On Illness

Because of my various brushes with serious illness I often get asked for advice or at least a Siloist perspective on health issues. I don’t really feel that I’m an authority on such issues but I have always tried to share at least my experience and my reflections on that experience. My responses became more elaborate and at some point felt that the letter under the heading “Health-Some Thoughts” was a pretty good expression of what I wanted to say.

It is nice to meet you even under such difficult circumstances. I hope that these health problems clear up quickly. I am sure that our friends are giving you very good advice in this regard and that I won’t have much to add. What I could share with you, and which I think you’ll find interesting, is some observations and memories of how I saw Negro respond to various questions from people (I was one of them) about health problems.
One thing that always surprised me about his responses to these kinds of question was that, in some ways, it was always the same regardless of who asked him, or what the medical problem. Or at least that was true in the situations I witnessed; in those cases Negro always recommended seeking the best medical advice and following it. Even where people felt they would prefer some other kind of medicine, more natural or less tied to the pharmaceutical industry, etc., he always encouraged them to look for best that the doctors had to offer.

It seemed to me that this was not because he believed the doctors were always right – far from it. Rather, I think it was because he had great respect for the underlying intention of the historic impulse behind the development of medicine. So despite its distortions and failings, within it was something of great value. No doubt the theories and treatments would go on changing, but what we had at any given moment was the best available to us. Remember his comments about doctors and scientists, for example, in the 13th chapter of the Internal Landscape where he says: “Por ello quiero a los santos que no temen sino que verdaderamente aman. Quiero a los que con su ciencia y su razón vencen a diario el dolor y el sufrimiento. Y, en verdad, no veo diferencia entre el santo y el que alienta la vida con su ciencia. ¿Qué mejores ejemplos, qué guías superiores a esos guías?” That is, “…I want those saints who do not fear but truly love. I want those who day by day seek to conquer pain and suffering with their science and their reason. And in truth I see no difference between the saints and those who, through their science, encourage life. What better examples could there be, what guides superior to these?

This emphasis was very different from the advice I received from many of my well-meaning friends when I was sick. They saw science and medicine as the enemy. I think that the failings of modern medicine, and the corruption of the pharmaceutical industry are no secret. However, despite this Silo emphasized the good they could do.

That reminds me of his attitude toward the cause of illnesses. As you no doubt know, on various occasions he spoke of how disease could arise from somatization, the role of contradiction in illness, etc. From my conversations with him about this point I would say that this shouldn’t be taken out of context or in a partial way. It definitely was not his position that this is always the root of illness. He believed in the germ theory! He talked to me how disease could be caused, or health weakened, by contradiction but how there were other things also: bacteria, viruses, environmental and genetic factors, etc. I remember that he asked me if I thought that an infant born with cancer or a deformity was suffering from a contradiction? This was all in the context of my trying to understand the cause of my cancer. He insisted that certain problems arose for exposure to particular toxins, etc and that one shouldn’t blame everything on psychic or emotional factors.

All this made me think a lot about my desire to be able to find a reason for the situation I was in, and how we constitute meanings whether those correspond to the situation or not. Our need to have a story (a narrative, as they say) that explains what’s happening can be very powerful. That’s not necessarily a bad, or a good thing, but trying to take this into account simply as a mechanism (the projection of meaning) helped me understand lots of things about how I put together my inner landscape.

You have seen this basic mechanism for yourself if you’ve done the self-knowledge exercises with images (gazing at the shapes in some molten lead, or in a flame, or even just watching the shapes in clouds).

I know that everyone’s situation is very different, but I found it very useful to think of my illness as an accident that I could give meaning to rather than trying to discover whether it was caused by this or that. It’s like when we study our autobiography and use the category “accident” for everything we didn’t plan. Certainly on the way I discovered things about my contradictions, but also about the very positive things that were in me.

Negro went on to say that in the case of a contradiction powerful enough to cause somatizations one didn’t have to search too much – it would be obvious. I imagine that in those cases one could orient oneself directly to those knots. This was the situation of a friend of mine around the same time I was ill. Negro’s advice was that he work on certain images/situations which my friend knew were connected to a powerful system of tensions and images.

