Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Meaning Of Life

In one of my writings I tell the story of a man who searches the whole world for someone who can tell him the meaning of life. Finally, after much struggle, he finds a guru at the top of a mountain who tells him, "Life is just a bowl of cherries." When the man gets upset, the guru says, "All right, life is not just a bowl of cherries."

The purpose of the story was to illustrate the first principle of Huna: The world is what you think it is. Logically, then, life means what you think it means. That, however, is neither satisfying nor very enlightening. Isn't there a better, or at least a more clear, way of discovering the meaning of life? Well, of course there is, because there's always another way to do anything (a corollary of the second and seventh principles). I'll suggest two ways right now.

The first way, however, requires that you give up the notion that the meaning of life can be put into words. The meaning of life expresses itself in the living of life, not in a set of words about the living of life.

It only takes a little observation to realize that life is a process of change and growth, adaptation and renewal, healing and learning, creativity and transformation. When the process of life is expressing itself freely the subjective experience is one of physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual pleasure in varying degrees. If you strongly resist any part of the process of life, you will experience varying degrees of physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual pain.

There is a natural kind of resistance in life which plays the role of a change agent, or catalyst, to enhance the process. It is natural, for instance, to experience an initial resistance when anything changes in your life, whether for good or for bad. Regardless of the nature of the change, or even what we might term the "volume" of the change, what matters most as far as effects go is the way you respond to the change. In 1967 two U.S. Navy researchers named Holmes and Rahe published a scale of positive and negative events ranging from the death of a spouse to taking a vacation or spending Christmas alone and attempted to correlate the number and type of changes within a year to a person's state of health in the following year. In a follow-up study, researcher Suzanne Kobassa of the University of Chicago noted that some people with high stress scores didn't get sick, and others with low scores did get sick. She also noted that those who had high scores and didn't get sick shared some common characteristics: a life plan with established priorities (3rd Principle); a high level of self esteem (5th Principle); an internal sense of control (6th Principle); and an action orientation (7th principle).

To make this concept more clear, negative effects of stress only occur when the initial resistance to the event is acute (very strong) or chronic (sustained over a period of time). Extrapolating from the information above, this would tend to happen when a person
  1. does not have a life plan or priorities;
  2. has a low level of self esteem;
  3. has a sense of being out of control; and
  4. gets stuck in reactions rather than taking action.
Change is part of the life process, and so is resisting change. That's what creates a wave. Change is only a problem, and only causes pain, when reactions are unnatural, rather than natural. An unnatural reaction, which is probably better called a learned reaction that resists life instead of promoting it, consists of some combination or variation of Fear, Anger, or Doubt. The more fear, anger or doubt you apply to any part of the life process, the more physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual pain you will experience. In short, as you participate more fully in the process of living, then your life will seem to have more meaning, and whenever you go against that process, life will seem less meaningful.

The second way of discovering the meaning of life takes a different approach. In this case, it recognizes that when many people ask about the meaning of life, they are really asking "What is the purpose of life?" And underneath or behind that question is "How can I make my life more meaningful (i.e., important, purposeful, or worthwhile)?"

Unfortunately, the best answer I can give to that question is to start doing something that you believe is important, purposeful, or worthwhile. You don't need anyone's permission and you don't have to live according to someone else's idea of a meaningful life, but sometimes other people do have good suggestions. It will be much more difficult to just start doing something to the degree that you
  1. do not have a life plan or priorities;
  2. have a low level of self esteem;
  3. have a sense of being out of control; or
  4. get stuck in reactions rather than taking action.
On the other hand, if that's the case, then you can get a good start on giving your life more meaning by resolving those issues first.

If you are one of those rare people who are born with a clear purpose, or one of those equally rare people to whom God, or angels or spirits have told you directly what you are to do (and you have believed the message), then congratulations. You are probably only reading this article out of intellectual interest. But, if you are like most people in the world, the bad news is that, while it's not impossible that some external source might someday give you a meaningful purpose that you find acceptable, the greater likelihood is that that won't happen. The good news is that you don't have to wait around for external sources to make up their minds. You can, whenever you wish, screw up your courage, take a deep breath, make a great leap of faith, and choose your own purpose.

