Buddhism is sometimes described as the middle path or the middle way. This has a specific meaning in the context of Buddhism, but for me the general concept of a middle way helped me navigate my journey with cancer this year. I have written over recent months about the challenges and blessings of this journey without using the term cancer because it seemed more important to talk about what was happening and how I was experiencing it in language that had broader relevance. But now, in reflecting on my experience, some of the things I’ve learned are difficult to describe without a specific context, which in this case is cancer.
For example, one thing I noticed is that many people think and speak of cancer in terms of battle. We fight cancer. Then we win the fight if we survive, or we lose if we die. A cancer diagnosis can make us feel vulnerable, helpless, afraid, profoundly sad, angry, uncertain, even embarrassed or ashamed. It’s understandable that we might want to feel more in control, stronger, less fearful, by taking on an attitude of waging a military campaign against the invading force.
There is nothing wrong with that approach, and for many it is empowering and supportive. How we face illness, like how we face many challenges, and even life itself, is a very individual choice. But I knew early on in my own personal cancer saga that war was not a perspective that would be helpful to me (even though I have a warrior spirit).
I did not want to be in conflict with my body. I did not want to reject the part of my body in which cancer was growing. I did not want to judge the cancer as bad, even as I proceeded with a plan to surgically remove it. Instead, for me, it was important to support my body, to listen to what was needed, to embrace with compassion not only my body but also everything that was happening and all my feelings about what was happening. Just to be clear, I experienced all the feelings listed above, and more. Nothing was excluded.
This was my version of the warrior path. For me, this was the middle way – not fighting an adversary, and at the same time not denying or avoiding what was happening. This approach has gotten me through these months with some semblance, at least occasionally, of acceptance, equanimity, curiosity, and gratitude. I am not suggesting that my approach is best, only that it was right for me. That’s the point, I think – to listen within and find our own middle path, the way that is aligned with who we are, and then to trust it and follow it.
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen. ~ Brene Brown