From Stressed to Blessed

From Stressed to Blessed

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

From Stressed to Blessed

Art washes away from the world the dust of everyday life.

Pablo Picasso

There isn’t a day that goes by in which “doodling” hasn’t helped me meet any new challenge that comes my way. Sound a bit crazy? Believe me, I was the first person who thought I must have lost my mind to think that something that sounds so frivolous and meaningless could become such a powerful learning tool. But it did! And now I travel across the United States and to other countries teaching people of all ages how they can reduce stress and develop more trust in the unpredictable, yet creative adventure called life.

It all began in 1995 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, then continued in 1997 when I was, once again, diagnosed with cancer in my other breast. One day, while nervously waiting for test results at my doctor’s office, I found myself fidgeting with all the magazines, trying to focus on the words. After scanning through at least ten publications, I realized nothing was helping me relax and stay calm. My mind was beginning to run wild, imagining all sorts of worrisome scenarios. What if this happens? What if that happens? I’m sure if the nurse had taken my vital signs at that moment they would not have been considered “within normal limits.”

I knew I needed to do something, so I asked the nurse for a piece of paper and pen. I returned to my seat and began to doodle. I had no idea what I was creating as I let the pen freely wander on the paper, yet out of nowhere abstract art seemed to materialize. I decided to have some fun and create one guideline: to begin and end the doodle outline at the same point in one continuous movement, without lifting the pen off the paper—and do it quickly. Who knows where that idea came from? I was beginning to have a lot of fun while I waited for the doctor. Then an amazing thing happened: while lost in this creative activity, I began to experience a sense of calm and peace. I noticed my preoccupation with negative thoughts subside.

I knew I had stumbled onto something quite powerful, although I had yet to put all the pieces together. All I knew was that doodling helped bring me back to a more centered and peaceful space in the midst of a frightening and challenging medical situation.

I continued to doodle after that day and bought a special spiral notebook that became my doodle book. I took it everywhere (the carwash, hairdresser, meetings), especially when I knew I’d be waiting. I even kept the doodle book with me as I lay on a gurney in the operating room before surgery. It became my constant companion—especially when waiting for daily radiation therapy at the hospital. I loved to doodle so much that I would even show up at the hospital early just to get in more doodle time.

After a while, others began to take notice and admire some of the art I created. As each doubted their own ability, I’d put the pen and a blank piece of paper in their hand and say, “Now it’s your turn to create your own doodle!” The next day we all had something new to share with one another, and this simple, pleasurable activity became a powerful ice-breaker, opening up lines of communication, which for some led to personal friendships that continue to this day.

As time went on, I decided to put all my doodles into a book as a way to honor this newfound magical world that somehow totally transformed my adventure through breast cancer. But what did I know about publishing a book? I wondered. I had no background in the publishing world. Then I stopped and thought about what the doodles had actually taught me. The pieces started to come together . . . one of those “light-bulb” moments. You see, I also spent many years studying and practicing meditation and Eastern philosophy, and the one teaching that kept bubbling to the surface time and time again—doodle after doodle—was the teaching of how powerful the present moment is—that NOW space in time. I also began to appreciate how all those scary what-if scenarios were nothing more than a projection into the unknown future. When I looked at this form of doodling, I began to appreciate that beautiful art had been created by simply letting go of control and having more faith and trust in the process itself—that journey between the beginning and end. And when I connected with that space in the middle, I also discovered inner strength, courage, wisdom and peace.

Wow! What a major breakthrough that had been for me. I thought, If I can trust in the present moment and create amazing art without knowing the outcome ahead of time, then I should be able to take that same understanding and apply it to my life, especially my journey through a medical crisis. And it was true!

That has been one of the most powerful gifts that came to me through breast cancer, and I continue to take that understanding to whatever challenge that knocks on my door. From the unexpected flat tire to dealing with elderly parent issues, doodling remains a constant and steady companion, reminding me that life is all about the journey and the choices we make along the way. Yes, it’s filled with many unexpected twists and turns, yet each can provide us with an opportunity to discover the greatness of who we truly are.

Carol Ross Edmonston

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