Mystical Music/Paper Accomplishments
In response to my last posting, I have been the beneficiary of many prayers. I am grateful for these invitations of positive results on my behalf. My sister has had dozens of family and friends praying for me over these past months. My mom’s friends have all been praying with her for me. She gave me a perpetual prayer offering performed by nuns. My former boss and colleague, his wife and their prayer group have been praying for me. My many friends have dropped their tasks to pray for me on days when I needed help to get through some difficult task or test. Millie, a former student, has offered her own prayers and sent me some prayerbooks that I have employed on my own behalf. Gita, a former student plans to add me to her prayer ministry’s list. My cousin Alice has begun collecting verses for a song of prayer to the tune of the spiritual tune “Jacob’s Ladder” and has picked up a ukulele to use as she prays it.
One of my favorite books is Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul (Harper Perennial 1994). On its cover, he describes it as “a guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life.” In it, he discusses that: “‘Soul’ is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance.” Id. at 5.
He is a psychotherapist who acknowledges that care of his patients sometimes calls for him to stay his hand rather than take pain away “in the name of health.” Id. Sometimes the condition a patient wishes to end has the capacity for enriching the patient’s life. In particular, he discusses a person who seeks to cut away her dependency upon others because she views it as disempowering. Moore asks whether it might be better to find a way to live with dependency as it also means relatedness: “Don’t you want to be attached to people, learn from them, get close, rely on friendship, get advice from someone you respect, be part of a community where people need each other, find intimacy with someone that is so delicious you can’t live without it?” Id. at 7.
I often go it alone. I like my independence.
I have, these past months, wallowed in a deep pool of community with others. It has been delicious. By opening doors and windows and letting light shine in on my situation, I have seen in that pool’s remarkable depths new lessons for living my life. Moore discusses the value of respecting that which we dislike in ourselves.
My naturapath has offered me various homeopathic remedies for the physical effects of my cancer treatment. Already I can see some small, but encouraging changes in my bodily functions. Moore honors homeopathy in his discussion of healing the soul:
The basic intention in any caring, physical or psychological, is to alleviate suffering. But in relation to the symptom itself, observance means first of all listening and looking carefully at what is being revealed in the suffering. An intent to heal can get in the way of seeing. By doing less, more is accomplished. Observance is homeopathic in its workings rather than allopathic, in the paradoxical way that it befriends a problem rather than making an enemy of it.
Id. at 10.
Moore points to the religious practice of cleansing or sprinkling with water before religious service and notes that we also might benefit from releasing ourselves from “well-intentioned heroism” before we seek to help others. Id.
Perhaps there are several messages in these images of prayer, music, water, and healing. If the fight to eradicate cancer is undertaken in a manner that scorches all that surrounds it, then it may not be healing. Before deciding how to go forward, it may help to cleanse or detoxify with water and other remedies that heal by befriending that which is perceived as the source of imbalance. The value of music and prayer being married for the purpose of healing is as old as time. Moore comments: “Imagine a medical approach more in tune with art, one that is interested in the symbolic and poetic suggestiveness of a disease or a malfunctioning organ.” Id. at 155. Moore acknowledges we do not have a ready tool for divining the symbolic meaning of every organ or our “body imagery.” Id. at 161. However, he recognizes that music may bridge the gap between the mystery in illness and its healing. Quoting, Moore writes: “Novalis said, ‘Every disease is a musical problem. Its cure, a musical solution. The more rapid and complete the solution, the greater the musical talent of the doctor.'” Id. at 170.
Moore wonders aloud whether illness is a sign of battle between our bodies and something else in our existence. He asks whether it might not be possible to learn something from illness rather than merely focusing on overcoming it.
We could find new, deep value in illness, without masochistically indulging in it. We could risk the battle. In our psychological lives, too, we could hold off our palliatives and our techniques for relieving suffering long enough to find the [mythological] god who has been struck and to reestablish harmony in our relation to that god. Illness offers us a path into the kind of of religion that rises directly from participation in the deepest levels of fate and existence. . . . In a very real sense, we do not cure diseases, they cure us, by restoring our religious participation in life. If the gods appear in our diseases, it follows that our lives may be too secular and in need of such a visitation.
