Cancer and Stress

The recent public revelations of the recurrence of cancer in  Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow once again bring into focus the issue of cancer and stress.

Several studies question the relationship between the two, attempting to review various measures of ‘stress’ prior to the diagnosis of cancer.  Cancer remains a multifactorial disease process, one that includes genetic susceptibility, external toxic factors, perhaps viral stimulation, immune irregularities and a great deal of what remains unexplained. Yet despite the lack of ‘proof’, my own readings and clinical experience makes me highly suspicious of the association between the two.

Cancer represents a failure of the body’s immune system to adequately combat the malignant threat that arises in all of us. It is believed that cells undergo division and that mutations arise frequently which left unchecked could lead to invasive, metastatic cancer. Fortunately, our immune system usually recognize abnormally dividing cells and sets into motion a process which destroys these cells before they can cause overwhelming devastation.

There is no question that emotional stress impairs the ability of the immune system. This can be assayed by measuring levels of IgA in the saliva of individuals. Multiple other sophisticated process are weakened as well.

I my own practice I have observed that patients whoses cancers were considered in remission, developed full-blown recurrences after periods of intense emotional stress. So it may very well be that the most powerful association between the two is less well defined in the origination of cancer but more obvious in the recurrence, the loss of ‘balance’ between the existence of these cells and their spread throughout the body.

Should individuals such as Edwards and Snow choose to avoid situations in which stress will render their cancers more aggressive? Of course this is a highly personal matter and decision.  At first glance it would seem that they jeopardized their health by assuming such public roles and the obvious powerful public scrutiny.

On the other hand, it may be that such ambitious and personally motivated individuals would face more stress by not pursuing their goals. It may also be their ultimate fate to experience a relapse no matter what path they chose. Stress, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

The lesson for others is to understand the power of stress to affect our sense of balance and equanimity and how this impacts on our ultimate state of being.  To heal is to make whole. Stress, unrecognized and unaddressed tends to impair our sense of wholeness. But it ultimately amounts to how we handle the stresses that affect us all. How we view life’s challenges can motivate us or bring us down.  It is ultimately up to us as individuals how we deal with the inevitable—stress.

Evolution and Healing

The relationship between evolution and healing may seem quite paradoxical, even contradictory. Evolution is often associated with a metaphysical perspective which favors scientific atheism.  Richard Dawkins is a contemporary proponent of that notion.

In truth, evolution is totally compatible with a spiritual view of realtiy as well as notions of holistic healing.  I use the term ‘holistic healing’ in its broadest sense of mind/body/spirit.

One of the best proponents of this philosophy was Pierre Teillard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest/paleontologist.  His notion of evolving spirit as well as the physical world brought rather strong criticism from his fellow Catholic theologians. Yet this makes perfect sense from a variety of other spiritual traditions as well.

Buddhism describes consciousness as continuously changing.  We achieve this evolution through the eradication of suffering of ourselves and those around us–ie healing. The goal is enlightenment, the attainment of a higher spiritual evolution. Kabbalah speaks of the notion of tikkun or repair/healing as humanity’s mandated role in the co-creation of the universe, an ongoing process.

Messianic consciousness, the evolving of spirit towards the redemption of mankind has shared Jewish and Christian forms.

Process philosophy accepted by a variety of philosophers including Alfred North Whitehead, Henri Bergson and  historial Julian Barbour and others see process as a metaphysical perspective which joins science and sprituality.

Healing of the body is seen as a small component of who we are. We cannot consider it without the entire picture of mind and spirit. Our bodies are the temporary vehicles for our incarnation on this plane and will, by definition deteriorate and die.

Those who understand, as Teillard de Chardin noted, ‘we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience’ can comprehend and accept the challenges of this existence.  They can readily appreciate how healing and evolving are closely linked.

What surprises some is the notion that Higher Consciousness, or God may be evolving as well.  Does this notion rattle anyone? Why should it? There is a Kabbalisitc notion that God made and destroyed countless words before settling on this one.  Perhaps God [or Ein Sof, the Unknowable] was learning and evolving as well. Perhaps Ein Sof desired to experience a form of mystical healing.  Perhaps the evolution of human consciousness was crucial for Ein Sof’s unfolding consciousness.  Pure speculation, to be sure, but why not consider all possibilities for existence? highly evolved.

Healing is finding new ways to improve ourselves and those around us. Healing is reaching our highest destiny. Healing implies that our destiny is to be more than what we are and that we are placed into difficult circumstances to challenge ourselves to evolve. Healing IS personal and cosmic evolution. There is no paradox involved.

AND THE WINNER IS…..

The goal of reconciling science and religion seems worthy of consideration.  After all, logically there should be one ultimate metaphysical truth despite a variety of tools and paths to get there. This is not to imply that the ultimate mystery will be unraveled anytime soon.  If anything, the further science probes into the secrets of the cosmos, the more mystery is revealed.