So, friend, how are you treating life today?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Today Is Different

Once I was taking a morning walk through a familiar neighborhood, beside a familiar golf course, along a familiar coastline, past familiar trees and flowers, to a familiar cliff overlooking the ocean. 

My Body was giving me perceptions of sights, sounds, smells and feelings while my Mind was registering patterns and making interpretations. "That's a street, that's a path, that's a tree, that's grass, that's a cloud, that's the ocean...." said my Body. "Ho hum, here's the same old walk again," said my Mind."Borrring!"

Then my Spirit interrupted. "Wait a minute! Look again. That leaf wasn't there yesterday. Those clouds and those waves are not the same ones, either. And did you ever notice that particular ridge outlined in that particular way by the sun? Look again. Today is different."

Suddenly I realized, in a very real and physical way, that my Spirit was right. It was not only a different day, it was, by any meaningful definition of reality, a whole new world. It only seemed the same because I was looking at it through old eyes.

One very useful characteristic of human beings is our ability to recognize patterns, and to apply pattern recognition to our environment in thousands of practical ways.
In the natural environment we can learn weather patterns that will help us to prepare for planting or hunting or sheltering, animal and plant patterns that will assist in our food gathering and production, rock and land and water and star patterns that will help us on our journeys. I have used such patterns on numerous occasions throughout my life for such things as finding my way through the Sahara Desert, navigating across stretches of open ocean, and getting in and out of wilderness areas on Kauai.

In an urban environment we can learn street and traffic patterns to help us go where we want to go, building and address patterns to help us find what we want to find, and people patterns that will help us to define who is doing what and why. In my travels around the world I have encountered people wearing many different kinds of costumes whom I was still able to acknowledge as policemen because of pattern recognition. And this same abiity has enabled me to drive a car in various countries, even when it was necessary to vary the pattern for driving on the left or the right.
We can recognize a forest, regardless of the types of trees that are in it. We can recognize dogs and cats, regardless of the specific breeds. We are really, really good at recognizing patterns.

However, there is a serious potential problem with pattern recognition. The problem occurs when we stop looking at the world as it is, and begin looking at the patterns instead. When we stop looking at people, and look only at patterns of people, we can fall easily into the traps of racism, prejudice, bias and bigotry. When we stop looking at our environment and look only at patterns that we superimpose on the environment, the we lose touch with the power and healing and adventure and awesome variety that actually exists there. And when we stop looking at ourselves, and look only at some perceived pattern of ourselves, we tend to identify with the pattern and become afraid of change.

Perhaps this is the key to the age-old idea that most people are asleep and that a true perception of reality requires that they wake up somehow. If so, then they aren't really asleep at all. They are just looking at the world through old patterns, through old eyes. The solution, then, is not to wake up; it is to look differently.

Not everyone wants to do that, but if you do, here is a suggestion. In some classes I do an exercise which consists of having people look at a familiar environment and find something new in it. To begin with, "look" with any of your senses for something you never noticed before, or use a sense that you've never used in a particular way for a particular thing in that environment. As a variation, when you enter a new environment, purposely look up, down, and in the corners for details that you might normally gloss over. With a lot of practice, you'll be able to sense your world differently more often. And if you forget, as I still do from time to time, trust that Spirit will remind you.

Finally, if you are truly interested in learning how to see differently, it's a good idea to study just enough science and metaphysics to understand that the Universe is changing constantly, even while it keeps repeating patterns. Which means that the patterns are always changing, too. There is power in that knowledge, and if you love life enough you can find it by putting your old eyes aside and using new ones.

Yesterday was, and never will be again. Tomorrow isn't, and can't be reached. Today neither was nor will be. Today is different.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Living Philosophy

As important as it is to have a philosophy of life, it is equally as important to have some guidelines for practicing that philosophy. Here is a format that I use every morning to remind myself of my philosophy, to clear my mind and clarify my purpose, to stabilize and harmonize my feelings and emotions, and to relax my body and charge it up for the activities of the day. I do it as if I were a teacher to myself. Sometimes I do it very briefly on a very busy day, but whenever I have the time I work with it for awhile.

