Finding a Different Way – Pamela Zane Keys
[Pamela Zane Keys is learning via a mystic path leading through an early and valuable Christian experience to special interests in the Sufi Way, Gnosticism and Buddhism. Theosophy, she says, ‘made sense’ of her life. Pamela’s formal studies included Education, Psychology and Theology. She has also travelled widely. Pamela’s teaching has spanned more than fifty years and she enjoys editing TheoSophia, the magazine of the Theosophical Society in New Zealand in which this article was published in March 2012.]
Pamela Zane Keys
While we may think of the latent powers referred to in the Third Object of the Theosophical Society as extraordinary and spectacular, I have recently realized that they may also be small and outwardly indiscernible yet inwardly life changing. Cancer has been my recent teacher and a means of drawing forth something like latent powers in me in simple and practical ways.
In early October my dear friend Jan Weston died of ovarian cancer just two days after I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told I needed a life-saving mastectomy. On the morning Jan died, as my husband Warwick and I were driving away from the hospice I was doubled over in tears, feeling I must burst from the enormous combined grief weighing down on me. The clouds of grief had darkened and gathered over the six months of Jan’s illness. Now, added to my own pending loss, they threatened to engulf me. However, a small thought came on that drive that there could be a way, a different way, to bear it all, even if I couldn’t recognize it right then.
In the early hours of the next morning, I woke with the certain knowledge of what I must do and why. Perhaps not wanting to appear resentful, I’d habitually bottled up and buried deep life’s hurt, disappointment, disillusionment, regret, sadness and grief. It occurred to me that maybe this bottling was unhealthy. After meditation and prayer, I allowed myself to intuitively plumb memories and confront, re-experience and re-sense those memories. This was uncomfortable, scary and painful as it involved re-sensing, feeling again, the pain I had previously avoided. Eventually, I was able to release it all, with forgiveness and blessings to the perpetrators and to myself. One by one I worked on past hurt until I slept again. On waking I was surprised and delighted to realise how light I felt – and free. That lightness remains.
Since then a few more old and painful memories have surfaced and I’ve stopped and done the work again before moving on. I’m also consciously trying not to bury current upsets as I go but rather face them, experience them and then let them go.
When I first found I had breast cancer I wondered why I had to go through that experience again as I’d had a partial mastectomy and radiation for cancer 20 years ago. Looking back I could see how I’d been stoic then, not telling many about what was happening and carrying on as though all was well. I barely let the event touch me. Now I wondered if this meant that the life lessons embedded within the experience may have escaped me. I decided to find a different way this time, to really engage with this encounter with mortality. So I told friends and family what was happening and was moved when I received an avalanche of good will (as a London friend described it) that had a wonderfully strengthening effect. I had shared how scared the process made me feel, refused to ‘bottle it up’ this time and didn’t go to appointments and scans alone. At the crematorium and later at Jan’s memorial gathering, I leant on Warwick and cried. I used to think that being brave meant being stoic but actually they are quite separate things, so I’ve learnt through this different way of reacting and responding to the life and death focus of that time.
Two days before the necessary mastectomy, I had another opportunity to discover latent power. I was afraid of the operation (some might say with good reason having once suffered a medical accident involving anaesthetic) and confessed it to the weekly TS house group gathered at our place that night to study The Kybalion. Our chapter was The Divine Paradox. We read:
“The truly wise, knowing the nature of the Universe, use Law against laws; the higher against the lower; and by the art of Alchemy transmute that which is undesirable into that which is worthy, and thus triumph.”
A new young member asked for an explanation which I was able to give from insight just gained and relating it to my own present condition of fear, explained how it was possible to ‘rise above’ whatever was ‘undesirable’. That night I prayed and realized that the way of the higher law in this situation was to trust in the Divine and accept that what would be, would be.
As I was wheeled into the operating theatre, the moment of fear came on me and I recalled The Kybalion and thought, “this is why I have a spiritual practice: to sustain me in my time of need, to rise above.” Then I gave thanks – for all that is good in the world and especially for the life-saving surgery. Soon I was under bright lights around busy people some of whom were hunting for veins in my arm and the gas mask was coming towards my face. My fear turned it all into slow motion. Seemingly unprompted, my own authoritative voice sounded clearly in my head: “This is not the time for fear.” I redirected my thoughts, silently blessed everyone there and slept.
I woke heady with relief (and possibly the drugs they’d given me). It was over and I was sitting up and giving Warwick the answers to his crossword in gleeful, rapid, machine-gun-like fashion, to his stunned amazement.
While I may have learnt something about the powers of forgiveness, letting go of past hurts, rising above, being grateful, extending blessings, trusting in the Divine and acknowledging my need of others, I have friends who can do it better. They don’t need to forgive as they see each hurtful incident as a lesson and the perpetrator as their teacher to whom they are grateful. Not resentful or hurt. This is now my goal: to turn the painful experiences into pure learning and to give thanks: practical alchemy. Is this the meaning of St Paul’s admonition to give thanks for all things (even, or especially, the hard and horrible)?
I hope I’m learning the life lessons this time. I am grateful for my husband, family, friends and the whole community of love around me that has sustained me through. Their loving support has reminded me of the power of love to heal and to sustain. Emails, cards, visits, phone calls, distance healing, aroma therapy, homeopathy and the gentle touch of caring loved ones – for all these as well as modern science, I am very grateful.
No doubt there are more lessons to come. I still miss my friend Jan and I’m only gradually getting used to the loss of my breast but for now it’s enough to have the blessing of a grateful heart and realize it was obviously necessary to ‘get it off my chest’ and to find a different way.
This article was also previously published in the on-line magazine of the Theosophical Order of Service, International.
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