Breast Cancer blog

A mindset makeover with meditation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 4:20pm

On a recent evening I join a friend at the Tergar Meditation Centre. The centre – one of many around the world – is a little gem of a place tucked inside a building in residential North Point. I am fixated on the framed photo of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche the Buddhist teacher who leads the Tergar meditation movement and is supposedly “the happiest man in the world”, according to his book The Joy of Living.

This is my first meditation session and I come partly hopeful but mostly cynical. I’ve never been good at being still (the radiation crew can attest to this, as can my school teachers), and by nature I am one of those “glass half empty” people who tend to focus on the yin rather than the yang.

This friend – who recently lost her ex-husband to cancer – insists that meditation can be part of my healing. The ex who died of illness in his 60s was an angry and judgmental person, she said with a sigh. Maybe if he had meditated and come to peace with himself, maybe if he had been less of a control freak, maybe things would be different. She continues: there are so many perks to meditation, because if you can’t change the reality you can change the way that you respond to it, she says. I know, I know. It’s not too late for me. I have a second chance. Plus there is the rather impatient and curious side of me who wants to find the secret to being the happiest woman in the world.

So I give this a shot. There is a landscape of meditation newbies sitting cross-legged on pillows. I am sitting in the folding chair on the sidelines, sitting as still as a sphinx (or at least I think I am). We are doing a “body scan”, which means you are supposed to focus on each part of your body, how that part feels at the present moment. I’m okay until I get to the ears, and that’s when my mind shifts from present to future. In less than a week I will make a bi-continental move and return to the US to pursue my PhD studies. I turn 38 (gasp) in December, dream of having my own family, but there’s no signs of marriage in sight. I am 38 and returning to student life, what if I am too old to study? I start to fidget and the friend notices.  “Just sit with your thoughts,” she whispers, so I do.

I hate this monkey mind. It’s churning with greater speed now that I am on the road to recovery. Ever since completing treatment, I’ve lived two lives.

At the forefront is also the reality of living with uncertainty, the acceptance there are no guarantees in life whether it be work, relationships, friendships, and along with that the challenge of learning to live in the present

At the forefront: I’ve returned to work, the colleagues now seeing my tanned self and rosy cheeks have stopped asking me how things are. I’ve returned packing suitcases and boxes for the bi-continental move. I threw a successful farewell-for-now party, after the first one was cancelled due to surgery. There is an ever-growing checklist of To Do’s related to the near future.

At the forefront is also the reality of living with uncertainty, the acceptance there are no guarantees in life whether it be work, relationships or friendships, and along with that the challenge of learning to live in the present. 

In the backdrop, there is the reality that I am a cancer survivor (or cancer conqueror). And with that the constant reminder that if I don’t give my mindset a makeover, the disease has a better chance of resurfacing. The aunt reminds me that my cells have ears and they go rogue with negative thoughts. I wish it were possible to negotiate with cells.

Right after the radiation round, the 91-year-old grandmother shared some wisdom with me. “Whatever you do, the most important thing is changing your thinking,” she said. “You must think of your health first, slow down and take on an easier job where you will be less stressed.” She rattled off a checklist of truisms that she’s found helpful through the decades: Remember the good times because if you focus on the bad things, it is like reliving it. Trust in fate because what happens is for the good even if you can’t see it now. No wonder she is 91 and still going steady, I think. She has learned the perks of letting go a long time ago.

I stifle a yawn and resist the temptation to scratch an itch on the back. The lights flip on and we do some cat stretches during the brief break. It was the Chinese scholar Lao Tzu who said that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” A mindset makeover would take years to perfect, but I was headed in the right direction. Of that I was certain.