Chintan, a craniosacral practitioner and trainer, talks to Punya about his personal experience with cancer and how it changed his understanding of health and healing.
Ill with cancer
One aspect of my life that I would wish to share is what happened to me when I was faced with cancer, because it was such a deeply transformational time. I’ve recounted the practicalities of the story many times, but there are different elements to it.
After the Ranch, Geeta and I spent a year in Europe, mostly in Switzerland, and by December 1986 we were more than ready to go back to India. By chance, we arrived in Pune the very first day Osho started talking again. It was the 8th of January 1987. We just managed to put our luggage down in Geeta’s room – she had a room in Krishna House – take a shower and rush to discourse in Chuang Tzu.
A few days later I was sitting in Lao Tzu garden, back on the job as a guard and delighted to be here again. But when the hot season started around mid April, I began to feel more and more weird in my body. By early May, a general sense of discomfort and heaviness grew stronger. It was a strange feeling I’d never felt before. It got worse and worse. At times I experienced a strong negativity that was unusual for me, and assumed that it came from the heat during these hot summer months. I thought that if I took a break in a cooler climate my condition would improve. By early June Geeta suggested we go back to Switzerland.
I didn’t want to leave Pune but I felt so bad that I didn’t have a choice; we eventually left at the end of June. Shortly after arriving in Switzerland, I started to feel better. That reassured me, but not for long… About two weeks later, as I was resting my hands on my belly, I felt this big lump. My heaIth insurance had been put on hold while I was away, and now I had to wait two weeks for it to be re-activated before I could go and visit a doctor. Eventually, in early August, I went to see Leila. Do you remember her? She was one of our doctors in Pune 1, and also on the Ranch. She was my naturopathic doctor. We now started an exploratory journey.
After a CAT scan and a biopsy I was diagnosed with a very rare type of lymphoma, that’s a cancer of the lymphatic system. They told her that with ongoing chemotherapy I would stay alive for, at the most, two years. Without chemotherapy I would probably die within six months.
I remember that right after receiving this diagnosis I felt totally lost, disoriented, completely overwhelmed. It felt so unreal. I walked around town for the rest of the day, totally lost. Geeta was at work. I could hardly wait for her to get home, to be with her and share what had happened. When she eventually arrived, I just burst into tears, finally… Her presence was so comforting. I was no longer alone.
By the middle of August, I was in such agonizing pain that I soon had to be on morphine. The oncologist said that we had to decide very fast about what we wanted to do as a next step. So, we settled for a regular chemotherapy. I went down the conventional path and at the same time, with Leila’s guidance, tried everything alternative that we could find.
I was amazed how I could somehow stay positive and remain in the present with what was happening. It was really intense. It was agony, physically. And yet, for some reason I could embrace what was unfolding.
I shared with Leila that at the large University Hospital, where I had had the tests, there was such a lack of human support, no personal connection – I was just a case. And that I didn’t feel these were the right conditions in which to start a treatment. She suggested we go and see another oncologist, someone she had studied with. So my friend Bhakta drove us to Lausanne, about 60 kilometres from Geneva. And I immediately had a good feeling for this new doctor.
He looked at my file and said, “I give you a fifty percent chance to get to full remission.” I was like, Okay, I can deal with that. I felt so uplifted by that statement! It gave me an open door: Fifty percent no, fifty percent yes. Let’s take the fifty percent yes and we move with that. It created such an opening inside me. Before that, the message I had implicitly received at the University Hospital was all doom and gloom, even though I had never received a clear prognosis from them. I was now fired up, “When do we start the treatment?” I asked. It was a Friday. We would start treatment on Monday!
I did a chemotherapy course of 6 cycles of 3 treatments each, once a week. Heavy! The first treatment of each cycle was tougher than the other two, which were somehow easier to handle as it was a different drug. I suffered strong side effects. It was very challenging, but at least the tumour had started to shrink quite quickly. It helped me feel more comfortable and I could soon stop taking morphine. Towards the end of each treatment cycle I had periods of relative calm and I could somehow enjoy my days.
