|Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting, 1951|
In my yoga class on Sunday night, the teacher talked about the mathematical concept of zero. Ancient Indians were one of the first civilizations to conceive of zero...you know, as a thing. She talked about zero for a few minutes, and the strangeness of the concept of nothing, and how you can name something that by its very nature is unnameable because it doesn't exist. Then she said something like, "Before you go anywhere, you have to start with zero." As is becoming the norm in yoga, I cried.
The topic hit me in a couple of very intense, personal ways. The first, which was evident immediately, was the idea of zero or nothing being part of an experience, or part of a journey. (I really hate the word journey in this context, please forgive me for using it.) I realized I spend a lot of time feeling upset and freaked out about the things I would be doing if not for this pesky disease. I feel lazy, I feel afraid I won't ever accomplish anything, that this has knocked me off course forever. My plastic surgeon is always telling me to work less, and how weird it is that he has to say that, and why don't I just enjoy taking a break? I guess I've always subscribed to that adage about sharks, and how they have to keep moving forward or they die.
When cancer silenced the steady, productive thrum of my life, I felt terrified about what that meant. Now, I'm going to try to be comfortable at zero (for the time being).
Zero is interesting also in thinking about this disease more generally. They don't use the term "in remission" with breast cancer. They say "no evidence of disease." I get it, you can't prove a negative, but I really fucking hate the way that's phrased. I'm someone who thrives on evidence, on litmus tests, on "is it or isn't it" type situations. The goal of this treatment is to kill every speck of disease inside me...but there's no way to prove it. The very fact of the absence of disease makes my status unknowable for certain. It's another version of zero I will have to embrace...or at least stare awkwardly at from across the room.
Throughout our class on Sunday night, the teacher had us practice pranayama, a breathing technique which roughly translates to the suspension of breath. After completing an exhalation, you wait a bit before inhaling again. Not so much that it makes you uncomfortable, just so that you are aware of your breath as deliberate, and not automatic. At first, it was a strange feeling, but by the end of the class, there had been a few moments when I got very comfortable in between breaths. I was in the nothing space. And it was okay.