Be Aware that the world is what you think it is, so decide what you want to believe today. It is up to you, after all. No one forces you to think in a particular way. It is totally up to you whether you think the world is a place of struggle and pain and danger, or a place of beauty and light and magic. Outside events do not rule how you feel, but the way you interpret them does.

Be Free because there are no limits, so give yourself the right to change your mind. An amazing number of people limit themselves unnecessarily because they feel they don't deserve to be happy or successful, due to something they've done or didn't do in the past. If this is your problem you have to forgive yourself and move on, or forever be bound by the chains you've put around yourself with a lock to which only you have the key. It doesn't matter who else says you don't have the right, or even that you do have the right. You will never have it until you give it to yourself.

Be Focused because energy flows where attention goes, so increase your desire to live the life you choose. You'll probably read this again several times in different forms, but the secret to increasing your desire to live the life you choose is to focus on the benefits of doing that and to decide that those benefits are really important to you. When the benefits become important enough then the focus will be automatic.

Be Here because now is the moment of power, so start right now with some kind of action to be, do, or have what you want. You can't do anything yesterday, and you can't do anything tomorrow. You can only do something right now. But "right now" is like a foreign country to people who spend most of their time dwelling on the past or the future. If you aren't used to it, it isn't easy to stay centered in the present moment, but the way to practice is to consciously breathe, consciously look at colors and shapes, consciously listen to the sounds you can hear, and consciously touch what is in your reach. And then consciously act, even in the smallest way, in a direction of your choice. The past and the future can be interesting places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there even if you could. Your real home is here and now.

Be Happy because love is the source of power, so enjoy and acknowledge the good that is. If you aren't happy, get happy. How can you do that when so many awful things are going on? Well, "faking it till you make it" is one way, but I'll give you a simpler way that works for me and for thousands of others. A very ancient technique, it's called "count your blessings." You do it by actively seeking out and feeling appreciation for all the good things you can find. This includes all the good experiences you've ever had, no matter how minor they may seem; all the skills you've ever learned, and don't forget walking, talking and dressing; all the beauty and wonder you can discover in the world around you; all the good things that you see and hear about that other people do; and all the good things that you want to experience in the future. I'm not suggesting that you pretend bad things don't exist, because this is a practical teaching, after all. But the more you are filled with an awareness of goodness, the easier it is to deal with the bad.

Be Confident because all power comes from within, so always trust yourself. You can't trust people to always do what you want, because they have their own priorities and agendas which may or may not agree with yours. You can't trust the world to always be the way you want it to be, because there are so many forces and influences at work which may not be moving in the direction you want things to go. But you can always trust that you have the power to change what you can change, adapt when you're unable to make changes, and increase your skills by study and practice. One of the best posters I ever saw was of a sailor at sea in his boat, with a caption that read "You can't control the wind, but you can always adjust your sail."

Be Positive because effectiveness is the measure of success, so always expect the best. Some people believe in preparing for the worst, so they won't get any nasty surprises. There are two problems with that. First, they usually get nasty surprises anyway; and second, they seldom get any good surprises. Other people avoid optimism because they are afraid of being disappointed. Let's take a hard look at that. Disappointment is being unhappy with the way things have turned out. So these people are not planning for success because their plans might not work and then they might feel bad. And they are so afraid of feeling bad that they'd rather not feel good. There's something about that logic that escapes me. Yes, things might not turn out the way you want and you might decide to feel bad. So? If you still want to be effective you try something different and start again. Let me give you a quote from Serge Kahili King: "People don't fail, plans do. People just give up or make new plans."

Friday, September 9, 2016


We put a great deal of emphasis on blessings in our Huna work. The "Aloha Spirit" booklet is all about blessings, as an example, and we begin and end all our meetings and classes and workshops with a blessing of some kind. Ancient Hawaiians blessed their homes, their tools, their canoes, and each other abundantly, and modern Hawaiians and residents of Hawaii still bless homes, offices, hotels and other buildings.

