“What have I done with my life?”

Last week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I talked to the surgeon and liked her very much. I also trusted her. The surgery will happen at the end of this month. It sounds like it will be just a lumpectomy. But the confrontation with cancer forced me to look at death.

Feeling a need for some kind of spiritual support, and I think, having a sense of wanting to know whether what I’ve done with my life is worthwhile, I got out Stephen Cope’s book The Great Work of Your Life. One very important piece of advice about the “Great Work” is to work hard at your vocation, but let go of the outcome, of any need to “succeed” or be praised. I’ve actually managed to do that. I’m also amused that, having wanted to die so many times, even recently, suddenly I’m afraid of it. Cope tells the stories of famous people and ordinary people.

From my journal for Tuesday, March 5

I realize that being diagnosed with cancer, even tho it’s not a fatal kind, has left me feeling terrified of death.  While I walked Mocha, I talked to Death as he walked beside me, and he was friendly and kind.  “It’s just a transition” he said.  Maybe the fear is mostly coming from younger parts.

I also looked up the blog post where I talk about Erica telling me that I gave my life energy to sacred meaning, and my response was to feel that I could die because I had done what I wanted to.  That was back in October.  I do sometimes want to know that a lot of people are reading my blog, and then I let go of it.  The most satisfying thing is just putting the post out there.  And as for the other things that happen because I’m open to channelling Divine energy, I don’t need to know about them, and I don’t need people to know that I did it.  Of course I would like to know that I make good things happen in the world I love, but I don’t need to know.

Cope, talking about Keats:  This reframing of death is his final embrace of “the world as the vale of Soul-making.”  “Do you not see,” he wrote to George, “how necessary a world of pain and troubles is to school an intelligence, and make it a soul?  This school is a place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways.”   pp152-3

What? Pain and trouble make a soul? I’ve certainly had plenty of pain and trouble in my life, and have I learned anything at all? Plus, so much of the pain was invisible: trauma before the age of three and severe depression for most of my life. I thought I was defective, I didn’t understand that I had been wounded. So I tried to fix myself, which doesn’t work. But I did start seeing a therapist in my 20’s, and I have been lucky and mostly had very good therapists. Though it took someone who knew how to work with both trauma and attachment to really get down to the bottom of what I was struggling with.

My alcoholic parents had wealth and status, and it hadn’t done them any good that I could see, so I was never interested in wealth and status. Possibly I was never interested in wealth and status because of who I was. But their drinking gave me no one older and wiser that I could trust, and unfortunately my image of God was that he was not any better, so I lost belief in Spirit very early. I did however still need meaning, so I looked for it in science, in dreams, and in my search for truth.

Since death has arrived in my life, I got out Elisabeth Kubler-Ross‘ book “The Tunnel and the Light.” I’ve read it more than once, but it was good to revisit it. A reminder that Death is just a transition, that the Universe is much bigger and more complex than our simplistic materialist worldview. I’m comforted by reading that as people approach death, they relax and seem to be looking forward to something. But these are stories told by others and not my own experience. I’ve never been with anyone as they died, and I’m hoping to sit with people here who are dying and have no families. There was supposed to be a training and it got cancelled because the person who would teach it left. I trust that it will happen again.

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