Monday, February 8, 2010

Grace and Grit

I’ve just finished reading Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber, a memoir of his wife, Treya Killam Wilber’s life with, and eventual death from, a particularly virulent form of cancer. Told through his own reflections and excerpts from Treya’s journals and letters, this is a frank and inspiring tale of one woman’s quest to deal honorably with a harrowing disease.

I value this book on many levels. First, it is a real~life love story, taking us deep into the effects a chronic and life~threatening illness can have on a couple, in this case nearly destroying yet ultimately enlivening that relationship. The book also directly confronts the complexities of illness and healing, providing no easy answers but raising important questions about both traditional and alternative treatments and the philosophies behind them.

This story is also, though, an intimate portrayal of one woman’s choice to use her experience with cancer for psychological and spiritual growth. We see her heal that all~too~human wound of assumed separateness as she becomes more deeply and lovingly connected to life even as her illness progresses toward death.

One of Treya’s central challenges was to balance the urgency of doing everything she could to foster healing, with acknowledging the limits of her control and the need to accept what is and will be. On a spiritual level, as she grappled with blending these two seemingly opposites imperatives, she took cues from the passion inherent in western mystical traditions as well as the equanimity stressed in eastern schools, particularly Buddhism.

“I thought of those moments in meditation,” she writes, “when I’ve felt my heart open, a painfully wonderful sensation, a passionate feeling but without clinging.” And suddenly two words, which had seemed in conflict, coupled in her mind to form a new concept, one that was to support her throughout the rest of her life~~passionate equanimity.

She understood this to mean being “fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one’s relationship with spirit, to care to the depths of one’s being but with no trace of clinging or holding.” Passionate equanimity. I don’t know about you, but that phrase calls my name.

To live this concept would have me do what’s mine to do~~with my whole being and my best effort~~but without expectation or attempt to control outcomes. In other words, to do what I do simply for the love of it, for the love in it.

But how does one pull this off exactly? How do we, in Treya’s words, “work passionately for life, without attachment to the results?”

I think it requires a primary allegiance to something greater than our small selves. With this in place, we can fully engage in the experience of the moment, while holding that experience within the larger context that includes yet surpasses it. That broad vision helps to moderate our ego’s understandable desire for a particular outcome. We begin to cultivate the ability to hold our wishes lightly and to let go the delusion that the world ought to conform to those wishes.

As Treya’s spiritual practice swells with an intimate and intricate awareness of this larger reality, we stand beside her as she negotiates the challenges brought by her illness while, at the same time, more wholly expressing her unique gifts in the world. Increasingly, Treya fully engages in what is truly hers to do, while wasting less energy attempting to control what is not.

And if Treya could do that, so can we all.


Loanne Marie


monica wood said...

Beautifully written...

Loanne Marie said...

Thanks! It is, indeed, a beautiful concept~~passionate equanimity.

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Leia Marie