“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers within the sea.”
With so much catastrophe in the U.S. lately — from Category 4-5 hurricanes and rampant wildfires down to the deadliest U.S. mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas — it’s far from easy keeping our human hearts (and hopes) full. How can we feel “alive” and thrive in a world so full of darkness?
We can weather life’s worst storms by, ironically, diving into “the eye of the storm.” For what’s inside us (our heart and soul) is far stronger and stiller than any external scenario.
According to Simon Osborne of the UK Sunday Express newspaper, the “eye of the hurricane” (on a weather level) is a central 20-40 mile diameter circle of relatively calm conditions in the center of a storm. Minimal rain or wind even touches this area. In photographs, the eye of the hurricane looks like an eye (clearly!), an empty hole in the middle where bands of the storm surround.
On a metaphorical level, maybe the eye of the storm is our third eye chakra, or as Deepak Chopra describes as our intuition…our inner knowingness. It’s the belief that we are strong and whole even when life’s roughest storms hit — which they have, or will. It’s inevitable.
But we have the power to consciously alter the “internal terrain of the mind,” as beautifully stated by 20-something Luke Sumpter on Reset.me.com. I love his description on how meditation or mindfulness can keep ourselves calm in the midst of tragedy:
“In doing so, a certain stillness arises in the form of expanded awareness and non-judgement. The eye of the storm is a place of peace, stillness, and equilibrium. Yet it is surrounded by turbulent winds, white hot lightning bolts, and clapping thunder. The chaos is always there, but when we utilize the meditative state, it trickles subtly into our day to day lives — we can alter our inner perception and find a place of serenity within the severity.” (full article here)
How do I find this place? By continuously doing things that light me up (like reading, writing, running, yoga and everything in between) and not allowing my mind to delve too far into the past. . .or unknown future.
Long story short, I’ve been living with an inoperable brain tumor (that rests between the hydrocephalus and optic chiasm [where the eye stems cross back in your brain] since the age of 10. I’ll be 27 this December, so that means 17 years of an up-and-down journey of hope and fear wrapped into one. I can’t believe it’s been that long!
But really, for the last 10 years (with a few quick-recovery surgeries in between) I’ve been one lucky young lady in the realm of things. Sure, I have a serious medical diagnosis, but my life was (and has looked) on the outside like any every other young and healthy female. I had been actively involved in (and thrived in) school/extracurriculars and have looked normal, despite being thin (due to diencephalon syndrome, offset by the tumor’s location). I’ve been skating by on practically annual MRI scans with the usual “scans look great, Hannah — no change in the tumor. Call if anything comes up. Otherwise, see you next year!”
This first week of October 2017, however, I got served an unexpected DOUBLE-WHAMMY. . .
- I needed a shunt revision asap. However, this is to be expected and is a “normal” for me with having hydrocephalus (meaning excess cerebral spinal fluids in the brain, mine due to the tumor). A VP shunt (which regulates this fluid issue by draining excess from my brain into my stomach through a cord) on average lasts 7 years at best. My brain ventricles on my annual scan were, lo and behold, extremely swollen — an immediate sign of shunt malfunction. I’m grateful for having had this yearly exam because honestly, I felt pretty “normal” and never would have guessed I needed one. Note that every shunt malfunction I’ve ever experienced has had different symptoms (and some eerily subtle).
- The news that jarred me the most: there were two new white “spots” within my original tumor. . .aka, new tumors/lesions.
News #1 meant getting a shunt revision surgery in a few days. A bummer, of course, but something that I am familiar with and tackle with grace. Recovery for these is quick, too (only a few days or week of pain and deep nausea). Update: this went successfully, and I already feel almost back to my normal self again.
But News #2, well…this is NEW (and scary) news for me. What do these additional two tumors mean for me? I (or the doctors) won’t know for a while — it’s a timebomb, in a sense. My next scan is scheduled in a few months in early December and will be on a more frequent basis now to keep an eye on this.
Yet my mind can’t help but wonder: will time be on my side, as it as has been so far with my primary brain tumor? Perhaps I’ll have another long run of “no changes” from all three tumors on my future scans (fingers crossed for that). Or this could be a turn for the worst. Will these tumors grow fast (and cause vision, or other, life-changing destruction, sooner rather than later?) Will more and more tumors just start popping up? Is death on the (near) horizon? I’m realistic — but also know, that, just when I was diagnosed at age 10, look how (unbelievably) far I’ve come. I’m grateful for what I have and feel, right here, right now — and I choose not to dwell too much on what the unforeseen fortune may bring.
