Many years ago, I came across an interesting test in one of Osho’s books. In this test, Osho suggests a practice to improve the awareness of our minds and bodies, and this can have a substantial effect on our behavior. For the first three days of the exercise, we are supposed to meet the needs of just our minds. Next, in the following three days, we meet the needs of the body alone. Instead of attempting this for three days at least, I gave up on the first night. In that single day, I became trapped in my mind’s prison. This showed me that I was a complete mental addict.
After the operation, the first thing I said was, “I feel cold.” My semi-conscious mind scanned the room, and I saw my loved ones smiling at me. I felt layers of blankets over me before falling asleep again.
It didn’t take long to wake up again, and I felt all kinds of cables on my body, smelt the distinctive odor of medication, and felt a strange heaviness. I wanted to sit up in bed, but the stitches and swelling in my abdomen wouldn’t allow me. For the first time in my life, I realized that I needed help just to meet my body’s simple needs. I needed help to sit up, help to get out of bed, and help to use the washroom. I even needed help to fart, because relieving flatulence is extremely important after open abdominal surgery. I mean, how difficult could it be to fart?
As the time passed, I realized it wasn’t going to be easy at all. My tummy grew bigger and bigger, and the stomachache became more intense. I was getting furious as Inan tried to urge me on by saying, “Come on, Funda. Try to let out some gas.” I was trying hard while also depleting the hospital’s stock of painkillers. I was screaming all the curses I knew and testing the limits of Inan’s patience, but nothing worked. As my pain intensified, I felt increasingly annoyed. The more annoyed I got, the worse the pain got, and I found myself in a vicious cycle.
At midnight, as I was cursing everyone and everything, someone opened my door. The rector of the university was here to visit me. I had a very sexy hospital gown on me, an exhausted husband beside me, and the rector right before me. Damn it! The conversation took place as follows:
Rector: Hello, Funda. How are you feeling?
Me: Errr… Ummm… Errr…
Inan: We’re fine, sir.
Rector: Good, good. You look healthy. Any luck with letting out some gas?
Inan: We’re still working on it. I have faith in her.
Rector: I would like to congratulate you also, Inan. I hope you have a fast recovery.
Inan: Let me show you out. I’ll be back in a moment, darling.
Following the rector’s visit, the first fart came out. Before this, I thought that I was made of just flesh and bone. Before surgery, I had a peaceful, light and modest body that did its tasks without me noticing anything. At the moment, though, I had a bulky, sad body without any past or future. After the fart, my body’s suffering partially disappeared, and my mind started to show itself again. I felt more confident on recalling that I actually had a mind. I knew I would have an unpredictable body from now on, and living in this body without a mind was quite a scary prospect.
The first task for my mind was to put everything into context, so my wallowing in this endless space would end. First, I made some basic evaluations, such as “What am I doing in this bed? How long have I been here? What are the limits of my body?”
I then started to think about what had happened and what was about to happen to me. During those three days, only my body had talked, and no information had been processed other than the persistent pain. However, my mind now enabled me to gather all the data and understand the situation. It also increased my level of fear and anxiety with all those thoughts. My mind went quiet every time a new pain presented itself, but once it disappeared again, my mind went back to full speed. I realized that in addition to dealing with my injured body, I also had to deal with my mind.
I have to admit that it’s been a grueling experience to be alternately invaded by my mind and my body. Those uncertain times confused my body chemistry and affected my emotions. Eventually, all my efforts to balance things out went down the drain. Although I knew I needed to do otherwise, I mostly found myself drowning in this extremely fast current. When I look back now, I realize it was virtually impossible to do anything else while lying in that bed, because a hospital bed is never like a simple bed—it’s always something more. When you’re in a hospital bed, you become picky, extremely sensitive, and fragile, and your whole reality changes. For instance, I felt sad on seeing the tired face of my husband and the distress of my daughter, yet at the same time, I felt a sense of joy from knowing they were by my side. While I’m grateful to my compassionate friends and students, I felt disappointed with the people I hadn’t seen or heard from. The joy I feel at the things I do well walks hand in hand with the fear I have for the things I’ve yet to accomplish.
