I was running late to my first meditation workshop. Only five minutes after it started, but I was still late. This is not a habitual pattern for me; I am either on time or early to an appointment, meeting, or dinner with friends. The ache of time passing is something I sense and understand even through ordinary circumstances. This year, in particular, my daughter will enter kindergarten and I will inch even closer to age forty. This past week, I learned also that time can remind you of  why you exist and that you must pay attention to certain whispers that yell at you in the middle of the night.

It was no accident that I sought meditation at this particular time in my life. This past week I walked the route of something that was wholly familiar to me, one that involved the word cancer and a parent. My mother experienced some very unusual symptoms which required urgent medical attention. Within four days of her initial symptom, I secured an appointment with a physician. In the exam room, the doctor says, “We must perform a biopsy.”  Shit, I think. She said the B word, a real curse word.

The waiting before the results encompasses this: researching the symptoms and trying to form your own diagnosis, talking to friends who are doctors even if they have no experience in this particular speciality, engaging in tons of speculation, and burying yourself in a laundry pile of worrying. Many times in my head, I kept saying, “This is not happening again. I cannot lose another parent. We are not ready for regular visits to the doctor or CT scans or chemotherapy or radiation or stale coffee in hospital waiting rooms. It is too soon to revisit this.”

Because we were in the transition between tests and results, I longed to find a pathway to embrace the uncertainty. The truth is that when outcomes are uncertain I gravitate toward the negative. The worst case scenario becomes the only route that I can visualize. As I talked with my sister about Mom’s upcoming test results, I asked her, “What if it is something terminal? What are we going to do?” My sister and I are nine years apart, but she still gets me and says “You can’t think that what happens to Dad will happen to Mom. Do not jump to the worst conclusion.”  A large part of my core gravitates toward fatalistic outcomes. It’s been magnified since our father passed away.

And it is something I am aware of everyday. The sensitivity to living with shallow breaths instead of deep ones. In my meditation, something else revealed itself to me. The instructor kept talking about the gaps between the breath and the dips that happen as we inhale and exhale. It is in the space between the breaths that God lives. And that we must trust the natural pauses. Through the meditation I learned it is in those natural pauses that I find the most uncertainty and that I am unable to get my footing. It is in these gaps where you find out bad news, a potential terminal diagnosis, a phone call from a friend that a grandfather passed away, or learning of other losses, jobs or friends or other loved ones.

It is the space between the breaths that bait me. And unsettle me.

Just days after the meditation workshop, I took a deeper breath as we learned that my mom is fine. I’m certain that I will hit that gap of uncertainty again.

I hope next time I will breath long and deep and trust the pause.


Are you good at waiting? Do you always fear the worst? Has meditation helped you deal with uncertain outcomes?

Image by giagir