A dictionary definition of blessing is "to will good; to bestow favor and benefits; to praise." Even though blessings can be in the form of material gifts and helpful behavior, our tendency most of the time is to think of blessings in terms of words.

Behind all of this is a belief in two things: the power of words, and the power of good intentions. The power of words is that of helping us to concentrate our intentions. The power of the good intentions themselves has a more esoteric basis. It is essentially an expectation that someone or something will hear and respond to our declaration or our action, whether it's because they've heard it with their physical ears or seen it written with their physical eyes, or because it was telepathically received and acted upon consciously or subconsciously.

A blessing is not the same as a prayer, although a prayer may contain a blessing. Prayers are usually requests (the root of "to pray" means "to ask"), but they can actually take many forms. The famous "Lord's Prayer" of the New Testament (Matthew 6:9-13) uses the following formula, which starts out with praise, then tells God what to do, and ends with praise:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Although most people think of this as asking God for something, that is due to a very modern assumption that when you want something from God you have to ask, as if God might or might not grant your wish. This is not how ancient people prayed, because they knew the importance of confident expectation. Instead, they gave appropriate praise to God, or whatever gods they worshipped, and then laid out in clear, confident terms exactly what they expected God to do. The Book of Psalms is full of this kind of prayer, and one good example is the famous 23rd Psalm.

Blessing is found all over the world in one form or another. In doing a little research I came up with these tidbits of information from the Bible which you may find interesting. These quotes are from the King James version. The first two blessings mentioned in the Bible: 1. Genesis 1:3 - And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 2. Genesis 1:4: And God saw the light, that it was good. The first example of teaching man to bless: Numbers 6:22-26 - And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying "On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace."

The first request for a blessing (as a material gift) and the first granting of a blessing between people: Judges 1:15 - And she (Achsah, Caleb's daughter) said unto him, Give me a blessing...give me springs of water. And Caleb gave her the...springs.

The first blessing of God by man (Noah): Genesis 9:26 - And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. However, an alternate translation is, Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem, which would change it to the first blessing given to one man by another on behalf of God. And then the first blessing of God by man (Melchizedek) would be from Genesis 14:20 - Blessed be the most high God.
The first indication of one person blessing another with words: Genesis 14:19 - And he (Melchizedek) blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God.

Insincere blessings: Psalms 62:4 - They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.

First blessing of the New Testament (Sermon on the Mount): Matthew 5:3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The use of a blessing to change reality: Matthew 14:19-21 - And he took the five loaves and the two fishes and looking up to heaven he blessed and brake and gave the loaves to his disciples and the disciples to the multitude....and there remained twelve baskets full...and those that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

The last line of the Bible is a blessing: Rev 22:21 - The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

And from Paul we have this good advice related to blessing: Philippians 4:8 - Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are good, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Many people bless, but miss the main point of a blessing, which is to wish something good for the "blessee." It does little good to say "Bless you" unless there is an intention for something good for the receiver to be blessed with, and the more specific the intention, the more effective the blessing. Think of the blessing that Achsah demanded from Caleb, for example.

In Hawaiian the word for "to bless" is ho'omaika'i or ho'opomaika'i. Both have meanings of goodness or good experiences and they are pretty much interchangeable, except that pomaika'i(with a macron over the o) carries more of the sense of a state of good fortune or well-being rather than just something good. A typical blessing would be E ho'omaika'i ia 'oe me ke ola - "May you be blessed with good health."

And so I finish by giving you this blessing in Hawaiian: E pili mau na pomaika'i me 'oe; "May you always have good fortune" or, simply, "Best wishes." Oh, yes, one more: Aloha.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


One of the most useful lessons I ever learned in my shaman training was that life is really very simple, and so are the solutions to our problems. What makes it seem so complicated is that we get distracted by all the things there are to see and do and think about, and then we get so stressed by the effort to make everything work out right that we get confused and angry or fearful.

