It was 1994 and I had just been diagnosed with cancer. Devastating as the diagnosis and the subsequent treatments were, in the midst of that process an unexpected gift came into my life.
We had 2 children, the youngest only 5 months old. We had recently moved into our own home and I had landed a great job. In that first year in Victoria my life felt blessed. Then, suddenly, my world came crashing down around me. The biopsy report showed that the growth above my heart was cancerous.
There was a moment in those early days of the diagnosis, when I was overwhelmed with the devastating thought that I might soon be dead. I envisioned my spouse raising our kids alone; they would grow up without a father to help them along the way. Then the truth of my condition hit me full force. I considered the dreadful thought that I would not be around to experience my young children grow into adults. I was overcome with emotion. I could not understand why this was happening to me. It felt so wrong.
It was in the second month of my chemotherapy that I attended a talk by a visiting teacher of a Christian form of meditation. I had that day received a chemotherapy treatment and my body was aflame with the burning of the chemical flowing through my veins. That evening, I learned about a simple form of meditation that had a profound effect on me. As we sat in meditation I realized that this teaching was a timely gift to me and that I needed to pay attention to it.
My cancer had cracked the shell of my normal defenses and opened me to the possibility of a new awareness, a shift in consciousness. Under the cloud of the chemo-induced discomfort, and beyond the usual noise of my mind, I touched a deeper peace in me, a sacred stillness that awakened me to experiencing my self in a radically different way. It was a momentary and life-changing insight that gave me a taste of what was possible. I resolved to learn more about this meditation practice and make it a regular part of my life.
Bede Griffith, the Christian mystic who devoted his life to integrating the wisdom traditions of the East with that of the West, spoke of three ways that can break open the shell of ordinary awareness: 1. Have a near death experience 2. Fall in Love 3. Start a Meditation practice. The first two can be fraught with difficulty and pain. The third is the gentler way.
The gentler way is now woven into the fabric of my life. I recovered from my cancer and I am healed from the disease. What remains is the gift of meditation that I now practice daily and the peace that I experience at the core of my being.
I am curious to hear how others have come to a meditation practice in their lives, and how the practice has shifted your awareness of yourself and your life.
Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on August 12, 2010.