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Elise Sax

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From Oy to Ohm: Finding My Inner Dalai Lama

Posted: 03/19/2012 9:02 am

I'm practicing to be a Tibetan nun, but lately I've been wondering if I need hair extensions and Botox. Tibetan nuns probably don't think a lot about hair extensions and Botox, which doesn't say a lot about my chances of becoming a Tibetan nun, or reaching nirvana, or even a semblance of serenity.

Although, I would look pretty serene if I got Botox.

And I'm not really becoming a Tibetan nun. I'm just trying to cope. As a middle-aged, single mother, cancer survivor, I have a lot of coping to do.

I'm wondering if I should take Xanax, too.

A card-carrying member of the Oprah generation, I should be all about reinvention. Like most people, I have reinvented myself to a certain extent. Crappy marriage ... got rid of that. Sexy trainer ... kept that. Grey hair ... got rid of that. Organic double fudge cookies ... kept that.

But there comes a time in everyone's life where reinventing hits a brick wall, and we just have to work with what we have. With who we are. Stress is attracted to our lives like men are attracted to boobs, and some lives are wearing a pretty impressive push-up bra. There is no reinventing at this point. The stress is in our lives, and there it will stay. Oprah gains the weight back, and we are left overwhelmed and afraid.

My big boob moment happened with the discovery of a massive tumor in my pelvis. After denial -- I can't have cancer. I just got a three-book deal -- and despair -- Who will take care of my children? -- I was all about the reinvention: I will deal with this! I will cope! I will eat chocolate and feel good!

There isn't enough chocolate in the world for a tumor the size of a basketball.

As I was lying in the ICU unable to speak with a tube down my throat, giving me oxygen, the platitudes started:

1. We are never given anything more than we can handle. Excuse me? Tell that to those massacred in Rwanda, Sudan, Syria. Hell, just pick a place. Humanity is constantly given more than it can handle.

2. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Makes who stronger? I am in the ICU with a nine-inch incision, multiple organs of mine now residing in the medical waste bin, and the cancerous sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

3. God loves you and has a plan. No comment.

4. Think positively. No matter what I think, I still have a nine-inch incision, multiple organs in the medical waste bin, and the cancerous sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

5. At least we have our health. Definitely the best platitude. A very cheerful person told me this, and I didn't have the heart to disabuse her of the idea.

I lay there in my hospital bed and asked myself what I wanted. Of course, I wanted life and health and to be free of pain, but those were out of my control. Cancer made me understand to my innermost core what giving up control meant. What I asked for was in the realm of possibility. What I wanted was clear to me. I wanted to be free of fear. I wanted to alleviate my suffering.

The pain would always be in my life. More than most, the unknown would guide my existence from one CT-scan to another. The stress would never leave. But I could manage fear. I could lighten my suffering.

How did I know this? A Tibetan nun told me. Well, she didn't tell me personally. She wrote it in several books. Pema Chodron, Tibetan nun and author, wrote that through meditation and compassion, we can learn to live in the present, to eradicate fear, alleviate suffering, lose weight and reap a 10 percent return on investments. Okay, I'm paraphrasing, and I added the last two, but you get the picture.

So, I'm becoming a Tibetan nun. I'm thinking about meditation, but I don't get much further than that. Hey, I'm a single mom. If I sit down and take a deep breath, I'm asleep in less than 30 seconds. But I have compassion ... I haven't flipped anybody off in traffic in a long time.

I'm also living in the moment, putting off my fears and hopes, in an attempt to live a happier, more serene life. Except when I have a CT-scan coming up, I'm behind on my writing deadline, the news is on TV, my kids are doing poorly in school, or there are dishes in the sink. It's a start, and I'm not worrying about the finish line because Tibetan nuns don't worry about the finish line.

By the way, I ate Oreos while I wrote this. Do Tibetan nuns eat Oreos?

Photo: Flickr: Gebchak Gonpa