On Life & Death, On Mindfulness

Your Cancer. Your Karma.

A Call for More Humanity in the Wellness Industry

I was once told, not too long ago, that my cancer was my karma by a spiritual teacher in a room full of other seeking attendants. I waited for the break to lock myself in a bathroom and cry.

It wasn’t the first encounter that made me observe, like others, the shadow side of spirituality. Something that is now nestled deep within the psyche of the wellness community. A place of little belonging, if you fall outside the privileged, able-bodied norm.

Here, physical and mental illness are thought of something you should be able to transcend through your thoughts and beliefs. Here, positivity has become a toxic expectation that excludes and bypasses real human emotions like anger and grief.

It makes me wonder how truly accepting of discomfort, self-proclaimed spiritual wellness leaders and teachers in our Instagram world really are. The aforementioned spiritual teacher had no way of knowing with certainty what caused of my cancer. And yet she projected her spiritual knowing of the universe onto my Being.

The wellness community should come with a warning: Beware of Projections!

Did you know? People, good people are diagnosed with cancer, every single day. Good people die every day. How are we to explain that?

I ask you to sit with that question. Before you jump to any conclusions, before you create any story, before you project your personal beliefs – pause for a moment.

Good people die everyday.

I once had a conversation with a friend about a good, young man, who had just had a Leukemia relapse. Worst case scenario; death was imminent. Any treatment he would undergo was just to buy a few more days, weeks, months, at most.

“Yes, but you and I will live long lives,” my friend said. “Because we do good in the world.” It’s not true. We must stop telling that story!

No matter how much we improve ourselves, we will die. No matter how many wounds we heal, we will die. We matter how much good we put out into the world, we will die.

Death is not a failure, and yet we treat it as such.

I am tired of obituaries that read, “They lost their battle to cancer.” Death is not a failure. It’s not a defeat. I have watched many people die, who by all benevolent algorithm should have been given a long life, so they could keep giving their light to the world.

We must stop making them out to be the sad ones that “didn’t make it.” We must stop turning those who experience hardship into poster boards that read: “Courageous warrior!,” as if they were inspirational porn. We must stop fixing and idolizing. Give them room to breathe. Create space. Listen.

To my point: How do we explain that good people die every day? We don’t. We simply don’t. And we certainly don’t need to project our limited spiritual understanding upon people that are experiencing something we have never experienced before. It’s important we only give counsel to people who are experiencing things that we have experienced ourselves.

We can only meet people in places we have been.

No corporate executive is going to give counsel to the mechanics that fix their cars, so why would we be giving advice on things that we know little of? If you haven’t died, you simply cannot give advise on how someone should die. You also may give no counsel on why you think someone is dying or ill.

I imagine a world where people are met exactly where they are at by people that have been where they are.

I don’t think that anyone in the wellness industry means to do harm. When we see someone struggling to stay live, I believe that many are simply caught off-guard, because they have never been at that threshold themselves.

Many of us, when faced with the unknown have a tendency to cling to our beliefs, to make sense of what we are seeing and comfort ourselves.

Still commentaries like, “Your cancer is your karma,” or “Just change your thoughts and beliefs, and you’ll be healed,” regardless of how well-intentioned they may be, are not helpful.

Again, we must meet people where they are at. And if that place is somewhere we haven’t been, we must notice our discomfort to face what we have not faced before. We must learn to catch ourselves amidst gathering our beliefs, readying ourselves to project them onto others.

We must learn to be present to people and their experiences, without making them wrong.

There is so much we can learn from those who experience things that we have never experienced before. And what a blessing that truly is, when we can put the ego that thinks it knows aside, to make space for another’s experience.

We must not expect them, either, to perform the emotional labour of explaining their experience. We can simply learn to observe and listen to whatever they share about their experience, however they wish to share it. We can make space for that. I believe in us.

So spiritual wellness leaders and teachers: Please stop thinking you always have to be the teacher. Relax. Step back and learn from those who can teach you something about what you have never experienced before.

This too is your service: to make space for the stigmatized, marginalized voices – to amplify their voices. Pay homage. Give honour.

May this be an invitation for us to let go of our egotistical need to being right, to give way to those who are experiencing a different reality – not better, nor worse – than ours. Just different.

This is humanity – not power over, not power under. Interconnected. Together.

May there be more humanity in the wellness industry.

May it be so.

And so it is.

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