On several articles on this blog, I’ll refer to the stress and relaxation response I wrote about in another article. As I explained less stress and more relaxation, joy and happiness are key factors in healing. A chronic illness like cancer is strenuous on its own. If you add stress because of your financial situation on top of that, it is of course an incriminating factor for the healing process. I was astonished again and again when I read of American cancer patients, who have to argue and fight with their health insurance to get the prescribed treatment refunded. Let alone people who are not insured or people who don’t have access to adequate health insurance in the place they live in. I imagine it must consume a lot of energy. Energy, that one actually needs for healing. Therefore I am very grateful that I didn’t have to worry about these things the slightest due to the (in that respect) very well-functioning health care system in Austria.
We know from countless studies that poverty goes along with less health. But as a social worker, I have also witnessed countless times how much strength and courage people who are affected by poverty and social exclusion can summon. And with it accomplish unbelievable things despite their harsh and hostile circumstances.
By writing this article, I want to express that I am aware of social inequality. I think that most of us, me included, need to have our basic needs met before we can go deeper or start with inner work. However I am convinced that also when you are struggling with material issues, mindfulness and other resources may be very beneficial to you.
I for instance, can work on this website because I am in a fortunate enough position to receive enough „rehabilitation money“, which is like a pension for people who aren’t able to work at the moment. I was working as a social worker full time before, and therefore have not encountered money issues. I know that many other people, who deal with cancer or other chronic diseases, face difficulties in the job market or with their economic situation. I want to point out that also with these issues, we don’t have to face them alone. There are various institutions and groups that offer counselling and support!
Many therapies or offers in holistic medicine or the health sector are usually quite or very expensive and address a middle class clientele. But the good news is that, there is always also a lot we can do ourselves or that doesn’t cost much. Meditation and mindfulness or books or audiobooks are also available to us for free or for a fair price. Also cooking healthier for ourselves can actually be less expensive than one might initially think!
Getting support / assistance
When you are dealing with cancer and have questions about your financial or job situation, I’d warmly advise you to get in touch with a specialized counseling service. In many countries there are laws or possibilities to help, protect and support people with chronic illnesses such as cancer. In Austria there are several financial aides or structures that help you to stay financially safe, there are also certain regulations that make it easier to keep a job. I got counseling from a specialized service from the Viennese cancer association (namely, “Krebs und Beruf”), that deals with these issues. It was very important for me to get a bit of assistance in applying for various benefits, despite me being a social worker and having a general idea about these things! For instance, I now have a status of a so called “benefited handicapped person” that gives one more protection from being fired from their job and gives them advantages when handing in a tax report.Depending on the country you live in and the legal situation, these possibilities will vary. But it definitely makes sense to be on the lookout for supportive structures, keeping oneself informed and of course, getting counseling.
To cut a long story short: Most people need their basic needs met before they can embark on an inner or healing journey. Getting support and counseling is an act of self-love and worthiness. No one has to feel shame for being in a vulnerable situation.
On the level of society we have to bear in mind that poverty and social exclusion must be tackled and transformed, in order to increase the health status of a population. However in my experience, money is not the only issue here. Working and money is also associated with social acceptance, recognition, worthiness and participation in society. It can be psychologically difficult for people as well to find themselves in a situation without a job or the ability to “work” and generate an income. Therefore, I would like to address this issue as well:
Of working and finding purpose in life
Like all of us, I grew up in our meritocracy. I defined my self-worth and self-esteem mostly through working and what I „did“. Even though, as a social worker, I learned to reflect upon this „merit thinking“ critically, it was engraved deeply into my consciousness. After my diagnosis with cancer, it took quite some time to get used to the thought that I won’t be working for a long time and that my „work“ or „task“ in life is simply to survive.
If you have cancer or are confronted with other life circumstances, it can be difficult or unclear, if and to what extent doing “custom work” is possible for you. Through my illness I learned that we are all already enough and worthy, just because of our existence as human beings. We don’t need to construct or earn our self-worth of a purposeful life by having a job or working or doing something in the (outside) world. We can generate deep knowing and awareness from within ourselves.
Additionally, we can ask what “work” actually means. Thanks to many feminist movements and researchers we see today that work is not only custom work. There is a lot of additional care work done (mostly by women), that is necessary for custom work. This work may be washing, cleaning, cooking, repairing things, take care of children, elders or sick people. It is often not recognized and not cherished but it is absolutely crucial for society that people can do a paid work outside their homes.
Here I want to present another concept about “work”. On this website I deal and work a lot with mindfulness. In reference to Jon Kabat-Zinn I say that being mindful can be hard work as well. To be present with different emotions, to cultivate self-compassion and compassion for others, to meet other people with openness, respect and love, to be aware and deal with emotions, thoughts and needs adequately from moment to moment is actually hard work.
I am convinced that it will be more and more necessary in the future to acknowledge this kind of inner work. Also because of new developments in technology, a lot of traditional work places will become obsolete. As I previously mentioned, we need to validate care work and find ways to better support people who do a lot of voluntary care work. So we need to ask ourselves how and what people can do and contribute with their lives. I think we need lots of people who do this inner work to create a real and better world. How much different would our world be, if this inner work was more recognized and accepted instead of our current understanding of producing things and earning money.
So, when temporarily or for the rest of our lives, we aren’t able to “work in a job”, with our presence alone, we can do important work. We can be of service to other people and be a source of healing for them. We can try to listen deeply to people, and provide them with a space for feeling accepted and supported. We can inspire others by being authentic, by daring to be vulnerable and take responsibility for our feelings, thoughts and lives.
But of course we can also use mindfulness and this presence when we have a paid job. Eckhart Tolle, who inspired me a lot, says again and again how beautiful and inspiring it is when people are present at their job. No matter what that job is.
I just recently had such an experience during a long bus ride between two cities. I was so relaxed during this bus ride, like I had never felt before. The bus driver was so authentic, funny and friendly. Every time when he announced the next station, or welcomed new passengers, I could sense that he is doing his job with full presence. He was driving extremely smooth and all in all, it was a wonderful and relaxing bus ride. It is often the little things that bring out the best in us. We all know how difficult or bad a day can start. Like when we are confronted with ignorant or rude people in the bus or tram or on the streets in the morning. So to conclude:
No matter what we do, when we are mindful / present / loving we can be of service to others. Small things can make a big impact. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you “work” or not, you and your presence is an important contribution to the world.
So let’s shine together!