Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Are Here, I Am Here, Here I Am

My white and red blood cell counts, as well as platelets and other measurable aspects of my immune system, are, as they say, bottoming out. All of these counts are dipping as the doctor's intend, and characterize a first of many layers of success with the transplant process. While my immune system is non-existent, I'm staying in the hospital to prevent infection, and receive platelets and blood transfusions, trying with each passing day to maintain my sense of self and individuality in the face of institutionalization.

In general, I aspire to be in a more regular state of mindfulness. But the sad truth is, mindful moments are extremely rare for me: I spend most of my time preoccupied with minutia, logistics, and things that are fleeting. Mindfulness is not a strength that I possess.

I'd been giving the concept of mindfulness a lot of thought during my recent course of radiation, and decided to challenge myself. Given that I found that daily practice pretty loathsome, I decided to see if I could ritualize the 40-minute daily treatment process by being present and mindful through a mantra of sorts. The theory is that if I can be mindful when I most want to escape reality, in a challenge that I find physical and emotionally painful, I can apply the concept to other parts of my day and experience more easily. And that by ritualizing the experience, it provided some context and inner strength to stay physically still for so long and transcend the pain accompanied with doing so.

The mantra began to take shape about a week before I began radiation. Three friends and I went to hear the Wailin' Jennys perform live at a local venue in Virginia. My friend Emily, social media maven that she is, had been tweeting back-and-forth with their account on Twitter since we'd purchased the tickets months ago, and had requested a song. She'd also tagged the band, as well as all of us attending the show, on Facebook the day of the concert. They tweeted at her at some point that same day to let her know that because one of group members was a bit hoarse, the group wouldn't be able to sing this particularly high-note inclusive, specially requested tune. So we were quite surprised when, a couple songs into the second set of the night, the group dedicated a different song to us. Group member Ruth Moody explained that she had written the song in the hopes of being more mindful and worrying less, and they began to sing a song called You Are Here off their new album. A truly beautiful tune that stuck in my head, the chorus is:

And there's no making cases
For getting out or trading places
And there's no turning back
No, you are here
No, you are here

Then I got to thinking about a couple of months ago when my friend Amy, a yoga instructor, taught me a Kundalini Yoga chant that aims to even breathing, decrease stress and help clear negative energy. She taught be to breathe in - Sa Ta and breathe out - Na Ma, and explained that translated from Sanskrit, the chant, satanama, means, "I am here."

These two concepts aligned well in my quest for a mindfulness mantra, but a piece was missing. There were three parts to radiation: three separate fields being irradiated. The third part came to me immediately.

In Hebrew, there's more than one than on way to say "here I am" or "here you are," but there are very select, special times in the Hebrew Bible when a term is used to define presence of a human being in their interfacing with God. So Hineini: Here I am, became the third phrase to focus upon during my attempt at a mantra.

By the final days of radiation, the mantra began as I lay down automatically, and in the days since then, I have continued to use each individual part, and the collective together, as I strive for mindfulness even in the hospital where it's easier to settle for the convenience of shutting down, and detaching from your awareness of yourself as institutional practices inevitably diminish your sense of individuality and self.

So I'm trying each day to remind myself: you are here, I am here, here I am. And I'm getting through it, slowly and one day at a time.


diane grigg said...

Elissa -

Your words are both powerful and inspirational.

With great admiration for
your relentless courage and extraordinary grace . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi Lizzy: I am your cousin Ruth. I haven't seen you since you were a little girl and I just wanted to say I know that you are going through a very rough time . And it is very true that You are here on this earth. Every moment on this earth is a blessing. Every breath we take is so precious . I know they are words but they are sooo true. When you are scared focus on your breath. It has a calming affect. I used to take Yoga and have a lot of knowledge on spiritual practices. Talk to God. He listens I will pray for you as well. Your mom says you have a good outlook and I am glad' My heart goes out to you. Keep up the good work much love to you Ruth

Joy said...

Remember that just like you are here, we are here too... Here for you, whatever/whenever you need. Glad you're taking things one day at a time and hanging in there. Hope everything is going as smoothly as possible!

Love, Joy