I have been concerned with the nature of healing for my entire life, but everything I thought I knew was melted down and then reconstituted in the crucible of the experience of cancer, the rigor and ordeal of the healing path which is on-going, and the privilege and challenge of spending the same 20 years as a lay analyst working with so many individuals suffering life-threatening illness.
These diseases which afflict us out of season are sociological, political, psychological, and spiritual events. Of course, diseases also have internal and personal causes: genetics, one’s own constitution, history, circumstances, as well as external and impersonal causes: viruses, bacteria, environmental pollution, etc. But disease is also something else, very mysterious and powerful; disease is an image of the world in which we live, and disease is often the means that calls us forth as healers. Understanding cancer, for example, as imperialistic has helped me see the relationship between the personal and the political. So, illness, as it afflicts us and breaks us down, also enlightens us and presents the means to heal far more than it has undermined. Illness offers us the ability to heal our bodies, our lives, and the world as well.
I have spent my entire life thinking about disease, cancer, and totalitarianism. When I was a child, I imagined myself a warrior against injustice and found many causes to which I wanted to offer myself. Before I was ten, I wanted to fight the Nazis, and when I was a young teenager, I imagined pursuing science so I might cure cancer. In both instances, I had the deep conviction that the Holocaust and its aftermath and the extent and circumstances of cancer were not, as the insurance companies say, “acts of God,” but injustices that should and could be righted.
When I was young, I thought the enemy was outside. Then I came to understand the concept of an internal enemy. Now, I am bitterly aware that the culture in which we participate and which we perpetuate has made us our own worst enemy and the enemy of the world at large. Harsh and extreme as this may seem as a statement, it is a harsher and more extreme fate. However, it is also information which allows for healing ourselves and others.
The photograph taken of me by Hella Hamid has become known as the Warrior. Our intention in turning it into a poster was to invite the world to look at a one-breasted woman and exult in her health and vitality. An alliance with the life force on all levels resulted from meeting the illness as a messenger – it called me to change my life in ways that would show themselves to be good for me and for the community. (The record of this journey of healing and becoming a healer is contained in Tree as well as Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing.) The illness I suffered was the means of profound spiritual transformation.
Adapted from afterword to TREE: Essays and Pieces, North Atlantic Books, 1997.
Deena Metzger is a novelist, poet, essayist, ritual practitioner, spiritual teacher, and healer. She works with physicians and trains healers in the creative, political, spiritual, environmental, and ethical aspects of healing. Her exuberant Warrior poster illustrates the triumph over breast cancer. She and her husband, Michael Ortiz Hill, have introduced Dar, healing communities based on Spiritual practice, Council, Energy work, and Dream Telling to North America. Metzger’s latest novel is Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn. The novel What Dinah Thought, explores a contemporary and Biblical relationship between a Jewish woman and an Arab. In The Other Hand, a Jewish American woman astronomer confronts the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb. Her other books include Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing; Tree: Essay and Pieces; and Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds.
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