Reflections on David Servan-Schreiber’s ideas
As a Healing Journey course leader, I was very interested to read about David Servan -Schreiber’s book: Not the Last Goodbye – Reflections on life, death, healing and cancer in Petra Griffiths’ blog post.
Some of the ideas which the book seems to address are very much the stuff of what we explore and discuss on the Healing Journey.
- the idea of illness or recurrence as somehow indicative of personal failure. All the battle metaphors used by both medical professionals and some people who have cancer themselves – “beating it”, “fighting spirit” and “not giving in” – seem to imply that we have a duty to adopt a certain attitude towards our condition and that we have ultimate control over our health. It all becomes about whether we “fight hard enough” to “win the battle”. This seems unhelpful and even a little grandiose to me. Do we have control over what happens to our illness? It can also mean that people experience guilt and self-blame along with all the other stresses they have to contend with. On the Healing Journey, we keep in mind the randomness and arbitrariness of cancer and the fact that we cannot necessarily control either the illness or the incidence of recurrence. What we can do something about is our state of mind and our quality of life while we are here.
- the frank exploration of health, illness and death by someone who is terminally ill and facing it. A dear colleague who worked with us until she died of cancer used to use a phrase “healing into death” which may seem paradoxical. It made and makes a lot of sense to me. So much is possible whilst we are alive as long as we face our own mortality. This is so hard for us mere mortals to do. So often we can grasp things in our intellect but the rest of our being seems to lag behind. We can move in and out of being in touch with the truth. As TS Eliot wrote in his poem Burnt Norton, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”. So it is a privilege to hear the ruminations of David Servan-Schreiber who seemed to have been able to bear maybe more than most. And it is salutary to see what really matters when our end is approaching – in this case, family and friends and, ultimately, love.
- finding out what is really important to us is a central theme of the Healing Journey. Whilst he was dying, David Servan-Schreiber was in touch with his need for contact with all members of his immediate and extended family. It sounded as if he had all the opportunities he needed for sharing and speaking about his experience as well as saying goodbye. Of course, people are different and “dying well” might mean different things for others. Conversely “living well” is a question which is raised for those who have a cancer diagnosis and treatment and who recover. What are the aspects of living which fire us, and give us joy and peace? The answer will vary from person to person. For some it is their relationships, for others their creative expression, or their spiritual path, or their relationship to the natural world.
- on the Healing Journey, people often identify being in nature as a source of peace and healing. In our session on “connectedness” on the last level, we include an exploration of what we find healing and ways to feel that sense of “oneness with everything”. Attuning to natural rhythms and allowing ourselves the space and time to just “be” can be deeply healing and restorative. Again, identifying what feeds us and makes life feel “rich” can be a journey in itself.
- overall the Healing Journey affords us the opportunity to explore all of these themes and more in the context of a supportive group and a structured self-help programme.