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,

6 replies
  1. Nancy Hopps
    Nancy Hopps says:

    My heart flies open as I read this. Dear Joan, you have given so much to so many – including me – over many years. I am envisioning you gently held in the healing embrace of the Divine Mother. Please give generously to YOU, now, as you continue to heal and birth into this new chapter. Much love to you…and to Gordy.

  2. Gail Serna
    Gail Serna says:

    Hi Joan, I met you in John Holland’s My Soul Community. You answered my question on our call. We have a similar background. I was raised in a Jewish home and my parents were agnostic as well. Your answer really helped me. Many blessings to you.

  3. Rosemary
    Rosemary says:

    Thank you…thank you…thank you…I was guided to your website by a client who was a student of yours. She spoke of your ovarian cancer which spoke to a deep-seated fear of mine: a fear of disease and illness. This article has helped me in ways too deep and personal to put into words, except to say I am filled with gratitude and sending you my love, trusting you will heal..I am filled with admiration and respect.🙏

  4. Emmett Miller
    Emmett Miller says:

    Joan, Gordon, I have been grieving ever since receiving a letter from Ruth at NICABM that sounded quite bleak. I wrote for followup information months ago and took the lack of a response as bad news. My spirit leapt with joy on finding this post of yours! I felt so close to you both at Hilton Head when your romance was beginning, and have loved Joan continually through her inspired, open, vulnerable, and skillful contributions to the NICABM programs – the world’s least painful way of satisfying continuing education requirements. I wish you both oodles of peace and love . . . and for myself the luck of seeing you at some point in the near future, as I am entering my ninth decade!! Emmett

  5. Vanessa Yakobian
    Vanessa Yakobian says:

    Dear Joan, I’m so sorry to hear of your illness. I hope and pray you are on the road to recovery.
    I just finished your online course at Psych Seminars it was really great. I was excited and hopefully can take a class from you.
    Thank you so much for sharing your extensive knowledge with us.

  6. Stockmeyer Gerard
    Stockmeyer Gerard says:

    Hello Joan
    I was searching for a guided meditation to carry me to a peaceful nights sleep when I came across this old post
    If your still with us Hello
    We met at a retreat you did north of Buffalo NY many years ago, some 40 or so years ago. I was standing at the entrance to the lecture room, you walked up beside me and made a comment which I can’t remember but we stood there for a few long minutes in peaceful silence. You then walked to the front of the room that’s when I knew who you were. There was nothing between us but our common humanity…. Just as life should be.
    We know death is coming, we are prepared but the shock is unavoidable, I’ve been shocked twice…… it’s part of our humanity.
    I don’t think we need fight the ego’s drive to return to “normalcy”. It’s just trying to live and live is what our humanity is designed to do.
    For me the lesson is to embrace the ordinary, the everyday activities that sustain our existence and the people we share that with. In the impermanence of this life we need no more really, we enter this world surrounded by everything that brings our life joy, peace and meaning. I simply love the quote from Toni Morrison which is what prompted me to write.
    Where ever you are I hope you are surrounded by those who loved and embraced the breath of life with you, no judgement, no expectation. It is the rarest of friend who enjoyes spending time with you as you walk through the simple activities of our shared humanity

    I hope to meet again someday
    If just for a few minutes of peaceful silence….. surrounded by life’s meaning and purpose.


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