When I wrote the introduction for this project, “A is for Awareness” just leapt onto the page as if it were a conscious and premeditated plan. It was not! When I think of “A” words for wellness, I think of apple, acceptance, achievement, adaptability. So many “A” words that can bring the idea of wellness into focus in a few simple paragraphs. In the year 2020 even the word “wellness” has taken on new dimensions. How do we remain well in general? How do we remain well during a pandemic, a climate crisis, financial disparities, and a world divided by diametrically opposed political views? Great material for the “W” section!
Getting back to the “A” section, I think “awareness” is a more complicated “A” word, so many nuances. “Awareness” spills into territories like empathy, intuition, and consciousness. Those topics are more subject to personal interpretation and can become deeply existential, multi-dimensional, and obtuse. I wanted to keep the ABC’s in a more practical, less complex context. I seriously considered setting awareness aside to select one of the more favored “A” words. But alas, awareness would not let me do it. When I thought about doing it, I was nudged to visit a source of knowledge to better understand the word. Enter, Webster, Dictionary.com, and of course, Wikipedia!
I found that Wikipedia defines “awareness” as “The state of being conscious of something. More specifically, it is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events. The concept (of awareness) is often synonymous to consciousness and is also understood as being consciousness itself.” Wow! What struck me most vividly was that last part about awareness being consciousness itself. As a life-long student and teacher of consciousness, meditation, health, and wellness practices, I have learned much from my instructors, mentors, students, books, certifications, and practicums. What has been most gratifying, however, is what I have learned from those who are dying and from those who care for the dying.
It begins with Wayne. He was one of the most aware, awake, and conscious people I have ever known. When he was battling cancer, he entered into it with his whole being. He wanted to do something he called “being complete with life just in case the treatments didn’t work.” He spent much of the thirteen months between his brain cancer diagnosis and his hospice time, making calls to old friends, sorting through paperwork, working on his internal “issues” and tossing out stuff he said he didn’t need or want any more. His most important projects were about getting his relationships in order; making sure that he had done forgiveness work and expressed gratitude and love to everyone. The chemo, radiation, and surgeries were certainly challenging. But he remained steadfast to his projects despite the discomfort. He did this with good humor and plenty of laughter. When he became too tired or felt too ill from treatment to take on a task, he would meditate, nap, listen to music, or just hang out with his wolfdog, Sonny.
Robert and I helped Wayne with his treatment protocols and his completion projects. Looking back, I believe that somewhere within his consciousness, he knew that he would be leaving this world sooner than later. He had such a positive attitude about his treatments and talked often about things he wanted to do when he was well. Other than the talk we had early on about his completion projects, we avoided talking about death until the day it became painfully clear that the tumor was winning. He had gone into the hospital with serious seizure disorder and his speech was limited to only a few words. He looked at us and said, “there comes a time.” This was the moment he became fully aware that he was dying. He did not fight the process, but gracefully continued his completion projects while he was a hospice patient. Twenty-four days later, Wayne breathed his last breath.
Fast forward to the present and some of my awareness about the pandemic, wellness, and death. Unless it is our vocation to work with the dying, most of us don’t think too much about mortality. This year, however, the pandemic has placed mortality firmly in the spotlight. For those who don’t believe that COVID-19 is “real” or that their chances of getting it and dying are pretty small, a conversation with frontline workers in Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care Units might be enlightening. Nurses and doctors get to witness firsthand what the virus can do to people of all ages, including the sad reality of people dying alone. Frontline workers are dying too. The Frontline Family Fund is a charity that provides support for families who have lost a frontline worker to COVID-19. If you know someone who works in the hospital, it might be nice to reach out; send them a supportive note, flowers, or have a meal delivered to thank them. What they want more than anything though, is for us to stay healthy, well, and safe. That means following a few simple guidelines.
Public health policies that emerged because of the virus have insisted that we become aware, present, and conscious about our surroundings and our life choices. “A” is for awareness because it is now important to know what 6 feet looks like when in the presence of other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that to avoid COVID-19 related illness, hospitalization, long term health challenges, and/or death, we would do well to follow their guidelines and to be apprised of viral community spread. This, in turn, helps us determine if we can safely go to work, to the dentist, or to socialize with loved ones. Because of this new awareness we may take a little more time, care, and caution in making large and small decisions. I notice that people seem to be more awake to their limitations, hopes, and dreams. We certainly are at our house!
As 2020 ends, we cannot expect that just because the calendar ticks to a new year everything will be back to normal or arrive at a fabulous new normal. There will still be challenges in this world even when the virus is a distant memory. A couple years ago my amazing husband, Robert, started exploring Stoicism. One of the books he recommends on the topic is Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday. I am so grateful for him nudging me to explore this philosophy too. The Stoic teaches that truly, “A” is for the awareness that we live in a world with challenges, uncertainty, and chaos. Our best practice is to meet the challenges prepared for the worst but focused on the best; and to celebrate the times when things are going well.
Right now, when it seems that the challenges are super charged for all of humanity and the planet, taking a lesson from Stoicism and from Wayne can be of good use. Being aware of physical, emotional, and mental limitations can be useful in helping us “prepare for the worst.” We can use that knowledge to enlist helpful friends, stock up on supplies, or create strategies for potential emergency situations like forest fires, hospitalization, or accidents. But, if we are constantly on alert, hyper-vigilant or hyper-aware for long periods of time (like all of 2020), it can be exhausting! Taking time out for meditation, music, a nap, or hanging out with loyal canine or feline companions is just good medicine and will help us to stay well.
Wayne was aware that he needed time out from his completion projects and cancer treatment protocols so he could practice feeling content and calm. I believe he was also aware of an important question that we don’t often consider. That question is: “How can I be content or complete if I die tomorrow?” In Stoicism, this is a concept called Memento Mori. In 2020, or any time really, dedicating time for completion projects or to “clean house” makes sense. The first step is to become mindful about and aware of worn-out relationships, habits, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, cluttered closets, or other areas that need to be remodeled, reworked, renewed, amended, discarded, or recycled. The action steps to put those things in order will naturally follow. Balancing all that with taking time out for contentment moments will contribute to your wellness in a time of turmoil. This was Wayne’s way of living. His conscious awareness of this balance during his life, his diagnosis and into his death is an inspiration that has guided my personal life and set the tone for Further Shore’s mission.
In conclusion, “awareness” had to be first, had to be the “A” word, because if we are unaware of our situations, challenges, unfinished business, our needs, and feelings, how can we be truly well? As with all Further Shore matters, it started with Wayne, and “A” is for my awareness of his ongoing gift. I’m wishing you the gifts of contentment, happiness, peace, and wellness in the New Year.