As most of us do when we are faced with a huge life-altering challenge, we bargain. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I would lie awake through the night, my body frail with chemotherapy drugs, and beg for my life. I made a lot of promises to God; that I would do this and that in exchange for my survival. When I made it out the other side of cancer treatment and held my arms wide open in gratitude, I did not forget the contract I forged with the almighty in my darkest hours. I just didn’t know what it entailed. So like most things I approach in life, I go the whole hog. If the life giver of all things had spared me, then I owed it to them to spend my remaining days in prayerful meditation, communing with spirit and acknowledging with immense gratitude the fact that I was still here. Or did I ?
What does it mean to be spiritual? Is it a term that conjures up a liberation from all form and human vice? Or is it just another dualistic label? Is it yet another template to subscribe to? I have been pondering for some time how to blend my powerful moments of blissful awareness with the day to day duties of being a human being. If I pick my nose whilst reading The Power of Now, does that diminish my enlightenment? Can I experience the timelessness and weightlessness of a great meditation session in the morning, only to fling my mobile phone down the hallway in exasperation that evening?
For a short time I considered becoming a Sanga as part of the Buddhist religion. I was drawn to the simplicity of a life dedicated to compassion and service to others. I did my research and as much as it appealed to me in some aspects, I just couldn’t justify the complete commitment it required. I also had to question what that meant for my future. I had long anticipated your arrival, Seamus, but with no relationship and infertility hanging over me, it wasn’t looking promising. Yet I couldn’t shake it – and if I became a Sanga that would be a massive road block to your existence.
As I was in the process of shedding all ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, I began to question what my obligations might be. Our human training ground is delivered to us through the filters of the mind. I experience my mind in several ways and one of those ways is as a huge filing cabinet. Every piece of information coming through must be processed, labelled and filed away. When I decided to leaf through the rather large cabinet on Spirituality, there were a number of files absent. I couldn’t seem to find the folder detailing ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, OVERWHELMENT or IMPATIENCE. There was no ASSERTIVENESS or OPINION files either. As clear as day I could see MEDITATION, YOGA and HERBAL TEA. I could see the dog eared HAPPINESS, ACCEPTANCE and JOY and right at the front was a label with huge lettering named PIOUSNESS.
The most startling discovery I made was laying my hands on a very thick file called PERFECTION. That was a real moment of realisation. I had put spirituality and perfection together. I’m talking about the pursuit of perfection, like avoiding mistakes and presenting as sparkly white faultlessness. The true perfection, from which we are all fashioned, is a given. We are already perfect; we were born that way. Nothing can ever take that away from you Seamus, my gorgeous boy. What happens is that as we grow we start to attach layers of ideas and experiences and soon, we can’t see our perfection any longer. Things happen to us which we want to label as mistakes, failures or successes when really it is all just experience. Mistakes are experience, failures are experience, and successes are experience. Plain and simple.
So I decided to burn the whole cabinet and start over! I began the process of creating my own definition of spirituality. My home doesn’t smell of Nag Champa incense, it’s more a blend of shortbread and wet dog. I don’t spend my days sitting cross legged meditating but when I’m in bed at night I cuddle your Daddy and think of you asleep in your cot and feel gratitude fill every cell of my body. I haven’t purified my diet from wheat, dairy, sugar and animal products. I drink my coffee and eat chocolate with absolute joy.
This incredible self-acceptance has been a side effect of cancer in my life. My wish for you is that you don’t need an experience like cancer to strip you back and remind you who you are. My wish for you is that you simply will not forget in the first place. You will forge your own relationship with God, the source, the Holy Spirit, pure consciousness or whatever label you want to put on it. In the meantime, you will grow up in a home knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you are loved and that you are love itself. That to me, is what being spiritual is all about.
“The Tao is the treasure-house, the true nature, the secret source of everything” – Tao Te Ching