Another of the few things that he always seemed to emphasize in every case (that I know of), was how important it was to “put your head” in the right way. This simple reminder was very important for me both in facing major surgery and in dealing with the physical and emotional distress of chemotherapy.
Just to give you one example, when I discovered that I had cancer some of my friends said things like, “it’s so lucky you know Silo, you have to call him and get his help.” In fact I put that off for a while, since I really felt that he had already given me all the elements I needed to face both my life and my death. It seemed very clear to me that everything I needed was in the teaching he had given us – it was up to me to apply it. I thought a lot about how even the most “psychological” parts of his teaching could help me. I made it my goal to gain internal unity from my situation. Not that I thought that it was good to suffer, but exactly the opposite: that even this painful situation could be made to serve my purpose. I did everything I could to discover something useful in my health problems so that the situation’s meaning was in how it could make me grow internally, not whether I would live or die, or whether it was painful or not.

That wasn’t an easy mental position to maintain. I failed at it over and over again. But those failures didn’t matter since I was developing a mental direction. I came up with all kinds of tricks to reinforce how I wanted to “put my head.” I used the beginning of the Guide to the Inner Road like an aphorism. You remember how it says: “Por el camino interno puedes andar oscurecido o luminoso. Atiende a las dos vías que se abren ante ti.” I would constantly return to this phrase and tell myself that if one uses the inner look than every moment one is on the camino interno – not just when one’s eyes are closed! And so right now I could either walk in light or darkness, etc., etc. I don’t know if that mantra would have helped anyone else but it was what I needed to hear. It helped me to reinforce my intention to gain internally from this mishap.

Some of my tricks were even less “doctrinary”, maybe even silly, but I found them useful. For example, when I knew people were coming to see me I would make sure I was shaved, and well dressed (things to which I don’t usually pay much attention). I did this even though I was feeling very sick from the chemotherapy. My intention was to avoid having negative climates around me, since I wanted to turn the situation into something positive for my internal work. I felt if I looked sick people were more likely to act toward me as if I was sick, and that would not help reinforce how I wanted to “place my head.” I cultivated any behaviour I could think of that would keep me in that direction
Well, these are perhaps not great examples. But Negro’s comment, that perhaps the most important thing was this apparently small point of attitude, or mental direction, proved key.

f that advice about using the best of modern medicine and “putting your head well” (and not blaming yourself or others for this accident) was always the same, there was another aspect that was (again, from what I saw) always different. That is he did not seem to have a single “prescription”. In some cases he would advise doing what the doctor’s suggested, trying to rest and not much more. In other cases he suggested more technical approaches. And these approaches could vary a lot. I’ve never understood exactly what factors produced one “prescription” or another. I suppose part of it was the kind of illness and its severity. It seemed clear to me that another factor was simply the persons situation, e.g. did they have enough energy to work with images with sufficient force to impact on the body, what kind of internal work were they familiar with, etc.

Ariel suggested that it might be useful form me to tell you a little about my experience using transference in the case of my cancer. I’m not sure how helpful it will be but I’m happy to tell you about it. It happened almost 20 years ago. After returning to Canada from a meeting in the south I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a very advanced case of a kind of aggressive lymphatic cancer. As often happens with these kinds of cancers by the time it was diagnosed it had already spread to various organs, and bones. The doctor’s estimated that without treatment I would not live very long.
I spoke to Negro about it and asked his advice. But I also told him that I felt that what he had taught us had prepared me very well to deal with this situation whether I was to live or die. I felt that very strongly, but of course I much preferred the idea of living. I had many projects, a very nice relationship and two young children.

My friend Salvatore came to visit with me. He had discussed the situation with Negro and felt that he could help. Salva and I were good friends and had done a lot of work together over the years. I think this proved important, i.e. we had affection for, and trust in, each other. Also we had both worked a lot with transferences and guided experiences.
We spent a few days like two friends on vacation. We went around like tourists in Toronto. But in between we talked about my situation and what we might do in that regard. Salva explained to me that he had some interesting experiences working with people with serious illnesses. They had, he explained, used transferential techniques to go inside and encounter “beings” who could help them resolve the problem. He asked me if I was interested in that kind of approach. Of course I was very interested, but as we tried to formulate the details of how we would work we ran into our first problem. We couldn’t agree on the purpose of the work.