Simplicity can be found in the fact that no matter how busy, complex, and stressful things get, living consists of thinking, feeling and doing. That's all. And solving problems consists of thinking, feeling and doing things differently. And that's all, too. When life seems to be too complicated, this is what you can come back to. It isn't like failing to see the forest for the trees. It's more like seeing the trees and remembering the soil that they come from.
Here is is something to do when life gets difficult:
1. Breathe a few times with awareness of breathing.
2. Change negative thoughts to positive ones by noticing something good. Look clearly, listen well. there's always something.
3. Change negative emotions to positive ones by remembering something good. It doesn't matter whether it was this morning or many years ago. Find something to remember.
4. Change negative behavior to positive behavior by doing something good. Give a compliment, rub someone's back, perform a simple act of kindness. It doesn't have to be big.
When you do this you will discover that you can think more clearly, feel better, and act more effectively. It works.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moving Beyond Patience

The Hawaiian word ahonui is commonly translated as "patience." However, that translation into English can be very, very misleading

Generally, when we talk about patience in English, we mean the ability to suffer hardship, or discomfort, or pain, without complaint. There is a sense of inner strength or courage about it, but it's essentially a passive concept. Something bad is happening to you, but you put up with it bravely for as long as it takes.

As admirable as that concept might be, it doesn't carry the full meaning of ahonui.

Let me tell you a story that will help to illustrate this, one of the stories of the legendary hero Maui. This is a Kauai version, and I'll bring out some of the inner meanings to show the relationship to ahonui.

Once a upon a time, long before Captain Cook, Maui Kupua, who was born on Kauai, of course, was coming back from O'ahu in his canoe when he thought to himself, "Why are the islands so far apart? They should all be closer together." So after he landed he went to his mother, Hina in Wailua and asked for her advice.

Hina stopped her tapa beating and said, "If you want to bring the islands together you will have to catch the giant whale Luehu with your magic fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani, and you will have to hold on fast for a long time. If you can do this, Luehu will circle the islands and you will be able to pull them together. Take your brothers with you to help with the canoe, but warn them to always face forward no matter what happens, or you will fail."

So Maui gathered his four brothers, Maui, Maui, Maui, and Maui, and told them what he was going to do. They were excited about such an adventure, and when he warned them about facing forward no matter what, they promised that they would.

At last the canoe was ready, the fishhook was ready, and the brothers were ready. During a break in the surf they paddled out into the Kai'ei'ewaho Channel between Kauai and O'ahu and around to the northwest of Kauai to begin their search for the great whale. For days and days they searched, until at last they found the great whale Luehu swimming beside Nihoa, the island to the northwest of Kauai. Maui threw his magical fishhook, Luehu caught it in his mouth, and immediately the whale began pulling the canoe through the ocean at high speed.

For many more long days the Maui brothers held on with determination as the whale pulled them onward, but by carefully tugging on the fishing line in just the right way, and by cleverly paddling in just the right way at just the right time, they caused the whale to circle all the islands, until one day they found themselves again off the coast of Wailua, facing toward O'ahu.

Luehu was tired now, so while Maui Kupua pulled on the fishing line with all his might his brothers back-paddled furiously, and slowly, slowly the islands began to pull together. Just then, a canoe bailer, Kaliu, floated past the canoe. The eldest Maui, in the steersman position, quickly grabbed it and tossed it behind him in case they should need it. Unknown to him, the bailer was really a mischievous spirit, an e'epa, who turned into a very beautiful woman. All the people gathered on the Wailua shoreline exclaimed about her beauty. At first, none of the Maui brothers paid attention, but finally the praises got so loud that Maui's four brothers turned around to see who this beautiful woman was that everyone was shouting about. In that moment, Luehu felt the weakening of the pull against him and gave one last desperate leap to escape. Without his brothers to help him, Maui Kupua pulled too hard, the fishing line broke, Luehu got away, and the islands drifted apart again. And we know the story is true because the islands are still far apart today.

