Living with the Unknown

Nothing is definitively known, ever. That’s why Native Americans, in their timeless wisdom, have called life the “Great Mystery.” No matter what scientists do to try to break the code—send vehicles to Mars, create life in a test tube, photograph black holes in space—the puzzle of human existence and life and death is never really solved. Any “knowledge” we come to as a species is a shifting illusion that changes with the years and with those who are “knowing.” That’s the realm of science and the mind—and belief systems.

Then there’s religion and spirituality. Many traditional religions have explained life’s mysteries with teachings about God, each of them claiming truth and revelation. Yet those too are based in belief. Spirituality extends the parameters a bit to a wide array of perspectives and possibilities about the nature of life and Spirit. If we remain open, we enter the realm of the heart. Therein, it becomes clearer that we can never fully understand life or God; we can only experience them. Which means letting go of interpretations and searches and just living in the mystery as it unfolds.

I’ve found this to be a guiding truth over the past month on my journey with breast cancer. Each day, new information comes up to be processed, or there is a new test result to be waited for. If I try to figure it all out ahead of time or mentally project myself into all the possibilities, I get lost in the “what ifs.” And fear. Instead, I focus on the experience of each moment. That returns me to my heart. My decisions and direction arise organically from there.

My years of meditation practice have prepared me for this time. It becomes an intensive immersion in present-moment awareness. Breath by breath. And I find I don’t have to remind myself to do it. At this point in my life—and perhaps because of the nature of what I am going through—I seem to automatically remain centered in today’s experience. Tomorrow is a question mark, but today the sky is clear, the birds are singing, and I am alive. That’s all I “know.” Perhaps that’s the gift of facing a disease that is full of unknowns and can be so frightening. In order to remain centered in the calm at my center, the peace of my soul, my entire being brings me back to the present moment.

So how do you and I retain this wisdom, this calming approach, in our day-to-day lives, beyond crisis situations? Here, I think it once again becomes a practice of consciously calling yourself back to the present moment, with each breath you take. The more you do it, the more ingrained it becomes in your consciousness. Gradually, you release your hold on the need to know outcomes and relax into living with the unknown, accepting each experience as it arises and letting go into the next one. This is the natural flow of spirit in life. If you allow it, it will carry you effortlessly through the endless vacillations of life. You feel every emotion as it arises but never lose your connection to the inner peace that lives at your core. In this way, the unknown becomes your faithful companion, instead of your adversary, on life’s journey.

Shadows and Light

On August 9, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.* For two days I moved, stunned, beneath the dark shadow of those words, which I never had imagined would apply to me. I felt as if all joy and flow in my life had vanished. I couldn’t access the inner peace that had become so much a part of my daily experience. I couldn’t hear my soul’s voice. I was lost within the dramatic scenarios my mind was playing out, all of them shadowed and sad. I grieved the loss of my connection to spirit, to trust (and perhaps to life). Then a wise friend reminded me that I didn’t have to immediately be at peace, that it was okay to feel whatever I needed to, day by day. The light of peace would eventually return, as long as I remembered not to get caught in the mind drama, and just trust the divine process of it all. He was right.

Shadows and light come and go in our lives. They are the yin and yang of the Earth plane. One can’t exist without the other. We wouldn’t know happiness without sorrow, pleasure without pain. On a planet of polarities, we cannot expect the external world to be only one thing. We might be bored if it were. What we can do is find a place of calm acceptance within us to experience (or observe) all those seeming opposites that fill our lives. From that perspective, all is well, and there is purpose beneath the play of consciousness before us and within us at all times. Eventually, we learn that the opposites flow together into one. The diverse forms that make up our planetary experience arise from formlessness and eventually return to that oneness. This is the nature of the multiverse that we inhabit and that is also within us.

That is wisdom I carry in my soul. At times of crisis in my own life (cancer) or in the world (pandemic), it is easy to forget. Feelings of fear and sadness almost overwhelm me. At the last minute, something or someone appears to remind me. The light shines, and the shadows recede. If I can accept the existence of both shadows and light, I can move forward even in the face of fear, even with sadness in my heart. The human experience is complex and unpredictable. Only in deep inner surrender and trust can we find peace. I signed up for all these life experiences before birth; to resist them is to lose the greater wisdom and purpose of my unique life. I am expanding and evolving through each and every one of them. Our entire planet, our entire multiverse, is evolving through our individual and collective experiences.

