Piotr Rajski, M.A., Chartered Psychologist
Most people will agree that human beings are more than just flesh and blood. Human spirit, for instance, continues to intrigue scientists and philosophers, poets and theologians, political and military leaders, through all the centuries. Humans seem to be capable of impressive acts of self-denial, courage, compassion and love. They cam also perform the ugliest acts of cruelty, betrayal and murder. Humans are believed to be the only species whose representants are capable of willingly taking out their lives. Truly we are amazing creatures.
As psychologist, that is scientist-practitioner interested in how humans think, feel and behave, I have this natural tendency to see people in a wholistic way. For me, human beings not only breathe, eat, procreate and defend their offsprings, but also love and hate, achieve and make mistakes, think and try to find meaning in their lives. They eventually die.
From this perspective I also look at cancer. It is obvious for me that cancer is not a "medical problem". If it was the matter would be simple and every cancer was treatable. The unfortunate reality is that even when the medical treatment results in remission, cancer has a tendency to reemerge some time later. I think this happens, because people do not change. They passively assume that they were cured and do not change their lives. In other words, they recreate conditions that led to cancer.
What can Psychologist do for me?
I often hear people saying with disbelief - " I have cancer. What possibly can psychologist do for me?" To these people I say: "Psychologist can help you in many ways. Two conditions have to be met though. First, that you will give it a fair trial and open your mind to listen. Second, that you are willing to take some responsibility for your life."
Taking responsibility for one's life (including the unpleasant reality of cancer) comes down to a simple question:
"Is it possible that in any way I contributed and perhaps still contribute to my cancer?"
Many people defend themselves right away by pointing out to numerous cancirogenic factors that are beyond their control, such as environmental pollution, food covered with pesticides, unhealthy radiation's, etc. It is all right. There are many things that are in fact beyond our control. Still it is more interesting to have a look into things we can control one way or another. What are these things?
In many cases cancer seems to be linked to our life style, especially life style involving high stress. Many people literally kill themselves doing jobs that are above their potential, requiring constant alertness. Frequent by product of these jobs are high caffeine intakes, cigarette smoking, illegal and prescribed drugs, unhealthy high saturated fast food. People often find it difficult to change their lifestyles, driven by their ambitions or unwilling to lower the material standards of their life. The choice is ultimately yours. But what good it would make for you to have a beautiful house and fancy car, if you were dead?
Problems related to addictions and diet are particular aspects of the life style issue. I have worked with addicted people (alcohol, cigarette smoking, etc.) for many years and I know that to effect change in this area presents a serious psychological challenge. We psychologists do have many interesting insights into these problems and could offer you a support if you are serious about "changing your life." The same is true with regard to diet.
Patterns of Feeling and Thinking.
There is a whole domain of psycho-oncology, or psychosomatic approach to cancer, that links this disease to strong negative emotions. Cancer patients often report being troubled by grief, regrets, guilt, resentments and so on. Psychologists are trained to deal with these emotions. We can help you to learn how to express them in a healthy way (how to "ventilate" them), which may lead to integration and comfort. This process, though often complicated and painful, typically reduces the overall level of emotional tension of the person. More relaxed and at peace with yourself, you are in a better condition to battle your cancer.
Cognitive psychology is another domain that can be helpful for people with cancer. Cognitive psychologists demonstrated that emotions are usually preceded by thoughts. This may happen very quickly, in nanoseconds, as when a thought about danger triggers "fight or flee" reaction. It may also be a slower process, as when a conclusion about unfairness of something leads to a prolonged sense of disappointment or bitterness. Psychologists can help you to have a look into this aspect of your life. Of interest are mainly "negative thoughts", i.e. often irrational judgements that lead to a sort of pessimistic or even cynical outlook of life. Worth of exploring are also all the thoughts that maintain your helplessness, i.e. perception that you have no control over your life.
While working with a psychologist you may learn how to "control your mind", which is believed to be "more difficult than riding on a tiger" (Hindu saying). Some psychologists are trained in techniques such as meditation, use of mantra, therapeutic use of prayer, etc. If you gave these practices a chance, you may be able to turn your mind into a facilitator of healing rather than a stumbling block of the recovery process.
