My healing journey

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Letters to a Young Poet

So you mustn’t be frightened, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.

― Rainer Maria Rilke

When I was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer, and was going through intense weekly chemotherapy and radiotherapy combined with integrative treatments, I felt quite strongly that besides “giving myself” to doctors and specialists, I could also affect the progress of my own recovery. I knew there is more in me than just the mechanism of my body, more in me than just what “went wrong”, and I knew there was more to me than just my diagnosis.

I felt I was being called to look deeper into myself as a whole human being: looking at my mental, emotional and spiritual levels. I felt I was called to establish a stronger connection with all layers of who I am. I felt these parts were asking to be seen and be heard, asking to be recognised and acknowledged by me. These parts were begging me for my understanding and undivided sense of presence.

I also knew that giving myself this attention was a significant part of my healing as much as going through all medical and other supportive treatments.

I related to this great crisis as a path for healing, growth and transformation. I saw it as a quest for healing. As with other journeys, I knew I had to be prepared with the right practices, tools and methods, including a detailed map to show me the way.

I came to understand that healing was more important than seeking or longing for a cure, and that healing involved me. Not me passively following the specialist’s advice. I was also a specialist—the specialist of my own self.

When I realised the word healing comes from the Latin verb meaning to make whole, I felt directed to a deep truth. In order to truly heal, we are called to look at all parts of ourselves, and not just treat what is wrong with us. Not just concentrate on curing the disease, but attend ALL aspects of my unease as well.

I felt I needed to address the parts of me which had a strong impact on my daily life and the way I was coping with all that was happening to me.

It was very clear to me that my thoughts and the feelings generated by my thoughts had a substantial affect on my capacity to cope.

I asked myself: Do I choose to feed/sustain/entertain my fear by thinking through all my stories about what is/isn’t, should/shouldn’t, can/might happen. Or do I mindfully choose narratives that better serve me and my healing journey?

I asked myself an even more important question: How do I make these choices? I can’t ignore what is happening in me. I can’t just suppress my fear. How can I help myself to heal and be fully, consciously aware of all that is going on?

I was looking for ways I could firstly recognise my thoughts and befriend my mind so I could attend my feelings and emotions without resisting what came. I had to somehow develop a wiser relationship with my thoughts and feelings.

I have come to understand that healing is our developed capacity to accept things as they are. We have to stop the constant arduous struggle with life and with ourselves.

Acceptance is not surrendering passively to the overwhelming hardship or challenge. It is a call to stop battling against what we don’t want to accept. To accept what is already undeniably present in our lives takes wisdom and courage. We are called to recognise things as they are moment by moment. This is a radical invitation. To accept reality. To accept what we don’t like or want.

Acceptance is not the same as passive surrender. Even when we don’t like what is happening, we are required to be aware of them on an internal and external level. Developing our capacity to pay non-judgmental attention to our thoughts, our feelings, our body sensations and to what is happening around us coaxes us into better knowing ourselves. This is a deep intimate knowing of what is happening for us in the present moment and not a conceptual, theoretical way of knowing ourselves.

This might seem insignificant. You might wonder how it can possibly make any difference.  But if we really come to experience moment-by-moment awareness of our present self, it turns out to be everything. When we make space for what is, we enter the space itself. We soften, and find we can shift and transform habitual ways of being that do not serve us. We see that broken fragments fit together and we find we can make whole.

Maybe this is why the motto Know Thyself was inscribed on the frontispiece of the temple of Delphi. When we know ourselves, and know that we know, then we can truly heal.

Image by Slava


I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

and it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,

and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help

and patience, and a certain difficult repentance

long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself

from the endless repetition of the mistake

which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

― D.H. Lawrence