Interview with Oratai Chafu, the storyteller of the book
Today is the Gift of Life: experiences with cancer and care of the dying.
How did your learning experience start?
I had lung cancer for 3 years. When I was 32 years old I tried all kinds of treatment, including chemotherapy. I was very scared. Whenever someone would propose some type of treatment I would try it out. All kinds of expensive medicine and healing stones. I consulted monks and healers, tried all kinds of sacred therapies. And I had to see a psychiatrist as well, because I was scared and depressed. I didn’t want to be so helpless and powerless. I wanted to kill myself. I couldn’t sleep. The psychiatrist gave me medication that made me sleep. I had a hard time waking up. If I did wake up, I would feel as if I was drunk. I couldn’t remember anything anymore; I walked like a crazy person. After a while the medication didn’t work anymore, so the doctor had to give me more. I slept even more after that, and the people who were close to me told me I should quit.
What did you learn from mindfulness Yoga practice?
A lot of people told me about the benefits of yoga practice. I thought it was a challenge so I tried it out. In the beginning I was really forcing myself. I had seen Kruu (teacher) Kess ( Kessuda Boonngamanong) practicing on TV and tried some of the postures. Then she came to live in Chiang Rai, she often came to a vegetarian restaurant I went to and that’s how we got in contact. I heard she started teaching at the hospital so I enlisted for a course. I didn’t like it, it was so slow. Yoga seemed so boring to me. And there was a corpse posture! I didn’t like it at all. Kruu Kess suggested that I take private sessions. After practicing regularly for a while and working on my inner growth for 2 – 3 years, I clearly noticed that I was changing. As to my body, I learned that I had to go slower. I didn’t like to do anything slowly. She had to slow me down whenever I got up quickly and wondered when it was going to be finished. She taught me to listen to my body. She guided me to observe which parts of the body hurt, are tense or relaxed. She helped me to stay with it then move attention to the breaths and the areas of the body which were comfortable as well. She taught me about balance: don’t do too much, don’t do too little. I always did too much and I did it too fast, this had become my habit.
What did you learn from mindfulness Yoga practice?
A lot of people think that l had a long time learning with Kruu Kess. That you have to perform all the postures perfectly, that you have to become flexible like a cat. This is not true. My body was not ready for severe or extreme movements. She taught me in a way that was suitable for my body. She did not require that every pose should be perfect or beautiful, because this is not the true core of Yoga practice. Yoga is about learning to be happy, to accept reality and to work with it in a relaxed way. Kruu Kess stresses relaxation of mind and body a lot. She teaches to be mindful of our body movements and the breathing. It helped me a lot with my sleeping problems, I could notice that quite quickly. My body was relaxed; I was able to control my anger.
What I learned from Yoga is to see the reality of life more clearly. Using the tip of my nose as a reference, I learned to observe, to notice and to acknowledge my feelings. Before I would get very irritated with these words. I did not understand why I had to observe my feelings. I didn’t notice much because everything had to go quickly. Often we think that ‘slow’ is something negative, that it means slothful and lethargic, or ineffective. That is why we don’t see the beauty of life. Mindfulness yoga brings us back to the present. Through observing and noticing we cultivate acceptance. My mental and physical health improved a lot when I practiced Yoga. My doctor told me my lung had gotten a lot better. The tumor did not spread anymore, because my mind had gotten so much better.
What did you learn from Enneagram self-awareness?
I learned a lot about myself. This might seem very ordinary. I thought I knew myself already but I was only fooling myself. I only knew the surface, I didn’t really understand myself. If we know and understand ourselves, we will understand others as well. Before I always went my own way; I wasn’t afraid of anyone. I had to be strong, but in the end I just became harsh and rigid. I didn’t know how to be gentle and calm in life, and this is what caused the disease. I never used the words ‘thank you’ or ‘I’m sorry’. And whenever I became angry people had to stay out of my way. Kruu Kess helped me to know my personality, and she advised me to dig deep into myself. Nobody can harm us if we don’t harm ourselves. We are our worst enemy. I was blinded by my strong emotions, my rigid thoughts, my own reality… But as I started to understand myself I started to understand others as well and I started to accept that all of us are different.
