"Our soul must perform two duties. The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised. The other is that we must gently let go and let be." Julian of Norwich

...Cancer teaches both!!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Will to Live

Foundations of Healing #1:  

In “The Mapmakers Wife” , Robert Whitaker tells the story of an 18th century Peruvian woman who makes a remarkable journey from the Andes Mountains down the Amazon River to be reunited with her beloved husband Jean. Isabel Godin left her home in 1770 with a large party which included her brothers, a nephew, and a fair complement of slaves, servants, guides, and mules.

Shortly into the journey things go terribly wrong and she finds herself alone and lost in the jungle of the upper Amazon. Isabel endured over 6 weeks of wandering in the jungle. During this time she watched her brothers and nephew die of starvation and was beset by plagues of ants, mosquitoes, botflies, and other nasty insects. Against all odds Isabel was found, survived, recovered, and completed her journey.

In reflecting on Isabel’s ordeal and remarkable survival Whitaker states that what seems to count most in survival is “an inner psychological strength nurtured by purpose, hope, and spiritual beliefs”. He also points out that Isabel was “experienced in a humble act practiced by nearly all survivors… prayer”. For Isabel the commitment to be reunited with Jean formed a compelling "will to live" which sustained her in the end. 

When it comes to living with cancer, a strong "will to live" will influence a person to become proactive in seeking and evaluating treatment options.  A strong "will to live" will empower a person to become more assertive in dealing with the medical system. And a strong "will to live" will help to push a person through treatment regimes that, while potentially life-saving, can be very life-limiting while in the midst of them (chemo, surgery, radiation, etc.). 

There comes a day when we may "relinquish" our "will to live".    I've personally witnessed this in people as they draw near to death and literally "let go" into a peaceful and grace filled acceptence of the end.   Discerning the time for this "letting go" is one of the most important pieces of soul-work we can do as we face the terminal stages of cancer or other life-threatening conditions.

My own will to live continues to be strong.  I have a wonderful family life that is filled with love, I have a meaningful vocation that continues to be fruitful, I am relatively "young", and I love this life and want to get as much out of it as possible.

A strong "will to live", in and of itself, is obviously not going to get us through everything.  Many people die in possession of the strongest possible "will to live".  What it will provide is purpose for the journey and courage for the work along the way.
Carpe Diem... Rob
“I want my will to live to be strong. I want to get as much time out of this as possible. And so I need to work at that with complete focus and dedication and clarity and concentration, and right effort.
And yet, at the same time, be unattached to the results either way. Pain is not punishment, death is not failure, life is not reward.”
Treya Killam Wilber
originally posted June 2007

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