Mindful Of Time
“How long?!” I said, as I was literally thrown back in my seat with shock. “Yes, eighteen to twenty four months” he repeated. This was how long my consultant estimated the process of my treatment and surgery to take. I had so many thoughts running through my mind: what about work? My son? The bills? But I had only just started dating again after my separation…I don’t want to pause it for two years! I’m 41, I don’t have time! And then I remembered…I have cancer.
That was three and a half years ago, and I have recently finished my last surgery and come to what feels like the end of this journey. It seems that I did have time. Or more to the point, I discovered ‘time’ in a whole new light.
Prior to diagnosis I was perpetually running against the clock, unable to get an extra second out of my day. And wham! The proverbial wall. Overnight I was faced with the biggest call on my time – death. Not a maybe but a probability. And the strangest thing happened. All of a sudden I found myself with all the time in the world. I mean, really, all the time I could want and need.
People ask me how I handled my illness so well. I’m not sure that I did. I had a lot of help from amazing people, but I do recognise that I let go into it and relinquished control; and with hindsight, this seemed to remove the boundaries of time. It wasn’t conscious at first, somehow it just happened. It was too big for me to fight, so I went with it. My illness blew apart all structure as I knew it and I slipped, kicking and screaming initially, into the flow of cancer. And actually, once there, it felt really quite nice to be carried by it.
The time-table of treatment for cancer gives much opportunity for reflection, whether you want it or not. It cannot be hurried-up, it sets the pace. It became my master, I was the student. But I was willing and eager to learn – or more accurately, to learn how to unlearn.
My focus on wellness made me mindful. I became mindful of how I spent my precious days, of how I looked after myself, and of how I interacted with the world. I was mindful of letting go of anything which was not in my best interests – mentally, physically, emotionally and energetically – and of introducing what would make me feel good. I wanted to savour life; to savour what I had until then taken for granted.
Time kept going but it felt different, not so linear, more a mixture of time-moments: moments of frustrated timelessness; moments of depth which touched on the eternal; carefree highs where I was carried on a wisp of time; moments of pain, leaving me rooted to the spot, temporarily held in a time-bound abyss; confused intersections at crossroads of time and desire; and mostly moments of pure joy which transcended time. I slowly learnt to ride the waves and found when my life narrowed on the outside, it expanded within.
It was when I approached the end of my cancer time-table that I started wobbling. I had done a lot of emotional work on myself, had learned the theory, but was scared of stepping back into the fast pace of a busy London life. I didn’t want to ‘go back to old ways’, to be carried along by the frenetic pace of a working life. I couldn’t. Yet I was so eager to share what I had learnt…and then I realised why: for in sharing the need for balance, I would be keeping the balance within me.
Integration of everything I have learned on this journey is now happening, and it helps to look back, to remind myself. For it was when I learnt to play with my days, to flow according to what presented itself to me both emotionally and physically, that I thrived. It was when I was mindful and grateful that I was most peaceful. And it was when I stopped trying to control time, and let go into my moments, that I experienced true joy.