But as the treatment went on, I felt weaker and weaker. I had no life energy. We were living in a house with other sannyasins, on the second floor, and just to get to our room I had to stop twice on the stairs because I was getting out of breath. I felt so weak. I remember Leila was doing certain blood tests to determine the vitality of bodily functions. Even though I was only 36, on the test she gave me I had basically no life energy left. It was overwhelming to see.
Fear of death
From the very beginning I was conscious of the fact that I might die, but for some reason this felt as if it was somewhere in the future. Was that denial? Most probably. I remember telling Geeta that I couldn’t imagine life past the end of winter. It didn’t feel like death was anything immediate. But by October, as my body was so strongly impacted by chemotherapy, it felt as if death had come much closer. Most of the time I could stay with that sensation, but at times it was overwhelming.
One night I woke up at around 2.00 or 3.00 am, overtaken by such a strong fear of death that I went down to the living room, sat on the sofa and decided to sit with this fear right there and not go anywhere until I’d made friends with it. After about two hours, my inner turmoil started to calm down. It took another hour to come to this moment where fear was still present but I could somehow stay with it and embrace it. And I felt more settled. Back in my room I eventually fell asleep.
A few weeks later, when I was again going through a rough patch, physically and emotionally, I lost the sense of trust that had been with me from the beginning. Everything felt dark. I was really depressed. There was the feeling If I receive one more shot or take one more pill, either my liver’s going to collapse or my heart’s going to stop. I experienced death as a presence surrounding me and closing in on me. It was very real, very tangible – a spooky experience. I could touch it when extending my arms, the space around me getting narrower and narrower. It was overwhelming, nowhere to go… I stayed in that dark hole for a few days, then things started shifting again.
The three oak trees
Soon afterwards, something amazing happened. One of the many pieces of advice Leila had given me was to take a walk every day. “It is very important!” It could be in town, it could be in nature. So, as much as I was able to, I had my daily walking routine. One afternoon I took the car and drove to the countryside. Where I stopped there were vast fields, no trees around except for three big oaks – really big ones, at least 200-250 years old, with huge trunks. As it was November they had no leaves. It was one of those clear winter days when it’s cold and crisp.
I started walking – very slowly as usual, concerned I would get out of breath any moment – on the dirt road that was heading towards the three oak trees. I passed under the first tree and something in me went, Hmm, nice. For some reason I became fully present. Then I arrived under the middle one and it was as if something had descended on me. I always say that it was the ‘spirit of the great old oak tree’. It was not that something had sparked inside of me, it was really coming from the outside, through the top of my head, filling me up with life force, with vitality. It was as if somebody had turned the switch on, and with it came a sensation of waking up
I suddenly felt, Oh, actually, I’m not tired. I was just pretending to be tired. I felt instantly different, totally alive. As I passed under the third oak tree, this new state became somehow fully embodied. Then the thought arose, Why am I walking so slowly? It doesn’t make sense. I started walking faster, as I used to do long time before. I felt expanded, joyful, and there was this big YES to life. It was wonderful. I continued walking – and it was a really brisk walk – for another forty minutes. I felt completely different.
On my way home questions came up. Wow, what is that? What is this life force? What is this vitality? What is this aliveness that animates all living beings? Here I was with this physiology that was definitely having a hard time with chemotherapy. How could it be that instantaneously, in a split second, I suddenly felt so alive? It was definitely not a physiological response. It felt as if something much bigger was at work.
The other feeling I had was that I was suddenly more awake. As if I had been in some God-knows-what drowsy space before. Which I clearly was, but suddenly I felt present. I remember saying to myself, “I’m not tired. I was just pretending. It was not real.”
