..Elizabeth Hepburn..

Surgery as a Rite of Passage

Every moment in life is precious. Every single one. Even the difficult ones. Even the one when your doctor says: "We have to operate." Never good news, yet an important moment in our lives. I've been there — several times. A bout with cancer necessitated my having six surgeries in four years, and then three years of chemotherapy. Admittedly, this was a rough road. However, this journey through the labyrinth of critical illness and multiple surgeries truly transformed my life. It turns out that it was a great blessing to me. It was precious time. Therefore, I'm proffering a re-framing of this dreaded fate: surgery.

It's not a walk in the park, that's for sure. It's going to involve discomfort and probably pain, to say nothing of an abrupt interruption in life as usual. We're going to be weakened and not up to snuff. The anticipation of surgery is so daunting that we almost always succumb to major resistance. There's fear - anger - sadness - "Why me?" - "Why now?" "What did I do to deserve this?"

We're aching for the answers to these questions. Nevertheless, once we've acknowledged all this upset, it behooves us to understand that resistance creates tension and a lot of suffering within the body/mind system. That's the last thing we need right now.

There's a Zen teaching that says: "In this life pain is inevitable- suffering is optional." So if we choose to have this situation be as easeful as possible, we have to let go of the suffering — to let go of the resistance and surrender to the process. As hard as it is to fathom it, this surgery experience is here for a reason. This is not an accident. And, believe me, it's not simply here to adjust something in our bodies. It's a very well disguised gift with the potential to take us on a journey to the very essence of ourselves — a journey for which we will be eternally grateful.

It seems to me that by the time our immune systems are sufficiently compromised to require someone taking a knife to our bodies, the Universe has surely been shouting to get our attention for a long time. Our lives for many and varied reasons have gotten unbalanced and we need to regroup in a major way. I find it very interesting in these days of miracle drugs that we can be extremely unwell, but kept going by super pills or injections that mask our symptoms and allow us to continue our relentless pace. How ridiculous. Our magnificent body/mind system is giving us the message to lie down and rest deeply, and we keep truckin'. Sooner or later the condition becomes so acute we're brought to our knees. And here we are in the hospital in this silly little cotton dress anticipating surgery.

And this is where my new perspective comes into play. I'm suggesting that we consider surgery a "rite of passage." Furthermore, I'm advocating that it (and all crises) be acknowledged as such. In this light, what is commonly considered an onerous situation can be acknowledged as a catalyst for wondrous transformation.

A definition of "rite of passage" is: a ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another. As in rituals of old, there's an interesting parallel to the surgical event in that it plucks us out of our daily routine; takes us to a "foreign" space where we have very little control of our comings and goings; introduces us to strange substances that alter the way our bodies feel and our minds perceive; and, compels us to surrender our fate to the prevailing leadership.

I contend that instead of grinding through all that the surgical process entails — kicking and screaming until the big drugs take over — that we relax and surrender to this arduous ritual, trusting its mysterious, sacred purpose in our lives and opening up to the magnificent transition that can provide us with entry into a whole new way of being. Even if we think our lives are just fine, I assure you, our capacity for feeling fabulous is boundless. It's all about love.

Our bodies are truly magnificent. They are marvels. They are healing machines. They are constantly renewing themselves, though admittedly not so effectively when we've gotten too far out of balance. And all they want is to be appropriately cared for. They want delicious and nutritious food and drink. They want fresh air and exercise. They want rewarding work and delightful play. They want deeply satisfying rest and relaxation. And they want to be loved. Not just by our parents, friends, colleagues and significant others — they want to be loved by us!

I understand that when our bodies are hurting and giving us a lot of grief, we're not feeling all that loving toward them. But this downtime is the perfect opportunity to begin a life-long loving relationship with our body. It's time! It's imperative!

Even if you're having problems with your physical heart right now - acknowledge it - the constant, vital service it provides to your body throughout your entire life. How fantastic! Say "thank you" to your miraculous beating heart. Say "thank you" to your breathing — even if it may be hampered at this time. Say "thank you" for this totally natural function within your body/mind system - relax and let it be as easeful as the tides in the ocean. Every organ in our bodies is unceasingly performing its specific function to sustain our well-being. It's time to say, "thank you" - "I love you" - "I'm so grateful for all you do." Yes. Smile. Breathe. Your body is feeling better already.

Right this moment decide that this surgery is your personal, sacred "Rite of Passage." Decide that this challenging passage is here to totally enhance your life, ultimately providing you with a glorious sense of wholeness and connection and vibrant aliveness. Decide that this "Rite of Passage" is going to deliver you to a path of such great caring and love and gratitude for yourself and others and all of life that you and your life will bloom beyond your wildest dreams. Feel the gratitude. Life — it's all about Love. Every moment is precious.

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Elizabeth Hepburn's victory over cancer shifted her career from musical theatre to the healing arts. She is now a Wellness Facilitator and through her programs, CDs and the Better & Better Series she sets the stage to invigorate the magnificent healing power within us all.