“Cancer is a life experience to call us to look deeper and beyond our physical selves.”
~ Mari Ryan
Sometimes the universe nudges us to move down a path even when we have no idea where that path will lead. The past couple of weeks have been that way for me. I have been grappling with how to write about an amazing new friendship, how to map it all out for you (and myself), how to draw the lessons.
But here’s the thing: it’s just too soon to write about the hows and whys right now. It’s simply time to introduce you to Mari Ryan. The short story is that Mari wrote to me after reading my Fathers Day blog post about how mindfulness has helped me choose my memory highlight reel.
Mari has Stage 4 ovarian cancer, which stinks even more since she already had breast cancer. Add in a painful childhood, time spent in foster care, and many more rocky twists and turns in her life journey, and I think you’d agree that Mari would be justified in wallowing in self pity.
Instead, despite dealing with the ravages of chemo, pain, a lot of really hard days, and an uncertain prognosis, my friend is grounded in the present moment. In the marathon phone conversations and emails we’ve shared in our short but intense friendship, I’ve been astounded at her capacity to pull gratitude, wisdom, and hope from her traumatic experiences. She is, without doubt, one of the brightest spirits I’ve had the honor of meeting. Her multifaceted gifts shine through in the photo montage above, which she shared with me early in our correspondence. Yes, she wrote the poem. Yes, she wove those gorgeous images into a tale of her own journey.
I may muster the courage one day to tell you the full story of just how deeply Mari and I are connected. (IF I ever tell it, which is by no means guaranteed, you’ll need to put on your heavy duty woo-woo hat.)
Today, though, I will keep us all in the safety of our comfort zones and simply share Mari’s answers to a few questions I posed to her for the purposes of this blog post. If you’ve read Blooming into Mindfulness, you’ll recognize some of our similarities.
I am so grateful to count this amazing woman as my soul sister, my teacher, my friend. And guess what? Mari turns 60 on Friday, July 15 (the day this piece will go live). Please join me in wishing Mari the happiest of birthdays. She has brought meaning to my work, validated my sense of purpose, and inspired me to follow my deepest instincts. I know she has had a similar impact on many more lives along the way. Please send your healing, positive energy Mari’s way. Thank you!
1) Where did you grow up and where have you spent your adult years?
I grew up in a very small, rural town in Northern New York. I actually went to a two-room school house for the first three grades! I moved to Central New York in my twenties and lived there until 2008, when I returned to the same small town after my first cancer diagnosis to try to heal.
2) What are you passionate about?
The people in my life, spiritual growth and evolution of the soul, art of any kind, photography, nature.
3) What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Find a mentor, love yourself just as you are fully and completely, cherish yourself, gravitate toward what you want to become. Surround yourself with people who “vibrate” at a higher level.
4) Can you identify an ah-ha moment in your life? (Or more than one?)
My ah-ha moments are like a gradual “dawning”. After nearly dying from depression many years ago, I realized I belonged to me and that what I did with my life was up to me. I realized I had to forgive myself. Later, reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose was a turning point in my outlook.
5) What experiences in your life have been most fulfilling?
Working on being my authentic self, working on close friendships, working as a Social Worker in nursing homes, teaching, traveling to Ireland, creating photos, poetry and art.
6) What has cancer taught you?
Everything is impermanent. Every person has a path to walk and an “evolution of the soul” to experience. Cancer is a life experience to call us to look deeper and beyond our physical selves. Cancer has caused me to try to find my authentic self and move beyond “my story” and fear of the unknown.
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