By Robert Kellum, ND
Illness as a Bridge to Health
I believe that we come from the spirit world and our journey is to burn that body away and find our true spirit body again through the exercise of life. Life is a kind of physical “buffer” of space and time, that, at its best, affords us some comfort as we seek to overcome illness and death. Without a spiritual bridge, however, our effort to hold on to life at all cost becomes merely perpetuating physical life. Whereas in the spirit realm, we are continually engaged in a rhythmic process in which expansion and growth plays a prominent role, in the physical world continual unbridled expansion is not possible. For life to continue, something always has to die. The vegetables decomposing in my belly from today’s lunch are soon to be resurrected as their etheric or life bodies cross my intestinal lumen, thus allowing me to continue to type and think. Death, the ultimate sacrifice, is the crux, the hidden meaning underlying everything. The greatest gift that Christ gave was the act of sacrifice. Selfless love is the font from which we can be nourished and in which life triumphs through death.
The more we try to suppress the fact of death, the more imposing it becomes. We have to learn to live with death, discovering its transformative and life-giving power in a new way that goes beyond self-destruction. “The tragedy of life,” Norman Cousins once said, “is not death, but what dies inside us while we live.” In his many lectures on connecting with the Dead , Rudolf Steiner encourages us to remember that the dead are with us and that we need to lift the veil from our consciousness and awaken to their presence. The karmic lesson we have all come here to learn is how do we “die to ourselves” while actualizing ourselves in the process? This is resurrection brought home to each of us. And we have to learn the lesson here, on earth, while we still have an earth to learn the lesson on. There is no planetary escape to Mars that will relieve us of this challenge. It need not be the macabre nightmares of the Hannibal Lecters or campus mass murderers or serial killers or suicide bombers that in our pain we activate again and again. Perhaps Dylan Thomas was wrong. Perhaps the passage into that good night can indeed be a gentler one than our fears propel us into accepting. Perhaps it is our rage against it that is keeping us from living in the now, with death ever beside us.
If this is so, we are presented with a new question. How might we live with death? Need it be an ever somber horror, or can embracing it lead us into an ever greater appreciation of the fragility of the human condition, a greater warmth and awareness in our human relationships, and perhaps even a pathway to overcome the karmic cycle in a new freedom, whose burden of mutual responsibility can liberate us into unprecedented potential? It is, after all, the knowing that one will die that places a “deadline” on all our actions, giving us the incentive to write that book, climb that mountain, and act out that forgiveness or apology. Perhaps we must all then learn a new battle, fought on a new field, in which it is ourselves against whom we struggle, in consciousness. What if the respite from death’s door we are all seeking can actually be found in death itself?...not as in “she’s at rest now,” or “he goes onto a far better place,” but a death that we embrace moment to moment as a part of life’s dynamic in the present.
The path of the initiate is to achieve a continuity of consciousness in sleep, to die before actually dying, so as to gain wisdom and insight from the spirit world. Writer and philosopher, Terence McKenna once reminded us that just because someone is dead [it] doesn’t necessarily make them right. But if the dead are here with us as counsel, and need us as well, perhaps the idea of being with the living dead is something much more joyful and alive than the presence of lifeless zombies in a George Romero B-movie. I hear so many joyful stories in my practice of patients with aging relatives who begin to see and talk with loved ones who have passed on before them. Perhaps this is more than dementia. Perhaps the question we might begin to ask ourselves is not when did life begin--because it may have always been with us in some form— but rather how and when death came about.
The Lemurian moment of falling out of the paradisiacal etheric realms and into a physical body carried with it a descent into the sense-based distractions of a purely material world, cut off from the spirit. Our over-attachment to the earth, and consequent veiling of ourselves from a higher spiritual connection, all brought pain, illness and death as remedies. To the extent we try to escape these remedies or push them away in an attempt to control or destroy them, we deepen our karmic list of things to do in order to eventually learn the lessons they are trying to give us. The flesh is weak, and the healing, in its quality of being an unknown, can actually be more frightening to us than the illness and pain. All pain in the sensory world, pain in the sweat of thy brow, in the bringing forth of children, in the throes of cancer, is pain calling us back to spirit, to healing what has been rent. When we can make sense of our life stories, reconnect with the parts of ourselves from which we’ve been cut off and make them whole, our pain, as well as our illness, begin to recede.
In her work with cancer patients at the Vidarklinik in Sweden, Ursula Flatters, MD, regularly explores the healing details of many stories she helps her cancer patients uncover. Very often these people are in great pain where restlessness and moaning are the only solace in the absence of morphine. What Dr. Flatters has found, however, is that when her patients can uncover the parts of their lives they have denied and suppressed the parts of themselves they have not been living and need to live—when they can bring these parts back into themselves and find resolution, their pain diminishes greatly, not uncommonly to the point where there is no pain and where morphine is not needed. Inspired by Dr. Flatters’s firsthand accounts, I have been encouraged to work in this capacity with my own cancer patients, and I am equally encouraged by the successes.
Of course, it is not always only a matter of simply uncovering a suppressed life purpose and having pain dissolve and cancer recede. Clearly, the patient who presents with liver cancer, after being exposed for decades to a toxic work environment, perhaps poor diet, needs a lot of treatment, conventional or unconventional, to have any hope of healing. And it all well may still come too late. Ultimately we have little control over the destiny of our patients. Yet in whatever approach we take to effect a healing, no mechanistic measure or host of measures against cancer is sufficient in itself. While pain can come in many forms, the principle of reconnecting with what has been cut off from ourselves underlie all our different manifestations of pain. Pain arises in us when the flow of energy (spirit) that wants to stream through us comes up against obstacles to its movement, when the will forces cannot be actualized to radiate outward but become locked in the body. With cancer, if there is a growing tumor that is impinging upon a nerve or choking an organ, it will impede energetic flow and create pain. If there is a build-up of toxic material, metabolic waste products, or necrotized tumor tissue, at a faster rate than the body can eliminate them, they will all impede energy flow and cause pain.
But the underlying existential basis for pain, the cancer itself, is the hidden double life we are not living, the traumatic event we have not overcome, the shock and distress that we have pushed away. This cancer is another being in us that is killing us and causing us pain because we are not finding a way to let it die and to resurrect it into our service in a more unified life. Nutrition, detoxification, and building the immune system are all important, but none of it is important if we are not addressing this hidden being within us and bringing him or her forward to heal. The cancer is a wake-up call….an expression to us by this inner suppressed being that something has to change, that we have to find a way to bring it into our life. Cutting it out, radiating it, destroying it with chemicals that nearly kill us too, may all reduce it back to a place where we may be able to bury it again, but it will not stop the process and the call to healing it represents. It is a process which, if not addressed, will rise to challenge us again, bringing us to the threshold of death where we must find the means to transform it and rebirth ourselves. Otherwise we will never be free of it. How to integrate this dilemma that has metamorphosed into a cancer, and will do so again, is a living question for all of us. The question lives in the social realm as well. Like the sun whose continual power to give and to radiate outward in negative space transforms into warmth and light, the purpose of bringing death into our consciousness is to learn how to transform it into life.
Dr. Robert Kellum is a board licensed naturopath, bodyworker (LMT), and practitioner of anthroposophic and Chinese medicine, seeing patients in Portland, Oregon. With other interested colleagues, he is spearheading the development of Society for Physicians of Anthroposophic Naturopathy (SPAN), as part of an umbrella group within the AAMTA (Anthroposophic Association of Medical Therapies in America), and with the mission of developing the cross-disciplinary seeds of an integrated spiritual science through the drawing together of naturopaths and like-minded colleagues, as a conscious force in their professions. For more information, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.