Yesterday I wrote “Our words inform our thoughts, and our thoughts shape our experience of reality.” That’s not an original idea. Theories about linguistic relativity have been around for over a hundred years. A thinker who formulated similar ideas in a way that is closer to what I mean was Victor Frankl. In Man’s Search for Meaning he wrote:
We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
“The last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances” is not so easy to exercise. Even in my situation, which is in no way comparable to what Frankl and others went through in the concentration camps, it is hard. “Attitude” is such an abstract concept. I don’t know how to change something that I cannot touch or even adequately define, so I go about it through the side door. I change the way I talk about a situation in order to change the way I think about it, and somewhere in there that thing called “my attitude” changes, too.
Yesterday I wrote that I don’t like to use the violent, militaristic vocabulary of cancer treatment. Those words are inextricably tied to violent, militaristic thoughts. I know that many people who have cancer direct most or all of their thoughts and energy to fighting the disease. It’s not up to me to comment on their choice, but it is not my choice. I choose not to have my internal energies directed to fighting a war, with the implication that one side or the other, me or the cancer, will be defeated. Will be destroyed by the other side.
I choose to direct my energies in a different direction, to living with the disease. This is very affirming for me in a number of ways. First of all, my energies are directed to living. The quality of my life, the content of my life, the choices of my life are at the top of my priorities. The cancer is relegated to an inferior place. I pay attention to it only when it starts impinging on my choice for life and then I take appropriate measures. The cancer does not have control of my life – I do.
With the quality of my life being my top priority, I naturally look at ways to improve it. I look at my diet, my exercise, my meditation, my work, my play, my relationships… I look at these things as partners in living, not as allies in war. Does it make a difference to my recovery? I don’t know. Does it make a difference to how comfortable I am in my skin? Absolutely.
But it also raises another question. It is usual to talk about “cancer survivors”. People survive war, natural disaster, physical and psychological trauma. No one survives life. (Yes, that’s a joke. It’s okay to laugh.) So tell me: Have I survived yet?