What Does It Mean To Be Okay? (On Illness And Mortality)

My very bestest bestie recently found a lump in one of her breasts.

The doctor tried to aspirate it, thinking was a cyst, and found that instead it is a hard mass.

Further tests and possible surgery are on the agenda.

Other friends, when I told them about the situation, said, I hope your friend is okay!

Which was a lovely and very natural thing to say.

Who doesn’t want a friend to be ‘okay’, right?

But as I considered the comment, I had to ask myself what ‘okay’ really meant.

And I realized that the incredibly profound relationship I’ve been having with the universe has completely f*cked the belief system within which I used to operate.

In a good way, but also a strange and sometimes scary way.

I’ve been stepping more and more deeply into the experience of self-realization for a few years now, after having an epiphany one day while driving to the office.

Thing is, this self-realization has expanded over the years to the point that I’m not only feeling peaceful when I’ve had a chance to set aside some time for meditation, or yoga, or even just a nice hot bath with candles.

I’m not only feeling peaceful when the house is clean and my body is in great shape and I have everything crossed off my to-do list (and for the record, that last thing has never happened IN MY LIFE).

I’m not only peaceful when everything is going my way and I feel safe and abundant.

I’m feeling peaceful when I encounter rudeness, incompetence, unexpected expenses, and traffic delays on my way somewhere important.

I’m feeling peaceful when the house looks like it needs FEMA support.

And I’m feeling peaceful when I confront my own, and my loved ones’, mortality.

I think this is close to what they call ‘enlightenment’. A pure and unconditional acceptance of ‘what is’ and an understanding that I cannot possibly know what will occur in the future and that, therefore, my only responsibility is to live out of the present moment with love.

There’s a LOT to ‘living out of the present moment with love’ but that’s not what I want to talk about here.

(SIDE NOTE: The whole topic of present moment living- no, not living, thriving- will be covered in juicy detail in my upcoming digital adventure The Firebrand Academy, which opens for registration on Saturday, February 11.)

But back to the topic at hand: enlightenment.

Where was I? Oh yes:

Enlightenment can seem scary as fuck.

(Which is why it’s a good thing enlightenment sticks around, so you can keep practicing it with such thoughts as ‘enlightenment seems scary’.)

Thing is, society is set up like this: you feel pain, and in order for me to be a good friend and a good citizen, I have to feel your pain as well.

I have to tell you that this shouldn’t be happening to you, and that the perpetrator (whether an ex-boyfriend, an employer, another friend, or a cancerous tumor) is a shithead.

I have to sit with you and 'hope' that things get better.

And yet.

And yet, as much as I’d like to hold onto hope, it’s a punctured raft in the middle of the Atlantic.

You can cling to it desperately, until a ship happens to come along and rescue you- all the while crying angrily at the God who would let this happen…

Or you can come face to face with the reality that you may not be saved by a ship at all.

And if the ship doesn’t come, what can you do? Here’s one idea. You could look around and notice that the God you thought was so ‘cruel’ has you enfolded in a rich swirl of mysterious life. Sharks? Powerfully beautiful. Eels? Fascinating. And what kind of fish is THAT? And, how come I never watched more Jacques Cousteau?

Even if you slipped into the depths of the ocean and never took another breath on this physical plane. . . what is scary about returning to the place of your origin? 

I don’t have a death wish. Really.

I love my life. Revel in it. Marvel at its mystery and delight in its challenging confusion. Thank the universegodwhatevercreatedme for it every day I’m on the planet.

But when I am in a circumstance where the death of my physical body is the only option. . . I’m gonna need a better strategy than flimsy, flirty hope.

(Notice I said ‘when’ not ‘if’. It’s less a sobering fact than just a straight up FACT that we’re all going to die eventually.)

One strategy I heart-with-a-capital-H comes from an amazing process called ‘The Work’, created (or, rather, ‘discovered’) by a beautiful woman named Byron Katie, who spent 43 years of her life in pain and confusion and woke up one day to find that the entire world of suffering was merely an illusion.

Her process is mind-blowing and works on everything.

Having said that, sometimes it works so well that a person can get disoriented. 

Since we’re programmed to believe that we need to feel each others’ pain, and that we’re insensitive and non-supportive if we don’t suffer with each other, it can feel strange to open ourselves to the idea that, in fact, this suffering isn’t helping any of us.

However. . . if suffering doesn’t actually have the power to CHANGE anything (and it doesn’t), then why go there?

In the case of my friend M, this doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything I can to HELP her in whatever way she needs help. Yes, I’ll do everything in my power to support her.

It just means that I won’t go over into her business and live her life for her.

I won’t suffer when she experiences pain.

And I won’t expect her to suffer when I experience pain.

Perhaps if we each learn to pour our energy into our OWN lives on a heartbeat-to-heartbeat basis, with the same enthusiasm with which we’ve historically poured our energy into focusing on what other people are doing, feeling, saying, thinking, or experiencing. . .

Well, perhaps if we do that, we’ll discover that we really are ‘okay’.