A real dark night sky is a tonic for the soul. That’s why in the weeks following a diagnosis that I was growing cancerous tumours, feeling overwhelmed with it all, like an Indiana Jones-sized rolling rock of grief and fear was heading my way, I stepped outside onto the front porch. Luckily, the sky was clear and when I looked up I heard the Milky Way calling out to me for falling into. I was bewitched by the white splashes along it’s twining body. I felt into the space within these mind-blowing cosmic stains, appearing so because they indicate numbers of stars so dense I cannot fathom the universe except in the most basic of ways. I wanted nothing more than to dive on in and swim far enough through the sparkling infinity, so that I would be sure to reach the farthest place, the point of pregnant expansion from which I would retract like a catapult in reverse straight back to the core – the spot where I stood. I would fly back to the womb of my own rebirth. For a blessed moment, I confronted my own mortality and was not afraid to do so. I stood in a black hole filled with peace. Loved, loving. Happy. I felt for a fraction of a moment the freedom of understanding my own insignificance. And then it was gone.
Living is hard. Really hard. I do want to mention here that I am not claiming hardships that compare with the lives of those born into poverty. Those who are more likely to experience physical suffering, discrimination, disenfranchisement, injustice and displacement. That’s hard living. Then there’s the rest of us, more or less enjoying lands of milk and honey those in poverty dream about. The poverty stricken must think us delirious with happiness. Yet we find a Milky Way of reasons not to be. Our ‘hard’ living is generally a result of a lack of appreciation for the things and opportunities we do have and an unfortunate craving for what we don’t. We can’t handle the excess all around as it wreaks havoc within us anymore than those in poverty can manifest what they need from without to sustain them within. What is within us is mirrored by what is outside. A perfect imbalance. It’s all hard, but different.
Sitting in our ‘first world’ lives we believe our lives to be BIG. The dramas and dreams which emanate from our egos are so large and loud. There is logic in that. The will to live is pretty much hardwired – all things are driven by the blueprint for survival, growth and reproduction. But with the expectation – or at the very least, hope – of great things from our experience of life comes wave upon wave of dissatisfaction and disappointment as we judge at every moment every detail of our progression in the cause of survival, growth and reproduction. Those whose suffering is starvation, sickness and early death – every day, without reprieve, do they have the luxury of thoughts other than those concerned with survival? When I learned of my sickness, my tumultuous thought processes screamed to a halt. The myriad of inner voices grew quiet – desire, envy and dissatisfaction stopped lending their unhelpful demands and judgements and I heard my still, small voice. It spoke to me of the basics. What did I need to survive? It helped me make decisions about my treatment, it helped me speak to my children, mother, brothers, friends. It helped me look at what dying might be like. I discovered that I love myself and I love living – especially when death threatens – but also that it’s ok when my time is up. That moment on my front porch has led me through dark times.
And so I share that moment with you because it was possibly one of the best moments of my life – like falling in love and seeing my babies for the first time. Because it reminded me that what I think doesn’t really matter but is everything and all I have. It also reminds me that even in my darkest times, my life is privileged. To have such a positive vision of my difficult experience is something I feel very fortunate to have. I have stopped and thought for about 30 seconds for beautiful experiences of this world that I treasure. I realise I could fill a universe with them.
Swimming among innumerable stars to the ends of the universe and back showed me the blessing of being small. Infinitesimally small. Insignificant and hidden. It was a moment of true freedom.