to leave and he found out I had thrown away the day's card. "How am I going to keep track of things?" he wailed.
He had suddenly decided that he should keep the cards, to help him remember things, like a journal, though I, of course, had no idea he wanted to do this. I hugged him and said, "You can let go and let us keep track of them for you."
That made him even madder.
I was trained to verbalize "script lines" to anxiety-laden men in a bodywork setting, things I thought they might be feeling, or thinking. It was amazing how their anxiety was reduced by realizing they did have those feelings (and that wasn't bad). And that other people must have those feelings too, otherwise how would I know them?
Working with Don was no different.
"You really sound mad that I threw out your card," I began after he calmed down, "but I bet you get mad that you can't remember those things without the card, too."
I explained about the deterioration of the mind, and the deterioration of the body, ideas that we so believe here in the Western world. I tried to ease his concern about not remembering, reminding him how he had shed his earlier concern about his bad leg and his arthritic fingers.
I understood Don's need to get mad over having some of those little things not go his way. He had tolerated the fussing of daughters and caretakers much more than I could have. And I understood his need to retain some control over what was going on in his life, even though it was only the daily index card.
In practical terms, however, several cards around would be confusing, so I gave him a rubber band to put around the old cards. I suggested a place in the dining room where he could put them, out of plain sight, so he wouldn't get mixed up. I told him I'd make sure I didn't throw one out again.
I knew his anger was really about something else. He was angry about his diminishing ability to find things, keep track of things. He was angry about his difficulties knowing what people were talking about, knowing what to call different caretakers that came in, knowing how to cook complicated things like dinner (he could still manage banana and cereal if he got up before the first shift arrived). He was angry about losing space and time a day here, a week there.
A week later when I came in, Don hugged me, picked up the index card from the kitchen table, and asked, "Is it Sunday?" (the corollary being, are you Sally?, but he was too polite for that).
I hugged him back and asked, "When are you going to let go of time?"
He looked puzzled.
"I mean, the labeling of time what people call the passage of time. Days of the week, months of the year. When are you going to let go of that and just move forward through time and space without worrying about it so much?" I wished I could explain it the way Casteneda's Don Juan did.
He listened attentively.
"Letting go of time means moving..." I put my hand on my waist and started moving across the kitchen floor "...it means moving through space by just being where you are, without regard to what's out there, or who out there says anything about your trip."
I stopped and gestured wildly at him. "I wish I could explain it better."
"It's being in the here-and-now," I added, remembering the lessons I'd been given on how to get there, and Mother's "inabilities" to be anyplace else.
He spoke at last. "I just try to live my life."
"Good," I responded, and gave him another hug.
The next Sunday I thought of another way of putting it.
"When author Marlo Morgan she wrote a book called Mutant Message when Marlo began walking with the tribe of Australian aborigines, her feet hurting so much from the hot sand and the spinifex blades cutting her skin, she learned the hard way how to let go of clocks and calendars. Her distress was so great that she had to do something with her mind to keep from thinking about her pain, so she began to notice things about the sky, about the sand, about the people who seemed to be walking on an invisible path in the middle of the desert.
"When they stopped for the night in time to hunt up dinner, eat, and settle in before dark, all without clocks they attended to Marlo's torn feet and her shoulders blistered from the sun. Eventually she learned to be guided by the sun and moon, the cool and hot air, her own feelings of hunger and pain, rather than by symbols set with arbitrary meaning.
"When the clock says 2 pm, that doesn't really mean anything, does it, Don? Some days at 2 pm you eat lunch, and some days you take a nap. Some days you do have a doctor's appointment, but there's always someone here to remind you, and take you, so you really don't have to worry about it. And you certainly don't have to worry about losing the ability to tell time just stop trying and focus on something you can do."
I told Don how Marlo Morgan wrote about the old people in the tribe she lived with: their parts didn't wear out, their minds didn't grow weary. When they got ready to die, they had a celebration all together. Then the tribe gathered its things and moved on, leaving the old person to sit down, shut down his internal systems, and die peacefully, his body returning to the earth in a most natural way.
Don hurumphed and said, "I wouldn't know how to do that. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night I hope I won't wake up in the morning, but I always do."
I didn't think it was my place to tell Don how to die. He already knew how we poison ourselves a little every day, without trying, and how we put ourselves at risk for accidents, too, just living in our busy society. He had sheltered himself, in his big old farmhouse, to protect himself from the stresses and toxins of the outside world.
No, I wouldn't tell him how to die, but I did tell him how Jerry's mother did it (with warm salt water and no food), and my good friend John (in the arms of a loved one, smoking cannabis), and my husband Roger (in the hospital, with pain killers). I tried to help him see that dying, in my opinion, was just the shedding of a physical body, so our spirit could move freely again.
I shared a fantasy with Don "My good friend John's spirit will look after yours a bit until you get acclimated to the great beyond. He was an artist, too."
Tonight when I went to put the Sunday card with the others, Don said, "You don't need to keep that, that day is over now."
The tumbleweed keeps tumbling along, oblivious to the seasons.
