This is the second anniversary of my mastectomy. I wrote about the day of that surgery on my anniversary last year in the post aptly titled My Anniversary. My life’s journey has had no shortage of excitement for better or for worse. I wrote about this in Funding for Myself, Mixed Messages, and Neighbors. I also have spoken about this in my Unfiltered Snapshot podcast episodes Tsundoku, Dancing on My Own, and Bubble Girl. On this second anniversary of my mastectomy, I am acknowledging my desire to move forward with a life that is more than transactional.
Now I do not think I am the type of person who has ever been content with a transactional approach in any area of my life. When I think about the friends, partners, jobs, and communities that I have chosen, I have generally been mindful of purpose, passion, and pride in my pursuits.
When people have asked me how I have been able to survive and thrive despite breast cancer and the other curveballs that life has thrown my way, I credit some of that skill in surviving and thriving to my spirituality. I would not be as resilient as I am without a spiritual foundation to endure the clusters brought to me by cancer, the pandemic, and other obstacles that have fallen on my path.
Note that I am crediting spirituality, not religion.
Yes, I identify as a Christian. That faith was part of my upbringing in the form of church and Christian school. However, I do not think every person who identifies as a Christian is spiritual by nature; similarly, not every spiritual person is Christian or of any other recognized faith. I view those identities as being best conceptualized on a Venn Diagram, and I would put myself in the overlapping portion of the two circles in that diagram.
I say this because my breast cancer journey has shown me the need to mature in my faith and spirituality. Some of the same old messages sent to me by others of my religion do not always resonate. A well-intentioned aunt sent me the Bible verse Psalm 37:4:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
At the time I read this message, I was enduring much pain and not finding delight in anything without much effort. Furthermore, being someone who definitely was not getting the desires of my heart from a health perspective made that Bible verse land oddly in my soul. I would never want to make a well-meaning person feel guilty for sending that to me so I just did not respond. Sometimes it is easier that way.
The verse reminded me of how I have been in some Christian circles where God is treated like a genie. I was not the only one to notice this phenomenon.
According to my music teacher from Christian school, Christians should not look at God as a genie. In fact, I would argue no person should look at any deity as a genie. I remember this because my music teacher played a clip of Aladdin to drive that point home. (You have to give him credit for tapping into a part of pop culture that we understood. Not every Christian school teacher or preacher knew how to do that.)
Anyway, that is the issue. For most of my life, I have done my due diligence to pursue the lessons from Christian school, the ones that are universal and meaningful to people who may or may not believe in that faith. You know … like loving your neighbor whether it be in the literal or figurative sense of the term “neighbor” … like using my spiritual gifts … The issue is that whenever I made an honest attempt to follow these commandments, there was always someone trying to tell me that there are exceptions to these things. Like why should I try to use my spiritual gifts in a field like education when it is not lucrative compared to others? Why should I be there for my neighbor (or my coworker, stranger on the street, and so forth) when they cannot offer me anything in return?
You know what was funny about these arguments? They came from other Christians.
Now here I am having other spiritual epiphanies on my cancer journey and trying to do right by God, and of course there are people with something to say about that.
Here is the thing about focusing on one’s spiritual wellness. Sometimes enhancing your quality of life in one realm of wellness may mean some compromises or sacrifices in other dimensions of wellness. It is a balancing act.
What are the Eight Dimensions of Wellness? The publication Creating a Healthier Life: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness by the the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created an intricate visual of overlapping Venn Diagrams that form a circle. SAMHSA outlined the following dimensions:
According to SAMHSA’s guide, “These dimensions are interconnected, one dimension building on another.” As I have moved through different phases of medical treatment, I have been acutely aware of the interconnectedness of these dimensions.
We live in a world where pursuing wellness in one dimension may lead to tradeoffs in another dimension. As SAMHSA highlights in its guide, “Because we each have individual needs, preferences, and capabilities, what we consider ‘balance’ will also look different. And it’s important for us to re-balance from time to time, to adjust to what is going on in our lives.”
Currently, I am in a stage of re-balancing my individualized Eight Dimensions of Wellness. One area that I am nurturing more is my spiritual dimension.
In this pandemic, I have witnessed what happens to people’s lives when they shortchange their spirituality in the name of financial gain, occupational advancement, and social clout. Furthermore, I would argue that the physical, emotional, and environmental wellness of people—particularly immunocompromised people—has been sacrificed because others have refused to cancel or postpone their financial, occupational, and social pursuits. Lastly, the overall wellness of this planet has been compromised because people worldwide have neglected their own intellectual wellness and have not heeded best practices in upholding public health.
In this pandemic, I could have lost multiple friends to COVID-19. I actually lost relatives to COVID-19. I know others who have experienced a number of losses whether it was the loss of a person, the loss of safety, and the loss of dreams. They are grieving over events that did not have to happen if more people in this world were in tune with their spirituality, shared humanity with others, and sacred connection to the Universe whether or not they actually believe in a Divine Creator or other deity.
Whether or not I continue to identify as Christian, I am committed to being in tune with my heart, soul, mind, and body—and building their relationship with the Greater Powers that be.
How will you dedicate yourself to the greater good of society and the Universe in light of the pandemic that you continue to endure?