The Buddhist that said everyone in life experiences 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows probably never had cancer. One bout of cancer has got to be the equivalent of at least 1,000 sorrows, if you ask the woman who at 40 was struck with it. When the doctor gave her the news, Caroline felt like Life was punishing her. She was a good person; why would life lay such a heavy burden on her? On any of us?
The Tao Te Ching, a 3,500-year-old Taoist sacred text, says something extraordinary about Life: "Without fail, She brings us to our own perfection." It means that this dynamic field of energetic pure possibility that we call Life is, without exception, bringing us the very experience we need to have. The Greek root of the word "perfection" means wholeness, and Life is ever impelling us to grow into our wholeness because in nature that which does not grow dies. The same is true for human nature. Even the Talmud tells us that Life is growth when it says that there is an angel sitting above each blade of grass whispering, "Grow, grow." If this is true, then cancer isn't just an illness, it's a conversation. Cancer is a conversation that Life is having with us personally, in order to grow us into our greatness. It is the burden that grows us into our greater selves to live our greater lives.
In the beginning of time, the old fable goes, birds did not have wings. One day, however, Life decided to create wings for the birds. Life laid the wings down in front of the birds and said, "Lift up your burden and carry it." The birds thought to themselves, "Why in the world would we want to pick up this burden when we already have so many others in our constant struggle to survive?" But eventually the birds relented and did as they were told: They each lifted up their burden and carried it. Each day they carried the burden on their shoulders a little farther and they complained a little less, until the time came when the wings attached to their shoulders. One day a wild north wind blew through their valley. The birds were worrying about the strength of the wind versus the frailty of their bodies when unexpectedly a strong wind lifted them up off their feet. Instantly their wings extended and they went soaring through the sky. That is when the birds understood that their weight was their wings.
Illness is a conversation that Life is having with us. Sometimes it's the only way for Life to get our attention and it works like a charm. When illness comes, it is wise to enter the conversation because it is the only way for us to see with our own eyes how what is happening to us is really happening for us.