Cancer and Spiritual Pretension

It seemed important to me to not wear my favorite T-shirt to the doctor’s office as I did not want a potential positive biopsy to keep me from enjoying it in the future. As it turned out, the doctor did tell me I had cancer.

Three operations later I began nine months of chemo and radiation therapy. There were terrible days and beautiful days, during which my husband and dogs took good care of me.

On one of the terrible nights, I had a stunning mystical experience. I can barely remember or describe it now but as I recall, there was a ring of fire, a thundering presence of God, and some sensation of the annihilation of self.  I thought I had died before I died. I thought I had arrived.

After chemo was finished, I traveled to Spain with a group of Sufi friends. I remember sitting in a cafe, in Seville, I think. I was quite confident after my ring of fire encounter with God, and ready to demonstrate my new level of understanding. My friend Bob, deputy to my Sufi teacher Mr. Zaray, was illustrating a point with one of his spiritual experiences. My reaction was – “Well, what about MY spiritual experience”.

I honestly cannot remember if I said it aloud or just to myself. I do remember, however, being overwhelmed by shame and a sharp understanding that my ego had assumed gigantic proportions and overtaken the expansiveness of my experience. For the rest of the trip, humiliation pretty much kept me confined to my room. Perhaps something like this was what Hafiz called “the horrible whirlpool” along the path.

This is a not an unusual experience on the bumpy road of spiritual development. Ego is an incredibly complex, sneaky, and tenacious presence in each human being.

One or even twenty extraordinary experiences do not a mystic make. I wonder now how many cults may have been founded upon such a premise. Or how many spiritual teachers were led astray. Each spiritual experience is new and unique.

Clinging to a spiritual experience of the past can interfere with a fresh experience of the present.

I pray I can remember my ego, no matter what I encounter–spiritual or otherwise. My belief is that ego never goes away, no matter how high the spiritual attainment. The whirlpool always lurks. As Rumi said “I watch my “states” surge like armies, at war with each other”.


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