Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Finding Our Particular Way

Part of my work in the world includes the privilege of receiving others' stories. In the last four years three of those stories have involved cancer. Each individual chose a different course of physical treatment and viewed the cancer differently. Joe saw the cancer as his body offering him an opportunity to clear out what was toxic in his life and made big changes around work, home and relationships. Catherine met the cancer by listening for the voices of unexpressed fear and anger and sorrow that she felt were beneath the cancer. Lucy saw it as a call to step into her warrior-self and draw clear boundaries about what she did not want in her life, her heart, her body. All three are cancer-free today.

During their healing process, each person had someone tell them in no uncertain terms that the way they were approaching the cancer was “wrong,” was either a waste of precious time or energy or explicitly dangerous (ie- would result in continued illness and/or death.)

Humans- yes, that’s us!- have a tendency to think that our way- consciously or unconsciously chosen practices or ways of seeing or speaking or acting- should and will work for everyone. It’s understandable really- on some level we know we are in this together, affecting each other, having similar experiences, co-creating the world we share.

And it’s not that we can’t learn from each other. We can, we do, we will! BUT- and this is a Big But- no two people have identical histories or experiences. When we forget this we may inadvertently cause suffering: tell someone how they are feeling instead of asking and listening; make predictions for others based on beliefs/knowledge of how things have been for us; dismiss others’ suffering as “their choice,” because they refuse to do what we are sure we “know” will work.

We all see things through filters based on our own experience. Given the power-over goals of a dominator culture I tend to at least theoretically lean away from fighting as a way to solve anything. But Lucy- who had never said or felt like she had a right to say a clear “NO!” to anything in her life- found her healing in the image of the warrior, the one who says no to protect life, the one who uses the sword of discernment to say, “Not here!”

These three people consider themselves “cured.” But here’s the thing- even if that wasn’t true, even if a cure had not taken place, it would not necessarily mean that the approach any one of them had taken was “wrong,” because each has found a deep and profound healing in the way they have dealt with the disease. Healing does not always involve a cure. After all, none of us are getting out of here alive, but we may or may not create and receive the healing we need before we go.

It’s not just that we each have a right to decide how we will deal with big things that affect us in a primary way. It’s that we really are the only people who can discover what it is we need to do. That doesn’t make us infallible- we can and do make mistakes, misjudge what we need, take actions that cause suffering. . . . Maybe that’s why we start “telling” others what they need to do: we are launching an offensive against the scary knowledge that there is a great deal we do not know, even about things that affect us directly.

Working with these three wonderful humans I was reminded again and again of how much I do not know, of how each person is taking their own journey. We can support, assist, facilitate each other’s exploration, but ultimately we cannot “know” the path another needs to take. I've also been reminded that the wisdom to take our next step- whatever that may be- is within all of us.

Oriah (c) 2013


  1. Thank you for the insightful and considerate blog this week. Recently I read a book about a woman who had a Zen teacher who had a great spiritual presence. He had cancer, did all he could both in medical treatment and in his spiritual healing, etc. He died. When and how we die is something I think none of us can have power over. But over and over again, in my own life, and the stories I hear about others, I know that illness presents us with an opportunity for introspection, for slowing down and reassessing what needs "healing". If a physical healing takes place, then we can move forward with a life that has also gone through a transformation. If a physical healing does not take place, we are more in alignment to accept our physical limitations, the fact that life is impermanent, and we can make every second count. Brenda P

  2. Dear Oriah,

    That was a beautiful post for I found what you said was so very well told.

    I'd be honored if you stopped by my blog someday, for I'd love hearing from you there, and your thoughts on some of my posts I've posted, but if you don't I'll understand.

    Have a wonderful day today!


  3. Thanks, Oriah. There's a lot of wisdom in this post.

  4. Really appreciate this post Oriah. I've come to a place in my own life where I am very careful with whom I speak to of my personal choices and decisions when it comes to my health - for the very reasons you expound upon here in the realm of projection and judgement and criticizing from others. I realize, though, it is often about their personal fears, and not wanting me to die or be ill, and can be compassionate with them. Still, for the one who is ill, it is not especially helpful.

    And, even though the stories you conveyed were about living, It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes (credited to a Tibetan Lama): "We die, not because we are ill but because we are complete. Illness [may be] the occasion of our dying, but not the cause."

    1. Jennifer, lovely quote- had not heard it before. And yes, most comments that are not helpful are fueled by fear- knowing that makes it easier not to verbally react- although when we are dealing with health challenges we may feel pretty reactive so your care in choosing where to share is very wise.