But on the contemporary scene, no one, in my estimation does more to accomodate science and spirituality than the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.  I recommend one of his latest books, The Universe in A Single Atom–the Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

What religious leader would state about their own religion, ‘…if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.’ In stead of reacting to the scientific method with reactivity and irrational defiance [fundamentalist Chrisitianity and Islam in the 21st century] we need to maintain the open-minded skepticism of the Buddhist approach.

The Dalai Lama has always made it his goal to acquaint himself with the most advanced and cutting-edge scientific knowledge.  Clearly he is unafraid to grant science its due–an understanding of the physical universe.  But as a spiritual individual he is also aware that science cannot address deep issues of morality nor totally explain the nature of subjective experiences and awareness.

He clearly places the Buddhist goal of alleviating human suffering in the context of spirituality and science.  Each can contribute greatly to the achievement of this goal:  science through technologic advancements in providing food, shelter and medicines, and spiritulaity by directing our goals away from the pure acquisition of material wealth and towards a peaceful acceptance of the impermanence of life.

Anyone who has watched him speak or read his words understand how special this man truly is.  When having a dialogue with representatives of other world religions, he listens attentively, eager to learn something of their perspective.  He is open to the exchange of ideas. Remarkably, he never encouranges anyone to become a Buddhist.  In fact, he emphasizes the spiritual essence of all religions and believes that someone can find this spiritual core from within their own tradition.  He is the embodiement of grace, intelligence, tolerance of others and compassion. So allow me to toast the winner of the Metaphysical Cup–the Dalai Lama.

IS GOD GOOD?

There was a question and answer period at the conclusion of my talk ast week.  One of the first came from a good friend who asked my opinion on one of the most powerful arguments against the existence of God or a spiritual dimensions to reality [SDR] that  anyone could raise–namely the existence of raw, unadulterated evil in the world.

She had multiple family members who both died and survived the European Holocaust of the last century.  Her question was hardly hypothetical.  But in various forms it has served to dissuade many that a loving, beneficent God exists.

My response centered around the argument that the metaphysical nature of reality is based upon absolute free will. This is the basis for understanding what follows: free will requires the possibility that one can choose evil. Choice can not be limited to good, nor can a Supreme Intelligence only allow good. This would limit the ‘free’ notion that makes free will such a powerful force.  The ability to choose evil must be part of the equation.  God cannot and does not interfere.

How can one accept such an imperfect, unjust universe?  This requires the belief that karmic forces will ultimately offer a balance, a justice which every soul will understand over a multitude of lifetimes.  What appears to be a senseless act of evil, a wasted life cut short of its potential, may be understood, in the context of multiple lifetimes to be part of a pre-birth contract.  That life may have been imperfect or shortened in order to affect other individuals around them–to test their compassion, their sense of justice.

Mediums have claimed that those who perished on 9/11 were the physical manifestations of soul’s who volunteerd for the mission–in order to teach unity and compassion to large numbers of Americans, or to challenge their families to overcome the horrific loss of a loved-one.

The perpetrators do not escape without the necessity to account for their choices as well.  This may be played out over multiple life times.

Free will demands that all acts be allowed to occur.  The consequences of all of our actions will ultimately be recognized by our souls.  No act goes unexamined. This applies to acts of goodness as well as evil. It is not a matter of punishment–merely lessons which ultimately will be learned.

The question is not ‘Is God Good?’ but rather, are we?

POST LECTURE THOUGHTS

I would like to offer my sincere gratitude for those of you who attended my lecture yesterday at the west side division of the 92nd St Y.  It seemed to be well received and I greatly enjoyed the experience.

My frustration was based on my inability to discuss all aspects of the science/religion debate.  But that merely reflects my own passion to continue to explore these profound metaphysical issues which have not only intellectual but deeply practical implications.

My message to all–continue to be open-minded and unafraid to challenge the mystery of existence. It will guarrantee that life will  never be boring.  Painful at times, debilitating at other times, seemingly unfair at other times–but unquestionably more interesting.  Expand the phenomeonal minds that we all possess.

More to come…..

The Therapeutic Range–How to Avoid Metaphysical Toxicity

I am continuing to ponder the mystery of who we are.  What constitutes the mind of man? What has led to the development of a ‘self-reflective’ primate who is capable of such extremes of human behavior–from the magnificance of art, the depths of compassion to the brutality of mindless slaughter an degradation.  We have so much potential for enriching the life of our fellow human being, yet often choose to plunge ourselves into the depths of despair and suffering.

It seems as if the ‘therapeutic range’ concept of drugs would apply equally to human institutions and behaviors.  Drugs can produced fantastic therapeutic results in a variety of medical conditions, but only when used within appropriate doses and for specified durations.  One of mankind’s oldest discoveries, digitalis, was derived from the herb Foxglove.  It has saved the lives of millions.  But when allowed to accumulate in the body to toxic ranges, can be lethal.  This is true of

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