This is the sixth part of a seven-part series on how people cope with cancer. The first installment discussed GRIEF, DEPRESSION, and ANXIETY. The second installment included thoughts on ANGER.The third installment spoke to people who manage their feelings by WITHDRAWAL and RESIGNATION. The fourth part addressed how people handle cancer by DENIAL and SEEKING INFORMATION. The fifth part addressed coping with DISTRACTION and RIGID CONTROL. Finally, we’ll look at SEEKING SPIRITUAL ANSWERS, ACCEPTANCE, AND PEACE.
SEEKING SPIRITUAL ANSWERS
““Tess, I heard you talk about people finding peace at the end of their lives. I want to find it now! So how can I embrace not knowing what will happen, how can I accept being so bewildered about my spirituality?”
“I’m finally reaching to a power beyond myself. I guess you’d call it God. A window inside me blew open. Such solace! Why did I resist all those years? ”
“Right now I feel like the center of a flower, all open and peaceful. There is really nothing to do but be peaceful. That’s my job tomorrow when I go to get my scan results. I want to be peaceful sitting in the waiting room. I want to be peaceful even if I get bad news. I want to know I’ll be OK no matter what happens. ”
“I wish someone had told me ‘When you need it, you’ll understand reaching to a higher source of comfort and peace. You’ll finally get curious about how to find deep peace.’ ”
Let’s consider spirituality. When I ask people: “Will you tell me about your spirituality?” I get a wide range of answers — from “God guides my every breath, my every step, He is my Light” to “I have no interest in that at all.” I find most people are floating somewhere in between those answers, wondering. I call them Seekers. I remember when my very wise physician answered my question: “Does the feeling of peace I feel come from inside me or outside me?” He looked at me with the smile of an angel and said “Yes!” when my very wise physician answered my question: “Does the feeling of peace I feel come from inside me or outside me?” He looked at me with the smile of an angel and said “Yes!”
So much has been written about people finding peace at the end of their lives. What I want to help people find is deep peace way before their lives end, too. Recently a friend who was newly diagnosed with cancer asked me to think about the 40 years I’ve worked providing oncology family therapy and answer the question: “What do the people have in common who die in great peace?” My answer to her may illuminate how those who are dying in peace get there. I know that we can learn these skills and qualities much earlier, so that we can live in peace now. Here are some of my observations, tweaked for those of us with life-threatening diseases who are seeking peace and are living, not dying.
First, Seekers are open and receptive to the lessons offered by cancer’s tumultuous journey. They consider death but don’t dread, resist, or ruminate when thinking about it.
Yet only when we are relaxed can we thoughtfully, peacefully consider the deep spiritual lessons of living with death or further disability sitting right on our shoulder. So here is what I teach my clients to do before we consider the thoughts that usually scare them.
In our work together they learn the neuroscience-based skills of relaxing. This set of skills can be easily learned but must be practiced and practiced: Read more.