In life, there are real moments of heaven and real moments of hell. Life is filled with experiences that simply occur without our making, and are genuinely outside our control. It’s as if we’re fish swimming in a strong current that’s moving us in a certain direction. This truth — that we will experience real traumas and real ecstasies — is a fact of life.
When we go through these moments, they take our breath away and soften our hearts. And while some of these experiences take place in the world around us, sometimes what we experience as heaven or hell is generated from within.
When the mind creates scenarios that heighten our stress levels, it can overlay ideas onto something that is actually neutral. This is when the mind makes it matter.
Whether it is real or imagined stress, they both scare us. And they both exist.
With all the tension created by the current pandemic, many of us are panicking about things we would normally never think about. Have you noticed how the slightest fatigue, throat tickle, or indigestion suddenly becomes a Covid-19 diagnosis in our mind? Or how we automatically move away from, or become irritated with, anyone that coughs or sneezes, because we’re sure they have the coronavirus? Any little thing, to our mind, may be deadly.
Several years ago, I had an experience that really illustrates how the mind can take us to these extremes. In times like these, here is a beautiful reminder to step back, breathe and count our blessings.
. . .
One Saturday afternoon, I had an impulse to check my throat in the mirror. I opened wide, and in the back of my throat I saw what appeared to be a brown growth I had never noticed before. My mind instantly went back twenty-five years, when my father was diagnosed with a cancerous growth in his throat.
I kept checking my throat, and every time I looked, the brown growth seemed larger. My heart rate accelerated, my blood pressure elevated, and my head and brow were drenched in sweat. My arms and legs turned cold, and I had a sudden attack of diarrhea.
The moment before, I was living in bliss, and now I was dying. My mind filled with the scenario I had always feared. Tomorrow — Sunday — I would be in the hospital, receiving the fatal diagnosis. By Monday my life would be over, and everything I had worked for would be meaningless.
After dwelling on this for a while, I picked up the phone and called a doctor friend. He asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Stephen, I’m terrified. Both of my parents had cancer when I was a kid.”
“I don’t understand — what’s the problem?”
“My parents are both alive and healthy now, but cancer has always been scary for me, because we never spoke about it openly.”
“I still don’t understand what’s wrong.”
“Well, I looked in the mirror this afternoon, and there was a brown growth in the back of my throat. It looks like a mole or something.”
He asked me a few more questions, then told me to feel the bump with my finger. When I finally managed to squeeze my hand back there and pull it out, on the tip of my finger I found a little piece of the chocolate macaroon I had eaten for lunch.
. . .
Written by Jacob Israel Liberman