Many who participate in CCHP find that it helps facilitate their personal transformation. It was true for me. What is it about this program that led to my transformation? Speaking only for myself, I ask what is the critical core of this program?
It starts with the container. By this, I mean the physical, mental/psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal environment in which CCHP happens. That container was the platform of my transformation. The weaving of it starts long before we take the road to the left turn into Commonweal. It starts with the staff’s impeccable clarity about their intention to create a safe, cozy space where people can go deeper into the meaning and experience of cancer in their lives, and find healing. The second layer of the weave is that, through their words and actions, the staff communicates a single important idea: Take good care of yourself; do what you have to do to take good care of yourself. This message is communicated in meals; in loving support; in every activity. I fully took this message to heart.
The weaving of the exquisite container takes another step on that first night, when Michael gives his talk about language. About how we can hear each other; about a generous listening style that assumes the good will and intention of the speaker; about understanding that ‘God’ and other ‘spiritual’ words are essential to some and an anathema to others. We are invited to find a way to listen that goes beyond superficial understandings.
The invitation to see the world through that generous perspective is the next weave of the container. Not to be overlooked is the accessible modeling, as the staff embodies this deep listening, non-judgmental awareness and acceptance. For me, this is the core of the core of CCHP. I was moved by that field of deep listening and non-judgmental acceptance. To be so deeply held, as I am, is the most meaningful gift that one person can give another. And so the staff invites us, through their modeling, to join in a conspiracy to elevate our discourse.
Into that container of growing understanding, love, and acceptance, we tell our stories on the first night. For me, the telling was both an opportunity to tell it authentically, and to tell it in a way that invited me to see it differently. Hearing the stories of the other 7 participants was a miraculous opportunity to see what is common and what is not common in our experiences with cancer. Hearing the stories of contrasts and similarities was a great gift because I could learn from both.
I don’t know if the staff practiced deep listening and non-judgmental awareness before they came to CCHP, but I do know that they now practice it as a natural exposition of who they are. This is also the core of the core of Healing Circles: to teach how to weave and hold the container. Deep listening and non-judgmental awareness and acceptance create the platform and possibility of transformation.
Before CCHP, before my transformation through the discovery of the greater meanings of cancer in my life, I had kidney cancer. After the transformation, I still had kidney cancer. The only thing that is different now is the perspective that I bring to it. For me, cancer is a focus. It focuses me on what is important in life. It focuses me on healing. It focuses me on facing the truth of the present moment without undue clinging or aversion.
I think deep listening and non-judgmental awareness/ acceptance build the container that allows CCHP to go so successfully into the deepest, most difficult parts of being human: pain and suffering; loss and death. Somehow, the container woven here allows us all to be just enough and not too much for each other. We learn to help each other heal and to avoid the temptation of trying to fix another.
There is something particularly magical here at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. My sincere prayer and intention is that we identify and propagate that magic as we move forward with Healing Circles out into the larger world.
This post is an edited version of remarks that I gave at a forum on starting Healing Circles, held at Commonweal in January 2014. I focused on the essence of the program that, I feel, must be included in any effort to build Healing Circles. I offer it here as a tribute to CCHP on it’s 30th anniversary. May it continue to grow and serve for a hundred years or more!
Header photo by Corinne Bayley