Many people ask me if meditation is good for coping with cancer. “How can I find the good in cancer?” is another question I get asked all too often. As someone who has seen many loved ones go through this battle, this is a deeply personal topic for me.
The fact of the matter is, cancer is one of the worst, scariest things many people will ever go through. When you’re in pain for months or even years, seeing the good can feel impossible.
I won’t pretend I know what you’re going through. I won’t tell you it’s a blessing in disguise. But what I will share with you are some ways to turn this terrible, no good, very bad diagnosis into something that can bring some relief to you and others.
In this article, I’ll share a few ways to look at cancer differently and hopefully provide some useful wisdom and simple steps you can take to bring you a bit more peace of mind.
Trying Times Can Be Our Greatest Teachers
Change and challenges bring opportunities for growth and transformation. In fact, there can be no spiritual awakening without challenges. The Buddha sought out and discovered a path to end all suffering after he was exposed to the extreme suffering in our world.
In this lens, labels like “bad” cannot exist, because we use hard times to grow and evolve. Without struggle, there would be no evolution, no change, and we would all still be single-celled organisms living in some primordial ooze.
As difficult as it can be to see sometimes, all change can be welcomed with an attitude of curiosity and discovery. Sometimes change can be difficult to face, but we either fight with reality or we make peace with it. This is where our choice lies.
Meditation can be one such powerful tool in coping with cancer by helping us become more conscious of our thoughts and thus diminishing the power of our negative thoughts. The practice of meditation is quite simply the practice of directing our attention so that we have greater control over our thoughts and emotions.
Helping Others Cope with Cancer
It may not be easy when we are immobilized or dealing with a lot of pain and mental stress, but finding some way – even small ways – to help others heals our soul.
If you are going in for cancer treatments to a hospital, you may meet other people with cancer. See how you can lift up their spirits or make their lives a little better.
Maybe you bring in their favorite music to play during their treatments.
Maybe you just sit with them, listen to them, and share with them some comforting words. After all, attention is one of the best gifts we can give anyone.
Perhaps rides to the hospital could be shared. Maybe you bring them their favorite candy or book. Or you both may wish to learn something new together, like yoga or meditation.
Maybe there are organizations which help people going through illness which you could get involved with. There are many ways to help others and it is always rewarding and the easiest way to turn something negative into a positive.
Appreciate the Time We Have
Most people do not appreciate the little time we have on this earth. People facing illness or even people who have had near death experiences know the euphoria that can come from realizing that time is precious, the little things that used to get us upset no longer matter, and the need to make the most of every single moment.
Coping with cancer through meditation teaches us that every moment is a gift. This is why the fear of death is so strong, because underneath our worries and fears and pain is an insatiable love for life. No one knows how many moments on earth we have left, but what matters is how much we appreciate the ones we do.
Focus on What Matters
Make this an opportunity to really prioritize the things you love. See as many sunsets as you can. Take as many nature walks as possible. Stare at the stars. Learn a new skill that you’ve always wanted to learn.
Consider your diagnosis an opportunity for spring cleaning your life. Set aside what doesn’t add to your joy, peace and well-being. Fill your days as best you can with positivity, love and laughter.
When things come up that you wish you didn’t have to do, see those too as an opportunity to transform your perspective and see it as a welcomed challenge for our growth and happiness.
One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard was by Eckhart Tolle who said, “Accept every moment as if you had chosen it.” While this may seem incredibly difficult, it is also incredibly simple and profound.
Focus on Who Matters
One terrible fact about becoming ill is that it will make some friends and family members uncomfortable. Meditation is a great way to cope with the anxiety from cancer and even isolation. If friends become distant, while it may be painful, it has nothing to do with the person who is ill and everything to do with the other person. Don’t take it personally. Instead, find your tribe.
Find those people who lift you up, who beam with light when they see you, who fill your heart with love. There are so many of these wonderful people on our planet. They are the ones worth our time.
If someone becomes distant, let them go. You deserve to be surrounded by positivity and love. The ones who stay will be those people. They may not know what to say or what to do, but they don’t leave. You can help them understand and you can both grow personally and spiritually together.
Make extra time for family and friends and make it extra special. Strong relationships, building bonds, and loving one another is why we’re all here.
Live More Fully Every Single Day
Make “extra” your mantra. Smile extra, be extra compassionate, be extra courageous, be extra gracious, be extra kind to yourself, and be extra happy by doing extra things you love to do. You deserve it.
