I promised more about my June experience at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program experience, and I have been sharing with friends one-by-one. It is a true challenge to pack up the experience and describe it in a meaningful way. So much happens in just seven days…
The Cancer Help Program is an experience I believe everyone should have at the liminal moments in their lives, but to participate in this experience cancer is the ticket in. If you have ever been diagnosed, I urge to learn more. Better yet, sign up and discover. It’s a little crunchy granola, but even my friend Bob learned to enjoy avocado! It will change your life forever…
Here’s what I’ve had to say about Commonweal:
Since my days as an overnight camper and counselor I’ve known the transformative power of immersion experiences, and CHP is most certainly that. On many levels I continue to process my experience every day, and it continues to change me. Here is a small taste of the gifts that I found at Commonweal:
Time spent with children is often done schlepping them from place to place. Time at home is about completing the incomplete-able “Honey, Do…” list. Time at work is, I believe, more task driven than ever – at least at my work. Time in between, on a Los Angeles freeway – simply awful. But time is measured differently at Commonweal. There is time to drink in the magnificent vistas and a cup of tea, to truly know a new friend as well as yourself, to dream, to mourn, to wander, to wonder. Time is our only non-renewable resource; I truly covet the gift of how to use it wisely and the ways Commonweal embraces that spirit.
The Gift of Space
Day to day living manages to find ways to distract us from many of the most important things in life. Carving out the space and keeping the distractions at bay, shifting focus inward and upward, does not come naturally to me. It happens that my career is grounded in sacred space – I work in a synagogue. But I often fail to find the sacred there. From the cozy chapel to the woods and sea, to the comfort of Pacific House, I was granted the gift of living in sacred space.
The Gift of Honesty
Everyone has an opinion about cancer, why you got it and how to treat it. At Commonweal we are given the opportunity to explore so many dimensions of healing – from integrative therapies to sand box to diet to music to self-reflection. Most importantly, there is an acknowledgement that “cure” and healing are two completely different things. And all of these possibilities are confronted from the perspective of potential and possibility. Judgment gets checked at the gate, and open, honest exploration is the focus of experience.
I think our entire group was stunned by how much time it takes to just live, to just do our “work,” even in a setting where every delicious meal is bountifully prepared for us, where virtually every need is anticipated, where yoga and massage and long walks are daily fare, where staff outnumber guests at nearly 2:1, where the flow of the day includes pondering, asking, challenging, learning and growing. Sadly, it is not realistic for me to live that way day in and day out. But the gift of balance is recognizing that we must carve out some space to do our soul’s work, and CHP offers the tools to accomplish the task.
The Gift of Me
It took me a few days to find peace with putting myself first; I am the typical caretaker – wife, mother, daughter, friend, coach… I’ve always believed and taught the adage that we can’t truly care for others unless we care first for ourselves, but I’ve never been confident that I really could put my oxygen mask on before assisting others. For some people helping others fills them. But like many, when the giving stops we realize that there is an emptiness that comes for a lack of deep self-care.
It’s hard not to look yourself in the face at Commonweal; there is neither place nor need to hide. From our first morning together when we acknowledge the sadness and loss that comes from cancer to the space to explore our inner work, within the context of this beautiful community we learn who each of us is, who each of us is striving to become, and where to find the next few steps on the path. It is incumbent on us, of course, to continue the work with openness and honesty, to embrace whatever cards the universe next deals, and to strive to become ever more ourselves.
Please, if you’ve had any kind of cancer diagnosis, learn more here: Commonweal CHP. YOU deserve it! And whoever you speak with, say hi for me!