[NCSD Guest Blog Post by Paige Davis]
I’ve been a curious soul seeker my entire life. My breast cancer diagnosis was less my crisis point, and more a landing pad of experiences that invited me to tap into my toolkit of meditation, and other mind-body practices that were integral to my journey. Was cancer the most difficult challenge I have ever had to face? YES, but it was also a very meaningful and transformational time of my life.
After a bilateral mastectomy, six months of chemo, and several reconstruction surgeries, I finally entered what the doctor called the “survivorship” stage. I still find it a bit disorienting, as we are expected to emerge back into our lives as if nothing has changed, but everything has. As I embrace this period of survivorship, mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude serve as my guideposts and help me realize there is no going back, that I don’t have control as to what lies ahead, and to simply be in the present with gentleness and non-judgment. This doesn’t mean that challenging moments don’t exist, but when they do, I’m much better equipped to meet them with responsiveness and self-compassion rather than reactivity and fear. It is this present-moment awareness that continues to be my greatest teacher.
Early on in my journey I sent an email to my family articulating some of the guidelines that were important for me and the complementary care plan I wanted to follow. One of those guidelines was viewing my cancer journey through a lens of love versus a battle to be fought. Not because I was naïve to the reality and brutality of cancer, but because I needed to balance that reality through a more compassionate lens. That email unintentionally shaped my cancer journey enabling me to find peace in the present moment and heal from the inside out. Below are just a few of the lessons and reflections I’ve written to myself as a reminder that my life in this moment isn’t just about surviving cancer, but also about thriving in life.
1. Stay open—this is still a love journey. We have a choice in every moment to recognize if we are in a state of expansion or contraction. Whenever I feel stuck or unsure of something, I always ask myself “is my heart open or closed?” When I keep leaning into the expansion I find all I need in that space, even if it doesn’t always feel so good.
2. Meditate—every day. Meditation isn’t about doing it for the sake of doing it, but rather doing it because it’s daily exercise to connect our body, mind, and spirit. With a daily commitment we are shifting the landscapes of our brain so we can be more responsive and less reactive. We feel more connected to ourselves and others. We are able to trust our intuition as we navigate the inevitable unexpected moments that arise in our lives. The greatest blessings show up even when we don’t know we need them.
3. Take pause—no more powering through. Physically my body won’t allow me to go into autopilot—daily meditation practice is key to this. If things are starting to feel forced, I stop. I’m learning to be OK with the stillness and softness of the pause. It always fills me up in the ways I need. This doesn’t mean I’m not a productive person, it just means I’m more mindful about where I’m spending my energy.
4. Connection is key—this is perhaps the most important lesson of this journey, the realization that we aren’t in it alone. It is our human condition to connect with others and to surround ourselves with people who inspire and support us.
5. Listen to your body—your body knows. Continue to nurture and nourish your precious body. Often the soul lessons that are waiting to be learned come through conceptually at first and then ultimately need to be integrated and embodied. Try yoga, walking, running, dancing, acupuncture, Pilates, massage- anything that keeps your energy in flow.
But most importantly, be kind to yourself.
Paige Davis is a mindfulness and meditation teacher, breast cancer survivor and speaker. This essay is based on an excerpt from her book Here We Grow: Mindfulness Through Cancer and Beyond (She Writes Press). Follow Paige at hellopaigedavis.com and on Instagram @hellopaigedavis.