Coulda Shoulda Woulda

Last week I ran into a woman I know, a prospective client, at the grocery store. I said hello but it took me a moment to register why I recognized her face, why she met me with such easy familiarity. It took a matter of seconds to place her significance in my memory and I reciprocated the warm greeting. Almost immediately she dropped a truth bomb on me.

Since I last saw you, she said, I almost died.

My breath caught in my chest, my heart beat in my throat. My eyes inquired where my voice could not.

They found a huge tumor inside my rib cage, cancer. They’ve been going in and taking it out, I’ve been in and out of the hospital. 

It’s only been maybe two months since I last saw her. All of this elapsed in that short span of time.

I just thought my back hurt…so I kept stretching. All the tests said everything was fine. It’d been bothering me for a year. All along it was a tumor. A huge tumor…

I leapt around my headspace, grasping for the words that floated out of my reach, the shock etched into my features. I told her I was so glad they found it and got it out. My hand, glued to my chest in a gesture of disbelief, may not have trembled but my soul sure did.

Well, they haven’t got it all, but almost. They don’t know if it’s spread yet. I’m just living day by day. 

She smiled weakly. I hugged her gingerly. The last time we’d spoken it had been about how to get more magnesium in her diet and how to combat her osteopenia. How quickly one’s life can change direction. How instantaneously one’s whole world can be tipped on its axis.

The details are so frightening I can hardly bring myself to recall them, much less share them here, but share I will. All in the name of awareness… She’d seen handfuls of doctors. No diagnoses. In fact, she was begin treated like a hypochondriac for continuing to inquire as to what might be causing her pain. She practiced more yoga, did more stretching, but to no avail. I don’t even like the doctors, she said, I’d avoid going if I could. That just proves how much my back was bothering me. She was sent to physical therapists, told to lighten her purse, simply sent away with the reassuring nod of health that doctors so often give when nothing jumps off a lab report. Finally a family friend, a specialist of some kind, ordered blood tests and a chest x-ray. After a year of back pain and a dozen doctor visits, it only took an hour to detect the massive growing tumor hunkered down beneath her right ribcage.

The misinformation via doctors didn’t stop, though, she explained. Even in her treatment under the watchful eye of specialists at Stanford she was led astray. Now she’s receiving treatment from the number one specialist in the field, but not without the wariness of distrust and exhaustion woven into her forehead. Not without the fragile creases of disbelief crouched at the corners of her eyes. She looked fairly well, which was the strangest part. If not a bit thinner, she appeared totally normal. I suppose that’s the scary part of it all.

Back pain…I mean, really? Who’d think that back pain could signal a massive tumor? A tumor that no x-ray but a chest x-ray would pick up, mind you…

I am not writing this to scare you, or myself, or to say that doctors don’t know what they’re doing. They do. They save lives. Her specialist friend did save her life. I’m writing this as a call to persistence. A call to intuition.

We know when something isn’t right.

That’s the power of intuition at the core, right? Knowing intuitively when something is off, energy is different, one’s own body is sending a signal, even reading the intentions of another human being with one’s own intuition. This is a powerful tool.

It’s been over a week since I saw this woman, this friend of mine. Today a completely unrelated, or so I thought, notion hit me like a train. It struck me as I was in full-fledged obsession mode. I was picking apart something that had happened, what I’d done, what I’d originally planned to do, what I’d have done differently…my mind was elbows deep in the butterfly effect (of this truly inconsequential situation) when it hit me. We spend so much time worrying in the past tense. Worrying about what has already happened is merely wasted energy. Simple as that. Thinking about it for six hours or six seconds won’t change anything about it. None of the facts will be altered. I can change the way I feel about it, yes, but I cannot change what physically occurred. No more than I can control the weather (dear Mother Nature, California needs rain!). It doesn’t matter if it’s an utterly insignificant event or one of grave circumstances. Having ordered a different dish at dinner last night versus having forgiven a loved one before they passed away. Sincerely varying degrees of importance, but equally unchangeable nonetheless.

Upon making this realization today, having this “aha” moment if you will, I promised myself I’m not going to mindlessly waste my sacred energy in such a way any longer. I’m going to harness my precious intuition to carve the most direct and enjoyable route forward, because that’s the power of having such a built-in tool. I will not leak my radically awesome jet fuel life force all over the place by stressing and fretting over things that have already happened. What has already happened is no longer up for discussion. It simply is. If we could just grasp that gently and accept it, our minds and lives would not be mine fields of “what if’s” but rather pristine meadows of “loving what is.”

Since we are beings that rely heavily on memories both good and bad – the good in which to luxuriously bask, the bad with which to masochistically torment ourselves – we know that there’s no way to exist without some acknowledgement of how things happened. We’ll always be cognizant when something goes the way we didn’t want it to go, just as we’ll know it when something goes satisfyingly according to expectation. There will also be times when our minds are blown by unforeseen events that just exceed any prior anticipation. Things happen as they do and that’s just the way they are. They’re suspended in the past, perfectly untouchable, nothing can change them for a million dollars.

So let’s drop the “coulda shoulda woulda” mentality. Let’s quit obsessing over how it went, should have gone, could have gone, would have gone. It went the way it went and our life’s trajectory was either minutely or immensely shifted as a result. Who are we to judge what’s happened? We’re merely observing this grand life as if we have any control over the intricate workings of what happens and doesn’t happen. In reality we have very little control. What we do have is our intuition. We have our intuition and we have our common sense. Intuition guides us, whispering softly, an inherent gravitational pull in the destined direction. Common sense pulls away the veil, lets the light pour in, rubs away the smudges of the mind and shows us how truly simple things really are by nature. Simple. So simple.

We never know what tomorrow’s going to offer us. Do we really want to waste today drowning out the soft song of our precious intuition, smothering the buoyant life raft of common sense with obsessive coulda shoulda woulda banter? I don’t. We intrinsically know what’s right for us, when something is wrong in our body, when something is wrong in our minds. We know when something isn’t right in our relationship, even with our car. We know. We just question ourselves. We also know we can’t change the past and that, even if we could, our trajectory would be different and who knows how beautiful or disastrous that could prove. We know that what’s done is done; any fantasy of how it could have been done differently is just that – a fantasy. It’s not real.

We’d best come to accept what is real. Perhaps even go so far as to embrace it, hold it lightly and come to love it for what it is, while using it to hone our attentiveness and alertness as we journey along our paths. The music is so sweet and the light so soft, if we can only let it permeate our conditioned existence. We’re conditioned to obsess and judge our own decisions. We’re conditioned to gravitate towards these fantasies of coulda shoulda woulda like a moth to a flame. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can drop this habit, we can let intuition and common sense unravel this wretched, veiling behavior until it’s nothing but innocent threads at our feet…and then we can see clearly. We can see clearly what is real, and we can love it. Oh can we love it.



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