Hawaiian legends always contain knowledge hidden below the surface, usually in the form of names which have several meanings. In this story, the hero Maui wants to accomplish a great task, the uniting of the islands, but in order to do this he has to capture the whale, Luehu, with his fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani. Now, "Luehu" means "scattered," and "Manaiakalani" is "flower lei needle." The scattered islands have to be brought together, perhaps politically, culturally, or socially, like flowers strung on a lei. Where did they find the whale? The old name of the Kauai Channel, "Kai'ei'ewaho," simply means "The Outer Heights," referring to the high waves of the channel, but it could also refer to the need to go outside of one's normal boundaries. The place where they encountered the whale, "Nihoa," was a very sacred place in ancient times. The name means "jagged, sharp," like a row of teeth, and is part of an old saying: "Ku paku ka pali o Nihoa i ka makani - The cliffs of Nihoa stand like a shield against the wind." This saying refers to someone who faces misfortune with courage.

The most important element in the story is the fishing line, because this is called aho, and it also means "breath, to breathe," and "to put forth great effort." Maui must put forth great effort to accomplish his aim, but that still isn't enough. The word nui means "big, much, many; something extending over time, or something very important." Ahonui is the Hawaiian word for "patience." And, it is also the word for "perseverance." This is not the patience of waiting in a line. It is the persistence of knocking on a door until you get an answer. It is not the patience of waiting out a storm. It is the perseverance of moving through a storm to your destination. It is not waiting to get healed. It is using everything you know and doing everything you can to make the healing happen. Ahonui can also be translated as "many breaths," the act of moving toward something you want for as many breaths as it takes.

Hawaiian legends do not always have happy endings, because sometimes their purpose is not only to tell you how to succeed, but also how to fail. In the story just told, the downfall of the great plan to unite the islands was caused by Kaliu, which means "a leaky canoe bailer." Ka refers to a canoe bailer, but it is also a strong action word used for tying things together, for making or doing things, and even for fishing. Liu, the "leakage," is the leaking away of attention to your purpose, the loss of focus on what is important. In the story, Maui's brothers, representing aspects of himself, get distracted, and as they lose their focus they also lose their goal. Perseverance does not work on a part-time basis.

Fortunately, there are many examples in this world of people who have persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and who have accomplished more than was thought humanly possible. I have met and talked with a lot of such people, and have read about many more, but one stands out strongly in my memory.

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a Department of Education program to teach young people about self esteem, and part of the workshop I gave was incorporated into a video that was distributed in the school system. The best part of the video was not my contribution, however. The best part was the story of a young girl who became a hula dancer. I was mildly impressed when the camera showed her from the waist up dancing with a group of other girls, all moving gracefully with the same rhythm and gestures. When the camera pulled back ... I was stunned. This lovely young girl was a good dancer, yes, as good as the others. And she had only one leg.

Imagine the patience, the persistence, the suffering, the perseverance, the AHONUI that this young girl applied to develop the grace and skill that was also difficult for her two-legged sisters. And what gave her this ahonui? Where did it come from? How did she maintain it through all the fears and doubts and problems she must have endured? There is only one answer. What gave her the strength of her ahonui was the aloha she had for the hula.

What will give you the strength to persevere in the direction of your dreams and desires, plans and goals, wishes and healings, is the love you have for something that you decide is so important, so valuable, so good, that nothing at all can replace it in your mind and in your heart. If your aloha is strong enough, you will have the ahonui to keep going in spite of doubt, disappointment, fear, misunderstanding, and all the people who tell you that what you want is impossible. In this infinite universe, the only impossibility is whatever you never attempt, and the only failure is when you decide to give up.

However, there is something even more important to learn from Maui's story. What do you do when you've done everything you know how to do and put all the energy and attention you have available into achieving what you want and it still doesn't work out? After all, Maui didn't give up on life after his plan to unite the islands failed. He went on to have many more adventures. The answer lies in another Hawaiian word, ha'ule. Often used to mean "to fail, failure," it really carries the idea of losing something. And, in wonderfully Hawaiian style, it has another meaning as well: "to begin to do something else."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts On Cancer

My younger brother died of cancer in his early thirties, and my mother died of complications involving cancer when she was in her eighties. And I have had the opportunity to work with many people suffering from that disease. In every case I am familiar with, and according to many medical experts, cancer has both physical and emotional aspects. The strength of each of these can amplify the other, and the healing of either of these can help to heal the other.

