Ramana Maharishi, thought to be one of the most gifted sages, introduced a meditation called, “Who Am I?” Over the years I would have easily answered this question with, “I am a daughter, a sister, a friend a wife, a social worker” and so forth but as I got older, I began to look at this question differently.
I was diagnosed with cancer the same time as the onset of Covid. My mother died the year before, so I felt like I was no longer a daughter, and I was no longer able to continue my social work position due to both cancer and the pandemic — so both titles had to be crossed off the list. Who am I without these identities began to be a daunting question. Then as the battle of cancer and chemotherapy took over, I began to see a separation between my body and my identity. While lying on the sofa depleted, feeling the various aches throughout my body, it began to dawn on me that I am more than my depleted body. I remembered this meditation and asked, “Who is experiencing this exhaustion?” Maybe the question helped me to disassociate from the aches and pains, but the separateness also helped make me aware that my body and my being are separate entities. Regarding his meditation, Ramana Maharishi stated, “…Who am I is not really meant to get an answer. The question “Who Am I” is meant to dissolve the questioner.” When the roles we play in life are no longer an answer, the essence experienced in asking this question is what sages call “The I Am-ness” or Universal Energy, it is awareness of our soul — there are many words and phrases for this higher state of being.
So, does this mean I have reached a state of Spiritual peace? Hardly! While there are glimpses of inner peace, there are more moments of fear. As the different roles I have played in life are crossed off the list I sometimes feel anxiety about emptiness — and I am uneasy about this void. Wanting something but not knowing what I want. Now with the cancer recurrence, my body feels fatigued, and my skin is itchy beyond any other experience I ever had. When odd sensations occur, I automatically see it as a decline in my health and I become worried that lymphoma is getting worse. When these struggles occur, which is often, the Universal One-ness is beyond my grasp so it is no wonder that I felt drawn to writing about the moon, the 18th tarot card, In Hebrew, by the way, 18 means life and knowing this makes me feel dismayed on several levels.
The moon card shows the sun and the moon, depicted as one, dark and light, negative and positive all wrapped up into one — it reminds us that the light of the moon comes from the reflection of the sun. The Mythic Tarot states that the moon card represents a progression of a deeper understanding of the unconscious. The moon-goddess, Hecate, symbolizes a “confrontation with a transpersonal world, where individual boundaries dissolve and the sense of direction and ego are lost.” It is my understanding that this period of confusion, “The dark night of the soul,” is necessary to experience and learn from to reach a higher state of consciousness, like the feeling I strive for when doing the “Who am I meditation.”
I see that the roles I have played in my life were important in my development as a person with a contribution to make, but it has less meaning as I search for a connection to my higher self. Additionally, cancer took away a lot, but it also gave me a deeper understanding of spirituality and the struggle for “I Am-ness.”
Thanks to cancer, I have a greater understanding of the difference between the ego state, which represents my place in this world vs. my higher self, which is my soul that is connected to Universal Energy.
Cancer absorbs every part of my existence, whether or not I am in remission. The reality of cancer is all consuming in that it is what I think and talk about most often. On the dark side, I often have the feeling that I want life to be over because I don’t want to experience the deterioration of my body and I don’t want to start over again, re-establishing a life of purpose. In fact, I have less energy which amounts to less desire, resulting in a heavy-hearted feeling about life in general. Logically, I understand that this feeling is resistance and that when I feel this way I have no intention of ending my life, it simply means that the task of living is just too hard at that moment and I need to stop and rest —I have to remind myself that I don’t always have to be productive and sometimes I just need to relax.
These dark moments are hard to face, and I resist because I’m afraid the darkness won’t pass but journaling or walking through the salt marsh sometimes helps me see beyond the darkness: this is the task at hand in the moon card. When I allow myself to be sad or angry the feeling overwhelms me for a while, but my self-soothing activities help me see beyond the darkness and then it slowly passes. I have greater respect for my expanded coping mechanisms because I am more able to tolerate the dark moments. I see more of myself, as I bravely travel the long road between the pillars: My ups and downs are part of the path of life shown in the Moon card, it’s the unification of conscious and unconscious, and it’s also the “alignment to the Divine Source” according to the Inner Child Tarot cards. It is my path to I Am-ness.