I once saw Ian Gawler deliver a talk to a cancer support group. Ian, of course, is a notable cancer survivor. He asked those with cancer in the audience to imagine they had been told they only three months to live and how they’d live it. He paused, and then asked those in the audience who didn’t have cancer to go through the same mental exercise. You may care to do the same.
Disease has many aspects beyond the physical and other obvious fears we all tend to imagine. Often when you have a disease you find yourself not thinking as everyone would expect you to. Having been in that audience of Ian’s with a partner dying of cancer, and subsequently having a life threatening illness myself, I have seen both sides of the coin.
That the experience of disease can push us beyond our fear-driven cognitive approach to life is something of an irony, and one that is often lost in the Medical Industrial Complex. This quote is describing a state of consciousness that is unitary, the “living in the moment” that is the goal of many mystical traditions.
In western mysticism there is the concept of the “divine wound” that challenges us, and leads us to enlightenment. It is, after all, the root metaphor of Christianity. In the ancient tradition of shamanism is the belief that spiritual realisation is only achieved by having, negotiating, and healing from a severe disease, be it physical or mental.
Because, as this quote implies, it is not just physical disease that we are talking about: It is how disease affects us, physically AND mentally. It is almost as if, and implied in mystical traditions, that we do not grow as human beings without the experience of wounding and healing. This paints a very different picture of the role of disease, almost as if we are attracted to it, that we need to experience it in our life’s journey.
Such disease and wounding paints a very different picture of suffering and sacrifice. We live in a culture that becomes fearful at the thought of disease and suffering, that is frightened of pain and infirmity, and demands that we rid ourselves of it at all costs. Such a view is unfortunately encouraged and sustained by our society and the health custodians we employ.
It is not that we need to neglect our responsibilities to deal with pain and suffering, but maybe we need to see it in a much broader context for it to make sense to us, and for us – as individuals – to decide how we want it managed. And this decision is our spiritual right.