My brother had lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker and had a lot of stress in his life. In addition, he fit the personality profile observed in almost 1000 lung cancer patients by Dr. David Kissen of Southern General Hospital in Glasgow: before he was fifteen one of his parents died (our father); there were marital difficulties; and there were professional frustrations. Naturally, a very large number of people may have these particular experiences, but what Dr. Kissen considered significant was how many of the cancer patients reacted to them. Typically, they held in emotional expression and denied conflicts. This certainly described my brother.

My mother had lung cancer. She also lost her father before the age of fifteen, and had her share of marital difficulties and professional frustrations, too. And, she held in emotional expression and denied conflicts as well.

Similar relationships between emotions, experiences of loss or frustration, and all forms of cancer have been noted in many medical studies (two good sources for this kind of information, if they are still available, are Psychosomatics, by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis [Pinnacle Books, 1975} and Who Gets Sick, by Blair Justice, Ph.D. [Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988]).

The common thread of emotional response in all forms of cancer (and, I suspect, in all disease), is a frustrated desire to control experience in some way. There is a wide variation in what people are trying to control. Some are trying to control their own behavior; some are trying to control the behavior of others; some are trying to control past, present, or future events; some are trying to control it all. It is not surprising that cancer is often associated with symptoms of depression, but it not always clear whether the depression is associated with the cancer, or with something else that the person cannot control.

In my own experience with and observation of people with cancer, I have noted that the most successful recoveries seem to be strongly associated with major mental, emotional, or physical behavioral changes among the people with the illness. What is major for one person, of course, may not be the same for another. Some people get results from radically changing their whole lifestyle, while others get results from forgiving a longtime resentment. I know of one success where a woman left her family, took up a different religion, changed her clothing and diet, and moved to a different country. Maybe she needed all of those changes and maybe not, but overall it worked for her. I know of another person, a man, who simply stopped trying to outdo his father, and that worked for him.
My brother, however, didn't change his reactions or his life. And my mother, right to the very end, refused to give up grudges she had held for many years against many people. If you want to change something, you have to change something.

Whenever we try to control something by mental, emotional, or physical means, and whenever we fail to control it to the degree that we want, we increase the tension in our body. The more often we try and fail, the greater the increase of tension. Not everyone gets cancer because of this since the specific outcome of excess tension depends on so many different genetic, environmental, and mental factors, but I believe that healing the control issues can be of tremendous benefit in helping to heal cancer and, probably, everything else that needs healing.

The need for control is based on fear, and fear itself generates tension. Control, then, is merely a technique for trying not to feel afraid. Maybe a good place to start the healing process would be to stop trying to control fear, and do something to change the fear reaction, instead.
It is an experiential fact that you cannot feel fear if your body is totally relaxed. However, even though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to relax, such as massage, meditation, play, laughter, herbs, drugs, etc., that does not always solve the problem. The real problem lies behind the tension, and behind the fear. The real problem is not even the idea that something is fearful. The real problem is that you feel helpless. When this problem is solved the fear disappears (not the common sense, just the helpless fear), the need for control disappears, and a huge amount of tension disappears.

Fundamentally, what I'm really talking about is confidence, a kind of core confidence not related to a specific talent, or skill, or behavior, or experience, or piece of knowledge. Lots of teachers and lots of merchants offer ways to get this kind of confidence, and my own works contain many ideas about it, so rather than limit your possibilities by suggesting a particular technique, I'm only going to share a couple of Hawaiian words for confidence whose root meanings may point you in the right direction:

Paulele - "stop jumping around"
Kanaloa - "extended calm"

There is no quick and easy fix I know of that will produce this kind of confidence. It takes internal awareness and one or more internal decisions, but even that will only work if it results in a different way of responding to life.