Before any of this Big Breast Adventure palaver happened, my younger sister Janet and I went to Rajasthan on a fabulous Drawn to India art tour. From the outset we knew this tour would be a sojourn for the soul, heavily laced with woo-woo arty-farty stuff, just the ticket for two sisters traversing the transitions of middle-age – career upheaval, the passing of parents – you get the drill. To put it mildly, we were totally up for the magical, the mystical and the unknown. Mother India sure didn’t disappoint.
The spiritual is everywhere in India, beautifully and often humorously interlaced with every day life – from the kids playing Bollywood tunes in place of Sanskrit chants on a banged up CD player at the local street shrine outside our hotel in Delhi, to the Hindu priest who took a call on his mobile phone while administering my blessing by the holy lake in Pushkar. Yesiree – the Indians have elevated to an art form the coupling of the sacred and the ordinary.
In this place it is nigh on impossible not to have intuitions or visions or dreams about things that are outside one’s normal field of understanding. And so it was when Lord Shiva visited my sister in a dream on our first night in a country town, away from the bustling, noisy Delhi. Even though we’d only been in India for 72 hours, Janet knew it was Shiva because of his blueness and his long dark dreadlocky tresses of which, legend has it, he is very proud. Janet’s dream Shiva also included a spectacular male appendage which seemed constructed of sterling silver Christmas baubles, peeping out from under his loin cloth. (Who knew?) But that part, while textbook Janet, is not central to my interest in this story. It’s only mentioned here because it makes me laugh to recall the rousing response from our all-girl troupe of art tour companions when Janet, with typical flourish and sparing no detail, retold the dream sequence at breakfast the next morning.
Moving right along…..the reasons I am writing about Janet’s encounter with Shiva are threefold. Firstly, he’s blue – stay with me here there’ll be more on this later. Secondly, when Janet asked him why he, a Hindu deity, should show up at the end of her bed when the pre-dawn, Islamic call to prayer could be clearly heard across the fields surrounding our lodgings, Shiva replied thus – that prayer, no matter what flavour, is a call to action for any and every deity or spiritual being, such as his good self. Doesn’t matter which one you happen to believe in or are praying to – they all hear it and are moved to act on it.
And thirdly, this wasn’t so much relayed to Janet in the dream conversation but afterwards when she did a little research. Shiva is the God of destruction, first and foremost, but also of transformation and regeneration. And that gets to the crux of the reason why I believe he showed up for Janet and had her relay this message to me ahead of this Big Breast Adventure. Everything is a cycle of destruction, transformation, regeneration. The wheel continues turning and the process starts anew. In a previous post (Cut, poison, burn….and laugh) we visited the concept of regenerated bushland after a fire has ripped through it. I’m also reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Fawkes the Pheonix, Headmaster Dumbledore’s pet, scares the bejesus out of Harry by bursting into flames while he is awaiting an audience. (Relive the moment here and especially Harry’s ‘it wasn’t me – I didn’t touch anything’ reaction. I thought boy-wizards would be different from normal kids but apparently not!)
Here’s what I make of this metaphor – the process of chemotherapy is one of destruction, destroying fast dividing cells, both good and bad as it happens, in order to prepare for stronger, healthier regeneration in the next cycle. This somewhat dispassionate view of the destruction part of the cycle brings me closer than ever to the application of the ‘this too shall pass’ acceptance mantra as espoused by Eckhardt Tolle in The Power of Now. Moreover, this whole Big Breast Adventure trip is a process of transformation for me, simultaneously providing the means of my deconstruction (a mastectomy and chemotherapy thus far) and the tools of my reconstruction (the things I am experiencing as I go along and the ability to express them to you good people in this blog). From where I’m sitting destruction, transformation and regeneration are not merely parts of a cycle, they are inextricably linked.
A few days after the dream encounter with Shiva the Destroyer our lovely local guide on the Drawn to India tour explained why the lotus flower is so revered in Hindu culture. It’s because the lotus is a reminder that purity and beauty can spring from pond muck. I told you the Indians were artists at integrating the ethereal and the mundane and I for one am very glad of it. And while we’re on this woo-woo track, well before India I signed up for a 21 Day Mantra Meditation Journey with Deva Premal & Miten, musicians who overlay ancient sanskrit mantras and chants with beautiful compositions. Day 16 is entitled Medicine Buddha and along with some Tibetan Guyto Monks, Deva and Miten explain and then chant a very powerful healing mantra which I listen to on my iPod as the chemo drugs are emptying through the drip into my arm. The mantra invokes the healing Buddha within ourselves, praying to the supreme heights to remove not only the pain of illness and spiritual ignorance but the greatest pain of all – the illusion of duality, the illusion of separation.
As mentioned in the last post (What we say to dogs) the emotional side effects of chemotherapy treatment are indeed worrisome and more severe than I thought they would be going in. The depression-like feelings of sadness, hopelessness or lack of self worth and so on – hardly a picnic. However, the thing that frightens me most of all is the dreadful feeling of being cut off from all my coping mechanisms, separated from my higher power or any power that could possibly help calm or rally me. It’s interesting to me that the Medicine Buddha mantra should not only pinpoint this ‘separation’ as the greatest illness but that it should also be blatantly called ‘an illusion’. Separation and disconnection may feel like they exist but they are not real – whether or not you are clinically depressed, on chemo or just having a tough time. We are never cut off or separated from our higher power, greater good, Shiva, whom or whatever you want to call it. It just feels that way.
Right about now you’re probably thinking ‘any spiritual port in a storm’ – Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic calls to prayer – what’s next for this chick? Perhaps there’s some truth in that but I believe there are no coincidences with this stuff, particularly when it’s stuff I don’t really comprehend intellectually. The fact that I had started using the Medicine Buddha mantra for chemo before I knew the ‘illusion of separation’ was going to be one of my greatest challenges further proves the ‘no coincidences’ theory. To my mind it also proves the ‘you get what you need just when you need it’ and the ‘any call to prayer, no matter the flavour, is heard and acted upon’ theories into the bargain. And here’s another fun fact. My friend who left the Dalai Lama in my letterbox sent me a picture of the Medicine Buddha after I told her this story. Guess what? Like Shiva, he’s also blue.
And so I leave you dear readers with a picture of Janet and a Shiva impersonator taken in the streets of Pushkar. Once Shiva appeared at the end of her bed early on in the tour he just wouldn’t stop popping up wherever we went for the remainder!
And for those of you who prefer a more secular, rock and roll approach to all this woo-woo spiritual stuff may I share my recently dubbed ‘ode to chemo’ entitled (coincidentally enough 🙂 The Hindu Times by Oasis.
I get up when I’m down.
I can’t swim, but my soul won’t drown.
I do believe I’ve got flair.
I’ve got speed and I walk on air.
‘Cos God give me soul in your rock and roll
And I get so high I just can’t feel it…
In and outta my brain, running through my veins
You’re my sunshine, your my rain…..
Breast regards until next time.