A technique I used during the first months came to me in a dream. I saw the outline of a person with a dark spot where the pancreas is located. In the dream I spoke to the person and said that I was happy and willing for the spot to slide off the figure, knowing in that strange dream logic that this person was me. I watched as this dark spot slipped off the figure like an egg slipping off a Teflon™ pan. The dream stayed with me for a good week – I would picture the outline in my mind and allow that dark spot to slip off. So I finally decided that it was important for me to find a picture like I saw in the dream and tack it up at the foot of my bed.
Every night before I went to sleep and every morning as I woke up, I would look at the picture and imagine the dark spot sliding away. After a very short while, I didn’t need the picture to remind me, I would just see it in my mind’s eye and allow the spot to leave. I also had the sense, though, that I had to actively agree that I wanted the spot to go. I was sure I did: in fact, this seemed somewhat silly to me at that moment – of course I wanted it to go. Yet I still had that sense that I had to say something, so I ended up saying “I allow my cancer (by this time I was naming the dark spot) to be released from my body. It slips away from me, dissolves away, freely, easily, effortlessly”. I added those words on my own since I hadn’t heard anything specific in the dream, but those particular words resonated with me because of the indelible image I had of the egg slipping out of the pan.
Little by little, I stopped doing it for the spot because it seemed done, over. But I continued to find it useful for various little things: it worked on a sore throat and a headache. I would just picture the outline in my mind and see whatever I was targeting slipping off me. And this all went well and proved effective until arthritis hit my hands. The arthritis came on fast and painfully. There were a few days there where I couldn’t even hold a jar without dropping it or open a lid because, with pain and stiffness like that, your hands can’t seem to grip. That went on for probably a month or so, dropping things, complaining, taking lots of aspirin. Finally it dawned on me to use the figure and the release technique I’d learned. But it didn’t work and here is where I learned my greatest lesson from the figure. The pain didn’t want to go. Saying that a little differently, I realized that I did not want to let it go. But why? I couldn’t figure this out myself. So I just sat down in front of the figure and was quiet for awhile, letting my question go and just being still.
In my mind’s eye I began to see my grandmother. I remember how twisted and painful her hands were. Now my family line was really unmoored by many different things – abuse, famine, war, parental deaths – and I never really knew much of my family on either side, and only a tiny part of their history. In my stillness, I began to envision lines of women with gnarled hands, stretching back in time, seeing them in Scotland and France, washing their clothes in tubs, digging their potatoes, resting their hands in prayer, all twisted, all painful. All surviving against great odds. And I felt, for the first time in my life, a family that I was related to, not just a mother and a father, but a whole line of people who went before me, who survived great hardship, whose survival ultimately gave me my life. It was such a loving feeling. I realized I had been missing this connection my whole life and didn’t even know it. I found I couldn’t ask the arthritis to go – I wanted to keep it close to me because it felt like my connection to my ancestors, it felt like I was honoring them for all that they had done. I knew deeply, intuitively, that I needed to finish whatever work the arthritis had started. And I liked looking at my hands, strange as that may sound. I could feel my ancestors around me when I did, I could feel their presence and life. I loved it, and held it very dear. I didn’t talk about this though. It does seem a little strange to you perhaps? Sometimes you can’t tell even your friends what you feel, you have to hold things close to your vest, because people don’t always understand, people don’t always agree with you, people judge you from their own beliefs and that’s hard to bear when you’re vulnerable. So I didn’t mention it, just did the work that seemed to need doing. In this healing space, you need to honor yourself, your own understandings, your own intuition.
It was around this time that I got an announcement of a class from my favorite on-line teacher, Christine Valtner Paintner (abbeyofthearts.com), called “Honoring the Ancestors”. It seemed too much of a coincidence to ignore, so I took the class. Among other things, we wrote poetry to and about our ancestors and made a shrine to honor them.
What the class required of me was time, taken daily, to think about them, to wonder about their lives, to tease out from vague stories what they were like. I bought a small cigar box, pasted pictures of the Isle of Skye (where part of our line comes from) onto the box, glued a rock cairn inside and put a little piece of peat (a gift from a friend’s trip) on top.
This process of thinking, making, pasting and building created in me a flow of love that felt like their blood and my blood were flowing in the same veins. It was very emotional and felt like completion. And so why am I bothering you with this excursion into my rather boring life? Because at the end of the process, when I had done the shrine, lived with the memories, honored them deeply in my soul, my arthritis went away. Well, I lie a little. It’s still there every once in awhile. I get a twinge. But I’ve never had that pain or stiffness again. And when I went back to the figure after finishing the shrine, I found I could say the words to release the arthritis from my hands.
There is a deep lesson here that many great people have taught through the ages. You must be willing to let go of your illness. I have talked elsewhere in this blog about how astounded I have been at the way I am treated, now that I have this diagnosis. I see how being ill can be seductive, how all of a sudden you’re special, how less is required of you, how responsibilities can be lifted off you. How easily it can all be about you. If we are willing to look deeply enough, our illnesses may have a life lesson for us, a heart-felt pearl like mine. If we’re willing to walk down this path, there are many resources available. But the first step is finding out if, in fact, we are holding on to our disease or not. I wasn’t aware of what was going on underneath my arthritis until I saw that I couldn’t let it go. I feel like I was given this gift from Spirit and I want to share it with you, hoping that the teaching isn’t lost: we have to be fully conscious of what we want, what we don’t want, how to keep the one and release the other.