We both felt it would be interesting and possibly important to find this internal “character” who I could ask for help – but help in what. Salva felt the point was to restore my health and that should be the focus of the work. I felt I since sooner or later we all would die that what I needed was to understand, and that my health was a secondary theme.
I mention all this because I think these attitudes and climates had an important effect on how this work developed.

Anyway we decided to proceed. We ended up doing only one transference. It was very long. Much longer than either of us imagined it would be. I won’t bother you with the specifics, I’m not sure my contents or landscapes would have much to say to anyone else. However, it is worth noting that I met various characters and in the end both themes: comprehension, and health were addressed.
Did that transference heal me? We will certainly never be able to prove that since I was also receiving conventional chemotherapy. But I do believe that it made an enormous difference in my recovery and in my comprehension.
Here’s one last anecdote that I think you might find interesting. Before we began this work Salva and I agreed he would be my guide for this transference,but a few days later I would guide him in one. He wasn’t ill but he was going through a kind of personal crisis that he had not been able to resolve. Strangely, after my transference we changed our plan since somehow, in guiding my transference, he had found the resolution to his problem. Through his work as my guide, or perhaps through contact (even though indirect) with these “entities”, or perhaps through some other sympathetic mechanism, he also had done his transferential work.

Well I hope something in all this will be of use to you. Please give my warmest greetings to our friends there. And when you have a moment let me know how you are doing.

Warmest greetings y un fuerte abrazo,


part 2

Hi again
I’m sorry to write you another long letter in English but my Spanish is not up to the task. I hope you can make some sense of these notes and that they prove worth deciphering. I’m writing because I thought of another case related to illness and transferential work that might be of interest to you. It is very different then my personal experience, but sort of complements it. While my experience was about both my past and my orientation toward the future, it focused on an internal guide putting me in contact with a force capable of transforming my body. Or at least that’s how I experienced it. This other case is much more about resolving (or not) contradictions rooted in a specific biographical knot.

You’ll remember that I mentioned how Negro’s advice could be very different for each person who asked his help in regards to their health. He never held himself out as a healer but of course people sought his guidance on every aspect of their lives including this one – and especially when other solutions had failed. As I wrote earlier he would always encourage them to seek out the best that modern medical science had to offer.
Sometimes his advice seemed like common sense: to rest, to take care of yourself, etc. He always (from the cases I saw) emphasized the importance of “how you put your head”, i.e. mental direction or attitude. But he also would on occasion give very specific advice about other possible approaches or techniques and unlike the general suggestions these were not necessarily the same for everyone. Not by any means.

Given our formation (I mean as Siloists) it’s no wonder that many of us look for the explanation of our diseases from a psychological or internal point of view. We tend to understand illness as the somatization of permanent systems of deep internal tensions – that is, not secondary or punctual tensions. We understand that profound contradiction would, for example, be a source of such tensions. But we also have to take into account the tendency for the consciousness to perceive patterns, to look for stories, to understand itself by means of a narrative – we like explanations that tell us why things are happening. I suffer an accident but I somehow feel better if I explain it to myself as the results of fate or god or whatever. Who hasn’t heard, or themselves repeated, phrases like: “things happen for a reason”. It may be true – or not — but in either case we can understand the mechanisms that underlie the tendency of our consciousness to structure things that way.

It is in that context that I thought Silo’s comments about other, non-internal causes was very important. My understanding from our conversations about that theme was, that while in some cases it was useful to look for explanations of a psychological or existential nature, in many cases diseases were caused by environmental, genetic, or biological causes (or by a combination of them). Certainly, even with that in mind it wouldn’t be difficult to see how all those aspects might work together and how internal factors might predispose one to being affected by external ones and vice versa.

