"Learning to befriend the dark means learning to befriend nothingness."
"Our experience of nothingness can be personal or political; they can be at times the most affirming and unitive experiences of our lives and at other times the most devastating and earth-shaking experiences. What is certain is that our nothingness experiences are never superficial. They are always rock-bottom, radical, of our roots." Matthew Fox
36 radiation treatments later, bald, burnt and tired I was dropped off of the conveyor built of cancer treatments. Close to one year had passed since I was first diagnosed with cancer. Grateful, I was ready for my reward, a cruise to Alaska.
Except for feeling self-conscious about my baldness, I was delirious with gratitude. Oh, the many levels of thoughts and feelings that simultaneously occur within each of us are truly stunning.
I asked my daughter if she would mind if I went to the Captain's dinner without covering my head. Wigs hurt and hats are too cumbersome for dress up attire. She said that she wouldn't mind at all.
I was surprised to learn it wasn't the baldness that mattered so much as it was the attention drawn to me by friends and acquaintances in my own community. That frightened me. Made me want to hide. Made me feel ashamed. Among strangers, I was proud of my baldness. My bald head was a badge of honor. It said I had survived, I had made it. I was strong. Cancer defeated!
Make sense did you say? No, it didn't make sense. But then, cancer doesn't make sense. The competing parts that make every individual the person that they are only make sense collectively, but individually, parts only make sense as we come to understand the intent of each part. My spiritual self was in conflict with the vulnerable part of myself that wanted my hair back.
Don't get me wrong, hair matters. Hair Matters!
I recently heard of a ten year old boy who lost his hair through cancer treatments. He did not want to go to school because he felt ashamed. Then ten of his friends rallied around him. In support of their friend, they too cut off all of their hair. Talk about heroes. They are my heroes.
Then there is the story of a little dog whose owner had him completely shaved for the hot summer months. When the little dog got home from the groomer, he ran as fast as his little legs would carry him straight under the bed and would not come out for two days.
And yet! Hair seems so incredibly trite in the scheme of life, within the infinite mystery of creation. Are you kidding me? Hair?
Against the backdrop of the Alaska beauty and the peacefulness of the cruise I reflected. Aside from my vanity, what had I learned? What needed my attention? What mattered most?
While I wanted to live, I was also ok with dying. I was truly at peace with dying while at the same time, I felt compelled to review all aspects of my life. Where did I need to make changes?
I knew that I wanted to do a better job of staying present in my own life. Often, I would get caught up in the drama of my children's lives thereby diminishing my life. I needed to remind myself more often that my children were living out their choices, their problems, and their consequences.
If I were to die, my greatest desire was that my relationships were healed. I wanted my heart to be free of any resentments that may be lurking in the recesses of my heart.
I wrote out relationship inventories searching for places still needing amends or where I needed to ask for forgiveness.
I wrote endless gratitude lists.
I had learned that at some fundamental level I was connected with every living thing including my cancer cells. I loved that I had fallen in love with my cancer cells as I posted in the blog entitled Cancer: The Dream. They were part of nature, part of God's creation.
God remained a beautiful mystery. Everything and Nothing all at the same time. I knew with certainty that whatever He/She/It was, I was also, like a wave is part of the ocean.
I wanted to be sure my husband knew that he was my best life choice.
From my roots I learned the radical blessing, "To trust nothingness." To trust the infinite, unknowable mystery. I loved. I accepted. I was grateful!
What have been your rock bottoms, radical experiences?
Did any of these situations force you to let go, surrender, trust?
Dawn D. Novotny LCSW
104-C Hilltop Drive
Sequim, WA 98382
Dawn Novotny LCSW, MTS, CDP, CP, is a clinician, teacher, author, and workshop leader. She is in private practice in Sequim, WA. since 1987. She specializes in systems theory focusing both on the "external" (family, cultural, roles) as well as the "internal" family system (internalized roles, parts, archetypes, ego states, conflicts, etc.). As a clinical practitioner of psychodrama, sociomety and group therapy, Dawn utilizes a variety of action methods. She conducts workshops in CA. and WA. She holds Masters Degrees in Clinical Social work, and theology. She was an adjunct professor at Seattle University. She is a nationally certified psychotherapist-dramatist.