I read an article the other day about physicians and how different they die from the general public. Physicians, who are diagnosed with cancer for example, don’t seek curative care. They just die peacefully. That was jest of the article.
I studied meditation for 10 years, and have taught it for seven.
And in the last year I have been bombarded by hardship, one after the other. Emotional, physical, and spiritual.
A friend of mine recommended I listen to a radio broadcast today about patients of breast cancer. It was a New York breast reconstruction surgeon (Dr. Feingold) and his PEP (patient enhancement program) coordinator (Mollie Sugerman).
As I listened to them talking, especially the PEP coordinator, I couldn’t help but HATE the fact that I was trained as a meditation teacher.
Because one of the foundations of her program of helping women in my situation is, of course, meditation and guided imagery.
And the problem is I KNOW THAT SHIT! I knew it before I was diagnosed with breast cancer; I knew it before my breasts were amputated. I knew it before my husband died of cancer. And yet, here I am, in a state of total fear and illness.
I keep thinking my “practice” of meditation should help me. Right? That’s what I taught for so many years. And as I lie in bed, completely weakened and fearful, watching yet another episode of yet another TV series, I don’t think it can help me. After all, I knew it before all this shit happened, before BRCA, before mastectomy, before my husband’s death. And yet all of those horrible things have happened. And I am wrought with grief and fear.
So today, the quote “Physician heal thyself!” has been running through my mind. I couldn’t remember the reference, and actually thought it dated back to ancient Greece with the invention of modern medicine, so to speak, Hippocrates and all that jazz.
Imagine my surprise when I looked up the quote and found it was from the book of Luke in the Bible, attributed to none other than Jesus. (Yes, I’ve forgotten most of Bible Studies—sorry Mrs. Brooks; you were a great teacher.)
(I am not comparing myself to Jesus, I’ll leave that to the legendary John Lennon—I admire them both.)
The title of the chapter from which this quote comes is “Tested in the Wilderness,” Luke 4.
As the story goes, Jesus had fasted for 40 days. Note, it did not say he suffered from diarrhea or vomiting. It did not say he mourned the loss of his beloved partner or worried about paying his bills. But I suppose the point is to show us that he too suffered. As we do. And for a long time.
Afterwards, in the story, the devil comes and tempts Jesus with bread, castles, wealth, and power. Jesus denies these and says instead that he gives himself to God not to temptation. He also said something like, “Don’t test the Lord.” And from the context, this seems to mean that Jesus trusts God to do what is best and refused to make a stone into bread so he could feed himself. He chooses to suffer what God intends, even though he could, perhaps, do otherwise.
Now Jesus was a very cool and powerful dude. He had a choice—or so it says in the story.
But those of us who are suffering now. We don’t seem to have the choice, right? We suffer—pain, sorrow, loss, lack—and we don’t have the option of changing a rock into bread so we can eat and feed our friends/family who are hungry.
Then Jesus goes back to his hometown and speaks a prophecy about how you can’t be prophet in your hometown. He quotes some references (so it must be legit) and then says the famous words (again I paraphrase): Surely you will tell me ‘physician heal thyself! Do in your hometown what you’ve done elsewhere!’
To which he responds to his own thoughts by saying (much more eloquently): No.
The people of his town are furious, and Jesus gets driven out as a heretic.
And I’m left wondering why that quote was running through my head all day?
As I think about it more and more, I wonder if this isn’t a metaphor for our own minds. Perhaps we can’t “Heal Thyself.” Perhaps we (and by “we” I mean people who have studied, trained as healers, meditators, spiritual practitioners so that we can help others) can’t heal ourselves. Perhaps, as Jesus did, we have to throw ourselves into the fire of our own destiny, and all the pain it carries with it. Perhaps we can help others (in other towns) and yet must also burn through the pain of our special journey.
And maybe what this story of Jesus is meant to tell us is that THAT’S okay.
I don’t know. But I wonder.
I fear becoming like a doctor who knows so well the workings of cancer refuses treatment and just dies (not that I oppose that choice–I believe we all have the right to make those decisions, and having watched a man suffer the effects of chemotherapy, I’m not sure I wouldn’t make the same decision in certain situations–depending. But matters of the heart/mind are different. Giving into despair and sadness when you know you have an option–that’s what I’m talking about.)
It’s difficult to see how the practice of meditation is helping me during this time of suffering, perhaps because it’s become such an integral part of my being that I can’t distinguish it. I don’t feel different (or less pained) after meditating . . . and that’s part of why I sometimes I wish I didn’t know it so well. I wish I could have a drink of meditation and feel buzzed like a rookie instead of just the familiar gentle soothing of a seasoned drinker.
Which leads me to understand more deeply that meditation is not a miracle cure. It’s a relationship. At first it’s exciting and stimulating. The unknown carries with it excitement about the possibilities (for meditation to cure, heal, change, fix). The more time we spend together, the more comfortable we become—the less excited perhaps, true, but also more supportive and solid.
And so, in this midst of what feels like horrible pain, I’m not meditating. I’m floating on the foundation of meditation that took years to develop. And I’m trying to remind myself that though the exciting new idea of meditation will not help me now, my relationship with it holds me back from the brink of despair. And as with Jesus, my faith keeps me close to The Divine at a time when it would be so easy to feel completely abandoned.