You know, after getting through my toughest recovery days at my parents’ house, and I finally got to go back to my own flat, I felt this deep sense of gratitude bubble up. I surprisingly feel at peace with this new phase (despite that it sucks). It may sound cheesy, but as I drove back to my place, the sky looked bluer, the sun shined extra radiantly, and the fall leaves were an artful masterpiece of reds and harvest golds.
All we each ever have (no matter how great or unsettling your life feels like right now) is this day — or rather, this moment. We all must surrender ourselves to this notion. No one knows when accidents, deaths, or frightening news may crash in on our lives. That’s why we have to savor every simple or sublime experience we possibly can. We all could use a bit more mindfulness in our busy lives. . . and learn to not take the simple pleasures for granted.
Again, Luke Sumpter’s words really hit home for me when describing this soft-and-strong approach to our struggles:
“Inhabiting the eye of the storm allows one to start to observe the storm from a place of balance. This allows us to analyze our own behavior, and to realize that a pinnacle principle of our own mental/emotional well-being is how we react to a situation, not the situation itself. It enables us to straighten the canvas of our life and brandish the paintbrush of creative potential, empowering ourselves to carve out our own path and resist treading upon those carved for us by the hands of others.“
So go — find some activity (or several) that lights you up inside and reminds you that life is full of joy, peace, EMPOWERMENT. For me, running has been “my rock.” The “life is a marathon” metaphor may sound cliché, but it’s true. I discovered this talent and love for running ironically around the time I was diagnosed in 4th grade. Despite this news, I ran a 6:45 time (and was 3rd fastest in the school, even the 8th graders!) for our mandatory mile run for gym class. And I knew that this was much more than a speed competition; this strong, invincible feeling I felt every time my legs bound forward in stride (even when by myself, with no time ticking) was a body-mind-spirit connection I’d never tire of.
This attitude continued into high school, even when my “no significant tumor change” scans soon become a gradual “wow, I guess this is slowly growing and we need to stop it” status. The answer to stall the growth: chemotherapy. I went with a daring but smart choice with Temozolomide, an experimental chemotherapy drug for brain tumors at the time — and my tumor has been stable for 10 years since then.
Treatment began right away my freshman year of high school (great way to start at an exciting but intimidating 2,000+ population new school, huh?) Regardless, I was thrilled to be a part of the Cross Country team. And despite the chemotherapy keeping my blood counts low and feeling fatigued more often than not, I ran Varsity level at and still earned personal records (along with some moments of that sublime “runner’s high”). I didn’t even tell my coaches until weeks into my treatment when despite my mind and stamina being strong, my body continuously got weaker. However, I ran at this level until I finally felt too sick and my vision got too blurry at this pace (which occurred the harder I pushed/ran; doctors said that while running/exerting myself wasn’t going to affect my tumor size in any way, they told me that exerting myself results in my blood vessels expanding and touching my optic chiasm, causing this blurriness). Even then, I wanted, and chose to, still run for the team and most importantly, myself. I adjusted to this new level of pain by slowing down my pace and running now more just to “run.” And hell, I did surprisingly well despite running at my “non-competitive” level (fist pump — excuse the bragging rights 😉 )
While I don’t often do road races anymore, I still feel so aligned every time I hit the pavement or trail path. Every step I take, to me, is an escape from the surface world and a leap into the real and metaphysical one. It’s a place to let my thoughts, feelings, dreams, worries, and love run freely with me, whether I feel physical strain or feel like I’m soaring, free from my body and all mind. This may sound weird, but any runner reading this can attest to that feeling.
I hope it serves as a reminder to keep striding through whatever weather (sunshine or storms) surrounds you. Your inner spirit (and “eye in the storm”) is stronger than you know. ? ✨?
So, how have you or someone you love stayed centered in the midst of a difficult life-changing ordeal? What was your breaking point, or what has kept you CENTERED in your inner world? Feel free to share some wisdom in the Comments. And may peace be with you. ☮⛅