Interview by Caroline Charron Stolzy
I recently met Grace in her home in the mountains after being impressed by the serenity that emanates from her in a video (see link at bottom). In person, I could tell she would have a lot to offer in terms of insights and that her rich life experience would translate inspiringly. Grace is a cancer survivor, a writer, a healer, a gorgeous woman with a love as pure as the whiteness of her hair. As always, my goal with these interviews is to share and gather each other’s wisdom and growth, joys and challenges, and possibly find some helpful thought or idea here and there. Of that, you will find plenty on this page.
Caroline Charron Stolzy- Grace, what would you say you have mostly learned in the past few years?
GB-Dealing with cancer twice has been a very transformative experience. It was very challenging, of course, in that it took me into the depths of my own resistance during the first bout, and into major fear during the second. I would say it taught me, paradoxically, to trust the unfolding of my life. Before then, I had an idea of what and how my life should be and where I wanted to go with it. These days, I don’t have much of an idea. I’m just happy to go along with what shows up, including what shows up inside, my own impulses and ideas. And sometimes I’m not so happy with what shows up, of course, but sooner or later I end up opening to what is there in the moment because there is a basic willingness to do so. It’s actually very simple, and for me, it’s been a question of giving up the many ways that I would resist. Underneath the resistance was a fear of losing control, which is really a fear of death.
When the cancer came back, even though it was relatively minimal, I went through weeks of intense fear and panic. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of dying. I knew I wasn’t ready, as my life didn’t feel complete. But here it was: I had to face the very real possibility that I could lose my life to cancer. I knew I would do everything I could to survive, and I did, but within the limits of what my very sensitive body could handle. This meant no chemo, no radiation, and no hormone therapy. Choosing to respect these limits caused a lot of additional fear, as the conventional medical route was closed for me except for surgery. Through all of this period before and after surgery, what I learned to trust was that there has to be a way for me to heal even if it’s not the conventional way. I opened to this trust through facing the fear and panic, over and over, and not letting them take over my inner space. This is probably the toughest battle I ever fought, and I wasn’t sure I would win it – the toughest battle being the battle with fear, as I didn’t really feel I was in a battle with cancer! But looking back, I realize that I am a lot freer from fear and the need to control my life, and when the impulse to control or resist arises, I can catch it quite quickly. It is really thanks to the cancer that I am able to be in this openness and trust of Life.
CCS-How do you experience the aging process? What does it teach you?
GB-I don’t exactly like the many wrinkles on my face and the fact that my body starts sagging and deteriorating in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways!!! But having said this, it’s actually quite ok. It’s part of life, of being in a body. And I am so much happier these days than I was when I was younger. I’ve always liked learning and growing, so growing older is part of that fascinating process of my life’s journey, which I very much embrace and appreciate. It’s like traveling: you accept some discomfort alongside the joy, the surprise, and the sheer excitement of moving into the unknown.
CCS-You’ve lived in the mountains for years now… What does nature teach you about yourself?
GB-I love nature. I find I learn a lot about life by being around plants and animals. It’s also incredibly relaxing and soothing in its beauty and being just as it is. Nature teaches me to stay connected to the miracle that is life. It teaches me to stay humble and not take myself so seriously. It’s only human beings that take themselves seriously, the rest of nature, including all the animals, are just what they are, there is no emotional investment in being that. This is why it’s so relaxing to be in nature, apart from its obvious beauty. Nature also helps me to open up to celebrate life in the many forms it takes.
CCS-How do we remain at peace inside when things seemingly out of our control get chaotic or challenging?
GB-This is a huge question! And it’s also quite simple. When things are ‘seemingly’ out of control, what this reveals is the fact that most things are actually out of our control most of the time. We just have the illusion that we could be in control of them! The only thing we are truly in control of is our own response to what happens, the rest is what is often called a co-creation. We have impulses to do or create things, and when we act accordingly, life either cooperates with us, or it doesn’t. So we don’t have control over the outcome of this unfolding, ever. When we are willing to embrace what unfolds (and this may include our own emotional reaction to what shows up), we are at peace. Always. When we resist, peace is lost – until we surrender and embrace what we resisted, including our own resistance!
It’s that simple, and yet it’s the toughest lesson of life, since all of us are set up by our very human nature and conditioning to resist in so many ways. And when I talk about resistance, I include all the emotional reactions in this that are usually called ‘negative’, like fear and worry, anger and frustration, depression, grief, feeling lack, etc. All these are ultimately ways of resisting what is. They are also part of our human reality, so there is no point trying not to have them, which would be another form of resistance. But we can learn to take them less seriously and embrace what is anyway. Like: «I don’t like my wrinkles, and I may never like them, but so what? »
GB-To the extent that there is serenity, it reflects the ways that I have let go of resistance and control. The impulse to resist and control still comes up, though, I just catch it more easily these days. Another contributing factor probably is the fact that I am really willing to trust life, and I don’t have the illusion of knowing better how and what it should be. There is serenity and peace in being willing and even happy to be taken for a ride! Pun fully intended …
CCS-Any insights about how people can balance the desire for inner growth and the demands of the workaday world, which often seems to work against it?
GB-I’m not sure I’m the best person to comment on this, as I have never been fully part of the ‘workaday world’ for any length of time. Even when I had a full-time post in academia, a major part of my time was free as it was meant to be dedicated to research and writing, which are self-directed activities.
What I would say is that it is always possible to create space for inner life and growth, even if it’s only a few minutes of meditation or automatic writing or journaling or whatever practice attracts you, per day. When I was still a stressed-out academic, I started meditating 5 minutes in the morning, as I didn’t think I had more time. Well, the 5 minutes turned into 10, and then 15, 20 and 30. As I felt the benefits of taking time for myself, I started making more space for doing so. We have a lot more choice than we think we do, and even if our schedule is very restricted we can choose to make space. The more we make that choice, the more the inner space that we enter into will influence and color the rest of what we do with its calm and serenity.
There was a time before I left academia when I was very clear that I wasn’t any longer buying into the ‘stressed’ mode that was very much part of the academic culture at the time, and that I suspect is part of most institutional cultures. Instead of going for lunch with my colleagues, I’d go to the local meditation center for lunchtime meditation. Every so often throughout the day, I’d take a few minutes to focus in, breathe, or meditate. In terms of the administrative work load, I was at my most productive and efficient even though I had very heavy responsibilities, because I just focused on what needed to be done instead of worrying and stressing about it, which takes a lot of time and energy.
So even in the ‘workaday world’ there are little ways we can develop in order to stay aware and connected with ourselves. To the extent that we do, this focus will bring more ease and peace into the rest of what we do there, and of course into the rest of our lives. Much of the conflict that is perceived to be there between work and life is really a matter of perception and choice. The more we are at peace, the more we will be at peace wherever we are. And then we will also be clearer about when it’s time to make the choice to leave…
Grace Bubeck writes a monthly column for Main Street. You can also follow her writings on her two websites: heartoflovehealing.net and heartoftransformation.org
Here is the video through which I discovered her: http://vimeo.com/21962505