Meanwhile science goes on advancing in its exploration of this connection. Just the other day I saw a report about how traumatic psychological events could be shown to affect the mechanisms controlling aging. This apparently occurs because stress releases chemicals (or whatever) that damage the part of chromosomes (telomeres) that apparently play a role in biological aging. An amazing insight into the connection between the internal factors and biological ones – if it ends up being confirmed. But there are other ways of exploring that relationship between internal experience and the body other than those of the medical laboratory.

In my earlier email I explained a little about the transferential work that I did in relation to my health. It wasn’t a transference specifically dealing with biographical problems. Instead we entered the internal space and moved through the levels with the hope of encountering an internal figure, or “entity” who could act as a kind of guide in this matter perhaps even resolving the physical problem. 

Of course on a theoretical level all this connects with ideas about the function of the image, and its relation to the body. Not only could the images – as carriers of charge – impact on the body negatively but also positively. Not every image could do that; they would have to be adequate translations of the underlying system of tensions. They would also have to carry sufficient energy. Furthermore they would also have to be placed at the adequate depth in the space of representation. There were, and I suppose still are, many people who propose working with images of good cells defeating bad cells etc. These “visualizations” are meant to take advantage of the power of the images. However, it may be that such translations are not adequate and what is needed is something more at the level of “allegory” and less “sign” like. Even when it is an adequate image its placement in space (in depth) is fundamental if it is to act over the vegetative systems. 

From this point of view one can imagine various kinds of, more or less adequate, works with images intended to act over the body. Some of these might look like psychological operations, others like ceremonies and still others even like unusual (or even conventional) medical practices. As you know my personal experience was limited to a technically straightforward kind of transferential work that fits in more or less with the techniques and ideas explained, for example, in the Self-Liberation book.

This represents one particular type of work but as I said, I wanted to tell you about another. It involved a similar technique but used in a very different way, to address a different kind of situation. This is the case of my friend E. It happened just a few years after my experience with cancer and transference, and I think it’s an interesting example from many perspectives. As you’ll see, his disease was one that is generally understood as being caused by exposure to an environmental toxin (asbestos). However in E’s case the connection to internal factors seemed evident. It may be that this illustrates how the “internal” situation and “external” events reinforce each other. After all, each of us is exposed to these environmental irritants why is a particular person, or a particular person at a particular time, vulnerable to them?

E was one of my closest friends. He had been one of the first members of a group I formed when I first connected with Silo’s teaching. We had known each other and worked closely together for years. He had not been feeling well for some time. He complained of feeling weak, and short of breath. After a not very helpful visit to the doctor he went to all kinds of healers and alternative therapies in an attempt to feel better. He tried various diets, holistic therapies, etc. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer affecting the lining of his lungs and associated with exposure to asbestos. 

The prognosis was not good. Basically he was told that the disease was quite advanced and the available treatments were only to make him more comfortable (he was starting to experience a lot of chest pain) and possibly delay the fatal outcome, which was thought to be only months away.

Since I had the opportunity to discuss this situation with Negro I told him what I knew. Though he had only met E on a few occasions he remembered him very well. Before we finished the conversation he surprised me by saying that E had been around when we had worked on transferences and that surely he had his notes from that time. He suggested (and I have to tell you I found this all very strange) that if E looked through those notes he would find material related to his current situation. 

Later he talked about how this might give him a way of working but that for the images to act over the body they required a lot of energy and E’s energy would be fading quickly as the disease advanced. If he became too weak he wouldn’t be able to carry out these works. Negro said, that if E could find these notes he could use the discoveries he had made back then to work on those images and the systems of tensions they translated, and possibly reverse their affect. He said, at least that could be our “working hypothesis”. I remember being surprised at his framing this in those kind of experimental terms.

It all seemed very unlikely. I was a surprised how well he remembered E, but more than that he even remembered that E had been around when we were working on transference – but how was he so sure that E had kept his notes (from some years earlier) and that in the notes would be material that would help in the present situation. In any case, I of course told my friend what Negro had said. To my surprise E knew exactly where these notes were and almost immediately found the relevant part. Remember how his health problem was centred in his chest? Well, as I recall it, those notes described images of being in this cavernous space, there was a river of poisonous black viscous liquid oozing through the landscape and all around frozen figures of people from his past. In his notes he interprets all this and commented that these images were tied to a deep system of tensions in his chest.