Expanding beyond the body
Later that same week, I woke up in the middle of the night. I was shaking so strongly that I could hardly breathe. It was impressive! I called my doctor and he told me to go to hospital immediately. As soon as I entered the hospital I felt safe, somehow knowing that I would be taken care of. It was that same huge University Hospital, not the kind of place where you would necessarily feel safe, but I felt safe. I was taken to the emergency room where they checked everything; they also thought that I might have malaria because I had returned from India a few months earlier.
At one point I got wheeled out on my bed into some corridor – concrete everywhere, blue night lights. It looked like an atomic bomb shelter, like the ones we have in Switzerland. I was parked there for the longest time…
And then out of nowhere I had this amazing experience: I became aware of a sensation of feeling expanded and content, my mind so peaceful. I had the experience of being much bigger than this physical body. Not that I was floating as other people who have had near-death experiences say. None of that. It was as if there was this endless expansion. I was just here, present.
I’d experienced pain and discomfort for months – and in this expansion all pain and discomfort had disappeared. I felt I was in touch with that beingness that is infinite, that is so much bigger than this physical form. I stayed in that space for quite a while and then, at one point, there was the urge to find words to describe what had happened, as if it was very important in order to be able to tell it then to others.
Then the space narrowed again; it was like re-embodying. I had the clear experience that this physical form is far too small for who I really am. I remember having this image of putting on a shoe that was too tight, like when you have to use one of those shoehorns… I needed a few of those, and big ones, to re-enter my body. And with this the pain came back. I realised that, to some extent, pain comes from the identification with the physical body and from being inside that small form.
Afterwards my mind struggled with this experience, and for a long time. I remember there was a lot of confusion inside. Did it really happen? Or am I making it up? Even to the point where I would at times deny that it had happened at all! What eventually helped me integrate this experience was to remind myself over and over again of the permanent impact it had had on my body.
A week later, I resumed chemotherapy. The previous times I had always dreaded to go. Oh no, not again! Amazingly, this time I was completely open to go. I was actually looking forward to it! I remember receiving the chemical cocktail – looking at the bottle and then watching the bright red fluid flow into my vein – it was in my right arm – and getting this clarity: Oh, this is life’s golden light flowing into my vein. Not that deadly, horrible chemical! It was not a mental thing. It was truly a direct experience that had arisen from a completely different perspective.
Most astonishingly, from then on I no longer had side effects from the chemo, all the way until the end. My physiology responded in a completely different way to the chemicals than before. Something had drastically changed. My white blood cell counts went back to normal within a few weeks in spite of the on-going chemotherapy. I also no longer had pain nor experienced those physical and emotional dips. I felt much more stable and calm. It was such a relief! The oncologist was surprised. With a touch of humour he said, “I don’t see cases like you every day!”
Around the time of the previous treatment the tumour had stopped shrinking, but three weeks after this breakthrough experience, when I went for an ultrasound sonography, the tumour was gone. I knew it, I could internally feel it and so it was. The doctor kept on saying, “I can’t find anything, I cannot find anything.” Inside of me I said, “Of course, I know.” It was a matter of fact.
Eventually, a few weeks later, I completed the chemotherapy course and a month later started a course of 22 radiation therapy sessions.
We did it!
Five years later, as I saw the oncologist again for that final check-up, I was a bit shaky. When he declared that I was in full remission, it was a Yes! We did it! I’m healed! It was such a magical moment. It was just before lunch-time and he suggested we go for lunch together – we’d become good friends by then. He was my age. When we arrived at the dessert he said, “Do you remember that first time I saw you, when I said that you had a fifty-percent chance to recover?”
“Yes, of course, how could I forget it?” I replied.
“I want to apologise for that. I was lying. You had at the very most a five-to-ten-percent chance, but I felt I needed to say what I said. I want to apologise for lying to you.”
“No, you were fully tuned into what I needed to hear, so don’t apologise. It’s I who need to thank you for saying it. That’s what created the opening,” I replied.
