Finding Meaning

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, Emeritus

JULY 23, 2018

Exercises for the Spirit

Cancer comes differently to each of us. Whether it announces its presence with a whisper or a roar, it changes our lives in a moment. Forever after, there is a line of demarcation, a before and an after. Things will never be quite the same.

Whatever our beliefs around our life and death may have been before diagnosis, cancer often moves us to contemplate how best to live and what our lives really mean. The beliefs that help sustain us, especially in difficult times, are often summed up in the word "faith."

I frequently speak with newly diagnosed or very ill cancer patients who are questioning their faith. Some, in this time of existential crisis, find themselves longing for something they have lost. Others find comfort in places of worship or passed-down religious traditions. Most hope to find answers to questions, such as why they are here and what is their greater purpose. 

My experience over decades of working with cancer patients has been that those who have faith, whatever that faith might be, have an easier time than those who don’t. To be clear, however, you do not need to be a part of an organized religion; an atheist or an agnostic who has pondered meaning can be just as comfortable as a lifelong temple member.

These exercises may help you find your spiritual footing.

  1. Consider speaking with a member of the clergy or a religious teacher. This person does not need to be a member of your previous or current faith group.There are wonderful people from a range of backgrounds available at BIDMC. If you are searching for a more formal religious connection, attend services at different churches or temples to see if they speak to you. Some people find it easier to enlist a cancer buddy for these visits; go together.
  2. Read often. Many wise people have written about faith, fear and meaning.
  3. Appreciate great art and music. Be open to what you feel.
  4. Meditate. Try to be present in the moment: “I am here.”
  5. Remember moments when someone has been with you in a fully present, loving and accepting way. Recall how that felt.
  6. Get outside. If you can, lie on your back and look at the stars. Walk in the woods or beside the water or in any beautiful place. There is great solace in the natural world. The more we can feel part of the rhythm and cycles of life, the more peaceful we will be.
  7. Remember the proverb: I said to the almond tree, “Sister, speak to me of God.” And the almond tree blossomed.

 Please share your thoughts with us at the BIDMC Cancer Community