Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Holding the Tension of the Extremes

I tend to live much of my life in a huge chasm between what I know to be true and my actual practice. In relatively unimportant matters, as well as in life-situations that could make a huge difference, I know more than I do. I live with a huge disconnect between what I know and what I actually do.

Over the past week I've seen this pretty clearly within myself. A week ago I went for another round of tests related to the cancer that lives in my blood. In the tests that came back that day I learned that over the last two months the counts signalling the lymphoma's presence in me have remained level. No change in two months. And that information has thrown me for a loop.

I'm going on six months of treatments now. For the first month and a half of treatments I showed no improvement, so I changed to a new course of chemotherapy. About two months of that more aggressive treatment regimen brought some progress as the numbers slowly indicated a growing health in my blood. Now, however, I've learned that over the last two months my body has held steady, with neither improvement nor regression.

Frankly, that news was disappointing to me. It was more than a little discouraging. It certainly was not what I had expected. This course of treatment was to last for six months, so I've pinned some hopes on having it completed around Thanksgiving. I expect progress. I expect that if I'm going to put in the time feeling miserable with the chemotherapies and drugs that are my daily diet, there would be some progress.

I know better than to set my expectations like that -- I've written in this space over the last few months about the hazard in those internally-manufactured expectations -- but I'm not always able to practice what I know. I know that I'm invited to live day-by-day, to experience daily sustenance and not to project my expectations for the future on some artificially imposed date ahead of me. Yet, over these days I've found myself swimming in discouragement over the test results and even despair as I've started more treatments this week.

Over the last 24 hours, I've specifically named in myself the tendency to swing toward one extreme or the other without holding the tension of the middle ground. Rarely are life-situations all bad or all good, no matter how devastating they may seem at the time. Always there are pulses of Spirit coursing through events that we may or may not notice. But I tend to gravitate to the extremes, labeling a doctor's report or a chance encounter or a challenging situation as either totally "good" or totally "bad." I think of it as all darkness or all light. I leave no room in the middle to hold the tension of these extremes.

It seems like the mark of a mature person is the capacity to hold these extremes without judging them, to stand in the middle of them with some balance and openness. I'm not near that place.

I know better than to do my life in gravitating to those extremes, yet I'm seldom able to carry out what I know. And in that sense, I often create my own misery. I create my own mental framework that locks me into a certain vantage point which narrowly defines the situation I'm dealing with. I choose for one extreme or the other -- in this case, discouragement and despair -- when there are a number of other options available as well.

Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-17th century Spanish saint, has been a tremendous teacher for me, guiding me to see with more clarity. In lining out a spirituality that helps persons move through all the ups and downs of life, he says things like:

**Have no fixed determination for one thing above all other possibilities . . .

**All life-situations carry the hope and possibility of shaping me into the person God created me to be . . .

**There is not a single option -- of all the possibilities for my life -- that will guarantee my happiness . . .

**A stance of openness in life leads to balance, and thus to true inner freedom . . .

**Christ is present in all things . . .

There is no happy ending tonight to this saga. I'm still in the middle of it. I'm still discouraged, trying not to swirl into depression. My body is pumped full of chemicals, the drugs that are supposed to be my healing. I'm tired from little sleep. I feel irritable. Right now I have little fight in me.

There are things I know to be true tonight, but I struggle to live them.


Robin said...

I am drawn into your expressions of living extremes as I am a person who perhaps always has lived in the middle. Am I afraid to consider the extremes or maybe not so much afraid as I never thought I needed to allow for that. To me the extremes are like spokes out from the center of a wheel or the core of me, my soul. I have always found great comfort and assurance living from the middle and wonder at the challenge of considering the extremes. I will stand or sit quietly in the middle with you.

Anonymous said...

Today is my day for wow-awarenesses. I have been in a rather nowhere spot and pretty miserable state lately. Your words are what I so needed to hear to illumine this place I find myself. Not making it all better or making it going away but understanding what is true and real about it.

It is so incredible how messages that are meant for my soul make their way to me. I stand in awe of our Creator and pray I remain awake for His messages.

Thank you.