He was relieved to hear me say that.
This challenging journey opened up two important avenues of exploration for me. One, What is this vitality that animates all living beings? And second, What is the nature of healing?
It also raised the topic around healing, What is it that makes this physical form respond to changes in understanding, changes in attitude, changes in perspective?
These themes colour my craniosacral practice and teaching, especially.
And more broadly, it brought up this wider inquiry, What is it all about? Why are we here in this physical form?
Osho was such a resource for Geeta and me! We were in contact with him through letters and through Hasya, so Osho knew my situation. In one discourse he said that I was giving all indications that I would die consciously. And in another he mentioned that the doctor had said I would die in two months and that now I had only one month left. Also that I was taking my death with joy. Yet he knew that I would most probably have more time… or was he seeing the bigger picture?
We received the video tapes two days later, brought to Geneva by sannyasins travelling home. Geeta got pissed off with that last discourse. She got so upset that she said, “Oh no, we’re trying so hard to hold it together and here he’s saying that you’re going to die in a month…” And I replied to her, “No, this is exactly what I need to hear. I need to hear that the end is close.” It brought such a focus on what was truly essential. I remember Garimo sent a message with the tape that said, “I guess this is his treatment for you.” Yes, it was!
Who really knows? Osho had said that I would die consciously… I had felt so not ready to die consciously. I felt so unconscious! I decided, Okay, I have to start meditating. No postponing anymore! It was very important for me to live up to my Master’s words. I started sitting every morning in a Buddha posture – for me, meditation meant sitting upright and trying to go In… I was not a very good meditator. Except for the end stages of active meditations, sitting still had always been a challenge for me. And so it was. I had pain everywhere. My mind was busy as hell. I felt clearly, This doesn’t go anywhere.
So I asked myself, “What can I do to relax?” One of Osho’s messages said, “Just relax, the tumour can exist only because there is a tension left.” I realised that the only way I could meditate was lying down. So I lay down and brought my hands to the area where the main tumour was. Only much later I understood, when learning biodynamic cranio, that what I was doing was, basically, giving myself a cranio session. Just staying with what is, staying with that life force, and just being present to whatever process unfolds. Still now, nearly every night before I go to sleep or first thing in the morning I hold my body in different places. Just as a way to connect with that life force; that animating principle we all have.
The two key moments at the beginning
So in my journey with cancer there were two key moments at the beginning that happened within a few days of each other. They created the positive frame for this huge challenge: Osho telling me I was going to die and giving all indications I would die consciously – and then me starting to meditate. And secondly, the doctor telling me I had a fifty-percent chance of recovery. Two opposites! The two together created that open space where a few days later I could start chemotherapy with a Yes!
When I think of it, it was really an intense time and yet I’m amazed how I went through it all. I could, most of the time, stay positive and welcome what was unfolding day by day. There was that Wait and see what happens kind of flavour. It gave me the understanding – and this is important in my craniosacral teaching – that the context you create, or that is created, has a strong impact on the healing process.
I would like to mention here the amazing support which came my way from so many people. Geeta was by my side no matter what, always positive and unconditionally present. Bhakta was driving me to chemotherapy every week. It was never an issue for him. The friends I was living with – one of them was Leila. I had my doctor at home! Also the many friends in Pune that poured their love and support, and Osho… I have no words to describe how essential his presence was throughout this journey – and for a long time afterwards. Many layers of support.
With deep gratitude.
- The nature of healing – Chintan continues exploring the question: What’s the nature of healing? What is healing about?
Related discourses by Osho
- Once you know yourself, there is no death – Beloved Osho, My friend, Chintan, is just starting six months of heavy chemotherapy. You have already sent him such beautiful messages for his meditation while passing through this. Now, Osho, do you have some jokes for him too?
- True acceptance – Osho replies to Chintan’s question, ‘Beloved Osho, Can you talk a bit more about acceptance?’