What is transformation and how do we access it? What’s more, how do we take our own suffering and pain and transform it into an experience of meaning and wisdom?
When I first got diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought about others who described how their illness became an experience of transformation. I wanted this, too, but initially all I felt was fear. I wanted my experience to mean something and to transform me. At the same time, the very thought of being “transformed” through my challenge, felt like a big responsibility, and even, a burden. Just one more thing to take on during this journey. In the throes of crisis, transformation seemed like an elusive goal.
Adding to this, my life long tendency to worry that I will not do things “perfectly” or to the best of my ability, kicked in. What if I came through this experience with nothing in my life changed for the better? What if I did not learn anything? What if I just went back to my old, ineffective ways of dealing with stress, worrying about things out of my control, and holding onto things that no longer served me? I kept hearing critical voices in my head saying, “if breast cancer isn’t big enough to motivate you to change, then nothing is.”
I felt a simultaneous desire to become transformed, while also feeling a desire to hide behind my fear and do nothing. The part of me that wanted to do nothing, did not want to feel burdened by taking on the work of transformation. At the moment, it was just enough to get out of bed each morning and participate in the tasks ahead of me: the doctors’ appointments, the treatment and care, the life-altering decisions to be made. I did not want to add more tasks that included: the practice of standing up for myself, speaking my truth, letting go of anger and hurt, loving with a more open heart and less fear. I just wanted to BE: be left alone, be in denial, be quiet, be healthy, be unchallenged.
But the other part of me, the part that wanted this experience to transform me and teach me, was not to be ignored or minimized. That part couldn’t bear the thought of going through such intense fear, anxiety, uncertainty and pain without having some enlightenment at the end of the dark tunnel. I wanted to develop a stronger capacity to live my life more fully and with deeper purpose. At the core of all my yearnings to be transformed, was my desire to have a deeper understanding of the universal spirit of love that connects us all and helps us to live our best lives.
While I had this internal conflict going on, unexpectedly the transformation started to happen naturally. I now realize that transformation is initially elusive if we try to direct it. The wisdom of transformation realizes that when we are caught up in crises or suffering, our priority is survival, not being transformed. And so, in its innate wisdom, transformation lovingly and very gently begins its work silently. It begins without our conscious recognition or even our permission.
During crisis or times of suffering, we often are so distracted and focused on the immediate concerns, that we do not notice how transformation is already happening. As things settle and crises pass, we can see more clearly what was taking root within us, even without our awareness and attention. We begin to realize that we are always in the process of transformation whether we know it or not.
Once the initial whirlwind of crisis settles, we then have the chance to allow life to truly enter and shape our being. These are the moments in which we tap into the underlying energy and flow of transformation and discover that it has been happening all along. Now, however, we are given a choice to open ourselves to learn and to be shaped by it; or to ignore it and turn away from its gifts. When we don’t tense and resist and become rigid in our experiences, transformation reveals its treasures. When we allow ourselves to be open to possibilities beyond what we currently and initially know, transformation comes to the surface. When we accept that our own uncertainty is a precursor to understanding more deeply, we create a context in which our suffering is beautifully and gracefully transformed into thriving.
When in the throes of crisis, none of us knows just how our life experiences will effect us. Neither do we initially understand what they are truly teaching us. But when things settle, and we choose to turn our attention to something deeper, we are like lumps of clay that slowly become shaped into more clarity and form. The circumstances of our lives are the conduits for our true nature to be revealed over time. And our desire for transformation is an invitation for our true nature to come to the surface. Our invitation and receptivity to transformation integrates each daily moment of our lives into the whole of our being.
It seems that transformation is a continual process that begins without our focused awareness and never truly stops. It becomes more clear and apparent with time, if we are awake to its presence. Transformation cannot be forced. It does not respond to pressure. It requires space to flow in its own rhythm and time in order to reveal itself. We need to invite it in, but not control it because even if we attempt to control it, we cannot. It does not have a deadline or expiration date. It is gentle, subtle, patient and graceful in its ongoing, steady presence and its manifestation within our lives. It only requires us to be open, aware, and curious. Mostly it asks us to allow our life’s experiences to carve, shape, chisel and refine us until we are more and more a reflection of true inner nature and soul.