Five years ago, I had cancer.
I got super lucky, and really had the best cancer ever - caught it early through a self-exam, and it happened to be a particularly slow progressing type of tumor cell, so surgery took care of it without the need for chemo or radiation. So I like to say that I got all the upside to cancer with almost none of the downside.
“There’s an upside?” Absolutely. Joel Siegel (and Gilda Radner) captured it nicely:
"Cancer changes your life, often for the better. You learn what's important, you learn to prioritize, and you learn not to waste your time. You tell people you love them. My friend Gilda Radner (the Saturday Night Live comic) used to say, 'If it wasn't for the downside, having cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want it.' That's true."
Which is to say, cancer gives you instant clarity. You get a moment where you hear your inner voice loud and clear, and that’s a gift. It’s often so hard to discern our own values from the values we’re inculcated with by society, friends, our upbringing, advertising, or so many other messages trying to tell us what’s supposed to be important to us. Recognizing your own voice is the work of a lifetime.
But we all have those moments, the flashes of immediate perspective. You don’t have to get cancer, or live through a global pandemic. Maybe a comment from a friend or a scene in a movie hits you in just the right way at just the right time, and you suddenly notice your decisions have been a little too influenced by what other people might think. Or you’ve avoided making decisions entirely, living out of habit and inertia. Then something gives you that moment of clarity.
We only get a moment, though, because perspective is so hard to hold on to. It’s lucky then, that we’re not meant to hold on to it.
We’re not meant to hold too tightly to anything. If I tried to hold on to the perspective I found when I got my diagnosis, I’d be making choices based on who I was and what I wanted for myself then, information five years out of date. Some of that information may still be relevant, but some of it definitely is not.
The goal is not to cling to an understanding of our values in any one moment, the goal is to try to be more aware of each moment. To retain perspective is to remember the sense of receptiveness, being open to your own feelings as they subtly but consistently change, not to tattoo yourself with the notions of any particular instant. To experience each moment, this moment, fully, and to notice your own feelings and make the next choice accordingly. To try to hear your inner voice before it resorts to shouting at you.
... heh, and so ends up just another post of me trying to convince you to meditate...