It seems apparent to me that my new cancer diagnosis has shifted my priorities. It has added urgency to some of the things that I wanted to do in my life such as writing that unfinished novel (okay, writing the un-started novel). But instead of the “Bucket List” that comes to mind for many people, it has shifted my attention away from the flashy things in life and has focused my consciousness on simpler things. I have no interest in skydiving or traveling to exotic locales. Instead I feel drawn to the things that have been with me all along.
There are so many mysteries in nature, so many dramas unfolding around you or just outside your window. A spider web glistening with the morning’s dew, a cricket singing at night as you try to fall asleep. Your dog’s excitement at seeing you begin to stir in the morning. All of these things seem to hold more meaning to me at the moment than anything that might make someone’s list-of-things-to-do-before-I-die.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see the Eiffel Tower before you die, or wanting to climb up to the summit of Mount Fuji. It’s entirely possible that either of these trips could add meaning to your life. But that kind of trip is few and far between to rely on for true meaning. It would seem to say that your “normal” life was devoid of meaning which I don’t think is true at all. I think our lives are likely full of meaningful moments if we only paid more attention.
Nature is a great place to start looking for meaning. As Eckhart Tolle said, “Nature can bring you to stillness. That is its gift to you.” Being still is talked about in lots of literature as being a healing practice in itself. Stillness is where we connect with our deeper selves, and where we can connect to others as well.
Nature can bring you to stillness. That is its gift to you. – Eckhart Tolle
One of my new priorities is spending time with nature, just sitting and paying attention to what’s around me. Watching a dragonfly rest on a stone, or noticing the way the hummingbird and bumblebee dance with one another in competition for the same flower. These simple acts that normally go unnoticed every day suddenly seem to have more significance for me.
I’ve also been evaluating my current lifestyle and finding that it comes up short from what I really want in my life. My life lately has consisted of commuting an hour and a half, working at a computer, commuting another hour and a half, and then eating dinner in front of the television before going to bed. I’ve been in a rut for a while now, and haven’t been motivated to climb out of it. A new priority in my life will be to figure out how to change this cycle. There has to be more to life than sitting in traffic and wondering what happened to my dreams.
Another new priority for me is being social. I was very surprised by the outpouring of concern when I revealed my diagnosis. So many people have been ready to help me, and have helped me more than I would have thought possible. Even a text message from someone saying, “Thinking of you today” has meant worlds to me. Being social doesn’t come easily to me. I’m a true introvert, one who gets satisfaction from within instead of from the outside world. I don’t normally need to be validated by the opinions of others, and I don’t feel lonely just by being alone. I’ve often preferred to be alone with my thoughts and my reading than to be included in a group.
But surprisingly, my new outlook seems to include others more than it ever has. I find myself drawn into conversations and social groups without feeling regret at putting the book I was reading down. I’m even contemplating seeking out a support group to attend, even if it means missing out on a few hours of reading.
Which brings me to another new priority: reading. I’ve always been a reader. Ever since I learned to read at the age of three, I’ve gone nowhere without at least one book in my tote bag (and sometimes several). But I realized when I was facing the possibility of a shortened life that there were so many unread books on my list. How could I possibly die without reading Joyce’s Ulysses or before I’ve read every single book that Charles Dickens ever wrote (and yes, this is really on my reading list)? So I’ve re-worked my reading list to ensure that I’m reading the books that are most important to me first; the newest issue of Glamour that just arrived in the mail can wait.
It’s one thing to realize what is important in your life and quite another to actually change your life to incorporate the important things. This will be my challenge now as I work toward a more meaningful life and attempt to put what’s important to me first on the day’s agenda. Changing my reading list will be the easiest to accomplish; I’ve already decided that my chemo infusion times will be reading time. I don’t think that joining social groups will prove too difficult. But how to change a long commute? How to get back to the dream of one day writing a novel? Those will be the true challenges that I’ll have to face. But I feel like I’m at least traveling in the right direction now with my new priorities leading the way.