I felt so pathetic in this situation, because I wasn’t able to affect or stop anything. I know what was going on, yet I couldn’t put it in order. All I could do was half-heartedly accept this desperate and uncontrollable situation. After a long struggle, I managed to understand what had happened to me. I again came to terms with reality once I found my balance again. The reality was how all the disturbances attacked my existence and divided me into pieces, damaging my unity. My perception of reality had been seriously affected by this fragmentation, because my existence came down to just my body, mind, or feelings and thoughts. They were never unified. This strange form of reality, where every aspect of me was acting alone in an uncontrollable way, was like a sort of philosophical schizophrenia. I myself as a whole was scarcely there in that hospital bed, while every single part of me talked and listened only to itself alone, caring only about its own reality, existence, wishes, and suffering.
Thanks to my observant approach, my distinctive senses first started to improve. The more I became aware of my parts, the easier they came together. As I regained my unity, some of my extreme behaviors balanced out without me needing to do anything. This new balance was no doubt related to my improved way of thinking and perceiving, as well as a sense of how things were continuously shaping each other. I had read many times that effective monitoring was one of the strongest ways to “do” things, and now I was doing the very same thing to myself. All these things could no doubt have been learned in a less painful way, yet my choices led me to this path, and it’s never too late. Osho’s test, which I had put aside without completing it, was now a fun way of learning.
If my intuitions and my mind hadn’t guided me, I would have definitely battled my illness for longer and wasted more energy. It would have also resulted in missing a great opportunity to deepen and develop my approach towards existence, life, and myself. I am so grateful that I created a new route for myself without falling into the traps, as well as hearing the voices that inspired me and guided me on this route. On the one hand, my experiences in the hospital bed triggered separations in me. On the other hand, they became the inspiration for these ideas.
I was told this operation would protect my healthy tissues, but I wasn’t going to be entirely cancer free. Chemotherapy was the only way to eliminate the last cancerous elements from my body. This treatment was scheduled for one month after being sent home. The more research we did about it, the more confused we became because of the various treatment protocols. Some chemo treatments were administered directly through the veins, while others were given both through the veins and the stomach. Half of my body had already gone during the operation, and now chemo was going to take the other half. I had to make a choice, so I chose the classic treatment protocol. Although the other option was also an effective treatment, I lacked the energy and will to fill my stomach with various medications. All I needed to do then was wait, because I had already made the decision about my chemo and informed the hospital where I would be treated.
I had the opportunity to contemplate many things during the quiet month I spent at home. I can easily summarize the process that patients like me go through, and it goes like this: When you get cancer, you first go to a doctor and ask to be rescued from this illness. A surgeon then operates on you and removes the cancer. If your problem is solved at this stage, you are extremely lucky. In most cases, however, the surgeon refers you to an oncologist, because the operation alone won’t be sufficient. The oncologist then completes your treatment with chemotherapy.
In this approach, where the outcome of the illness is destroyed rather than the cause itself, the patient is given two gifts: a cancer-free body (for now) and some additional time without a user’s manual. From a patient’s point of view, both of these gifts are like time bombs. You have a body that can produce cancer again at any time, and in the time you have, you don’t know how to use it to heal yourself. Even so, you have no other choice than to accept this fact and say, “Yes, Doctor.” You then start walking and groping through a misty and unfamiliar environment.
Cancer is such a vast, many-layered area, so it’s nearly impossible to know every aspect of it and make your choices accordingly. I made the following choices about my sickness: I went through surgery, and then I took chemotherapy. When I approached the subject with my academic mind, I of course had worries and questions about my choices. However, these choices seemed to fit me the best. I’m certainly not suggesting that my choices are the only one, because there are many different treatment approaches these days, and their efficacies are as arguable as their variety. The most efficient and acceptable approaches for yourself need be identified in this chaos. It’s not an easy process, though, when you consider the vast amount of information to absorb and our very precious time. Obscurity and fear are two things that can very easily shut down your mind, and the cancer industry unfortunately has some very dubious people who exploit it.
