A meaningful and purposeful life does not require doing or having great things. But it does require us to be fully present and aware as much as possible, including those times we'd rather be elsewhere.
It requires us to be awake, mindful, less prone to simply go through the motions of daily living. It's easy in certain situations, like when we're spending time with someone we love or doing something we enjoy. It's challenging when we're angry, frustrated, confused or afraid. For those times, help is on the way.
Mindfulness habits to help us awaken and stay present
- Focus on breathing by bringing our attention to every inhalation and exhalation for a few minutes, which also gives us respite from "monkey mind"—a Buddhist term that refers to the unsettled and uncontrolled chatter in our subconscious mind.
- Meditate and pray as part of a regular practice, which anchors us in the present and gives us a sense of hope and calmness.
- Engaging in active listening when we're with others and active involvement when we're doing something, whether it's walking the dog, gardening, or even mundane activities like making the bed.
Many wise teachers and counselors are available to help us awaken and stay present. Their writings and teachings are available to us all, in libraries, places of worship, bookstores, and of course on the internet. One of those wise teachers is Mark Nepo.
Awakening with cancer survivor Mark Nepo
I became aware of Nepo when a friend gave me one of his books, the New York Times bestseller, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Along with daily readings and lessons that are wise and inspirational, I discovered that he is also a cancer survivor.
In research to learn more about him, I learned that Nope discussed his cancer journey with Oprah Winfrey, telling her that after two bouts with cancer including surgery and chemotherapy, his body was weak, but he could feel his spirit growing stronger and his heart opening wider. He told her that openness and acceptance were among the most important lessons he has learned from his cancer experience.
Mark Nepo reads from Surviving Has Made Me Crazy
More wisdom for people with advanced cancer
My purpose, at last, to hold nothing back. My goal: to live a thousand years, not in succession, but in every breath.
Everyone’s saying—C’mon. Let’s go. But I entered this and nothing’s been the same. How can I jump on out and not fear the world is a broken cage?
Staying calm through the craziness of cancer
Cancer can drive a person crazy as life becomes a series of ups and downs, like an extended ride on a rollercoaster with extreme climbs and rapid drops. While not always easy, it's helpful to remain as centered and calm as possible. Only then can you find the peace and serenity to drive away the crazies.
To find calmness and peace, I encourage you to add any of Mark Nepo's books to your library. Having gone through cancer himself, he gets how fragile and precious life is. He helps us recognize that as long as we stay awake and present to what we have, we will understand that we have all we need.