Eve Ensler —
The Body After Cancer

Eve Ensler has helped women all over the world tell the stories of their lives through the stories of their bodies. Her play, "The Vagina Monologues," has become a global force in the face of violence against women and girls. But she herself also had a violent childhood. And it turns out that she, like so many Western women, was obsessed by her body and yet not inhabiting it without even knowing she wasn't inhabiting her body — until she got cancer.

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is a Tony Award-winning playwright, performer, and activist. She is the author of The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body. Her memoir is In the Body of the World.

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A Balinese Hindu devotee bathes as she performs the Melukat ritual during full moon at Sebatu holy waterfall in Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia. The Melukat ritual, where devotees bathe in the holy water of a spring, waterfall, or other water source belived to have the apropriate cleansing power for purification, is a symbolical and literal cleansing of the body and soul aimed at preventing misfortune and bad luck, including sickness or havoc caused by daily activities and sins.

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This interview reminded me about not waiting for future selves to arrive. We can accept the greatness in our lives if we are present and open to goodness when it comes.

Beautifully said...

There is a lifetime of learning in this interview. It will certainly take more than one listen to fully appreciate and absorb the insights. I truly hope that we are in a "second wind" of understanding. Thanks to Krista, Trent and the whole On Being team for bringing another wonderful show to the waves. Thanks to Eve Ensler for sharing her experiences.. Jack really summed it up well on the previous comment. Live life in the moment. It seems to be in total opposition to our culture, but we need to figure it out. Life here is fleeting and I feel most of our days are spent chasing the things that really don't matter all that much.

As a man, I apologize to the women of the world for the atrocities men have done.

Thank you, Chris!

This was the most amazing interview I have ever heard.........seriously. Especially re cancer, chemo and some causes for depression. Thank you SO much and yes it will take more than one listen to absorb it all.

This was profound. I don't usually 'comment' on the web but I need to say thank you to Eve Ensler and the whole On Being team for the wisdom I just heard. I love her thoughts on love, and also on the metaphors of wrestling vs. fighting. And the tree! oh! so many gems insight here. Thank you.

It is 6am and I am in my kitchen with tears running down my face. What a radical new idea to me. Transistion without crisis. Peace to all. J

I can understand some of what Eve Ensler says, but she loses me and this interview loses me in several places. It seemed like Krista was so "into" Eve's worldview that at times the two of them were throwing phrases at one another and saying, "Yeah, yeah!" approving of one another's sentiments without explicating the subject. To me it seemed to devolve here and there into a club with two members, and too bad if the listener doesn't know the secret codeword.

Also, Eve Ensler loses me when she starts projecting her own state of mind onto the whole world. There was a place where she's talking about humanity evolving or humanity allowing a second wind move through it, for example. No, sorry, Eve, that may be where you are at present, but don't confuse yourself with the entirety of humanity. Sort of like saying that someday cancer and trauma will be treated simultaneously. Ah, no, I don't buy that. Maybe *some* cancer instances have roots in trauma, but it seemed like she's claiming something all-encompassing about the relationship. That's almost as ridiculous as those people who claim that people who get cancer are repressed, that therefore it's their own fault. But then in general I think Eve is seeing causality and meaning in places where it doesn't belong. As far as I can tell a lot of life is random, and working it into this meaningful and personal centerpiece is ridiculous. The universe doesn't center on me, or you.

I just listened to Krista Tippett's interview with Eve Ensler. The program is one of the best I've heard. Had not known about On Being. Just happened to be tuned to WWNO, our NPR station in New Orleans.
I'll be a faithful follower and
I'll be sending the link to 50 of my favorite people.....

It wasn't only Descartes, but the Protestant Reformation, with the denial of the resurrection of the body, that led to an alienation from our bodies.

If she suffered a lot as a child, she probably was dissociated to some extent from her body.

This was one of the most moving and helpful interviews I've ever heard. So beautiful, so full of love. It's a bit like Susan Gubar's fantastic blog on cancer. Many thanks to Eve Ensler and Krista.

Transcendence comes from being rooted. This idea from Eve reminded me of these words from Elery Akers and Rainer Rilke.

From Elery Akers, Advice from An Angel

I know it's in your nature to want air,
ozone. To float: to be free. But stick with what you know:
you'd be surprised at the effect of sheer blundering
and doggedness. To evaporate is nothing:

to sprint, to travel. It's weight
that divides the known and unknown worlds. It's your boots
that impress us, your squads of boulders,

From Rilke, Sunset

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs—
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

What beautiful words! Advice from an Angel's warning against excessive spirituality and Rilke's Sunset, which so beautifully describes having a foot in both worlds both remind me that it's about balance.

A second Wind in life: Eve Ensler on inhabiting the Body After Cancer.

I found that Eve's story very real, and interesting. What I found interesting was how she actually talked about how her view's changed after she got cancer. Before cancer she was not a very happy person. While after/ dealing with cancer she found herself a much happier person. For me I think that there are so many things that we all take for granite. Until we are at the dark side realizing all the good things we have going.