So there was raw material to work with. It all seemed to fit his present situation perfectly. Was it possible that he was predisposed to the action of the environmental contaminant that the doctors said was killing him because of these persistent, unresolved biographical problems (the frozen people) connected with a system of tensions and images centred in his chest? Who knows – but certainly that’s how he understood it. Could using transferential techniques to act on those tensions, through these images, save his life? That was the hypothesis, but as Negro had pointed out we had a small window of opportunity to act before E no longer had enough energy for this kind of work. I remember Negro had referred to it as a race. Whatever the outcome certainly it would be worth the attempt. Or so I thought. E didn’t feel the same way.

Almost immediately it became clear that it wasn’t going to be that easy or straightforward. Not long before this Negro had formulated the basic question for all of us as: “Do you want to live? If so under what conditions, and what are you willing to do to create those conditions?” Now E told me he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to live. He told me that: “life is too difficult. I just want to disappear. It’s not sure it’s worth the effort”. He went on to explain that, while perhaps unique beings like Silo could because of their internal unity transcend death for him (E said speaking of himself) “there is nothing beyond this life. My body will die and I will disappear like a light being turned off. That’s all there is”.

With a little persuasion he agreed to at least explore the situation and so after reviewing what we knew we began with our first transference. It didn’t go well. We found resistance from the first moment. It wasn’t that it was hard to connect with the images. We quickly found our way to the landscape described in his old notes. It’s just that we were unable to change either the images or the climates. Over the next weeks E’s health deteriorated quickly. He was loosing weight at an astonishing rate. His pain and fatigue were getting worse. Any way we continued but we didn’t seem to advance and his nihilistic climate only grew stronger. 

It happened that around this time that Salvatore had moved temporarily from Italy to teach at Rutgers College in New Jersey. He was also good friends with E and had been following the situation closely. At one point he suggested that E come for a visit while he was still well enough to travel. Since I didn’t live too far from the airport he left his car at my house and so we spent a few hours together before he left to see Salva. Again he reiterated the idea that living was too difficult, insisting that it was inconceivable that anything could continue beyond the death of the body. We died and became “food for the worms”. That was all there was. Period!

On that note he left to spend a few days with our mutual friend. The plan was for them to continue the work – though it seemed to me that this was pointless considering E’s climate and apparent choice of death over life.

A few days later there was a knock on my door. E was back and I could tell something had changed. He still looked skeletal and pale but there was no doubt he was different. As well as I can remember he said, “I know that a few days ago I stood here and said it was impossible for me to believe that there was anything beyond death. I know I said that, but now I don’t understand how I could have possibly believed that. It’s obvious that there’s no such thing as death. The body dies but nothing stops our evolution”. 

He explained that he and Salva had continued with the same transferential works that we had been doing, and with the same results. By now we had made many attempts and it all seemed familiar and inevitable. But then things began to change in that cavernous space with its contaminated waters and frozen people. He was able to change the shape of the space itself and with that everything changed, the river was clean and full of life giving water, the cavern had become an open space and he was different. He started to feel his relationship with those figures really changing. He found himself able to reconcile with them and they began to thaw and return to life. He told me that he felt so different that even now (days later) he could barely understand how he used to think and feel.

This has been a long story and so to try and keep it from getting even longer let me tell you that E died shortly after these events. I had been out of the country but his wife called to let me know that if I wanted to see him again I should come there right away. Happily I got to spend his last few days and even his last moments with him. I say “happily” because for me it was, even though much of that time he was unconscious or “incoherent” and even afraid and suffering. At least some witnesses to these events saw little else. 

There are people who were there who will tell you that E died frightened and in pain and only occasionally conscious. For me it was it seemed that I was in front of a human being who for a few days was living in two worlds and was trying as best he could to communicate that reality to us. At the time I tried to describe the situation to Negro and he said something like: “are you telling me that the more vigilic he is the stupider he is, but when everyone thinks he’s out of his mind he’s the most lucid?” He paused and then concluded: “Yes, that seems quite possible.” 

Un gran abrazo,