Some Enlightening News About Meditation and Cancer


This male breast cancer survivor spent a year in residence in a Zen Buddhist Temple. Then he got cancer. Here’s what he learned.

First of all, living in a Zen Center in the jungles of Hawaii, following a vegetarian diet, working as a Laughter Yoga Teacher and practicing meditation daily does not necessarily protect one from getting cancer! That’s a marvelous lesson in itself.

Why do some of us succumb to cancer’s advance while others, some who often living daring and reckless lives, remain cancer-free?

There’s no answer for that one.

What we do know is that many people who are diagnosed with cancer or other life-threatening diseases often rally, don their battle gear and respond with a new and formerly unrecognized blueprint for life. We fight back.

But many of us who are immersed in cancer warfare are using up huge reserves of energy, stamina and drive as we push on to make these very positive changes in our lives.

I’d like to suggest that meditation can soften and focus our life experience, offer respite and create an almost out-of-body view of our predicament while vastly improving our ability to recover from the stress, medications and procedures that we are likely to endure.

Meditation has multiple components.

Contrary to the “Hollywood” version we may have seen, Zen practice is not about trances, or chants or achieving enlightenment. The Zen tradition teaches us that we are all enlightened beings. The work (and it is work) comes from stripping away the thoughts, the judgements and the beliefs that have built up and festered over a lifetime, creating much of the suffering that the world feels.

While Zen practice is an arduous task and often takes a lifetime, there are many forms of meditation for cancer survivors that don’t require the commitment of Zen.

Guided imagery was the method I was first introduced to in a cancer support group when my wife contracted ovarian cancer. It was relaxing, spiritual and healing in many ways.

Meditation can consist simply of gathering our “gratitude list” and reflecting on the many blessings we have in our lives. Meditation can be an exercise of deep breathing while relaxing our body one muscle at a time. “Laughter meditation” simply requires that we turn off our minds for a moment and gently laugh for no reason at all. When you’re laughing, you’re breathing.

During my residency at the Zen Center in Honolulu, I learned that a master of Zen meditation doesn’t require a formula, a mantra, a quiet room or even a cushion to meditate. Zen meditation can be practiced while walking, running or standing in line at the grocery store. Zen is not a place to go or a goal to achieve. Once these thoughts enter our practice, we are out of Zen. The counterintuitive nature of Zen makes it confusing and mysterious. It is an empty space where everything exists without names or labels or thoughts about them.

Cancer is there. And so is perfect health.

To begin your own choice and style of meditation, find a comfortable and quiet place to sit. Listen to all of the thoughts you have that are connected to your cancer. Some may make you feel scared, angry, irritated, impatient and more, but remember these are just thoughts. Don’t try to stop them, fix them, or even attach those names to them. Sit. Listen. Breathe. Be well.

That’s all there is to it.

You are at the doorway to Zen.

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