In this on being by Eve Ensler talks about her believes, and how she felt about cancer. Eve states that all the years of neglecting her body/and the neglect her body took, could have been some of the cause of her getting cancer. I find her thinking of cancer so interesting. While many people don't really realize what emotion neglect can actually do to someone. Along with taking in; and listening to all these different woman's own personal stories, Eve believes that could have something to do with her cancer. I find this could easily happen. While we may not be able to prove that other people pain and suffering can take a toll on others is a very interesting topic i think should be looked at.

I think that there are many people who would agree with Eve that have had cancer would say that their lives, and the way they look at the world ;and the things around them in a different light. I have found that people tend to realize what they were missing in life when they are not happy.

Eve Ensler is an American play writer, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. Ensler is a feminism activist against the violence made toward little girls and women. She was herself abused during her childhood. In the broadcast she talked about her cancer with very uncommon angles.

First, she developed the idea that cancer can be a result of profound traumatisms. She mentions her own story. She was molested, and abused during her childhood and then she depicted also how she absorbed the pain of the abused woman during her writing investigation. Furthermore, she related the example a rape center where three staff members in charge of collecting the traumatic stories developed cancers as well. She emphasized on the fact that today society is disconnected. She thinks that people consider that their feeling and body are not related. She pointed out the story when a Tibetan monk was hilarious when scientist was putting electrode on his head to study his mind because the mind for him was coming from the heart as well. I do think that her thought is rational. I do myself easily suffer from stressful situations due to my hyper sensibility[mm1] . I got torticollis and migraine. My feeling, my mind really hurt my body in those cases. So traumas can maybe engender cancer, some study have yo be made to at least refute this idea.

Secondly. She explained that her cancer has transformed her. Before cancer, her body was disconnected. When she woke up after a surgery, she washed the beauties of a three and felt that for the first time that she was inhabiting her body. She felt her humanness and she knew who she was. Her cancer made her aware that fulfillment his a choice. She also explained that the capitalize system made us unhappy, disconnected to her present because we are always waiting for the ‘next new big things’. She concluded that cancer was her turbulent opportunities to who she was supposed to be. I personally really like the way how she positively receive her cancer has an opportunity. This idea probably helped her a lot to get through all of the chemo. I do agree with her that being happy and fulfill is a choice that you make. It is in your mind that it is all begin.

This is a wonderful brief video relating to cancer as a turning point.

Gary Malkin, one of the creators of the "Graceful Passages" CD, was a speaker at the 2008 "Cancer as a Turning Point, From Surviving to Thriving" free conference in Sacramento.

"'True healing is focused action and intention [which is everything we do to heal ourselves overtly]
wrapped in the arms of surrender'"
quoting Dr. Jeremy, oncologist.

"Music as a tool for the integration of heart and spirit and mind"
He cites research that shows The 1st human sense to come in, at 24 weeks, is hearing. It's the last one to go before we die.

Would be a wonderful guest to interview! And to get out the word about Graceful Passages, it's well known in some circles but so worth sharing to the On Being Audience. Not just for those who are dying and their families, but for any major life change or transition.

"Created by the cofounders of the Companion Arts Foundation, Graceful Passages addresses themes of letting go, closure, expressing love, forgiveness, appreciation of life, and continuity of spirit from different perspectives and faith traditions. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy are represented as well as Native American, Confucian, and Buddhist voices, creating a truly multifaith resource. A compelling musical score, created by a pioneering healing music artist and award-winning composer, lovely still-life photographs, and elegant design create a gentle invitation for the reader and listener to reflect upon what matters most in life."

applicable to "life-changing transitions, serious illness, or end-of-life process"

with messages from Wisdom Leaders, including Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, among others.

Thank you

If only I could purge the heavy metals attached to my tissues. My body has always been the source of restoration and solutions. Since chemo for breast cancer, it more resembles a prison. It is a minute - to minute struggle, as I work to engage men and boys, write, perform and educate to help end rape culture, while inhabiting this broken body. It is as though it is a microcosm of the macrocosm that is rape culture. I'll keep it up, until I can no longer...but the pain is often debilitating. I will persevere. We Must. Rise.

I really enjoyed the Ensler interview. I'm newly diagnosed with cancer and I like her words about not "slugging it out," with the disease, but allowing the process of dealing with it to transform you. I do hope to remove the deadly cells from my body, but I feel, maybe a little idealistically, that it's an opportunity and an adventure to be met head on.

My mother lived a very similar life as Eve. Her dad was a child in a Russian Jewish family who escaped to France in 1913. He was abused and ridiculed, which encouraged him to join the French navy as a cabin boy where he was often whipped. When the ship docked in Australia he jumped ship becoming first a stockboy (cowboy) then a successful boxer.

