Recently, I picked up Peace is a Practice; An Invitation to Breathe Deeply and Find a New Rhythm for Life after following the author, Morgan Harper Nichols on Instagram for a bit. She’s an amazing poet, artist, writer and activist who also happens to be on the autism spectrum. From following her and reading her book, she is also a person who feels deeply and is able to communicate on a soul level. I wanted to share several quotes from the book and tie those comments to the lived experience with a terminal illness, Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC). As someone who has suffered herself, Nichols communicated some concepts that I think are extremely relevant to anyone who has struggled.
When we courageously share from the depth of our experiences, we end up pushing through the layers that keep us divided and, instead, connect on levels that only our souls know.
I’ve often struggled to explain the depth of connection that happens instantly and so often among those of us in the MBC Community, across all kinds of lines that would normally divide us as human beings. This soul connection, I think, explains some of the generosity I see day after day. When someone has suffered and knows intimately the suffering of another human being, I wonder if it is the lack of connection that is more often lacking. Whatever words are used, this quote resonated with me so much.
It’s through poetry written for others that I am reminded that peace is not something we pursue off in the distance, all on our own, but something we practice together, through our words and actions.
It took me about half of the book to grasp the author’s concept of peace as a practice, not as a destination, or I suppose as a bit of both. As someone who never struggle with anxiety before cancer, having to deal with anxiety and fear and depression and all the mental health stuff that comes with a terminal illness, I found myself woefully unprepared. I began attending yoga classes and practicing a form of meditation that made some sense to me, but now I realize what I have been doing is much closer to what the author describes, that the solitary parts of this endeavor just weren’t all of it. It is in the sharing of our process and talking about how we achieve some semblance of peace in the midst of suffering that I have found productive.
I think one of the most impactful things for me as far as a process of peace is the concept of light that the author discusses. She is an artist and I am definitely not, but the idea of joy and hope and peace in the dawning of a new day has been a concept that has helped me get through a lot of dark nights.
Whether we are researchers, poets, teachers, or gardeners, we can keep our hearts open to the ways that our work can help someone else find the freedom to breathe.
The author talks a lot about how the application of the practice of peace is different for different people and that we never know how much we have impacted someone else. As an extremely empathetic and instinctive person, the author lays out some really practical ways that each person can impact another. One of the most helpful things for me that the author shared was how she, as a black woman, has been impacted by the recent racial issues that have been so front and center in the past several years. I am always learning more about how to be an effective white ally and create the space that many people of color have never had. This is an ongoing area of work for me that I want my brown/mixed boys to see and observe and understand. Their experiences will be so different from both their parents and this has been an area of much pondering and discussion.
One other concept the author discussed at some length is how much she loves reading the bibliographies at the end of books, that it is like seeing the roadmap that the author followed. She went on to say that reading the influences listed by the author of a book shows how authors are often writing in a community, that their works inform others. I also noticed how many of the cites in this book are from authors I know and love. It reinforced that concept of being in a community of thinkers and writers and souls.
We can pause before we speak and say to ourselves, “We are two human beings who, for whatever reason, have crossed paths to be here for this moment. How can I be present to this other soul?”
I’ve written before about this concept of Holding Space for others and how bad I am at it. I really liked this example of self-talk, to remind myself to be present, that I am there as an equal, as a peer, not as someone who is there to fix. Thinking of all the ways I can fix or help or guide or whatever is still my gut reaction and it still feels so foreign to just be with someone. And yet, dealing with the more extreme side effects of IV chemotherapy plus oral therapy has truly meant that I don’t have the bandwidth to help as much and that’s another reminder to just be.
This to me is the thrill of hope. Hope is active imagination. Hope is the way you look forward to the future. Hope is grounds for believing that anything is possible. Peace is possible. And that is why to practice peace, I believe we must keep hope alive.
Hope is a difficult concept when living with a disease that is incurable and terminal and achieving peace with that reality is often extremely elusive. I’ve written before about the this concept of Hope through the writings of a dear friend who was stolen from us by MBC and her conclusions are remarkably similar to the author. Hope and peace are possible by practicing and laboring together.
This concept of doing something important with other people has never been an easy thing for me. I think back to group projects in high school and college and just cringe. Even more so in my professional life, there was always a sense of needing to be careful, to never let my guard down, to always have the ability to strike out independently, to always be able to absorb/address the failings or departure of others. Many of my life experiences taught me that going it alone was better than to depend on others.
And so this MBC experience has and is teaching me many things that weren’t so applicable before cancer. How the author addresses illness in her own life and in her family demonstrated to me that she was speaking from a place of experience when handling this topic. Her conclusions resonated with me and challenged me to again to remember and to examine how I fit within the whole, how I labor with others, and how I can do better.
We could all certainly benefit from hope and peace and love.