Nashville Tennessee. I am here to give a talk at Gilda’s Club and the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health. Then to lead a workshop, Writing the Living Matrix.
When I arrive, a fierce thunderstorm causes us to pull into a parking lot; we can’t see to drive. Lightning streaks across the sky and thunder roars. The center of the storm is overhead. The novel I am writing now, A Rain of Night Birds, is about lightning. Thunderstorms threatened the Southern California area when I left. But Nashville is not tinder dry and I do not fear fire in the way we do at home. At this moment, the lightning, virtually overhead is welcoming. In the novel, a woman is struck by lightning and is transformed. The talk I am to give is titled, “Cancer and Transformation.”
For years I lectured at medical schools, hospitals and universities, recognizing that cancer, in particular, and illness in general, are means of both oppression and liberation. Even as patients are coerced into accepting an increasingly iatrogenic system whose medicines, protocols and side effects threaten our individual lives and the earth itself, patients are, as physicians and health professionals are also, increasingly, focusing on changing their personal and professional lives on behalf of universal healing.
Astonished by the inescapable understanding that the threat to one’s life is a threat to life itself, patients begin to experience cancer as a wake-up call. As I continue to write this essay today 9/11 Day, 103, we are greeted with the strangely good news that the Federal health authorities Monday added 58 types of cancer to the list of covered illnesses for people who were exposed to toxins at the site of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
War and cancer are bedfellows for thousands of different reasons. The fallout from the manufacture and use of weapons as well as the fall out from the different kinds of wars we wage, including those against cancer. Cancer is the collateral damage at home of the American and global military, scientific, industrial, technological, chemical complex. This wake-up call, like 2012, aligns us with the suffering earth. What I say about cancer, healing and the war mentality from which cancer springs, is met with complete understanding and many tears, even here in what the local person who invited me calls “The Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
In a few days, I will be traveling to Ireland. When invited by a dear friend and colleague, to retreat and write and to be restored by the old ones, the megaliths, the great stones and the living vibrant green of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Tara, Lough Crew at the Autumn Equinox, I was aware, accepting with gratitude, that it would take place three months before 12/21/2012. It seemed like preparation for the shift we hope to enact within ourselves and on behalf of the world, but I didn’t know how. And I still don’t know, even though grievous circumstances have created the need for me to substitute and lead the retreat on behalf of the poet who created this journey. And, as every thing I do now leads me to ponder how this might affect the future we must preserve, I enter this moment of not knowing with the same radical hope and determination I have been carrying for years.
But just days ago, I heard a radio documentary regarding the violence that has broken out again in Belfast, Ireland between radical loyalists and Dublin. Peacemakers are taking steps to prevent it from escalating on September 29th when a parade, potentially inflammatory, is scheduled. What is unusual in this instance is that the greatest injuries have occurred to the police, sixty of them wounded, who were trying to stop the rioting. But, as has become commonplace in the kinds of conflicts we so enthusiastically pursue, the children are also the victims. The road to school is the no man’s land the Irish children traverse each day fearing that they may be shot and killed. Nor are our North American schools safe any longer.
[What is ours? What is theirs? Isn’t it all ours now? If we can inflict such harm on each other, aren’t we all ours?]
Anyone who still pretends that our ubiquitous preoccupation with conflict, the creation and distribution of arms of all sorts, from hand guns to nuclear and biological weapons, as well as the mandated focus upon violence and/or sex and violence that pervades the media and popular literature, are not among the root causes of the grim devastation of this time in human history, is both a victim and a perpetrator of our mass delusion. Self interest and survival do not justify our collusion, indulgence and/or our pleasure, in such means.
This sudden rising up of grief and frustration has taken me away from what I am trying to understand and write about. I am on way to Ireland to meet the spirits that may still exist in that land which was decimated, as were all aboriginal lands, by those who would conquer and destroy.
Speaking to a room of patients, physicians, therapists, nurses yesterday, I offered what I learned from a medicine man, a nganga, in Zimbabwe: “Spirit wants to heal.”
This heart knowledge came from a man who had been born into and who suffered the horrors of apartheid only to have it followed by the madness – shall we say the colonialism induced madness – of Robert Mugabe, first war hero and liberator, then cruel dictator.
Still… Spirit wants to heal.
I said this and its truth was understood even by those in the room who are suffering from war induced or war inflected diseases. I had related my own experience with breast cancer that probably resulted from my family’s (beloved and respected) physician’s fascination with fluoroscopy and so with radiation. (Were there any greater meanings in the incident of cancer I suffered in 1977? Perhaps so that thirty-five years later, I am writing this to you, so that we will pay attention.)