ฉ 2004 by Sally Miller
At the Chinese restaurant today, while Mother and I were waiting for our dumplings (only here in Iowa, they call them potscrubbers), a wail came from two tables over. "I don't like the nursing home ." the white-haired lady cried out, and the other lady, middle-aged, began to cry, too.
It was to avoid this that I came home, came back to Iowa, came back to the town I grew up in but happily left in my late teens. I came to be near my elderly mother, who still lives at home (with a live-in caretaker). I came to spend time with her and help her live out her last years of awareness with dignity. I came so she would have some family near by to take her visiting, on rides, and to the movies. I came to wash her hair, gently towel dry it, and touch her worn out head with the warmth from my hair dryer and my daughter's hand. I came to love her, to hug her, to share a meal and some conversation. I came to be her friend.
Earlier the waitress asked shyly, "Are you two ladies sisters? You have the same face."
My mother gestured towards me, "She's my friend."
For an instant I flashed to Avis, an old friend of Mother's who had long since disappeared from sight. Was I Avis?
Then I jumped to the opening scenes of Problem Child 2 on TV one night recently, when Mother grabbed me playfully, giving me a spank on my behind, and said, "That's you. Problem child two!" And we laughed together in gleeful recognition of those other people's fears and limitations about me.
Yes, I'm her friend, now, though I know many of the daughter things, like how to put her toilet paper roll on, and how she likes her coffee, and what kind of tissues she uses. I know when and where to drive around to make her feel good, and I can remind her of a thousand things she doesn't know she knows. I can elicit thoughts from her about things she thought were gone forever, and I can show her new things she never knew she missed.
This day I have spent my first full day with Mother since my arrival three months ago. In the morning, before breakfast, she is absentminded, forgetful, and keeps asking me if the blue scarf I gave her for Christmas two years ago is hers.
After breakfast at the local Burger King, along with some lively conversation, she begins to sound more like a normal old person. Back at my apartment she delights in the jokes told on Sunday morning news programs. We both enjoy The Breakfast Club, a teen movie that challenges common beliefs about people, as well as an old "Saturday Night Live" which provides us with some tension-relieving laughter.
We leave the house in mid afternoon, voyaging forth to purchase some additional pages for the three-ring notebook I gave her for her 82nd birthday. It contains colored pictures of many interesting things she likes to look at and talk about, as well as photographs and cards she has received in the mail. She lets me buy her a small Thanksgiving glass with scented candle, and when I remind her I won't be eating Thanksgiving dinner at her house, I know she understands my need to compensate her for my absence: she doesn't offer to pay for my gifts as she usually does.
I remind her how three months ago, when I first arrived here, she was always moaning about being poor, and not having money (indeed, she didn't have much, except in the bank). I explain to her that now she is getting her money on a regular basis from the bank, through Amy the caretaker, and that is something I have seen to. As her advocate.
We drive out west of town, looking for a suitable place to eat our late Sunday dinner, but we're too early for the restaurants there. The Vietnamese place we like is closed on Sunday. We finally decide to return to the Chinese restaurant downtown, where we once ate and watched the families and children who reminded her of the children she saw in China when she visited many years ago.
The only other people in the restaurant this late Sunday afternoon are a middle-aged couple with the elderly mother of one of them. I wonder if they've chosen this time because their mom doesn't have the greatest table manners, either, and they don't want to be embarrassed.
After the outbreak, I weep, too, for the old lady who lives in the nursing home, and for her daughter. My own mother sees my tears, and understands my compassion.
When the old lady and her daughter leave, I excuse myself from the table I share with my mother, and go out with them to the lobby. I hug the daughter, with face puffy from crying, and hug her husband. Then I hug the old lady, who thanks me in her bewilderment.
I now go beyond other people's fears and limitations.
I create my life.
Everything was glistening in the sun as I left my place one afternoon recently. The thunderstorm had passed and the air was hot and muggy, so typical of a hot July day in my youth. The grass outside the window seemed appreciative of the long hard drink it had just received. As I headed east I could see that the billowy clouds up above the buildings were still dark. The rain was still pelting down when I got into town, much as it had been doing at my apartment most of the afternoon.
I circled back, finding myself once again bathed in sunlight. There's got to be a rainbow, I thought, recalling a double rainbow I'd once seen with young red-haired Richard years before.
I turned around in a driveway and again headed east. Sure enough, just at the tops of the buildings I could see the edge of a faint rainbow.
I ought to get Mother, I thought, and drive to a place where we can really see it.
No, I must get to Kinko's and get my fax sent. The rainbow will have to wait.
I recalled a poem then by Anne Payne that I copied into my book, the book like Mother's that she wrote favorite things in.
I have found over the years that rainbows are like scarlet they cannot wait so I stop by Mother's and find her in the house, sitting alone in the living room, with all the doors closed, the curtains pulled, and the TV on.
"How would you like to go for a ride?" I ask. "We might find a rainbow." She seems appreciative of my invitation, coming with me but leaving her purse that is just like mine behind.
We drive south, going on a road I don't know but that feels like the old country club road. As we get further out of town Mother notices the dark clouds to the south and complains mildly, "It's so cloudy."
"But Mother, it's what I call, BIG SKY! Look at the wonderful shapes the clouds make, and look how they fill the sky."
