Today I thought I’d revisit the words of Rumi with a horrible pun! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But seriously, I’ve been thinking back to a Rumi quote that I encountered at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, also near the beginning of my cancer treatment in 2012.

Don’t turn away.
Keep your gaze on
the bandaged place.
That is where the light enters you.

At the beginning, the bandaged places were literal. Dr. Beatty did my first three of surgeries. He left a single 2 inch wide strip of Arglaes film dressing over each surgery site. This was even true of my mastectomy. One piece of adhesive film. I know that it was called, “Arglaes” because he was so excited about using it. And having had subsequent surgeries with more traditional dressings, I could see why. It was comfortable, flexible, didn’t bind, and it was waterproof. I could shower immediately.

I did look at my bandaged places. I know a lot of women don’t like to deal with their surgical drains or to see their mastectomy incisions, especially prior to reconstruction, if reconstruction is chosen. And I know that some women don’t even like to look at themselves after reconstruction. But as a naturally curious person who is trained both as a scientist and as a healthcare provider, I wanted to look. I was calmly fascinated with how surgery is done, about how my body was changed, and about how healing took place. This helped me a great deal in coping with the physical losses and to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

I realize now that my training in observation and data gathering helped set a perfect stage for me to start mindfulness practice. I am very good at noticing things in the present as well as noticing patterns across time. The adjustment that I had to make was in minimizing the interpretation and even harder, to let myself have my experiences without trying to immediately change them. I am a very good problem solver. I will continue to solve problems in my life. But sometimes I do it out to avoid feeling anxious, guilty, or sad. And some problems can’t be solved through problem-solving. Some problems just need to breathe. They don’t even need a bandage.

I am a mother, a wife, a psychologist, and a friend. I deal not just with my own hurts but the hurts of my loved ones as well as those of my patients and their families. I am paid to help solve people’s problems and to not only look at their bandaged places but find the sources of the bleeding. And even as early as middle school, boys and girls solicited my advice about relationships and other typical teen issues.

In my professional life, it is a challenging process to adopt an appropriate role with my patients and their families. I can’t solve all problems and ultimately, I can’t solve their problems for them even if I am fairly certain that my recommendations will improve matters considerably. I teach people strategies for coping with life, I offer ways of thinking about things that may be helpful. But I don’t carry out the strategies or do the thinking. And I can’t control every aspect of a child’s internal or external environment. Wow, when I put it that way, I am kind of amazed that I can be effective at my job at all!

What is even more challenging, though is seeing wounds on family members and friends. Even when I am right about it, they may not see these wounds themselves. Or they may be desperately trying to cover them to avoid appearing incompetent or weak to the rest of the world. I remember when I started graduate school, I was pretty open about my anxiety. I flailed openly! A number of my classmates looked incredibly nonplussed. How could they be so confident? When I found out that one of these folks was keeping a running score for how all of us had done on exams and assignments so that he could gauge his place in the pack, the fact that I was always seeing him taking aspirin started making a different sort of sense to me. Those people don’t tend to ask for help even if they need it. They do not want to be exposed for the failures that they fear they are.

Other people in my life have been very open in their distress and instead of having trouble asking for help, they ask for too much. Help to solve problems that don’t really exist. Help to solve problems that are best solved by oneself. Help to avoid solving problems altogether and other types of reassurance seeking.

I am learning more and more with my loved ones when to speak up and when to listen. The hardest for me, however, is to say and to do nothing. To watch someone suffer and want to do something active to help. To turn down requests to bail someone out when I know it would be better for him or her to solve the problem independently.

I am growing a lot as a person. I have so much more to learn and thank Heavens for that as it makes life rich and interesting.