By Jennifer Van Dusen
From her Young & Breastless blog
June 17, 2017
I spent the first 5 hours of this morning in silence. Dead silence. No reading. No music. No looking at or smiling at other people in the room. I wasn’t arrested, this was totally voluntary. I am halfway through the Mindfulness Study I am participating in and this day of silence is in addition to the eight 2 hour regular sessions.
Today wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, but boy-oh-boy it was difficult. Let me clarify that statement. It was simpler for me to stay silent than anyone who knows me – or has even just bumped into me – may think. What was difficult was all the mess inside that starts to show its head when you are truly left alone with your thoughts, body and breath. And by mess I mean memories, fantasies, feelings, emotions and the wandering thoughts.
I should have known better. I’ve already noticed this mess inside me from the sessions I have already attended. I just guess I thought since I’ve been practicing for a month I’d have a better handle on it. But I am not going to beat myself up over this. That is a very important lesson in the practice of Mindfulness, to be gentle (forgiving) of yourself. Writing it even now sounds funny unless you are doing the work. How can simply relaxing be so difficult? It would make me laugh if I didn’t feel like crying.
For the most part I only like to be mediating when I am working out or walking the dogs or enjoying a drink on a patio. As I have now learned that is not mediating. It’s great self-care and I can be mindful while I am doing those things but what I learned from 5 hours of silence is simply being in the moment, in tune with yourself, is the practice of Mindfulness.
What came up for me today in this silent reflection hurt me. Or the hurt that I hide with all the other things in life wasn’t covered up. I had to sit with it. I became fully aware of what it felt like. And by feel, I mean all the emotions and thoughts inside not only my head but also my body. My eyes water, I get this strange headache behind my ears, my palms sweat and I either get really cold or really warm. Noticing the physical reactions of our bodies to emotions we are having is part of what the practice of Mindfulness is as well.
We were asked to picture a being we loved. Many faces came to mind right away for me but the one I settled on, the one that brought the smile to my face today was my niece. With our hand on our heart chakra our instructor led us to say to this being that we wished them peace, wished them an easy life, wished them health and wished them protection. And I did. I wish all these things with all my heart for my niece.
Then our instructor asked us to wish these same things for our self. Well, I popped out of my nice little trace right away. I got a little angry and I felt all that hurt. My hand was over my heart chakra all right. I could practically feel it bouncing out of my chest seeing as I have no breast there to block its beats. Peace, easy life, protection and health?!?! Did this instructor not know she was speaking to a roomful of breast cancer patients.
This is where I needed a break. I patted myself on my back as I stepped out of the room, glad that I could recognize this was too much and know that I needed to protect my emotions at this time. I did not try to distract myself, as I wanted to honour the day of silence as it was set out. I tried to approach these feelings with some curiosity as this is one of the 5 skillful habits to cultivate for emotions.
I am realizing now that so much of what I feel is related to my physical being. That having a positive attitude is not the same thing as setting a compassionate intention for my body and my feelings.
What comes to mind is the instruction to put your air mask on first and then help the person next to you. It sounds simple enough but in practice it is very difficult. In the silence of today I found that I can care for others, but not always for myself.
Like whispers in the air, I hear my mother’s lessons to me in my youth “treat others how you wish to be treated” and my instructor’s mantra of “It’s ok”. Seems so simple, seems so hard. I will continue to reflect in the silence.
Jennifer Van Dusen is a 30-something breast cancer champion who loves her husband, fur-kids, shopping, reading, and public speaking. Having cancer has taught her to live each day to the fullest, to appreciate the moment, and do what she can to help others and her community. Please check out her Young and Breastless blog