As we turn west, I point out the changing cloud patterns up ahead. To the north, where we can see the sun reflecting off of white fluffy clouds, Mother notices large patches of bright blue shining through here and there. I can tell her mood has improved.
She begins to read the road signs, like she did on most of our forages to find me a place to live, but somehow it doesn't annoy me like it did then. I've realized that she's not reading them in order to inform me of the speed, so I'll slow down, but just for the pure pleasure of reading. I suspect that her reading is one way her body is fighting to stay healthy to keep her brain as alert and fit as possible.
That afternoon we didn't find the rainbow, but we did enjoy the wonders of the sky together. Mother does naturally at 81 what it took me ten years to learn responding to and enjoying what is happening to us in the present moment, in the here-and-now, rather than putting our energy into either the past or the future.
I began to sense that positive affirmations could really work after I fell on my knee one day and hurt it so badly I was out of commission for a week.
After returning from the walk-in emergency doctor, I looked up "knees" in Louise Hay's little book, Heal Your Body, as I had never had a knee injury and I wondered what she would say about it. Her likely mental cause of knee problems certainly fit the way I had been feeling about things in my life before I fell. I glanced at the affirmation Louise suggested saying to replace the old pattern of thinking (which probably caused the fall in the first place). I believed strongly in the mind/body connection, but I had always thought saying a sentence out loud sounded a little hokey, even though it would supposedly change the subconscious (which influences our illnesses, accidents, and ability to stay centered).
"I bend and flow with ease, and all is well." I felt such a sense of relief after reading it that I said I out loud: "I bend and flow with ease, and all is well." The feeling inside me was incredible. I copied the statement and taped it to the wall between my bathtub and sink. I continued saying it every day, out loud, with silent repetitions following throughout the day.
Several weeks later I launched a successful project that I'd been hoping to do for several years. It was as if saying the affirmation had freed me to act in a different way, a more positive way.
Throughout the next few months other physical manifestations in my body gave me new affirmations, and the narrow wall in my bathroom began to fill up. One day I took all the little notes and stored the affirmations in my computer, sorting them all out into categories. I began to notice a pattern, and the most frequent affirmations I continue to say to this day.
The second revelation about positive affirmations came after I had been acting particularly immature and a new friend said to me, "You're an adult. You can act like and adult." His words resounded in my mind a number of times in subsequent weeks, and I felt so empowered!
He was right, of course, I was an adult. But I had spent forty years having people tell me something different: Stop acting like a child. Grow up. You can't always have your way like a child. I had believed what I heard, internalizing what others told me and setting myself up for continued acting out.
Then one day in the midst of working on a new project I had the sudden impulse to connect with someone I'd had an emotionally painful relationship with. The urge was so strong that I got to the Flemington circle on my way to his office before I heard: you're an adult, you can act like an adult. I continued, then, around the circle, acting like the adult I was, and soon found myself home, putting the finishing touches on my project instead of wasting time and emotions.
Long after our bodies stop growing our self continues to develop, particularly when we expose ourselves to new ideas and new ways of behaving.
I had one class to go to graduate from college.
I was finishing seventeen years at University College, the night school at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ, having taken one or two courses at a time except during my pregnancies. Because I had always loved learning, concentrating on one or two subjects seemed to me the best way to get an education. My husband enjoyed staying home in the evenings with the children, as well as delighting in my enthusiasm, my developing knowledge and my emerging self confidence.
I had run out of courses. Or at least, I'd run out of ones I wanted to take. But there was one I'd always wanted to get into, but had always missed out on a poetry seminar taught by Robert Frost. Actually, I've forgotten his name Kusch, that's it, Dr. Robert Kusch.
So I called him. His poetry class was full, but he suggested an independent study course for me, and he would oversee it. I made an appointment to see him. He wanted me to bring in some of my writing.
I never really called them poems, but I knew other people did, so I selected some of my more recent writing and sat on edge while he read them, muttering things like, that was a really nice________, and, you used a _______, using words I didn't recognize about my writing. At one point, after finishing an especially long one, one my shrink at the time called the Dorothy poem, he looked up at me and asked, "How long did it take you to write this poem?"
I hesitated, not knowing how long it took most people to write poems and wondering if I took too long or not long enough, and he said, "A month?" And I hesitated, thinking, a month? How could you take a month to write a poem?
And he asked, "A week?
And I thought, a week? Finally I blurted out, "I wrote that one evening, it took about six hours altogether, counting a slight bit of editing the next day."
"One evening?" he asked incredulously. "You wrote this in one evening? How did you do that?"
"I just wrote down what the voices said," I blurted out, and instantly realized what I'd admitted. You really can't say things like that to the wrong person, and Dr. Kusch was close to the world of wrong persons.
But being somewhat of a poet himself, he simply acknowledged me by saying, "It's wonderful. It's wonderful."
And all semester I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.
We all have voices, but we don't often listen to them. Sometimes we shut them out entirely, label them as bad or crazy, or listen to them so much of the time that we have no control over them, making us lose our self.
When we begin to listen to our own knowing-place voices, we start the journey towards wholeness.