Constriction has been showing up a lot lately. By constriction I mean fear, sadness, worry, uncertainty, anger, loss…

you get the picture. I’ve been hearing about it, I’ve been feeling it, and of course there has been a flood of it on news broadcasts and other streaming media. What do we do when life feels either acutely constricted, or seemingly non-stop constricting? Ironically, we soften. Softening is the counterbalance to constriction. Animals and children innately know this. We as adults, well, that can be quite the different story. 

With choosing to soften by letting things go, by not fighting, by waiting to act, by disengaging, by not manipulating  circumstances or others, and literally by softening the holding patterns in the body. However, there’s a deeper lesson to choosing to soften in the face of constriction; it allows Life to show us a different way. A way in which we aren’t carrying the burden internally; where our need to control is seen for the misery causing impulse it is. It also gives us space to truly consider what could possibly be the “worst case scenario” and to ask ourselves deeply, “could I survive that?”

anni johnston musing co

Below is a passage from my upcoming book. It speaks to living through a “worst case scenario” and the gifts that came from it. I hope you enjoy it.

The Golden Thread….

Pooh: “How does one become 
a butterfly?”
Piglet: “You must want to fly so much
that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

– Winnie the Pooh

A story: “What do you mean cancer?” I must have misheard. I actually asked the Radiologist this. As she paused to regain her footing, I started to think about the laundry to finish and a baby who would soon wake. Why is she talking about chemotherapy and surgery? The room felt strange, hollow, yet cotton stuffed. There was this strange waterfall roar inside my head, and I noticed feeling vaguely irritated. Then, something inside burst, and I sat down on the stairs and cried. Inside me I heard, “I have cancer, oh God, oh God, oh God…” I walked downstairs into my husband’s office and blurted it out. He blanched, and became very, very still. We became two statues staring at each other while the office clock slowly ticked away our disbelief. Our son, only 14 months old, was sleeping soundly right next door. I thought to myself, “no sobbing because I’ll wake him.” I don’t remember much else that day, but I do remember feeling sooo tired; I just wanted to go to bed.  And I did. Then I spent over 7 months there.

Things might have gone quite differently if my neighbor, a nurse, hadn’t bumped into me at the store. I had been having trouble breathing, feeling exhausted and looking like a gray dishrag. I thought it was the fatigue of early parenthood. No, it was a rare form of cancer that comes from a pregnancy. When I sat numbly in front of the Oncologist, he informed me of the diagnosis, and all I could feel was the surreal joy that I was pregnant again. “Pregnant?” I reiterated hopefully. He looked at me with something between compassion and concern. “You do understand what I said, right?” Apparently, I didn’t. The baby wasn’t going to survive. Then since I was finally tracking him, he let the boom drop, and said quickly, “because this is such an aggressive cancer, the intensive chemotherapy will most likely both reduce your life expectancy and prohibit you from conceiving again.” Oh. That. My whole life turned to dust. And I became afraid to breathe.

…What followed was a journey, one that had so many twists and turns it would take over 20 years to finally be through it. So much pain and sorrow followed, despite the love, care, and devotion of so many dear friends. But there also were moments of absolute joy, of sweetness, and peace. They were just interspersed with searing, and at times seemingly unrelenting pain. So much so, I became driven to find a way to deal with it. I saw how out of control I felt when the pain level got too high, and watched my frantic attempts manipulate life. Constantly, “rearranging the furniture on the Titanic.” 

Decades later, with compassion I can see if I had known then, what I know now, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. But I’m hoping I can save some of yours. Because those 20 plus years of trial and error taught me that “no feeling is final,” this body and mind CAN navigate whatever Life brings, and by practicing straightforward techniques, over time, my entire relationship to pain, discomfort, and constriction shifted. What used to cause me hurt, fear, and agony, now is seen as something moving through me, no longer “me” or “mine.” The gift of those years? I no longer feel at the mercy of life’s challenges, being tumbled by them, now I feel I can surf them.  I am no longer afraid of pain. Being freed up from this has brought depth, compassion and a peace which flows through my veins like a deep, slow-moving river. Am I always imperturbable? No. However, with a little inner redirection I can move out of the painful eddy’s and return to the flow of that inner river of peace. I hope you will allow me to be your guide, until you can do the same for yourself.