I saw the season’s first bluebird
this morning, one month ahead
of its scheduled arrival. Lucky I am
to go off to my cancer appointment
having been given a bluebird, and,
for a lifetime, have been given
–Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison
My husband and I returned home last night after nearly two weeks away, first visiting my granddaughter and her parents in Toronto, then traveling on to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I was one of the faculty members for the Living Well with Cancer program.
As different as my time in Toronto and at Omega was, both were deeply joyful and restorative. In Toronto, I happily dove into the world of a two year-old, sharing in her imaginative play and daily new discoveries. At Omega, I immersed myself in the breathtaking beauty of the campus and the community of the cancer survivors who attended the weekend. In both, I walked with unabated joy, drinking in the peacefulness that enveloped my spirit—the familiarity of tree lined streets in a city I used to call home, the lush foliage of trees, flowers and wide expanses of grass that define the Omega campus.
I had the privilege to be part of a faculty at Omega that included Sandra Gilbert, coordinator for “Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness,” Jeremy Geffen,MD, medical oncologist, and creator of the integrative medicine and oncology program, The Seven Levels of Healing®.; Skip Backus, Omega’s president and a kidney and prostate cancer survivor, Kathy LaTour, Editor at Large at Cure Today, Carolyn Scott Kortge, creator of the Walking Well® program, and Scott Burton award-winning comic and champion juggler. All but one of this year’s program faculty is a cancer survivor.
What was most gratifying, perhaps, is that our perspectives were remarkably intertwined and alike, no matter what specific expertise we offered. Each of us focuses on healing in our individual practices and programs, not just the body, but the whole person: heart, mind and spirit. Although cancer-free for over a decade, the messages of healing, of mindfulness and gratitude are as relevant to my life now as they were then. It was an extraordinary weekend; inspiring and humbling to be part of the entire community of cancer patients and survivors who attended.
And yet this morning, I awakened grumpy, my temples throbbing, my mind sluggish from jet lag. Even at 5:45 a.m., I could hear the sounds of the city, the arrival of airplanes at Lindbergh Field, cars racing along the freeways that surround San Diego, the unpleasant shock of re-entry into a rush-rush world. I sighed and rolled over, unwilling to face the stack of “to do” and “should do” tasks on my desk. Then I remembered the words Carolyn Scott Kortge read to us the last morning of the Omega program before she guided the group through a mindful walking exercise:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Twenty-four brand new hours before me… Well, I had to smile. I got out of bed, ran a comb through my hair, put on my slacks and a tee shirt, and walked outside. I did a few slow stretches on the front porch and then set off, walking the familiar streets of my San Diego neighborhood, only this time, with intention, mindful to establishing a rhythm, to use the rhythm to mentally repeat an affirmation: “I am healthy. I am happy.” I was able to keep an energetic pace as I walked uphill, focused on my body’s rhythm, my affirmation and pushing the “busy mind” aside, the one that so often disrupts my ability to be fully present on my morning walks, and when I returned, I stopped at my front door, turned to face the street, and murmured “Thank you” to my body, my legs, for doing their work so effortlessly. It is no surprise that I returned to my house invigorated, grateful for the quiet of early morning, even if my San Diego neighborhood is not lined with the old, graceful trees I so miss from my former Toronto environs. I walked into the front room, opened the blinds to reveal the view of the canyon, sat down and began writing. The words came easily, my mind clear and invigorated from my early morning walk.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours before me…
Take a walk around the block, along a favorite trail, near a stream, lake or the ocean. Concentrate on being present—to the rhythm of your body, the gratitude you have for being alive, the joy that being fully present can bring. Afterward, spend some time writing—anything—and see where it takes you. Twenty-four brand new hours before you. Embrace the day with gratitude.