Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber is a tandem account of Ken and Treya Wibler’s, journey through the unknown.
Days after their marriage, just months after they first met, Treya was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
The book details his and her descriptions of their lives together living with cancer, combining excerpts of Treya’s journals over their five years together and Ken’s analytical, intellectually athletic, personal accounts.
It’s an insiders’ look into the various tribes of cancer treatments, conventional and other-wise, across America and into Germany too. Money was not a limitation in choosing treatments available or at least it was never mentioned in the book. Their grueling experiences are written in clarity and bound in the hope that their testimonies will somehow lighten the load for others. This includes a brutally honest depiction of how they nearly lost their connection to one another and their marriage, yet how they resolved to pick-up their brokenness and seek truth within themselves, re-confirm their commitment and connection to Spirit.
Early in the book, during the couple's initial research into orthodox treatments and the efficacy of chemo-radiation and alternative medicinal methods and their curative results, Ken Wilber makes the distinction between cancer as an illness and cancer as a sickness. He sees that treating the illness is separate from treating the sickness. The illness being the disease itself, with medical and scientific dimensions. The sickness being the judgements, fears, hopes, myths, stories, values and meanings that a particular culture hangs on the illness. Illness is more or less value-free; neither true nor false, good nor bad; it just is. Sickness is in the meaning we as humans are condemned to make, and largely, we prefer a negative meaning to none at all.
Most disturbing is that when a society judges a sickness to be “bad”, it does so exclusively out of ignorance and fear. Cancer is a disease, an illness, about which very little is actually known, and there is virtually nothing known about how to cure it. …...
You soon realize that whatever genuine benefits alternative medicine might have against the illness of cancer (and there are many) the alternatives are mostly in the business of treating the sickness of cancer, of providing positive meaning, moral support and above all hope to those stricken with the illness. 1.
I found this distinction between illness and sickness fitting given that I have been part of a spiritual healing community for many years. And while there have not been any scientific studies on the healings given and received in our community, I have seen the infinite power of Love to heal in people's lives. Clearing out the sickness, is the first step in any healing journey.
Treya’s writing is solely from her journals and letters. She is clearly honest and makes herself openly vulnerable sharing her hard won journey from painfully seeking what her life path is all about to discovering her spiritual name Treya (birth name Terry) and what she calls Passionate Equanimity.
Reading her writing, you get the sense that her journals were always written to be read by others. It was a practice she disciplined herself to do, knowing on some level that there was a purpose beyond writing itself. The reader travels right beside her and witnesses her heart-felt aching for the mystery to bring potency into her life, to make that relationship with Spirit real. In the end she is where she has always wanted to be, completely immersed within the vast expanse of all space and profound joy.
I read the final chapters of the book through the early morning hours of Pisces Full Moon. I woke-up to the night knowing that I had a 100 or so pages left and knew Treya was nearing the end. I felt close to both of them, the way a reader does, regardless of time and space. It seemed fitting over a moon that wraps things up in an endless way, to finish reading her story.
So my promise to Treya—the only promise that she made me repeat over and over—my promise that I would find her again and again really meant that I had promised to find my own enlightened Heart. 2.
Ken and Treya Wilber’s writing left me with a feeling of the price of profound love-it costs everything and provides every illumination.
1. Ken Wilber, Grace and Grit (Boston Shambala 2000) pp. 42-47.
2. IBID p. 404.