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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Mind  /  Meaning and Purpose

Meaning and Purpose

By Jeannine Walston


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”Meaning and Purpose
-Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
-Nietzsche

What is meaning and purpose? How does meaning and purpose relate to health and healing through cancer?

Meaning and purpose relate to the reasons for your unique calling. Pursuing your unique meaning and purpose provides a sense of belonging with curiousity, diving deep, and a vast vision into levels much larger than yourself. Awareness, attention, and actions toward your meaning and purpose helps support your optimal mind-body vitality. The expression of your meaning and purpose invigorates the innate capacity to heal. Meaning and purpose may also be associated with why you want to heal, what you can do to help yourself heal, and not being attached to specific outcomes.

Cancer As A Turning Point discusses the work of Lawrence LeShan, PhD and his writing about how psychological and lifestyle changes toward a zest for life can mobilize the immune system. As LeShan explains in Cancer As A Turning Point, it is “the kind of meaning that makes us glad to get out of bed in the morning and glad to go to bed at night—the kind of life that makes us look forward zestfully to each day and to the future.” This zest for life is a part of meaning and purpose.

What does cancer teach about meaning and purpose? People sometimes believe that there is some kind of inherent meaning in cancer, but there is none. The ways in which each person chooses to grow through the cancer experience is what makes the meaning. Cancer is a catalyst that can be used as an experience to investigate and manifest meaning and purpose. Although not a teacher, cancer does present teachable moments for learning and transformation. You are your own teacher to explore the scope of the meaning and purpose in your life.

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.