When cancer strikes – or strikes again – a most frequent question is “why me?”. Almost universally, we believe that we live our lives well enough to stave off the tumours and lesions and lumps. Perhaps a death-wish 60-a-day smoker might be secretly pleased when the CAT scans show a mass, but most of us just say “why me?”.
My mother had a book lying around the house called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I never read it. But, I understood it to be an analysis of tragedy from a Jewish perspective. I saw it mostly when she was dying of brain cancer, but I am sure that she bought it after her bitter divorce. You know, why me?
A client of mine who has been fighting cancer in one form or another for thirteen years gave me a very good answer to this question. I asked her if she asks why me and she said
“No, I usually say: why not?”
Being face to face with the precarity of life, I ponder our relationship to the physical body. When we ask why me?, we are not only asking whether our past actions have brought this suffering to bear upon us. We are also asking why our life is to be snuffed out.
Did anyone give you a guarantee when you were born? Did anyone promise you that you would live 80 healthy years then die peacefully in your sleep? No? I thought not.
But, there is a pervasive belief in our Christian societies that suffering and death are a punishment, yet another, for our sins. I am not a Christian scholar, but was raised Christian and was quite insistent in my beliefs for some years. Like many, I got angry at God. Cruel and callous, presiding over all this suffering, how could this entity be the bringer of peace and the ultimate judge of humanity? I stopped believing in the doctrine I had been taught. I began to search.
My search eventually led me to yoga. Via yoga, I have been able to re-evaluate the core values I was taught in childhood. I do believe that the Kingdom of God is Within You. I believe that yoga gives us the tools to find the Kingdom of God Within Us. I believe that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are like a spiritual how-to, laid out by a spiritual scientist, telling us to try it ourselves and live the results.
There is a strong thread of anarchy running through all this thought. I have been an anarchist since I first learnt the word. But, anarchy as a political system has to per forza de prefaced by the Human Revolution, in which each member of the collective (society) prepares mind and body for the honourable social responsibility that anarchy supposes. We forgo policing and state-based control when we become fully functional and responsible. Until then, we outsource our moral compass, putting it in the hands of politicians who, by their very nature, are both corrupt and power-hungry.
So, why me? Well, why not? The greatest obstacle to joy and peace is ignorance. Ignorance of our true nature. Patanjali posits that there is an eternal soul within the human being. The soul, Purusha, uses the physical apparatus of the human body in order to observe the world and continue learning. Suffering arises when the Ego identifies with the physical body, imagining it to BE the soul. But the body is not the soul. It is the vehicle. We must care for it because a long life allows us more time for learning. But, we must not identify with it. When we are ignorant of our true nature, we are in a state called avidya. Avidya leads to suffering, dukha. Suffering leads to wrong action, trying to alleviate or escape suffering. This wrong action is called karma. The Law of Karma is avidya->dukha->karma. Ignorance leads to suffering leads to wrong action which then reinforces our ignorance. So repeats the cycle, the much quoted but little understood karma….
Why me? Why not? This body is only a temporary home. It is not your last stop. You will inhabit many more. if it is riddled with cancer and pain, don’t ask why me. Ask, why not. Perhaps your mission in this incarnation is complete? Perhaps your suffering is the teacher you need at this time. Perhaps you will never know why and you must learn to be content in not knowing.
Why me? Why not.