We are excited as kids, sitting in the back of a van on the way to the Cancer Healing Temple of Wat Khampramong in Sakon Nakhon. This is a palliative care center for patients in the last stages of cancer. ‘We’ is a group of 8 people from all over the world, wanting to experience this Healing Journey together with Anja, organizer of the retreat, and Swami Atma, our Indian yoga teacher. We are here to share our creative talents, time and love with the patients. And in return, we are curious to learn what it’s like to be facing death.
Arriving at the temple we have the great honor to meet the 57-year-old abbot and founder of this place, Ajanh Luang Ta. We all sit in his cabinet, next to the most beautiful coffee shop I’ve ever seen, sipping from our personal bamboo cups. Apart from the stethoscope hanging on the wall, I don’t have the feeling to be in a hospital-like environment at all. This feeling will remain throughout our entire stay.
Overcoming cancer with spirituality
We learn from Luang Ta that he founded the Healing Temple in 1996 after he cured himself of nasal cavity cancer. This cancer was almost fatal to him. His body was in such bad shape after a lot of chemotherapy and radiation that it couldn’t take the treatment any longer. As a last resort, he started doing deep meditation to stop the pain. Alongside the meditation, he used herbal medicine to boost his immune system, which stopped the growth of new tumor cells. Luang Ta found out that it’s mainly a matter of powerful spirituality to overcome his cancer.
Now he uses the same holistic approach to treat the cancer of his patients. He wants to improve their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The care provided combines alternative creative practices, yoga and meditation, traditional herbal therapy and Chinese medicine. Humour is one of these alternative practices and Luang Ta embodies it. He cracks up jokes in the most unpredictable ways and laughs with them the hardest. It works contagious and makes the emotional weight of cancer lighter for the patients. The treatment and medicines are free of charge, which makes this place open to everyone, regardless of their financial situation.
They are not patients
The people staying here are cancer patients in stages three and four of the disease. Very often they have tried chemotherapy and radiation at a regular hospital before. They don’t see any other option than trying to get better in an alternative way. Not everyone gets better, but there are people that do recover and it’s a higher number than what statistics predict. Some people live here for several months or years and some people do pass away.
The first difference with a normal hospital is that Luang Ta wants the patients to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually. In this monastery, they see the bigger picture as to why people get sick. Some believe that strong emotions are stored in the body in a physical way and suppressing them can lead to diseases such as cancer. That’s why it’s good to see the problem in a holistic way and not just as a tumor that needs to be removed from the body. As one of the patients told us: “Some are sick in the mind and some in the body. So there is not a big difference between patients and caregivers here, we are all people.”
The second difference is that when people pass away here, they are quite often at peace with it. The person has the time to go through all the stages of cancer: anger, hope, and acceptance. When a person accepts that he or she will pass away and that death is part of the circle of life, peace comes over them. When this happens, the whole community is involved in the ceremony and there is room to grieve.