Saturday, May 24, 2014

Archives: Dying To Be Me

I don’t remember how exactly I came across Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing.* It was touted as the extraordinary story of Moorjani’s near-death experience and her remarkable recovery from terminal lymphoma. Among her many admirers are Dr. Wayne Dyer, the noted author and spiritual teacher, who wrote the Foreword to the book. 

I was intrigued, and I was surprised at how quickly Moorjani’s book captured my interest. Expecting a somewhat sensational story, I was rather surprised as the author, in prose that was fluid and captivating, proceeded to tell a story that could easily be dull and lifeless, but which she crafts as very readable, even compelling. Born in Singapore to Indian Hindu parents who shortly thereafter moved to Hong Kong where she grew up, Moorjani describes what it was like to be raised in an upper-middle-class Hindu household in a Chinese city heavily influenced by Christian westerners.  

Upon entering school, Anita was confronted with the confusing intersection of the various worlds in which she lived.  Her parents first sent her to a Catholic school that was attended primarily by children of foreign nationals. Here, she was told she wouldn’t “go to heaven” unless she converted to Catholicism.

This challenge to Moorjani’s identity caused her considerable angst, and her parents eventually transferred her to another school. While secular in nature, the atmosphere of this school, which also catered to foreign nationals, challenged Anita’s identity as an Indian Hindu girl. She wasn’t like her Caucasian Euro-North American schoolmates, nor was she a part of the Chinese majority, and as she matured, she came to feel increasingly uncomfortable and out of place in her own Indian Hindu community.  

As a result, Moorjani found that she was constantly criticizing herself for not fitting in, not being good enough.  “In fact,” she wrote, “I regretted everything about myself.” “Why am I always apologizing,” she asked herself.  “Why do I have to apologize just for being me? I just couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.” 

This deep-seated feeling of self-rejection, low self-worth and internal conflict was one of two major themes of Moorjani’s life that served as backdrops to the story of her near-death experience. The other was her fear of cancer. As several young friends of hers contracted various cancers, she embarked on a quest to learn about and, if possible, prevent cancer.  

Anita’s efforts, however, only heightened her fears. “The more I read about the disease,” she wrote, “the more I was afraid of everything that could potentially cause it. I started to believe that everything created cancer—pesticides, microwaves, preservatives, genetically modified foods, sunshine, air pollution, plastic food containers, mobile phones, and so on. This progressed until eventually, I started to fear life itself.”

Meanwhile, Moorjani met and eventually married an Indian man who had, like her, forged a path in the world that broke the bounds of the expectations set by their culture. Life was very good for them as they each pursued promising careers and looked forward to the time when they could start a family.  

Their world, however, changed irrevocably the day that Anita was diagnosed with Stage 2A lymphoma. What she had feared most in life had come to her, was within her. Moorjani thereafter describes her “fight” with cancer, her refusal to subject herself to chemotherapy, and her attempts at various types of “alternative” treatments, including traditional Indian and Chinese medicine – all to no avail.

Eventually, Anita ends up in a hospital in a coma, the end near. This is when she begins the account of her near-death experience. Her story is fascinating and compelling, but the key messages that she took away from that experience relate to the two primary backdrops to the experience:  her long-standing ambivalence towards her own self-worth and her fear of life cancer which had caused her to fear life itself. Of the former, she wrote:
“I [came to understand] that I owed it to myself, to everyone I met, and to life itself to always be an expression of my own unique essence. Trying to be anything or anyone else didn’t make me better—it just deprived me of my true self! It kept others from experiencing me for who I am, and it deprived me of interacting authentically with them. Being inauthentic also deprives the universe of who I came here to be and what I came here to express ...  
"Why, oh why, have I always been so harsh with myself? Why was I always beating myself up? Why was I always forsaking myself? Why did I never stand up for myself and show the world the beauty of my own soul? Why was I always suppressing my own intelligence and creativity to please others? … Why have I violated myself by always needing to seek approval from others just to be myself? Why haven’t I followed my own beautiful heart and spoken my own truth? … I deserved to be loved simply because I existed, nothing more and nothing less. This was a rather surprising realization for me, because I’d always thought I needed to work at being lovable. I believed that I somehow had to be deserving and worthy of being cared for, so it was incredible to realize this wasn’t the case. I’m loved unconditionally, for no other reason than simply because I exist.”
As to her cancer and the cause of it, Anita concluded:
“I also [came to understand] that the cancer was not some punishment for anything I’d done wrong, nor was I experiencing negative karma [as taught by her family’s religion] as a result of any of my actions, as I’d previously believed. It was as though every moment held infinite possibilities, and where I was at that point in time was a culmination of every decision, every choice, and every thought of my entire life. My many fears and my great power had manifested as this disease … [It] was then that I understood that my body is only a reflection of my internal state. If my inner self were aware of its greatness and connection with All-that-is, my body would soon reflect that and heal rapidly."
This is in fact what happened. Against all odds, Moorjani revived and began to dramatically heal, eventually being certified as cancer-free. She has since dedicated her life to sharing what she learned from her experience.

I found Anita Moojani’s story to be well-written, compelling, enlightening and challenging. And inspiring. Like Anita herself, her account of what she learned during her near-death experience moves beyond the confines of tradition, culture and religion and offers fascinating insights into the mysteries of health, sickness and human existence. 

* This post was originally published a little over a year ago on one of my blogs that is now closed.

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