We humans are complex. Our lives are concerned with much more than basic need. We have the unique capacity to live more than one life at a time, living as Patrice Vecchione describes in her book, Writing and the Spiritual Life, on more than one plane. Our inner and outer lives interact; they affect and inform each other as we move, throughout the day, between our different worlds, and each utilizing different aspects of ourselves.
“I know,” the poet Joy Harjo said, “I walk in and out of several worlds every day.” We all do. It’s a bit like being on an elevator. Push a button, and the door opens to your home life, to your family. Push another, and you ride to the next floor, a nine to five workplace world, with all of the accompanying roles and duties. On another floor, you step into a world of friendships or a physical exercise—the gym, yoga, running, or dance. Travel to another floor, and perhaps you step into the spiritual world, to quiet, meditation and solitude.
When your life turns upside down by a cancer diagnosis or other unexpected hardship, your worlds collide. You can’t move in and out of those different roles as effortlessly as you did before. The sense of control you had over your life—the comfort of familiarity—vanishes. Before cancer, you probably navigated between your different worlds without giving them too much thought. Now you’re caught in a whirlwind, buffeted about by diagnoses, treatments, surgeries, recovery, ongoing tests or recurrence. It’s a wild ride of ups and downs. You’re pushed into a wayward elevator, and the boundaries between your inner and outer lives blur. Fear, anxiety or depression color all you experience, and hope is your constant mantra.
Cancer—any debilitating illness or trauma–alters your life, the one you’ve taken for granted and become accustomed to. It disrupts the different worlds you inhabit. It overtakes every nook and cranny of your waking and sleeping life, every dimension of who you are: body, mind, and spirit. Now the real journey begins, the one of healing, of finding your way back to yourself, and feeling at home again in the many worlds you inhabit. How do you find your way through the upheaval, emotional chaos, turmoil and pain? Wendell Berry offers this wisdom:
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.
(From: “A Spiritual Journey,” The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957 – 1982)
A journey of one inch…arduous…humbling…joyful. There’s no commuter lane to zip along in the journey of healing. As your outer and inner worlds interact, you find your way back to the life that you know as your own, that sense of being at home.
Think about your own journey. Consider all the different worlds, the multitude of roles you inhabit each day and how cancer affected them. Were some aspects of your live affected more than others? How did you feel? Describe how you spiritual journey informed your healing and, finally, brought you back to yourself.