A Personal Update from Joan Borysenko

It’s a beautiful late summer’s day here in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first of the leaves are turning yellow, the skies are azure blue, the nights are cool, and the kids are in school at long last.  Back in the day, returning students usually wrote a short essay entitled, “What I did for summer vacation.”

Here is a brief outline of my 2021 summer vacation:

In June I found a tumor the size of a honeydew melon in my lower left abdomen; was prematurely diagnosed with ovarian cancer; looked Death squarely in the eyeballs; searched the country for just the right doctor; discovered a world class expert nearby in Albuquerque; underwent a radical abdominal hysterectomy in late July; was well cared for in a hallway of the University of New Mexico hospital (it was at 145% capacity) for 3 nights; returned home minus the melon and a few other body parts; was lovingly cared for by husband Gordon (who was himself recovering from a mid-spring heart attack) and dear friend and business partner Gilah Rosner who is arguably my guardian angel.

So, in case rumors of my demise may have reached you erroneously, I will join the late Mark Twain who quipped that the report of his death had been grossly exaggerated. Nonetheless, he is now certifiably dead…as we will all be, sooner or later.

Joan and Lola

So the question is (at least for me right now) once we have actually realized that death is our closest companion, how do we answer the perennial spiritual question, “How then shall I live?” 

The emphasis is on the word then. Having awakened in a powerful way to the reality of impermanence, what does that mean to how you think, how you act, how you work, how you play, who and how you love, what you hope for, where you put your faith, how you spend your precious time, what to hold close, what to let go, when to surrender, when to hold the line, and where to direct your attention?

“How then shall I live” is not a compelling question in times of ease. It’s a question that catches fire when things fall apart- a question that becomes insistent when we’re visited by misfortune. Think illness, death of loved ones, pandemic uncertainty, political unrest, global suffering, climate change and so forth.

I’ve been reflecting on different aspects of this “big question” deeply during the past months of terror, relief, pain, hope, and healing that continue. The hardest part is enduring the uncertainty. The best part is that uncertainty blocks the ego’s drive for premature closure- trying to tidy things up and recreate the life and beliefs that are so familiar.

I’ve thought a lot about how I want to spend my precious time going forward. So, this fall I’ll offer only a few programs, closest to my heart. Stay tuned for the new offerings.

I want to leave you with two quotations that are guiding me in this liminal time of rest, healing, and reflection.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. -Toni Morrison

Peace and Blessings,

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