Cancer and Nature: A Philosophical Reflection

Sparks of some moments, like fireflies hovering the dark corners of the mind.

It happened during one ordinary morning at an NBI office, while waiting to claim my clearance. Serendipitously, I had a conversation with a woman and around the issue of cancer. The spark of the moment: her idea of a “liquid diet” with soya beans milk as a cure for cancer. A number of anecdotal and personally known cases, she claimed, have proven the efficacy of pure fruits and vegetable juices. While listening to her, I was thinking – really, how does one ultimately conquer an “enemy” such as cancer? Only to realize that even my question has a Western flavor. I was led into thinking during my free time: could Eastern and Western approaches differ on the issue?

From an Eastern perspective, let me bring in the image of an aikido master. The aikido master overcomes an “enemy” through the positive energy of the mind; it faces the energy of an enemy not through a counterforce but through the latter’s wastage. A negative energy is a less useful energy, harmful to some extent, and a counterforce would otherwise be no different. The aikido master lets the force of the attacker flow its course until the source stumbles through positional imbalance, self-devouring anger, impatience, or the sense of revenge. A good aikido master does not waste his/her energy by countervailing the attacker. The “enemy” or attacker weakens, stumbles, starves, or dies out of his or her own making and not because the aikido master exerts a greater negative counterforce. An aikido master succeeds because of his/her focus and cultivation of the positive energy of the mind. The good always overcomes the bad without presuming the bad could never happen. The bad could always happen. From an aikido perspective, however, calmness of the mind is always more powerful than acrimony.

The West is quite preoccupied with the production of knowledge. The West produces knowledge while the East produces wisdom. Current scientific endeavor on cancer, for example, proves the dominance and exacting operation of the Western mind. Yet, the mental framework behind its main treatment protocol of chemotherapy is disclosive of the Western approach to cancer: to suppress, conquer, or kill the now mentally created “enemy”; to act aggressively against it at the expense of the healthy cells. Patients are exhorted to wear the helmet of a warrior and take on the sword of mental aggressiveness only a whisper of a prayer could tame.

If indeed this fresh, absolute liquid diet works, its wisdom may lie in the extraction of good out of nature (fruits and veggies) in order to overcome the bad, the distasteful – cancer. The goal is to “come-over” as in a cloud capping a mountain top, instead of combat. Nature is a great healer and it is self-healing. As it extracts the good like an aikido master juicing the mind, possibility is it will allow the tumor cells to starve on its own without the “benefit” of toxins and carcinogens for 21 meat-free, rice-deprived days. While the tumor cells self-starve within the microscopic confine of its own darkness, the nourishing light of nature will eventually mantle them. In a more poetic language, TS Eliot poignantly puts it – we are “consumed by either fire or fire.”

Someone, like an aikido master, has to awaken us to the sweet and bitter distillate of life. Consciousness of those “bitter distillate” is significant in healing and Western mode of consciousness is a good awakener of this sort. Western scientific consciousness, for example, could awaken us to the most raging, nasty tumor in its unimpeded photographic presentation. Western medical science enables us to see even the seemingly invisible matter. It has mastered the art of naming matter. It is one thing though to name the distasteful in life, it is another thing to turn them into enemies. Can one detest the bitter extract of cancer in a final, aggressive way? Perhaps, the Gospel’s alternative is worth listening to: Jesus overcame the Cross, an enduring symbol of social and spiritual cancer, not through endless resistance against it but by “befriending” it. Instead of conquest – friendship; in lieu of competitive aggression – integration, hoping and knowing that friendship is more powerful than abhorrence, or violence of any sort. What about hope and faith as the ultimate sustaining juice?

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Photo credit: Cesar R.

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