"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!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Your Worldview on Cancer

Ken and Treya Wilber, based on their own particular experiences, have identified a number of different meanings and judgments that society assigns to illness based on a variety of “worldviews”. A worldview is simply an overall perspective by which one views and interprets the world. This is not an inclusive list by any means, but it provides a good basis for reflection on the types of “worldview” that inform our own judgements and meanings about cancer and other illnesses.

1. Christian: The fundamentalist message: Illness is basically a punishment from God for some sort of sin. The worse the illness, the more unspeakable the sin.
2. New Age: Illness is a lesson. You are giving yourself this disease because there is something important you have to learn from it in order to continue your spiritual growth and evolution. Mind alone causes illness and mind alone can cure it...
3. Medical: Illness is fundamentally a biophysical disorder, caused by biophysical factors (from viruses to trauma to genetic predisposition to environmental triggering agents). You needn't worry about psychological or spiritual treatments for most illnesses, because such alternative treatments are usually ineffectual and may actually prevent you from getting the proper medical attention.
4. Karma: Illness is the result of negative karma; that is, some non-virtuous past actions are now coming to fruition in the form of a disease. The disease is "bad" in the sense that it represents past non-virtue; but it is "good" in the sense that the disease process itself represents the burning up and the purifying of the past misdeed; it's purgation, a cleansing.
5. Psychological: As Woody Allen put it, "I don't get angry; I grow tumors instead." The idea is that, at least in pop psychology, repressed emotions cause illness. The extreme form: Illness as death wish.
6. Gnostic: Illness is an illusion. The entire manifest universe is a dream, a shadow, and one is free of illness only when one is free form illusory manifestation altogether, only when one awakens form the dream and discovers instead the One reality beyond the manifest universe. Spirit is the only reality, and in Spirit there is no illness…
7. Existential: Illness itself is without meaning. Accordingly it can take any meaning I choose to give it, and I am solely responsible for these choices. Men and women are finite and mortal, and the authentic response is to accept illness as part of one's finitude even while imbuing it with personal meaning.
8. Holistic: Illness is a product of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual factors, none of which can be isolated from the others, none of which can be ignored. Treatment must involve all of these dimensions...
9. Magical: Illness is retribution. "I deserve this because I wished So-and-so would die." Or, "I better not excel too much, something bad will happen to me." Or, "If too many good things happen to me, something bad has to happen." And so on.
10. Buddhist: Illness is an inescapable part of the manifest world; asking why there is illness is like asking why there is air. Birth, old age, sickness, and death--these are the marks of this world, all of whose phenomena are characterized by impermanence, suffering, and selflessness. Only in enlightenment, in the pure awareness of nirvana, is illness finally transcended, because then the entire phenomenal world is transcended as well.
11. Scientific: Whatever the illness is, it has a specific cause or cluster of causes. Some of these causes are determined, others are simply random or due to pure chance. Either way, there is no "meaning" to illness; there is only chance or necessity.

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber


That is quite a list. I resonate mostly with the medical, scientific, existential, and holistic views. Although I come from a scientific background, I generally think the medical/scientific views result in a very “flat-earth” perspective if taken purely on their own. They just deny too many other dimensions of reality. Reason and experience suggest there must be “more”. The holistic worldview accepts the reality of the medical/scientific views while also affirming the mind/body connection and allowing for psychological and spiritual dimensions. An integrated approach to healing is rooted in this worldview. My “existential” side believes that human beings naturally seek to find meaning in their experiences. Otherwise existence collapses down to a meaningless void in the midst of a cynical world where “nothing means nothing”.

My worldview is also informed by a Christian perspective, although it bears no resemblance to that noted above. The Christian view articulated above is really quite medieval and isn’t commonly held in most of the church communities I’ve known or belonged to (Thank God!). Most Christians actually hold much more enlightened and compassionate views more in line with the life and teachings of Jesus. Regrettably, the view as expressed above does persist in some Christian fundamentalist communities. It’s the type of negative view that leads to the stigmatizing of illnesses.  And, sadly, the stigmatizing of Christianity!  Enough said!!

What’s your worldview on cancer? Are there any in this list that define your beliefs? Feel free to comment.

That’s all folks… Rob; in Vancouver

“Unfortunately, our senses are limited, therefore our view of the world is limited. This is not a problem unless we start believing that what we perceive is all there is to be perceived. It is not.” Peter McWilliams
originally posted in July 2007

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