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Published On: Mon, Sep 23rd, 2013


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by Rebecca Kovan, PhD


Gratefully, my family is physically healthy and I am physically healthy. There is not a day that goes by where I do not give thanks for this. Though I have personally had a few close calls with the feared Reaper, the results were obviously favorable for me, as I am literally living proof, here, typing these words.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 90s; a mastectomy, courses of radiation and chemotherapy later, I am beyond happy to say she is as feisty as ever (I love you, mom!). Others have not been as fortunate. Others have suffered and died.

There is a power ballad written and performed by 80’s glam metal band, Cinderella, called “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone).” I’m not a big Cinderella fan, but this song gets me every time. It is profound in its lyrics and the ballad is gripping, in my humble opinion. Any song, or book, or film, or conversation (irrespective of whether involvement is direct), that provokes a thought process above and beyond the original rendering is a noble creation in my eyes. “You don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)” reminds me that we often walk through our days, complaining about what we don’t have, or looking for something better. Sometimes it isn’t until we are faced with life-altering news that we realize we actually had it quite good.

Illness has that affect.

I would not wish illness on anyone. It is terrifying when our world’s are turned upside-down. There is a phrase, “What a difference a day makes.” I would argue that this actually allows for too much time. I would say, “What a difference seconds can make.”

That said and conveyed, what do we do when illness strikes? How can we make sense and move through and take appropriate action when our head is swirling with emotional turmoil? Who do we tell (if anyone)? Where can we go for healing? And the hardest question of all, why is this happening?

In previous articles, I have harped on the point that all we have is the now. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet here. We have now. So how do we make our every now meaningful? That is more of a rhetorical question, for I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to presuppose the answer for anyone but me. I find that living in a state of appreciation is helpful.

One of my favorite teachers whom I have never met is Eckhart Tolle. He is the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. He states, “Allow suffering to force you into the present moment, into a state of intense conscious presence. Use it for enlightenment. Surrender does not transform what is, at least not directly. Surrender transforms you. When you are transformed, your whole world is transformed because the world is only a reflection…If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment.”

Wow! That places suffering in a whole new light.

Think about it though. If we can allow suffering to move through us, without our attachment to it, it really can be an opportunity for enlightenment. Easy stuff? Absolutely not, for we are conditioned to feel and believe suffering is bad, and it is difficult to break the bonds of this training. However, that does not mean it is not possible.

Many people facing a life-threatening illness—whether it is breast cancer, any cancer, or the seemingly endless list of potentially fatal maladies—have told me that their illness helped reorganize the things that really matter. Of course there was anger and fear and confusion, but after the dust settles and the reality of the situation sets in, the overwhelming consensus is that the illness helped redefine meaning.

How can that be a bad thing?

Certainly we don’t want to have to come face-to-face with such a circumstance. We would like to make those shifts in consciousness on our own time and pace, unforced by diagnosis. But that is not how life works. I believe we are given what we can handle. I believe that we are pushed by the universe (or whatever word you want to use), to the bounds of what we may not intellectually think possible, to thrust our Being, that pureness within each and every one of us, once you strip away the layers, to a place of growth, expansion, and evolution. When we are comfortable, we don’t advance to the same degree as when our proverbial backs are to the wall. Sometimes it takes something extreme, something dire, to jump-start our life—out of routine and complacency, and into the present moment. The Now.

If you or someone you love is facing illness, do your best to become, as Eckhart Tolle suggests, an alchemist, “transmuting suffering into consciousness, disaster into enlightenment.” Your situation is not you. You are bigger. You are brighter. You are Now.

As is my way, I’ll end with a poem from, Alphabet Living, a book I co-wrote with my husband and illustrated (http://www.alphabetliving.com). It may be a repeat from a previous Nutricula article, but if so, it is worth a second read in this particular context.

G is for Gratitude

Gratitude is thankfulness; complete appreciation.

Gratitude is honoring with graceful exclamation.

It’s conscious praise for blessings that have touched your life somehow.

Gratitude acknowledges the richness of right now!

Now go hug your children—become an alchemist—and make it a great day!




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