How does Kruu Kess combine Yoga and Enneagram work with you?
Enneagram enables relationship issues and us to learn something about ourselves and the other people, to be aware of our habits, worldview, fixation, emotional issue and actions that cause physical and mental. Yoga on the other hand helps us to slow down, concentrate on our feelings and sensations without responding to them immediately. I could more easily observe and identify my feelings and actions. Whenever there was a problem, I would discuss this with Kruu Kess, we would share about our experiences and problems and we would work with them to find a way out. She made me keep a journal to write down everything I observed about myself, my feelings and thoughts and actions, every single day. I had to make notes about whatever made me angry or suffer. I learned to do everything a lot slower. Just observe without having to act on it and judging. Also in my everyday life: whenever I got angry my body would tell me, there would always be some symptoms.
Before I learned with her I had a lot of nightmares about bad memories from my youth and childhood: many conflicts and fights. Often I couldn’t sleep at all. These problems disappeared after I started learning Yoga and enneagram. Sometimes I would encounter problems on days that I really felt bad. At moments like that I had to breathe in and out very deeply several times before reacting. I had to practice mindfulness every single moment. I had to learn to do some work with my hands, like painting or knitting. Journaling helped me a lot to gain clarity about myself, and gradually I got rid of my old habits. I learned to listen to my body and observe my mind every single moment of the day.
Both Yoga and enneagram helped me develop my potential and abilities. I could set myself free from my own limitations, which made my life a lot more pleasant and calm. I don’t practice with Kruu Kess anymore, because she tells me there’s nothing more for me to learn. Now I have to practice in real life on my own. I can start helping other people, but I cannot forget to look after myself. I can never be careless.
Whenever I meet Kruu Kess I have to thank her. She opened the door to my inner self. She taught me how to live happily, how to lead a worthy life. Sometimes we don’t get the chance to talk, because she’s too busy, but I know she will always hug me.
Is it because of cancer that led you to deal with your issues better?
The people around me say I’m not like a sick person, I’m always smiling. It took some time for me to change. Before I was afraid to let people know I was sick. I didn’t want them to pity me. I felt that sick people are weak people.
Now I accept other people’s help more easily. I accept my sickness, I accept myself, and I accept others a lot more than before. I can understand and look after my mind and emotions a lot better now; I can let go of depressive thoughts or feelings of hopelessness.
Cancer does not have to be the end of my life. It’s the start of a new life. This is a sign, a sound I have to listen to. A sound that tells me I have to change my life. It cannot be a coincidence.
I am very grateful for my life. I’m very grateful for this gift in times I was really sick. I thank Kruu Kess, the first person in my life who hugged me. She gave me so much good energy; she showed me all my weak points.
It’s a lot easier for me now to be happy. The small things in life make me feel good: a smile to a stranger, explaining the way to tourists, listening to people who wish to share about their difficulties.
What is the main idea has helped you deal with cancer from more than 7 years now?
We ourselves are the best doctors. If our mind is good and pure, we can heal our own diseases. Before we can become a good doctor we need to understand ourselves. We need to have belief and faith in ourselves. We have to be able to let go and give meaning to our lives.
Because of all these changes every new day is a wonderful present to me. I can help others who have cancer or other severe illnesses. Even the people who I feel are my enemies; I can be compassionate and help them. I can teach them not to suffer because of their disease, I can teach them to find bliss again.
Whether or not we are happy depends on our own perception. We have to learn that sickness and death are not our enemies. Illnesses can be a gift in our lives. They can be a signal that tells us we have to evaluate and change our lives. Illnesses can lead to a better perception, we don’t have to fear them, and we don’t have to fear death. All of this can make us wonder how we have to lead our lives so that our last days will be beautiful days.