I am still on this journey, still facing the unknowns of living with a cancer diagnosis (follow-up MRI yesterday; awaiting results; surgery next week). All this is perhaps a further emptying out within my life, which began in Florida. I know now, with everything in me, that that emptiness occurs so God awareness can fill it. I remind myself repeatedly to remain open to everything that appears to be a loss. More space for God, for divine connection, and for my own soul’s full flowering. There are no mistakes, no terrible errors or punishments. Every single thing, as Rumi wrote, “has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

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*NOTE: I found the lump in my breast myself, only two weeks after a “normal” mammogram. It couldn’t be seen because my breasts are very dense. A subsequent ultrasound picked it up, and I was sent for a biopsy. I am grateful for whatever divine impulse moved me to examine my breasts (which I rarely do) that day because the cancer was found at what appears to be an early stage. So please remember to do breast self-examination–it could save your life!

Smackdown

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
Sometimes you’re the windshield;
sometimes you’re the bug….
Sometimes you’re the Louisville slugger;
sometimes you’re the ball.”
—Mary Chapin Carpenter

Life has a way of smacking us down, hard, sometimes repeatedly, when we least expect it. Things can be going along smoothly, and then out of the blue: wham! You are knocked off your feet by a sudden turn of events or twist of fate. It can be a minor passing upset or a major trauma. Life doesn’t tell you ahead of time what’s coming up around the next corner. Each day can be really wonder-full or really challenging. This is how I would describe my life over the past year.

In July 2018, I moved from one part of the country to another, diving excitedly into a new adventure. Massachusetts to Florida—what could be a greater jump into exploring differences and new horizons? So, all went beautifully the first six months or so. New home, new surroundings, new friendships, new possibilities. Then gradually everything started to dissolve around me, and I began to experience emptying out, loss, closed doors, lack of possibilities. It all seemed strange and unexpected. I had been so open and optimistic, centered in a positive outlook and certain I was living my best life, stepping into even more expansion. When it all started to fall apart, I began to seriously question whether I should be in Florida at all (even though divine guidance for the move had been unmistakable).

Over the months, I tried to view each change with acceptance, continuing to trust that it was all part of my soul’s evolutionary path. Yet the challenges seemed to get bigger and the losses deeper. I felt as if I had signed up for a master class in spiritual surrender. Every time I brought myself back into balance after some unforeseen occurrence, something else would arise. Finally, one night last month, I had the wind completely knocked out of me, literally, by an actual physical smackdown.

In the middle of the night, in the dark, I tripped over a new living-room hassock and fell flat on my face, teeth first. Teeth cracking, bloody gums, pain radiating out to my jaw and head. The shock shook me to my core, and the trauma of that facedown impact stayed with me for days. I relived that split-second in tears and disbelief again and again, each time longing to rewind and erase what had happened. The next day, I could hardly move because of pain in my arms, legs, neck, and head. My brain felt dazed, my teeth ached and throbbed, and in the mirror I saw the reflection of a distraught woman with swollen, black-and-blue cheeks and haunted eyes. Inconsolable, I wanted to cancel every external-world plan I had made for the future and just curl up in a ball under the covers. Used to moving unhesitatingly through the world, I found myself instead extremely cautious when I walked down stairs or got out of the shower.

Post-traumatic fear affected my thinking as well: I suspected that the energy of Florida was kicking me out, that clearly I didn’t belong here. I also envisioned losing all my front teeth, roots included. When I did have x-rays done, it looked like the roots had not broken in spite of the strength of the impact. The dentist said I would need veneers replaced on a couple teeth and perhaps a root canal, but she wanted to see if the one loose tooth would stabilize on its own. So we are waiting to see how my mouth heals before any decision about restorative work is made. The kindness of the dentist (who took my emergency call early on a Sunday morning), as well as my partner’s, were huge factors in my gradually feeling more like myself in a few days.

Still, I kept wondering why I had to experience this particular trauma on my soul journey. What is its meaning in my life as it is now unfolding in all its complicated contradictions and direction switches? Unanswerable questions. There is a thread of ultimate meaning and connection in every event in life, but we often don’t know them at the moment of occurrence (or in this case, impact). Once again, I am being asked to trust…and continue with a faith and an inner peace that “passes all understanding.” This is the master class we all are a part of at this time on planet Earth.

The external world can look like a senseless madhouse with no possibility for hope or renewal. Yet, in the midst of that, someone reaches out a hand with kindness, and your heart opens in gratitude. Trust and love again seem possible. This is our journey now; this is our assignment. To stand back up when we have fallen and to use our pain as a way to shorten the distance between ourselves and others. Together, we humans are experiencing the birth trauma of a new consciousness, a new planet. It sometimes hurts terribly, but just look at what is on the horizon.