By Patton Hyman
A couple of years ago I wrote a book that I recently self-published. The challenges I faced during the months of writing The Inner Advantage: Applying Mindfulness in Business and Law—and Everywhere Else! were the ones that face any writer. Am I making sense? Does the book’s logic lead where I want it to? Will readers find it engaging? But as I was completing the first draft, a different kind of challenge presented itself: I was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was a new experience for me, since, other than childhood asthma, I had been blessed by having few serious health issues.
Suddenly mortality was staring me in the face. Not that I hadn’t been aware of the terminal aspect of our human condition; after all, I had been exposed to Buddhism for decades, and Buddhists make no secret of it. But up until now, mortality had been a distant inevitability, not a potentially current likelihood. So I thought, OK, fella, it’s one thing to talk a good game of mindfulness, but let’s see how you do with this!
The doctors were initially optimistic about what they assured me would be my speedy recovery from the removal of my lung, but that was before the complications began. Those complications would bring me near to death more than once and lead to several months of hospitalization (and a second surgery to deal with infection) plus more months of gradual recovery at home. This gave me plenty of time to explore my relationship to mindfulness.
And to return to my book project. Although extended hospitalization had left me physically weakened—an outcome I had not expected—the various aspects of completing the book that remained, such as editing (assisted by a professional editor as well as a number of friends and family members), book design, cover art, and publication method, did not require strenuous exertion. Once the prognosis of the doctors led me to think that departing this life was not imminent, I went back to work on the book.
Although I wasn’t back out on the golf course in a month as the surgeon had predicted, I was able to resume many of the activities I had previously enjoyed. It was satisfying to discover that the basic sense of presence was still readily accessible. And when thoughts of the “why me?” variety arose, they were strangely uncompelling. Even the feeling of fear, which was sometimes present, was not overwhelming. (My wife, Carol, tells a different story about fear during that time, but she too found mindfulness to be her most reliable ally.)
If anything, the experience of encountering mortality was strangely reassuring: Yes, mindfulness actually does work; it’s not just a comforting philosophy. The silver lining of my health crisis is that it gave me further confidence in what I was presenting in my book because I had learned, on a basic and personal level, the inner advantage that applying mindfulness brings.