Id. at 167-68.
I find most compelling Moore’s comment on cancer:
Sardello looks at imagery in cancer and concludes that its message is that we live in a world where things have lost their body and therefore their individuality. Our response to this disease could be to abandon the mass culture of plastic reproductions and recover a sensitivity to things of quality and imagination. If we attack nature with our polluting methods of manufacturing, and if we let the quality of life fade in the name of speed and efficiency, then symptoms may arise. In Sardello’s description of disease, our bodies reflect or participate in the world’s body, so that if we harm that outer body, our own bodies will feel the effects. Essentially there is no distinction between the world’s body and the human body.
Id. at 171.
I am only starting to think through the ways in which my cousin Alice’s ukulele and prayer may help me recover from the current situation in which I find myself. I was diagnosed with cancer. Like most people, I sought medical assistance. I had the cancer cut from me within days. I went through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation that attacked healthy and unhealthy cells with extreme toxicity, leaving behind a wasteland that still has me shedding hair, bleeding from three orifices, and, most distressingly at this time, crying in bathrooms at least two dozen times a day. What else are the toxic treatments doing to my body? If cancer is a sign of disharmony that has caused a mythological god to visit me to draw attention to that disharmony, what have I done to address the disharmony, to befriend my cancer for the purpose of finding what it represents and repairing that condition by repairing something else in my life? If medicine and music have at their core an understanding that life and art have tonalities and harmonies that improve each, have I listened for the dissonance that my ill-health represents? Now that I am undertaking homeopathic remedies, am I drawing closer to remedying not only what is at odds with my body but also my soul?
Already cancer has made me a better person. I have learned so much from others with cancer that I feel enriched even as the cancer has depleted me. Catherine Ingram wrote in Passionate Presence (Gotham Books 2003):
What is known as realization is merely feeling this immaculate presence here and now, realizing or being fully cognizant of the ordinary miracle of just being. This needs no attainment since it is already occurrimg. It requires no special circumstances, no life epiphanies, no meritorious preparations. It is fully present each moment of our lives. It stays fresh and innocent despite our sorrows, regrets, and whatever damages or failures we feel we have sustained. No suffering or transgressions have marred it, just as no exalted deeds have enhanced it. Countless thoughts and experiences have come and gone, and none of them have adhered.
Id. at xix.
As soon as I wrote these words I recalled that I needed to do something with the countless rolls of toilet paper in my home. A friend is in town. This evening, Roberta and her friend will come to visit me. I am not up to doing as much cleaning as I would like, but, back in December, I called Peapod and ordered some items to help me get through those last weeks of treatment. I intended to order some toilet paper, but somehow had delivered about 240 rolls of toilet paper. I kept them because, at the time, my problem was that I had a problem with elimination. Fluids ran out of me freely all day long, sometimes every ten minutes. Now my problem is that everything that comes out of me comes out painfully, about every hour. When the naturapath asked me about acupuncture, I told her that I had it once. It was painful. The doctor said that he had never seen a more toxic person. Is this the realization I’ve been searching for? It takes a lot of toilet paper to clear out major toxicity. Already I have stuffed several packages of toilet paper into the front hall closet. The rest sits out as a reminder that I ordered too much of it. I am going to get up from my chair in a minute and stuff the remaining packages of Angel Soft toilet paper in the front hall closet. I believe there is also a huge package of Bounty paper towels there as well. If there is a message in this abundance of toilet paper, perhaps I have just come to realize it. I am going to reflect on Alice’s musical prayer, the acupuncture doctor’s diagnosis, the body’s suffering, and my wealth of toilet paper and paper towels, and see if I cannot come up with a prescription for making peace, rather than war, with my body.
Universe, hear my friends’ prayers and music. Help me find peace with my body and my life. Universe, I am listening.