Like most meditators, I’m often plagued by the thought, When is this going to end? especially during longer group sits. My mind starts churning all kinds of schemes, trying to make time go faster.
“Maybe the timekeeper’s watch broke.”
“Surely that had to have been an hour.”
As a cancer patient pursuing alternative healing modalities, I’ve experienced the same restlessness and impatience in my daily life, except it arises in the question, When am I going to be cancer free?
I often have thoughts like, Maybe the tumor markers are inaccurate. Or, Surely this will be over in the next month.
What I have learned is that living with cancer is like a meditation that lasts the whole waking day. In this sense, cancer is an opportunity and a gift to awaken me to life as it is.
Easy Sits/Easy Cancer.
I once had the privilege of serving vegetarian meals to the homeless with a wise saint named Audrey Lin. After giving out all the food that we prepared, Audrey and I decided to go to the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery for their daily meditation.
After the hour-long meditation, Audrey asked, “How was that for you?”
“That was one of the easiest and most peaceful sits I have ever experienced,” I replied.
“Yeah, I’ve found that after doing seva (selfless service), meditation is really easy,” Audrey said with a smile.
This holiday season I had two very different experiences with my “cancer meditation.” At Thanksgiving, I was shocked by how few of my family members asked me about my health. Everyone knew about my diagnosis, but it felt like a huge elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about.
One of my cousins had told me that many of my relatives thought I was crazy and irresponsible for not getting chemo, radiation and surgery since the prognosis for stage two colon cancer was close to 90 percent. Yet very few of these relatives even came to talk to me during the day-long gathering.
Partially because I could not eat any of the food prepared, but mostly because of the disconnect I felt with close family members, Thanksgiving was almost unbearable. I really felt tormented by cancer.
I fantasized about beating cancer and rubbing it in the faces of all those who doubted my choice to pursue Hawaiian healing practices. “I can’t wait to be cancer-free” kept popping up in my monkey mind.
A few weeks later at New Year’s, I prepared a meal for my brother and his sons. They were exhausted after skiing all day, so I cooked them some gyoza (Japanese dumplings). After dinner, i proceeded to wash the dishes.
My brother asked if he could help, but I could tell that he was tired, so I told him to just relax. After clearing the table, cleaning the dishes and tidying up the kitchen, I felt amazing.
“What a wonderful life I live” popped into my head. At that moment, cancer had no place in my reality. I felt more alive than I had before the diagnosis. Living with cancer was as easy as meditating after feeding the homeless.
Ua Mau Ke Ea O ka ´Āina I ka Pono.
I believe that the ancient Hawaiians knew this secret to heath a long time ago. In fact, it is contained in the state motto of Hawaii, “Ua Mau Ke Ea O ka ´Āina I ka Pono,” which is roughly translated as, “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
One of my Hawaiian healing teachers, Auntie Suzi Kaiona´okalāni Ko, taught me that “´āina” doesn’t just mean land. ´Āina stands for everything that sustains us. It encompasses the land, the sea, our community and our body.
Thus, the motto can be translated as, “the life of our body is perpetuated in righteousness.” The Hawaiian word “ea” means not only “life,” but also “sovereignty.” If I believe with all my heart that if I am “pono,” then cancer will have no affect on my health. Through acts of goodness, I will gain sovereignty over my body.
On my last visit to Hawaii, I did some volunteer work at Ulupō Heiau. I worked with Kumu Malia Ko’i’ulaokawaolehua Helela on clearing the auwai (waterways) to the lo´i (taro patches). Malia emphasized that we were clearing not only the auwai, but also our own waterways in our bodies, minds and spirits.
This hit me deeply, since I am literally clearing a tumor out of my intestinal waterway.
Immediately after leaving the heiau, I taught a seven-hour free workshop on healing with Aloha. Driving back to my Auntie’s house at 10 p.m. that night, I was amazed at how much energy I had. One of the hallmark symptoms of cancer is fatigue, but I had just gone 15 hours straight without a break, and I felt amazing.
At that moment, I had no cancer.
A meditation teacher once told me that meditation is simply the practice of cleaning the vessel. What I have found is that there is a meditation in cleaning that heals the body, mind and spirit. Whenever I practice selfless service like doing the dishes, especially the dishes of others, I find it easy sitting with a cancer diagnosis.
Martin Luther King once said, “Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve.” I would add that everyone can be healthy, because anybody can serve.
Author: Makala Kozo Hattori
Editor: Toby Israel