As you can probably imagine, daily positive affirmations aren’t my cup of tea. Indeed, I think of them as poison devil water. For one to keep moving forward and pushing yourself to beat this disease is a good thing. You can’t let it take you over, but you can’t ignore the anger and fear either.
When I was first diagnosed I came out of my surgeon’s office and wanted to turn over the ambulance idling on 59th street. Man, if I had the strength to do that I would have. A big 180 degrees from the north side of the sidewalk over to the south side. Fucking cancer. And then I started to “deal.” You know, you go through the stages. And I finally resigned myself to it; I would address it in a matter-of-fact manner, move forward, and kill the Death Star.
Then I met with my oncologist. Honestly, man, the word chemotherapy struck more fear into me than the word cancer. Zapping the Death Star was one thing; now I had to face nausea, baldness, and a million other side effects just this side of chemical warfare. I got angry–again–and eyed a nice Bentley I saw on the street. (It would be much more satisfying to turn that over than an ambulance.) Fear consumed me when I arrived home. I cried and cried. It was the first time I was truly afraid. But just like the first bomb, I pulled myself out of the wreckage and resolved to get through it. What resource will be my go-to for that on-the-spot nudge to move forward?
Well, the last thing I need right now is to read some pithy, weak, and sappy affirmations that seem a part of what I’m gong to call the “Cancer Culture.” Like this handful I pulled from a random Google search:
- My life is like a day at the beach! I love my life.
- I am healthy and happy and can defeat any illness. No illness can break my spirit.
- I am confident that the path I journey on today leads me in the best direction for my soul’s progress.
- I am strong and wise in the face of my fear.
- Today and everyday I take care of myself. I am a gentle and loving caregiver.
Fuck the treatment. If I have to read this bullshit everyday I’d just rather die, thank you. Or, even better, join the many who every year jump from the George Washington Bridge. Get it over with already.
Who can say this crap to themselves everyday? I don’t need affirmations. I have philosophy. The difference? With one you try to convince yourself, with the other you endeavor to live it.
When I want that go-to source of strength and resolve, I turn to a Roman emperor who has been dead for some 1,832 years: Marcus Aurelius. My man Marcus was a Stoic; matter-of-fact and didn’t pull any punches. Feeling sorry for yourself? Suck it up! Want to do yourself in? You’re not allowed! Want to blame the world for your problems? Shut up! Want to make it out of the morass? Then move your ass!
The Emperor wrote what is essentially a journal called The Meditations. In it you enter the personal journey of a man who was trying to perfect his life through what were, essentially, his version of Stoic affirmations. The basic idea is this: change is nature, that change happens shouldn’t surprise you or even throw you off your game. If you get sick, it’s only the body that is sick, not the will (the soul). Someone puts you in chains? Fine, but they can’t put your mind in chains. The cancer may have fucked up your breast or elsewhere, but your mind is your mind. It belongs only to you. And as long as you have your mind, and your reason, THAT is the source of your strength. Your mind is your very existence, not your body.
Stoicism is not just about that, but this is a big part of the Emperor’s writings. And it’s not for everyone. But when I have real challenges in my life I would rather rip off the band-aid and deal. When I was so upset this week there were two passages that made me dry my tears and soldier on.
- Withdraw into yourself: the reasonable governing self is by its nature content with its own just actions and the tranquility it thus secures. Wipe away the impress of your imagination. Stay the impulse which is drawing you. Define the time which is present. Recognize what is happening to yourself or another. Divide and separate the event into its causal and material aspects. Dwell in thought upon your last hour. Leave the wrong done by another where the wrong arose. (VII: 28-29)
- Let not the future trouble you; for you will come to it, if come you must, bearing with you the same reason which you are using now to meet the present. All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred, and scarcely one thing is foreign to another, for they have been arranged together in their places and together make the same ordered Universe. For there is one Universe out of all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures and one truth . . . Everything material vanishes very swiftly in the Universal Substance, every cause is very swiftly taken up into the Universal reason, and the memorial of everything is swiftly buried in eternity. (VII:8-10)
Life is NEVER a day at the beach. It’s life. With all of its warts, flowers, disease, and promise.
Face it head on. Or don’t face it at all.