Do whatever it is you need to do to take care of yourself and let go of any guilt that comes with it. Take that trip you’ve always wanted. Take a million spa days. Do whatever strikes your fancy. You can use meditation for coping with cancer and lift your spirit up, and you can even go on a meditation retreat if your treatment allows it. There are many free meditation retreats all over the world that rely solely on donations that can truly transform our perspective on life.
You have total permission to love yourself fully with every cell of your body. No regrets, no insecurity, no self-doubts, no worries, no judgement. You know best what you need.
Stay Present, Observe, Process
I once read on a T-shirt someone was wearing in India, “Pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional.” This is such a beautiful spiritual message from such a spiritual place. The meaning of this shirt is that we will all experience pain – those electrical signals that are sent to our brain that tell us something is going on in our body.
Suffering on the other hand is when our brain reacts to the pain by screaming, “This is the worst!” Instead of reacting though, we can simply stay present and observe the sensations without labeling or judgements. It is difficult at first but it is very possible and meditation can even make it very easy to learn.
Studies have shown that practicing this power of present observation through meditation actually lessens our experience of pain! While our instinct tells us to look away and ignore the pain, turning our attention towards it is like taking a powerful painkiller with no side effects.
In that same vein, many people diagnosed with illness will try hard to distract themselves from their new reality. They will dive deeper into their work or they will distract themselves with TV or movies in order to avoid their feelings and thoughts. While it may seem like a good idea, this often creates a permanent underlying stress, fear and doubt that negatively affects everything we do and can even erupt to the surface from time to time.
How to Stay Present
It is vitally important to either meditate or just spend some time everyday alone with our thoughts. Meditation can help in coping with cancer by helping us stay present and observe the sensations in our body, our thoughts and our emotions. The more we can process our thoughts and feelings, the more we can heal, transform, and grow spiritually.
Keep a close eye on whenever the mind says things that make the suffering worse or creates resistance to whatever is happening. Things like: “This shouldn’t be happening.” “Why me?” “This isn’t fair.”
Simply observe these thoughts and recognize the deeper underlying truth of the matter which is: “Why not me?” “This is happening and I will deal with it.” “Fairness is a fictional story created by the mind, an illusion, and I will not give credibility to an illusion or let it bring me down.”
A Buddhist monk once told me in the Himalayan mountains of India, “Life usually fires the first arrow at us, but we tend to fire a second arrow at ourselves. The trick is to turn that second arrow into an acupuncture needle of healing.”
Here again, he is speaking to the fact that it is usually our own reaction that creates the most suffering because all suffering takes place in our mind. If we look closely at that first arrow (a cancer diagnosis) with plenty of time and wisdom, we can find a way to turn it into something positive. Whether it’s just for a few minutes or a few seconds, meditation can help us in both processing and coping with cancer.
Accept, Release, Forgive, Trust
There are a few things that many cancer survivors have in common. They let go of their worries, they accept their condition, they forgive themselves and others, and they trust that everything will work out.
It is so important for anyone’s mental wellbeing to have hope and stay optimistic. This can be extremely difficult when receiving bad news from the doctor, but hope doesn’t have to be tied to any one particular outcome. Again, meditation can help in coping with cancer by providing the space and time to be able to see situations differently.
Trust and hope can be in God or the universe that everything will sort itself out as it always does, that your relatives and friends will be ok, and that these natural life processes are nothing to fear or worry about.
Don’t be afraid to sit with your fears. This is how we face and overcome them, by becoming mindful of them. The closer we look, the more we realize they don’t serve us and that there is no reality to them. They are simply mind-made, egoic, temporary thought-forms.
By accepting the present moment reality, by releasing our expectations and worries, by letting go of grudges and being gentle and kind with ourselves, and by trusting that whatever happens, even the worst possible outcome, that that will be ok too.
No Matter What, You Will Be Stronger, Braver and Tougher than You Ever Imagined
I truly believe that the universe does not send us more than we are able to handle. Life may seem very dark at times, but never so dark that it completely breaks us. Sometimes it may send us challenges so that we can become stronger and more able to show the way for others.
When things are hard, someone usually appears to help us through. When things are going great, we can be there for someone else who is going through a tough time. This is how the circle of life keeps spinning.
None of us will make it out of here alive. But those who have gone through the most will be the strongest and bravest among us. Take pride in your struggle, for it has made you the beautiful, incredible soul that you are.
A great meditation for anyone struggling with maintaining positivity and optimism through difficult times can be found here at Guided Loving Kindness Meditation | A Compassionate Buddhism Teaching
Peace and love to everyone far and wide.