Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1042 - Ultimate Freedom

My "balance" friend came by last night for a quick visit and to give me a gift - "thanks so much, gentleascent!"

During our conversation, we talked about choosing the attitude with which we confront life's twists and turns. As I had just been reading Victor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning, I named that choice as Gordon Allport did in the preface to the 1984 edition - "ultimate freedom". Frankl himself, in the second part of the book's discussion of logotherapy, says,

"every human being has the freedom to change at any instant." (p.154)

It takes very little for anyone to confirm that freedom, at least experientially (I'm not making any claims about the biochemistry involved). Whenever you are self-aware and something happens, if you pause for just a moment, you will realize that there are several alternative responses available to you. Even if it is simply to control the "heat" of the response by mildly increasing or decreasing the intensity of your thoughts, emotions, or behaviour, you'll see what I mean. With practice, that choice to respond by modulating intensity may build the "muscle" and eventually give way to alternate responses in kind.

There is, of course, a whole self-help literature out there about neuro-associative conditioning and neuro-linguistic programming. But what I'm really talking about here is a very simple, yet profound, realization. Cancer takes away so many of our freedoms, much in the same way that the dehumanization described by Frankl did in the concentration camps of the Second World War. But ultimately, neither brutality nor disease can erase that essential freedom each of us has to choose our attitude, our response, or merely to modulate the intensity of the response which comes instinctively.

My youngest son and I were talking today about how all his first-year arts and social science courses keep coming back to the concept of "freedom". I mentioned a course I did in my fourth year of philosophy on action and determinism that ended up being a course with just me and my professor. At the end of the year I distinctly recall becoming persuaded that agency was a fundamental precept that preserved the ideal of human freedom. I can't remember any details now, but the point is simply that when faced with one of life's cruelest diseases, there are philosophical, psychological, and experiential resources available to each of us to support the notion that cancer cannot steal our freedom away completely.

And if it is true for the end of life under extreme duress, then how more much important that we live our lives now with this principle in mind. As Frank (played by Jack Nicholson) says when another character in the movie The Departed states that someone is "on her way out", "We all are; act accordingly."


Robert said...


I have CR cancer. I have been through your regime, a bit more on the surgery front,permanent colostomy. I just want to say I appreciate your comments. I would also like to complement you on your thoughtfull blog. The philosophy behind the burdon of metastic cancer is thought provoking. Personally , I am leaving for Africa for 6 months. I have a round of CT scans on Oct. 20, (2 years post diagnosis) no matter the outcome, I am going. My personal quest is to do as much as possible now. You are incredibly fortunate to have a supportive family, mine has rejected me.
We are selling the house, and moving on.

I think you are doing valuable work with your blog...please continue.


Don Spencer said...


Thanks for writing. When you are away in Africa, if you have access to the Internet and feel like sharing, perhaps you would consider guest blogging with an occasional photograph or two. Give it some thought.

My family and I took a very brief mini-vacation on the weekend to Niagara Falls where I watched a sunrise over the Horseshoe Falls. I'll probably blog about it soon. But it was a great experience.

I'm probably not going to be able to travel much while undergoing chemotherapy, so I'll be spending some time with Planet Earth and Blue Planet and other DVD series which help me travel virtually.

I don't know what to say about your support system, except that friends can come to the rescue. I've found that many times all it takes is asking somebody to do something for you. Most people have no idea what to do to be supportive, but if you provide an opportunity, they're more than willing to help.

Thanks again, and write whenever you wish.