Our patterns of feeling and thinking often have a direct impact on our relationships, and vice versa, our relationships affect the ways we think and feel about ourselves. Love of another person can make us happy. On the other hand, betrayal, separation or death of a loved one can hurt us like nothing else. Some people integrate these experiences quicker, but there are many who remain with feelings of resentment, guilt or grief for years. These are common cancirogenic situations. We literally "eat ourselves from inside" through harboring these kind of emotions. Psychologist can help you look at your past and present relationships. By helping you to understand what happened, psychologist may facilitate the healing process of forgiveness. Psychologist may also give you means to improve your current relationship, to make it more fulfilling and rewarding. People who lost their hopes in this regard are very often susceptible to cancer. Your partner's attitude may have enormous impact on your chances of recovery.
Energy and Spiritual Purification.
The newly emerging domain is so called Energy Psychology. These psychologists believe that human energy is an important area of diagnosis and intervention. The concept of "energy" has been very old, but only recently becomes the subject of scientific investigation. Simply speaking, every human being carries with oneself an "energy field", a subtle energy body, which is also known as "aura". Some people can see auras, and by analyzing the spectrum of its colors, draw conclusions as to the "energetical shape" of the person. It is believed that sick organs or even emotional upheavals have immediate reflections in our auras. It is also believed that by taking care of one's "energy body" and by keeping it clean, a person may prevent disease. See also the concept of the "energy hypothesis of cancer" as delineated in "Rationale for Use of Conscious Connected Breathing in Treatment of People with Cancer."
This leads us to the concept of Spiritual Purification. Spiritual Purification is about cleaning and maintaining cleanliness of our energetical bodies. How it can be achieved? Some techniques of spiritual purification are quite simple and even pleasurable. We may use water to clean our physical and energetical bodies by bathing twice a day. Water also helps us to clean our clothes, which should be changed every day, and to clean our food. Many people believe that sitting at the fire is an excellent way of purifying our auras. Burning a candle may serve as a substitute. We may use air through proper breathing exercises, such as pranayama or conscious connected breathing. We may use our Nature through walks in the forest, gardening, physical work, sports and so on. Eating only fresh, especially vegetarian food is also believed to purify our body.
Spiritual Purification may also be a more sophisticated and challenging process. It is believed that Penance, especially when it involves solitude, fasting, prayer or meditation on one's own mistakes, can have strong purifying impact on the whole being. Penance often leads to seeking and offering forgiveness, which results in achieving peace with oneself and others. By practicing Penance we may also invoke the sense of God's Presence in our lives, which naturally changes the way we look at our life and sickness.
Leonard Orr, the founder of Rebirthing movement, a breathing method that was tried by 10 millions people all over the world, believes that Spiritual Purification should be a continuous process. According to him, we are never completely free of cancer. Our bodies constantly carry or cope with agents that may lead to this disease. The whole art is to maintain control over these agents through the process of purification of one's own energy.
Death and Suffering.
Cancer, with its imminent perspective of death, leads often to a profound spiritual crisis and sense of despair. People question themselves about purposefulness of their efforts when they are about to perish. Some people blame God for arranging things in such an unfortunate way. Hopelessness and helplessness may become predominant.
Psychologists may help you to deal with these emotions and perhaps look at things from a different perspective. Approaching death forces us to rethink our priorities and attachments. It is an opportunity to stop thinking about you as, for instance, a lawyer, a husband or a father. Instead, you may reach deeper into your real being who, as so many before you, is about to lose the physical body. This process helps us to see ourselves as souls rather than bodies, and in this sense, may lead to important spiritual advancement.
It is also believed that physical suffering, especially when borne with patience, deepens our understanding of life, and makes us more compassionate toward fellow human beings. Without a suffering, which burns our illusions and overblown egos, we cannot, in a way, reach our true human potential.
In other words, cancer, suffering and dying, may bring important spiritual
gains and psychologists may help you to understand this lesson.
Edmonton, Tuesday, November 09, 1999
This text is one of the chapters of "Energy Renewal for People with Cancer. CareCan Approach."
Last updated: 2003/01/02