I’ve come across the abdication of reasoning in many fields of life. Some of them made me laugh, while others freaked me out. I don’t think there is any other area where ignorance and humor walk hand in hand like they do with cancer. I would like to tell you about something that happened recently. As I was displaying my handmade products at a charity sale, I decorated the display stand with a lace cover to give it a more vintage look. Everybody seemed to love the lace cover. A group of women then came toward the stand and looked at my products and the lace cover. They looked to be in their 50s and very well educated and wealthy. Some of them complimented me on the lace cover, but one woman said something ridiculous: “Oh, darling. I love lace too, but I won’t keep it in my house. They say looking at lace can cause cancer, so be careful, ladies.” I was shocked. I literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I think we should dwell on this subject more seriously. At least one person from almost every family has cancer nowadays, and health specialists constantly provide information about it through the media. I therefore find it so shocking to see people in our society who are so unconcerned and ignorant about cancer. When you look at cancer in various countries, you see many different organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental. These organizations work and campaign not just to educate the public but also to promote solidarity between patients and their families, to develop alternative rehabilitation programs, to find effective treatments, and to provide resources. From an alternative viewpoint, though, you could interpret all this as the industrialization of cancer. No matter which point of view you take, we are clearly facing a serious situation. Cancer is comprehended at the social level, and different mechanisms and trusts have the ability to act together hand in hand. The basic effect of this structure can be seen in the various choices offered to patients, both during and after treatment.
In our society, being a cancer patient means being sent home after your medical treatment to spend the rest of your time alone. When it comes to cancer, we don’t have any organized networks other than family. Everything takes place as an individual struggle between patients and their family members. Unlike other sicknesses, cancer requires a lengthy treatment and lots of aftercare. There is always the strong possibility of it returning or causing complications. Serious observation and investigation are needed during certain periods. It may also involve additional and unexpected costs. Most importantly, you need to have plenty of stamina while trying to constantly survive on the line between life and death. During these tough times, many cancer patients lose their relationships with their spouses because they fail to share their problems. Some lose their jobs because they fail to perform at work.
Despite the massive spread of cancer in society, it is still stuck in individual areas. I think this situation occurs due to human inheritance. Through history, societies have battled many deadly, contagious, and incurable diseases, such as leprosy, the bubonic plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and so on. At first, people didn’t really understand the source of these diseases, so they thought of them as a godly curse put on particular people or tribal groups. It took a very long time for people to realize how diseases were related to environmental and ultimately social circumstances, rather than being some form of divine retribution. When people believed that diseases were a curse from God, all they could do was try to repent for their sins. When diseases turned into epidemics, people started to understand the contagious nature of these diseases. Whether they believed a disease was caused by a divine or environmental source, once they realized they couldn’t cure it, they chose isolation, quarantine, or migration. Sick people were separated from the healthy to protect the rest of the society, or people left their homes to avoid catching a disease. From all these experiences, there is nothing but fear left in our collective minds.
Today, we battle against many deadly, sometimes contagious, diseases, such as cancer, AIDS, different forms of influenza, Ebola, and so on. Fortunately, today’s cancer patients don’t feel isolated or alienated like the lepers of the past. Moreover, when you see how people regard AIDS patients, you almost feel grateful that you only have cancer. However, I believe that on some level in our collective memory, we still relate these diseases to a form of divine punishment. Even though today’s science can define environmental, social, and individual factors that give rise to a disease, the insidious traces of our heritage can still be found behind denunciatory behaviors and discourse.
I admire Khalil Gibran a lot. Such situations remind me of one of his quotes: “There is no offence that is committed without society’s implicit or explicit consent.”
Whether environmental or social, I think it’s impossible to avoid collective responsibility for everything related to our collective creation. Rather than regarding diseases as something that should be suffered individually, we should accept them as parts of our collective creation. Our collective creation can be defined by what we produce and share, how we do things, how we cooperate, the kind of social structure we establish to achieve all these things, and the sort of moral values and beliefs we possess in order to preserve these structures. Diseases are no doubt the causal outputs of this broad context. They also act as direct mirrors, collective or individual, that reflect the things we do. When we broaden our perception to this scale, not just disease but also notions like crime, love, insanity, sex, and such like gain different meanings. I believe we can only acquire a deeper understanding towards things this way.
It’s maybe for this reason that Gibran said the following words on his deathbed, despite all his numerous writings and poems: “I came to this world to say only one thing. Although I have said many things, I’m now going without saying that one thing.”
Things that can’t be expressed properly might have great power. Who knows?
(To be continued…)
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