I gather I’m not alone in having had an extremely challenging week – for many reasons. Actually, I would use a much stronger word than that but I’m in polite company, so I will keep it clean. Funnily enough it started out in quite a promising fashion. On Monday I was delighted to receive an email via the publisher of my book, Under Cover of Darkness, from a lady who had reviewed it for MacMillan Cancer Research – a really lovely review, so I emailed her back to say thanks and asked if I could have the full copy of it for my files. She suggested I contact MacMillan themselves so I did. My contact there is also lovely and obligingly forwarded me a link, which unbeknown to me until I opened it, contained about nine reviews. Wow! That was exciting for a newbie author!
Now, I just want to clear something up before I press on: anyone who has ever written anything that has gone out into the public domain will relate to the excitement combined with trepidation I felt when I started reading the reviews. If it has a star rating then you know you are pretty safe with three and up. I am fortunate to have had some nice reviews so far, but I am not in the least bit precious about someone having a genuine reason for not liking my book. It is in blog format, which isn’t for everyone. It has a lot of italics due to this, which isn’t for everyone either. I tend to go into things really deeply, and again, that is too much for some people. Everyone deals with cancer differently and I fully respect that.
However, as I read on through the reviews I realised that although they weren’t all starred they appeared to be on a downward trajectory as far as approval of the book went, until the final one felt like a physical blow to my body, such was the venom and ridicule contained in the words. I just sat there absolutely stunned as I mulled over the words and the feelings attached to them. How could a fellow cancer survivor be so cruel? Hadn’t they learnt anything or softened up at all through their own experience? I had no name, and I hadn’t heard of the type of cancer that defined the author’s entry, so I have no idea of their gender, but they were around my age, possibly a bit younger, so not even a ‘grumpy old gal/git’ type. They attacked me on every level, calling my ideas ridiculous and crazy and unscientific (you know, stuff like good nutrition helping recovery, eating wholesome well cooked food instead of microwaving it, calming my mind using Mindfulness techniques), which I would usually laugh at and agree with, except in this context, which was really nasty. But they also seriously misquoted me, and that was what really galvanised me into action. Regular readers will know of my explorations into Buddhism through Nichiren (chant it out LOUDLY) and Mindfulness (sit with it and allow it to flow through you, breath by breath) disciplines, but neither of these worked for me. Actually, that’s not quite true, as I was stunned into silence and forced to sit with my feelings for a while, and I realised that it wasn’t because someone had a different opinion from me, it was that they had used words against me, and it hurt just like playground taunting does. They had honed their viciousness into a review with no thought whatsoever for the effect those words would have on the author; apart from their obvious lack of knowledge, shown in the way they attacked me, this person is clearly completely uncaring of the way they deliver such a damning verdict. I got to wondering how unhappy they must be to need to write in such a way and what kind of life they lead. Someone happy in themselves would never do that.
I also realised that I wouldn’t be able to let this go until I wrote back to them; in this instance I didn’t feel I was pouring energy into something negative, thus making it more powerful – although I ‘sat with it’ for a long time to be clear of my motives. I recalled a conversation with Swamiji many moons ago when I asked if it was ever OK, from a spiritual perspective, to be angry. She replied that yes, of course it was, because following a spiritual path doesn’t automatically mean laying down and taking everything thrown at you with no response. It means – as in so many areas of life – having the courage to stand up for yourself, and if required, answer back, only in a calmer and more coherent form.
So I wrote my letter to the reviewer, addressing the fact that apart from noting their sad and unnecessary venom in attacking things they clearly had absolutely no knowledge of, they had seriously misquoted me, something I wasn’t prepared to accept. I finished by wishing them continuing good health (yes, really!) and hopefully avoided any sense of wanting to rip their head off in the process. My contact has since told me that MacMillan have removed the review and have forwarded my letter to the reviewer.
It is now Friday and my mind has moved away from the pain and upset onto the bigger picture, which is how we use words with such abandon, not always fully realising their power. In the context of cancer care this is so incredibly important; with wonderful organisations like the Royal Marsden pushing the boundaries, embracing complementary treatments to ease patients through such mind-numbingly horrible treatments, why should an ill-informed and completely biased reviewer (there were several more that were less than enthusiastic about my book for similar reasons) have the last word? Why isn’t my opinion taken to be as valid as theirs? I think we all know the answer to that one, but I am cross in a very constructive way now and have written to MacMillan asking them how they can widen the remit of their support to include really radical ideas like mine (!). That was a joke BTW. Seriously though, I have also asked that they make it possible for people to reply to the reviews, so that ‘the other camp’ have a forum on which to challenge people who ridicule what are in fact very valuable therapies and treatments.
Continuing on this theme (albeit via a slightly circuitous route), way back in February, Stephen and I were fortunate enough to go to Anita Moorjani’s workshop in London. For anyone who is unaware of this lovely lady, in 2006 she was in hospital in Hong Kong with end stage lymphoma; she had huge lesions on her neck, her organs were closing down, and her family were told she wouldn’t make it through the night. She went into a coma, during which time she went to other realms where she met a friend who had passed over with cancer, and also her father, with whom she had experienced a difficult relationship when he was alive. It was made clear to her that she should return to her life and she was shown pictures of herself talking to audiences about her experience and to give the message that everything revolves around love – there is nothing else that matters. She came out of her coma, and recovered, and within three weeks there was no sign of cancer cells, dead or otherwise, in her system. In medical terms she is a miracle, and her life story is now being made into a film by Ridley Scott. Her experience whilst in the other realms was so powerful, and so filled with love, that even ten years later, and in the middle of yet another gruelling world tour, she still exudes an otherworldly glow that has to be witnessed to be fully understood. You can read more in her book Dying to Be Me.
Anita was incredibly supportive through my own illness, and was kind enough to endorse my own book, but this workshop in February was our first chance to meet face to face. It was several months ago now, but it had such a massive impact on me that I have waited until the time was right to share some of what was a truly magical and transforming experience, one that is still unfolding within me. Stephen and I were bowled over by her shining example of love. You can just tell that she has been somewhere else, way outside our own experience, and somehow that makes her message much more powerful. During the day she took some extremely difficult questions from the audience, all of which had the same answer, to love your way through the problem. Her continuing message is that there is only love, always love, and just love when it comes to dealing with the difficulties we face – so I was bearing this in mind during my difficult week. She also talked of being attacked for giving cancer patients ‘hope’. Because of what? That it might not work and they might die? Really?! So what about the consultants who gravely tell patients that there is nothing more to be done and they should just enjoy the time they have left? That is a death sentence in itself! Do they actually have any idea of how powerful those words are? I could leap on any number of soapboxes here, but I won’t as I know you understand, and the only way through it is to keep inspiring people and keep showing them there is always hope. Always, always, always, and nobody should ever have the power to take it away from us.
I saw a beautiful link on Facebook a while ago to an article about an indigenous tribe who treat miscreants by surrounding them for several days with members of their community, who spend the time telling them how much they are loved and treasured; the tribe’s attitude is that any level of dis-ease of mind, body or spirit comes from the fundamental feeling of not being loved and that it can be cured by literally bathing the person in layers of love. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
So now I have calmed down a bit I am ready to send that sad, angry, and possibly lonely person some love, in the hope that some of it will permeate their tough and hypercritical outer layer and soften them within so that they can be a little bit kinder to the people that cross their paths. And that is quite a nice way to finish my difficult week. :-)
Wishing you sunshine and health,