I could tell you “it all began” with a cold and a cough that wouldn’t go away in the spring of 2016. Or I could tell you it all began with the first chest x-ray showing a mass in my upper right lung, and the accompanying radiologist’s report making generous use of the words “squamous cell carcinoma.”
Or I could even throw in the fact that, living in a small rural community, the local medicos were stumped by my symptoms and didn’t know what to do other than try to fit me into a box of some kind that was familiar to them.
The Challenge Chronicles
Again…the word “carcinoma” echoes unpleasantly.
But the truth is all the dynamics – and the challenges – at play in this situation began far, far earlier.
Consider what shaped me, at least in large part:
A strong, stoic mother who lived the creed “Thou shalt cope! (and look good doing it),” who never admitted to needing support or, in fact, allowed much of it.
A father whose self-absorption and hypersensitivity had him live from “Me. Me. Me-me-me-me-me-me.”
You got that right? My mother: Not me, not me. Everyone, everything else first. AND my father: Me, me, me.
Small wonder that for much of my life I’ve felt precariously perched on a knife edge between those two extremes, with a ton of uncertainty and questioning as a result: When should I speak up regarding my well-being, seek help?When is this just an annoying discomfort and when is it really an issue? How do I discern a valid medical concern, and what is the internalization of some aspect of my father, clamoring for attention?
Now, my dears, consider the concept of “challenge” in this situation.
At first glance, the most obvious challenge is a medical one, a very real threat to my well-being.
Or you might think, “Oy, Lyn, what a challenge, growing up with such polarities in the household.”
What I would offer – without in any way discounting, diminishing or discrediting any other challenges in Lyn-Land – is this:
The challenge that offers more juice, the greater potential for transformation? A pivotal challenge, if you will, one that – if met effectively – can have a cascade effect across the other related challenges?
That would be (drum roll, please):Learning to integrate my father’s self-focus and heightened sensitivity with my mother’s bedrock of strength and stamina, allowing me to be present and sensitized to my body (and its messages and wisdom!) while standing – steadfast and unwavering – in commitment to my well-being.
In other words, be strong on behalf of my own well-being, not at the expense of it.
So I can meet whatever is there from a purpose not limited to assuaging fear. With intention that transcends pain-relief – while still including fear, pain, uncertainty, exhaustion – in the mix, in ways that are honoring and based in personal agency instead of victimhood.
So I can be ferocious and as determined as a dog with a bone, on my own behalf, without that ferocity being driven by panic.
So that, yes, I CAN cope, as Mother would have wished, BUT from a next-gen kind of coping, one seasoned and enriched, informed and expanded because of the sensitivity I inherited from my father.
This is a legacy that, once revealed, moves me to tears of gratitude and reminds me – yet again! – to trust Life’s Wisdom and listen closely for whispers of Higher Purpose.
Can you see how meeting (vs. defeating!) this one pivotal challenge impacts so, so much more? It shapes how I hold the health challenge and myself in that challenge.
And yes, it has been a challenge to get to the point I could recognize and articulate this legacy gift.
Walking through uncertainty and previously unmapped territory with an open heart, a curiosity not bound by seeking (only) relief, a willingness to allow AND fierce determination on our own behalf?
Not a small order. And – a very real set of challenges, all by itself.
That idea of Higher Purpose and Deeper Wisdom? Can sound lofty and ungrounded in the grit of real life. It can be used (and has, way too often) to tell us to simply endure now…for the promise of some sort of reward later, and in so doing, completely diminish pain, discount fear, discredit the struggle
No. No, no, no, no.
That’s a pervasive challenge all by itself: living in a Culture that tells us to subvert and avoid feelings in order to conform to Cultural norms, offering some truly damaging messages such as:
- Just suck it up.
- There is only success or failure and only one of those is acceptable.
- You are a winner or a loser; those are the ONLY options.
- If you do not overcome challenges, you have failed in a fundamental way, making you…a loser.
- The only way to approach a challenge is to do everything within your power to conquer it. To combat the challenge. To fight and vanquish it – even if you hurt yourself doing it.
Name a challenge – any challenge – and listen for how those messages play – whether in the background of your outer world or the surround-sound of your inner world.
My mother’s mandate of “Cope! And look good while you’re at it,” was a potent reflection of the larger Cultural mandates.
So when I wonder about the beginning of the health challenge I’m living, when I really pay attention and sit in the curiosity about this, I can see that even before the challenge of being shaped by a family with such polarized perspectives in self-relating and self-inclusion? Was the older, bigger, deeper challenge of being born into a Culture that tells us to suck it up and conquer anything that appears to be a challenge. Or be labeled a loser.
Sometimes….overcoming is not the point. Vanquishing is not success. And conquering is self-defeating.
Has my walk of the past 6 years been hard at times? Painful and tiring?
But a tragedy? Anything but – even though some people have responded to my story as if it were just that. (More on why this happens in a later article.)
Back to the challenge – or the family of challenges I’ve encountered: Would I do it all over again, knowing what growth has come out of this journey?
Ummmm….not sure about that. Really. (Wish I could say yes and sound all enlightened, but…)
For example, as we approached the 2 year anniversary of brother Mark’s death, there was a part of me insisting – somewhat stridently, if I am honest, “Okay, Mark, you’ve been dead for 2 years and that’s quite long enough. Now, snap out of it.”
Suck it up.
Yes, that part of the old Cultural programming is still alive for me at times. However, the fact that I can hear that inner voice’s insistence with affection and a soft, compassionate chuckle rather than condemnation or resignation?
Is a gift beyond measure.
So….hard? Yes. Tragic, no.
Some days ARE harder than others. But – just because things suck doesn’t mean our only option is to suck it up.
The journey isn’t over yet. The adventure still unfolds. When I reconnect with the wonder of it all, the Sacred Wisdom at play and my willingness to actively participate (instead of only trying to control it all), I get the kind of expansive heart glow I now recognize as a big part of building the resilience that got me here as intact as I am.
Amazes and humbles me, that does. Truly.
So…where did it all begin? What’s the “real” challenge I’m facing? Actually, it is a complex of challenges, which I now believe is not unusual.
The more substantive question, I believe is:
What shapes how we perceive and meet challenges?
In other words, how much are we still living from that old Cultural imperative about overcoming, conquering at all costs? Sucking it up?
When we can be present to our challenges from the kind of curiosity reflected in these questions, when we can be fully present with ourselves instead of moving through life unconsciously directed by Culture, something changes.
I believe it opens a way for us to stop hurting ourselves in order to overcome, to meet challenge instead of trying to vanquish it.
This, my dears, is a concept whose time has arrived.
Given that we are living in an age of challenge, one that has us facing more challenge than ever before means we can’t keep doing it the way we have for the past several millennia.
Let’s change the old story and step out of obsolete mandates in order to create a new relationship with challenge. Because the way we’ve been doing it? Is killing us – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
My wish for you? May all your challenges be informative and may you be present in ways that allow you to meet them with open heart and mind, connected to Mystery and buoyed by trust.