When I was on retreat last week, Bob Stahl introduced us to a Pali word, “samwayka.” It’s one of those words that exist in other languages to illustrate a concept that doesn’t exist in the English language. The Inuit, for instance, have 28 words for snow. There is the Yiddish phrase “shlemiel” which can be loosely translated as a clumsy, inept person, the kind of person who always spills his soup. There is the shlimazel, a person with constant bad luck, otherwise known as the one who always has soup spilled on him. Bob explained to us that the Pali word, “samwayka” means, “realizing that there is death,” a realization that leads to a sense of spiritual urgency.
That term really resonated with me. “Samwayka” is what we, cancer survivors, have experienced. We realize there is death. We know in the most visceral sense that the line between health and illness is very thin. We know our existence is tenuous. We do not deny our mortality. Though we may not all pursue a blatantly spiritual path, we no longer allow distractions and crap to litter our lives. We think deeply about what we want the rest of our lives to be about. We sense a powerful urgency to pursue the truth, whatever that means in our own lives. We don’t waste time playing games or making sure that people like us. We say no to the trivial and the unnecessary. We have experienced samwayka.