I had already spoken to the group of a treasured friend who had leukemia because of the uranium tailings on the Reservation in the Four Corners area. The uranium was mined for Los Alamos. And you know what happened, what is happening there.
(The mining companies and the government never cleaned it up. Can it be cleaned up?)
The war that prompted that madness was not /is not the only war, however. Late for my plane, I wonder if I am going to miss it altogether because I am not willing to submit to more radiation and would ask for a pat down instead, as it is now everywhere, even tucked into our pocket and purses in the forms of smart phones, and invading our homes as smart meters.
Some socially imposed dangers can be avoided, some cannot. I am very aware that walking through security at the airport is walking through a terror zone. War is everywhere. Terror everywhere. An old friend I meet for lunch, single father and monk, comments that the Bush, Cheney and Rove trinity instigated the fear and terror state and we are its on-going victims. Do those three also live in and with terror, constantly fearing terrorists within and without? I think they must.
The big terrors and the small terrors, the big wars and the small wars, they are constant and everywhere. The discussion we have at the end of the talk at Gilda’s Club, leads me to comment on one of the small but not less dangerous wars: “We are all going to die of antiseptics,” I say referring to one of our more routine, commonplace and unremitting wars. I was noting the antiseptic “weapon dispensary” at the entrance of Whole Foods that feeds our terror of contamination by community. Laughter erupts prompted by our bitter awareness of the real dangers of fear.
“ ‘I would like to lose the language of warfare,’ said Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute.
‘It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have co-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.’ “This new approach to health is known as medical ecology. Rather than conducting indiscriminate slaughter, Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists want to be microbial wildlife managers. “No one wants to abandon antibiotics outright. But by nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, doctors may be able to find other ways to fight (sic) infectious diseases and with less harmful side-effects.”
I, myself, do not even want to be a ‘wildlife manager’ of any sort. My hope is that we will allow the restoration of the original exquisite self-regulating ways of the natural world. Ecology, the essential balance.
We live in a war mentality. It is pervasive. It has infected us entirely. But as we must not war against it, how then shall we transform our lives? Spirit wants to heal. We are called to alliances. We are asked to give up enemy making. As a friend said once, “Create an environment that is inhospitable to disease.” I follow her statement with, “Let us create environments that are inhospitable to violence.”
I am on my way to Ireland to be with the old ones. I will be at Lough Crew, one of the ancient sites on the equinox to see the light enter and illuminate the inner chamber. The essential teachings of the old ones, our ancestors, to prepare me/us for the great darkness that may or may not open again to renewal. Even, or especially, as hostilities break out, it is time to be among the great stones that were set in place to mark the coming and going of the light.
I go carrying the question I posed at the writing retreat. Aware that I would be speaking with the ancient ones, I guided the writers who had gathered to speak to their descendents: What do you see that we can do now so that you will be born and will live a vital life in the natural world?
What do I want for my descendents? Earth as green as Ireland.
I spent the winter solstice at the Arctic Circle in Norway in 1996. At the moment of the solstice, the sky turned magenta and I was swept up into its great beauty as a great dark bird, greater than any I had ever seen flew across the sky
This year at Lough Crew, I hope to see the light in all its manifestations. When a spiritual moment is met by vision, then we know that spirit exists and we double down, fall to our knees to meet our vows and commitments. I don’t know when I will be able to write and post again. Perhaps at the end of October or early November when we will be rushing toward the Solstice.
How will you/will we continue to transform in the meantime?
Spirit wants to heal. Spirit wants healing.
To end this letter about healing and spirit, here is a story I was given as a gift by someone who had attended my talk, Cancer and Transformation.
Bob Marshall had had cancer. He had just started a new business. He would go to work, go to chemo, come home and collapse. In the past, he had walked in the woods near his house and had met a hybrid cat/bob cat. He would talk to the large cat and he would talk back: “Yowl.” They had “this connection.”
Once the bobcat was kicked by a deer and cut open to the bone from neck through ribs. The cat came to him and allowed Bob to reach under him and swab the wound with Neosporin. “His paws were as large as my palm,” Bob said opening his own wide, work worn palm. “And his claws… He could have slashed me as he had been slashed.”
Now when Bob was literally collapsed on the ground from the chemo, the bobcat would come and knead him with his paws. The bobcat did this everyday, massaging, massaging.
“He healed me,” the man said.
“He was a spirit,” I respond.
“Yes,” Bob Marshall said. “He was a spirit. He healed me.”
Spirit wants to heal.
Spirit wants the patients to heal and the earth to heal. Spirit wants healing. We are called to be the Way.