Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The bardo

Someone asked me how things were going recently, and I started into the pat "nice-isms" I am programmed to say. great, fine! wow! look at me! But what I really wanted to say is this:

I am in limbo; I am moving through, slowly, through my own life, unsure of this new body, and mind, and what happens next. I am stitching myself back together a wee bit everyday.

There is no "going back" - life is on another course, and one that has far more [and ironically fewer] nuances, bumps, and lumps.  There is still a huge part of the old me,  known to me as my core. But emerging from the foxhole in toto is proving to be a hard thing for the core, that wee battered thing.

People, my family, my insurer, others - are anxious for me to "return". Chemo? Check! Surgery? Check! Radiation - on deck - Check! Hair growing in (not curly, not luscious, all those liars!) Check!  Tamoxifen? Check! Stepping stones, all - but to where? What does it look like out there? What wil be my new part in this new world?

I am not going to do that, return to the life before. I am going to learn to transition myself back into the world.  I am going to trust myself, and my loved ones to do this with me - at my speed.

In the Tibetan tradition, the place between lives is called "the bardo." We do not live in a culture that supports a thoughtful meditative approach to recovery and/ or  healing. Before the lights are off in the ER, you are literally packed up, and booted out of the hospital with a bag of alcohol swabs and not even a prayer. Your home care nurse is your only real touchpoint  - hovering on the transom to the other side - from the entire sugical medical team who asked you your birth date and took your vitals 6 times, drew on your body with a sharpie, rent it asunder and then stapled it all back together.

Recovery is what your body does, but healing - healing is what your entirety does - body, mind, soul. Recovery can be bouncing back from surgery with an excellent clinical response - off those pain meds and flipping that arm around like nobody's business inside of a week or two.

But healing takes time. All parts need to find their new normal - the body, most obviously to the outside world - hair regrows, there are changes to the outline of the body, the scars settle - the tissue reworks itself into a new fabric; the mind needs to settle into a place where the concept of a recurrence is accepted, or handled with dignity, not fear (because the common medical wisdom now is that cancer is a condition, chronic, but at bay); and maybe the mind even needs to relearn all the things it has forgotten - names, objects; and the soul - finding answers to the awesome questions brought right up close in your face. And answering who am I now?

This is the bardo.


Anonymous said...

Beannacht for Kate

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
John O'Donohue
~ Echoes of Memory ~

Kate O'Rourke (1968-2012) said...

how beautiful. thank you.

Anna said...

Hi Kate, didn't know you had a blog so I'm checking it out for the first time...I appreciate what you said about the bardo because one of my favourite Buddhist books is The Tibeten Book of Living and Dying and in this book it talks about the bardos quite extensively.

I have something for you which I will pass to the "delivery boy" ;) tomorrow so hopefully it will be passed to you soon.

You are in my prayers.

Anna :D