Friday, 6 June 2014

Mind Choice: Being with Uncertainty

Today's post is the third written by Clare McLusky who provides us with an insight into her experience with cancer and the popular practice of Mindfulness. 

Clare has a Masters degree in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy from University of Oxford and teaches Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to people living with cancer. Clare is also a qualified Occupational Therapist, Yes to Life Helpline volunteer and one of the founding members and facilitators of Oxford Sangha, practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

My experience over the last two weeks has been a strong reminder of how difficult it is to be with uncertainty, by which I mean staying present with the sheer awfulness of not knowing.  For me this meant not pushing for answers or trying to ‘fix’ things but letting go and allowing things to unfold in their own time.  It also meant not self-medicating with TV or food or wine or endless chatter or searching for solutions but being present to the mind states and emotions that passed through.  To begin with I literally felt weighed down by it and was physically dragging myself around – my mind heavy and numb.  Then the cracks in this armour of a mental state started allowing the sadness of the situation to wash through my heart and I’d find myself in tears but somehow that was refreshing, at least I felt alive.

Talking to friends and within my sangha was a great support helping me to feel connected and to be present to my emotions. Reminding me too of the universality of suffering and the transient nature of all things, particularly talking to friends with greater age and wisdom who had been through similar events.  It is easy to think we haven’t learnt much or our practice hasn't changed us but reflecting now I know that without my mindfulness practice I would have closed myself off to seeing things as they are, in a pointless rumination of self-blame, searching in the past for things I could have or should have done or not done.  The old habit of shutting down and getting through it – resisting the moment by whatever means.  I would have missed the real experience, even if at times it was painful.  When it felt over-whelming I kept bringing myself back to the present by coming back to my senses – what can I see, what physical sensations am I experiencing?  Sometimes even naming them out loud.

Pema Chodron writes beautifully in her book When things fall apart; heart felt advice for difficult times:-

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

The wisdom of mindfulness helps us to see that things are what they are as a result of all sorts of causes and conditions and to be able to see clearly what we want to do. 

But sometimes we also choose the unwise action and coming back to this unfinished post a month later I confess that I did end up choosing what felt like the easier option – a large glass of wine in the evenings and blanking out with TV!  I have a great teacher who laughed his head off when I told him this.  So although I feel it was a missed opportunity for greater insight or healing, I can forgive myself and laugh too.

To read more of Clare's Mind Choice series please click here.

To find out more about Clare's work, please visit her website.

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