Last year, my mom moved from Alabama to Denver to be close to our family after she retired from a prestigious career in education at Montgomery Academy.   I couldn’t be happier that she lives minutes away from me now.  Mom, or as she hopes Otis will be able to call her soon, Vivi, is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that has moved into her lungs.  A scary diagnosis indeed.   But her will to live, thrive and spread joy daily is a remarkable thing to watch, and I wanted to compile some of her daily medicine and ways she moves through the world.  These are teachings she has stood by all along, but they are absolutely helping to keep this cancer at bay.  And I believe they are universal teachings for us all.

What would Vivi do?

 

Put your lipstick on.

 Growing up as a southern girl, this was a cultural thing.  She actually meant for me to go put some lipstick on.  But she also means to go brighten myself in whatever capacity I can to be of service.  That’s the ask: To be of service to the room, to my child, to my yoga students, and to my family~ or to whatever is in front of me.   It’s like a good long handstand or a heavy, overdue cry.  It cleans out the gunk and offers a  fresh face forward to breathe into the present moment.  She applies lipstick several times a day, both literally and metaphorically.  I love that about her.  And, it works every time.

Eat/Enjoy/Indulge in Moderation. 

Mom is very polite as she navigates all the gluten-free/sugar-free/dairy-free/plant-based/paleo/anti-inflammatory shenanigans that my husband, myself and my friends put her through in Denver.  She laughs as she says…” I have to send out a group text before cooking for young people in Denver that asks about dietary restrictions!” If you live in Denver you know this is hilarious and also true.  Mom stays fit and eats healthy with moderate indulgences that don’t feel overdone or overthought.  She listens to her body and stops eating before she is stuffed.  She cooks warm, nourishing food and does not get swung around by fads, cleanses and obsessions.  I think she is better off than most.

 

When you feel blue- go serve someone else.

Last weekend mom said she was blue.  I perked up because she rarely admits that so I leaned in to support and listen.  She said she was blue for about two hours, and then she decided to get up and help somebody.  She made a broccoli salad and took it to someone at her church who is having a hard time.  She moved it out of her body by pouring herself  into service to comfort someone else.  Make no mistake, she’s not preaching NOT to feel your blue. But instead, after you feel it, then move your blue into the world so that it can transform.  That’s what we can do.

 

Tell your story on purpose.

Mom tells a story of life and not one of sickness.  Her mantra since she moved here: “I am going to wake up living every day to its fullest.” She is telling her cells over and over again stories of joy and wellness.  The cancer doesn’t thrive well in this habitat, and since she’s been here it has not progressed.  When we speak about ourselves in a way that builds stories of light, our whole system boosts and we get stronger and better.  Could you improve your story? Do you think of yourself as beautiful, healthy, vibrant and radiant?

Get up and make your bed. 

(I copied part of a blog I wrote last year below.  It best describes this beautiful lesson, which may be the most important of all of these. It’s worth the read)

My mom was visiting me in Illinois the night my brother died.  I still remember everything about those first moments.  I was jolted awake by my phone ringing and I blinked into the screen to see “Dad”.  He asked to speak to mom and I padded into the guest room to find her.  She was already sitting up reaching for the phone as if she knew.  I started screaming and melting to my knees before I knew how to inhale, and I heard her say, “Jimmy, I have to go.  I need to take care of Buffy.”  I was 27 years old and her son had just died.  She knelt where I had melted and something unforgettable happened.

I looked up at her and said, “What are we going to do?”  She said, without hesitation,

“Go make your bed.”

I did.

I came back to her like an unplugged robot whose insides had frozen.

“What do I do now?”

“Go take a shower.”

These step by step directions assembled our early morning and we cleaned my apartment as we waited to fly home.  So many things strung together that day and days to follow to make a horrific story of loss.  Many years have passed and there has been hills and healing but I can still hear him laugh.  That lesson she taught me on his morning has remained as clear as a smooth, cold stone in my hand all this time.

Some time later I found out that as soon as my dad learned what happened, he shaved.  In the middle of the night, he shaved.  Then, he waited until the mall opened at 10 the next morning and went and bought a suit.  We all must do something. It’s primal, I suppose, when your heart breaks into pieces.

DO something. MOVE something.   Go make your bed.  Go take your shower.  Put on your lipstick.  Smooth the pillows and collect yourself even when it is hard and you are on fire in your path. You can manage one thing.  Then that one thing turns into another and you are okay.

Do one thing towards the morning light that will allow your breath to come in easier.

This idea of mapping small steps might be the key to good living.  At least it helps with deep overwhelm and certainly tragedy.  I still use mama’s bed making strategy with breaking down hard yoga poses, hard conversations, baby tantrums, ankle pain and everything else.  It’s the one thing that keeps me in deep breath no matter what. And, it eventually maps me back to a source of good and solid ground.