I feel as if throughout this entire year I have been constantly whispering to myself, "Stay Present." I can now see how the Universe prepped me for this theme right away in January by sending me to a Vipassana course, a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Being in this course prepared me to leave unexpectedly and return to the US for 2 weeks to be with family after a loved one's death. I had just spent 2 months in the US (which is more than I've spent in the past 6 years) so this immediate turnaround triggered me in many ways. My mind wanted to constantly review my finances, my need to find a home in India, all the "but..." phrases it could come up with. My calming theme..."Stay Present." When I did return to India I found negotiating a new home took longer than expected, and as my finances dwindled and my future thinking amplified, I found myself repeating "Stay Present" as a whirlwind of "what ifs" tornado'd through my mind. When things seemed to be coming together in May, I received the news that my eldest sister's breast cancer had returned, metastasized throughout her body: 57 years old, 2 weeks from early retirement and dreams of her next chapter in life as a woman free of the responsibilities of raising children and working full-time for over 30 years. 

The diagnosis came as a shock to everyone.  Not only the diagnosis, but also the fact that she had left a week ago full of vitality and returned in a horizontal position and in excruciating pain due to the lesions being triggered while horseback riding on vacation. Tests to understand the pain revealed the cancer had returned and immediate procedures needed to be performed. Fortunately, her husband is a school teacher and had 3 months of summer vacation, her eldest son was able to stay at home for another 6 months, and her other 2 sons were ready to arrive as needed. My 2 sisters live in the area and were attending to whatever they could. My brother in Seattle was available as needed as well. 

I was on the other side of the world, praying for my sister who saved my life many times through her words, kind gestures and generous heart. What was the most beneficial thing for me to do? Our family has been down this road before...breast cancer is rampant in my family, the biggest impact being my mother having had 2 rounds of it before passing in 2005. Another sister is 6 years clear since her diagnosis. Grandmothers and other women in the family have also had their runs with it. Trips to the Mayo Clinic are ingrained in our minds starting back from our father having cancer and dying in the 80s. This isn't new territory. It's still a shock. The mind floods with "what if", all in an effort to keep one agitated and separate. Separate from the Acceptance that we have no control over life, separate from the Understanding that there is no "good" or "bad" luck - there is no judgmental "god" determining what happens to who, separate from the Knowing that although the physical body dies, consciousness is immortal, separate from Acceptance of Impermanence...and that the biggest favor you can do for your nervous system and emotional body is to Stay Present. 

So that's what I did. I stayed present. Everyday. I let the anger come...and go. I let the grief come and go. I let the "what if" come and go. And reminded myself that right now this is what is true....my sister is in unbearable pain physically and quite frankly experiencing a huge mindf*k, and if I was there I could not change any of that. In the present moment I can send her a message letting her know I am here, with her, where there is no time or space. I can keep her in my consciousness, knowing we are connected through all time and space, trusting in our already deeply connected bond. I can continue to live in my own Knowing that Life is a blessing, that just because we may be on a "spiritual" path does not me sh*t doesn't happen...it only means this is the time to walk our talk, to use the tools we've spent years talking about...to Be Love and to allow Life to happen. 

There was a day when I could feel Belinda so strongly and I felt like she might be giving up - like the pain was too much and this quality of life wasn't worth living for her. I created a Facebook group on messenger with 12 of the most powerful, heart-centered women I know, and I asked them to pray for her...and for me. Pray that I, Belinda, and my family, would be conscious through this, that I would stay in my heart and Stay Present, that my sister would suffer the least amount of pain possible. This was a stretch for me to reach out like this...especially in the ever-dreaded facebook group messenger format:) But I needed to. I needed the energetic boost and I knew Belinda needed it too. And I needed Connection. E V E R Y woman responded...not just responded with a simple yes, I'll pray...but prayers of expansion, miracles and overwhelming love came through. Being on this path, particularly the one I've chosen, I've seen friendships fade over time...not through fault of anyone, just that priorities change. Many of the women I included in the group were women I hadn't spoken to in some time...but they were right there, as I believed they would be. Connected at the heart through time and space. I began to send the messages I received to Belinda. She was full of gratitude and uplifted with each message. I also began to do a nightly "homa", which is a small indoor fire ceremony, reciting mantras. I would connect into Belinda's energy field and focus on her body. I worked with the energy of the fire to visualize transforming and purifying the abnormal cells, to dilute the pain she was experiencing by breathing it into my body and sending it into the fire. Belinda knew what time I was doing them in India and tuned in as she could. We both felt the connection. This is what I could do in Presence. 

I had some thoughts about returning to the US in Feb 2019 prior to this diagnosis. But as the months went on I felt more and more pulled to go back sooner to spend time with her. I didn't know how I would do it, and my schedule here in India is quite booked up with people who had already booked tickets to come. But then it seemed to just work out that I had 2 free weeks in October and enough miles for a plane ticket...funny how the Universe organizes itself.. So I went and spent time with Belinda. She was still recovering from the initial procedures and was on heavy pain medication around the clock. We were able to take a few walks and had some good talks. I continued to remind myself to Stay Present. None of us know when we will leave this earthly realm...I could go sooner than she. I'm not afraid to talk about death, and so I did. I encouraged everyone to talk about it. No one was too keen...understandably. I shared my belief that the more we can bring it out onto the table (because everyone is thinking about it anyway) the more we can share in each other's experience and not repress emotions. It is my belief we no longer have the luxury of repressing emotions...our bodies pay too high a cost. 

Belinda has since recovered much more from her procedures and is slowly being taken off the pain medications. From this point it will be about managing the cancer. Again, it would be easy to begin to anticipate the future but I'm choosing to Stay Present...every day she feels better, she has more clarity being off the pain meds and soon she'll be able to be mobile on her own. 

Christmas/New Year season 2018 is a mixed bag of emotions for my family. Beyond Belinda, my other sister is still grieving the loss of her husband, my niece is grieving her father, my nephew is grieving his father while celebrating a new marriage and baby on the way. Another sister is experiencing her first holiday season as "grandma" to 2 beautiful baby boys, my brother is feeling lonely not able to travel back to share Christmas with my sisters due to the amount of travel already done this year for the funeral and wedding. For me...it was my first Christmas being alone. I went to the spa. The holidays have lost their flair with me quite a few years ago and I haven't spent many Christmas' back in MN for the past 8 years. Other than watching the family photos pass by on my Facebook newsfeed I don't feel sad about not being there...my heart does feel for my family and all of the changes upon them. I guess I made decisions pretty early in life to shake up "normal"traditions so I don't get as phased anymore. And by Staying Present with every day it's a bit like Christmas anyway...the gift of Life is offered to me in each moment.