I knew my friend was facing cancer.
Her optimism and fierce strength gave me comfort that she would overcome and teach us all about her healing. She did not live, but in many ways she did overcome, and she certainly taught us all about her healing.
An email was sent to a few of us: my friend needed support and was asking that we please cook for her and her family (I was grateful that she could ask for help, that she could tell us what she needed). Nourishing food was requested and dietary guidelines were provided. I suddenly realized how good it felt to be able to DO something. I grabbed my most nourishing recipe and headed to the kitchen to begin the alchemical process. I made it with as much love and care that I could, and I chanted while chopping, while mixing, while making.
Later, I dropped the food by and was graced with a visit with my friend. At first sight, I was taken by the power the dis-ease had over her body—the ravaging was intense. After sitting with her for a few minutes, however, her beauty and grace and ability to be present transformed her into the most radiant woman I had ever seen. Her spirit shone through; her spirit was not hindered by her physical limitations. That day, she shared so much with me. There was no wasted chit-chat, no bullshit. It was the real deal. She spoke with deep honesty, and the connection flowed between us in a true-love frequency. We left behind any fetters of formality, of expectation.
She shared with me the story of a healer she was seeing at the time, and how profound and valuable it was for her. At a previous session with this healer, the woman told her that her parasympathetic nervous system needed care, and that she had been mostly living in her sympathetic nervous system.
When she asked the woman what the parasympathetic nervous system was, the healer placed my friend’s feet into a basin of warm water. And at that moment, my friend sighed in relief, in relaxation, in momentary bliss. That sigh is the parasympathetic nervous system, said the healer. It is that sigh that needs to be nurtured in you. It is the sigh that will, when nurtured, nurture you in return.
the breath inward
In the simplest terms, the sympathetic nervous system is what we use in action, in fight-or-flight. It is the constriction of our organs, the breath inward, the gathering of blood, cells and breath to fight the daily fight of living and doing. The parasympathetic nervous system is the release: the exhalation, the relaxing of organs, the allowing of the tension to flow out and to dissipate. It is the sigh of relief. This story affected me greatly: how many of us are caught up in our daily demands, ruled by the sympathetic nervous system? How many of us go for twelve hours straight before we sit down and think “my feet! I haven’t sat down all day?” How many of us lay down in bed at the end of the night and feel our entire bodies pulse as they struggle to realign with the messages of relaxation, of sleep?
I look around and I know that so many of us struggle for the balance here, that so many of us need to nourish this part in a world that feeds the ravenous culture of busy. How can we nourish the sigh of relief, how can we cultivate it? How can we create a daily practice that feeds this moment, the ahhhhhh that comes when our body is allowed to relax, to be still, to let go of all that we hold in every cell, every muscle, every movement?
That day in the room with my friend, she gifted me so much. Her spirit shone, her love was pure. Illness and dis-ease can clear away anything that gets in the way of purity, and this is what I experienced with her: love and truth. In her journey, she held on to what was important to her, she steered her ship into waters that called to her. She chose a path that would nurture her, even when the journey meant the end (here, in this body).
When I look up the etymology of “healing,” I find that it relates to the word “whole.” My friend did not “heal” in the sense of repairing her body. But I truly believe that she restored her wholeness. I also know without a doubt that she left me with the gift of how I can be whole, how I can nurture myself and listen to the quiet whispers of what I really need. Her gifts are countless, and as I gather them into the basket of my heart, I feel grateful—I feel whole.