Sunday, December 10, 2017

Practice Makes Practice by Rachel Dewan

When I reflect on the last few months of my life I feel so many things.  Surreal is the word that has come to mind over and over again when I pause to think about this journey.  As I’m sure most of you know by now since I have been very open about it, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June.  The diagnosis resulted in 3 surgeries and 6 weeks of radiation treatment which I just finished.  I am feeling relatively good, getting used to my new body and body parts, and feel very confident that the breast cancer chapter of my life is over.

It has been one of the most challenging times of my life, not because I have been “sick” (this is where the surreal part comes in most strongly) but because I have felt relatively ok physically most of the time.  Emotionally and mentally it was a different story. The hardest part is that life went on - my kids had busy schedules, I planned a bar mitzvah and helped my son prepare for it, we got a puppy, my older boys moved to a very competitive soccer league requiring a huge commitment of my time and energy as well as theirs.  I had to “just keep swimming”, as Dory says.  

What kept me swimming was my practice.  It’s what always keeps me going, what sustains me when I feel like I can’t tolerate another moment.  With so many surgeries and some resulting complications I was unable to do much of a physical practice for almost 4 months (which, anyone who even knows me a little bit knows is akin to torture for me), but I have never been so grateful to be grounded in ALL the practices of yoga, not just asana.  Meditation that kept me sane through many, many hours of doctor appointments and sitting in waiting rooms and on hold waiting for news about my health. Pranayama that allowed me to quite literally hold my breath with ease and skill and grace through 6 weeks of radiation treatments. (My radiation techs said they had never seen any breathing pattern like mine before - steady, even, deep and repeatable every time the same way.  They, and subsequently I, appreciated how it made my treatment so much faster and easier.)  

Most of all, just the practice itself. I have a sign in my kitchen that says “Practice makes perfect, so be mindful of what you practice.”  Waking up every day through all of it, some days feeling fine and some days feeling horrible, but just doing the practice either way, regardless. Waking with the same prayers in my heart and mantras on my lips as I do every day, no matter what is happening in my life. Daily practice leads to the deep inner knowing of something bigger than myself, some bigger plan that I don’t and won’t ever understand, but keeps me connected to the deepest layer of my being that is beyond sickness or health or humanness.  The knowing that life just is, everything happens, and sometimes there is a reason that’s clear and sometimes it’s just surrendering to the mystery. But the practice is knowing I get to co-create with the great loving Oneness that supports all of creation to decide what meaning and direction and reason there was for it happening, and what I’m going to do about it.  

Although the Tantric philosophy of Anusara yoga is a deep foundation of my spiritual life, so is my Jewish heritage.  Each week in the Jewish calendar corresponds to a portion of the Torah.  The Friday night after my final treatment I was in synagogue and as is my practice during Shabbat services, I read the weekly torah portion which I was not surprised to find was one of my favorites.  In it, we find Jacob anxious and scared about meeting his brother Esau after many years, because Jacob had deeply hurt him the last time they were together.  Unable to sleep, he goes wandering around in the night. He comes upon a being, most commonly referred to as an angel, whom he “wrestles” with all night.  Dawn is breaking and the angel is begging him to give up.  Jacob tells him “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  

It is no coincidence to me that this is the portion read the week my treatment ended.  Although cancer is not a journey I would particularly wish for anyone, there were so many beautiful blessings that came out of it.  This is the essence of Tantric yoga practice (and kabalistic Judaism) - there is a blessing to be had in everything if you are willing to engage with it and wrestle with it long enough.  You can let it defeat you, you can give up and surrender, or you can hang on until the blessing is clear.  And, just as Jacob did, you come out the other end changed, a different person. Through his struggle with the “angel” Jacob gets renamed Yisrael (meaning one-who-wrestles-with-God).  When you wrestle with your challenges, when you allow them to bless you, you come through it with a new way of identifying yourself, a new layer of depth of being.  But you wake up every day just the same, doing the practice, swimming back to the source, same as always.  

One of the 3 trademarks of Anusara Yoga is kula (community), and I felt that stronger than ever over these last months.  The Shree community has been an essential part of my healing.  The number of cards, texts, messages, gifts, hugs, kisses, meals, and prayers sent my way by this amazing community helped to sustain me through this journey.  It made every day so full of love and grace and I am so grateful to yoga for bringing you all into my life.  1,000 humble bows to all of you my friends.  I cannot wait to see you on Monday!

Rakhi and I on a ride at the beach, 1 week post-mastectomy
Kiran and our new puppy Axl

Zev's soccer team, winning their first tournament

Zev's Bar Mitzvah, November 18th