However he whipped and beat my grandmother, tore the house apart while my mom hid under the stairs. My mom married my dad, a US serviceman whose role was to kill the Japanese by hand or with his service dog in silence, while pre-invasion ammunition dumps were set up. He loved my mum and my brother and I dearly, but became an alcoholic who was physically violent, punching holes in walls or windows (My brother learned to drive at 14 when my dad cut his radial artery punching a window).

My mom was always ill and saw herself as ill. When I was in the seventh grade she lost most of her stomach and had peritonitis from a perforated artery. As a very young boy I became the one to do the major housecleaning, talking my dad down when he was drunk and violent. I also ate with my grandparents on Fridays, trying to get them to eat. My grandfather was calm by then after ECT. However, they both were alcoholic and drug abusers. My grandmother died at 56 of unknown causes.

I became an MD in the USA. When my mom and dad forced me to emigrate to the USA from Australia, I was totally lost for 7 years until I returned from Vietnam, where I completed all of my education with my amazing wife and 3 children( we were both adult children of alcoholics). My mom remarried and later her new husband developed pancreatic cancer, but after a Whipple procedure followed by chemo, as well as tremendous love, good nutrition, and exercise, he actually was cured and died 25 years later of a head injury. My mom developed esophageal cancer and after resection and colonic transplant, she lived one year with my wife and I and she also was treated with great love, good nutrition, and appropriate exercise. She live a remarkable 9 years until a recurrence developed, then spent a year with us while undergoing chemo then hospice. My wife did most of the care-taking and I managed her IV's and narcotics( The home nurses wanted to keep her too sedated.)

I have survived a ruptured brain aneurysm while in medical school, highly malignant prostate cancer & melanoma. First, multiple cancers developed in both men and women in my family. Secondly, the study of Epigenetics is now demonstrating that our milieu, both lifestyle & nutrition affects our genes, turning them on and off without changing the genes themselves. We all suffered a lot of trauma, both men and women; many of us, men and women, had remarkable outcomes, despite cancer, with great love, nutrition, exercise, and the elimination of violence.

Why don't you interview men who have suffered abuse as well as cancer? We see a lot of pink for women's cancer, but where is the RED for men's cancers? Finally, studies have shown that a window with a view of nature improves patient's outcome.

I am thankful that Buddhism, meditation, and my loving wife, three children, and eight grandchildren have reversed the ugly anger that dominated my adolescence and have now transformed me into a loving adult.

Robert, thank you for sharing the insight of your remarkable life and learning. Your story merits further sharing. My organization addresses healing for the suffering and I welcome your contact.

I suffered tremendously from abusive, not knowing parents who suffered with their own trauma. Psychiatric medications were a survival for 16 years. Then I found a teacher of insight meditation and mindful psychotherapy. No more meds, 4 years. I am my own best friend. Love heals♡ Grateful~

What an incredible interview. Both the questions you asked Krista and where Eve Ensler went with those questions.....profound, beautiful, enlivening! I wanted to also tell you how moving it was to hear Eve talk about falling in love with a tree. I recently went to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and when I was there and I fell in love with an elephant -- her name is "Beautiful Lotus." Love is love and there are no prescribed ways to have or be love. Thank you Eve for highlighting that.

This talk reminds me so much of a book I'm reading with a group of women. Body of Wisdom: Women's Spiritual Power and How it Serves by Hilary Hart. Hilary explores longing, community and other topics. Can you interview Hilary?

I found since my diagnosis of terminal cancer that I simply cannot “fake” it in the world. Truth and repairing of old relationships has become critical. I didn’t realize how much I was “pleasing” other people at the detriment to myself. I only heard about this program - am trying to find it to listen to it. Thanks

I found it freeing, not to have to fake it anymore, to voice my own voice, to no longer pretend to be some one I was not. I have had my fourth surgery. I do not expect to leave earth soon but now I know that it is fine if I should. My best energies and love goes out to you, Deborah.

Wow! Eve saying "fracking and f___ing" is the perfect way of speaking of the INJUSTICE that is my passion. xo to you two, this is a sublime interview.

Hello, Krista. I guess there’s always somebody in the audience who doesn’t get it, and this week it looks like me.

Eve Ensler struck me as still growing up, struggling to escape from adolescence. Apparently at the cusp of the behavioral change from spontaneous to mindful, but not there yet. Her (thankfully successful) encounter with cancer may have provided that epiphany of mortality that somehow hits each of us eventually and got the process started. Maybe if you had invited Eve’s analyst to join the interview we’d know. I get that perspective for myself from reading Dan Ariely. Do you know him? Has he been a guest? If not, you should consider inviting him sometime.

Thus her play on Descartes's quote . . . "I feel, therefore I am.” As a student of financial economics, I’ve learned a great deal about cognitive error and behavioral bias that she too could benefit from. Still, to her credit, Eve’s pun highlights that Descartes apparently missed the emotional dimension to our makeup. Many of the Nobel economics awards have recognized that our decision making is far from purely rational.

She has the insight to see something that is not right, but does not yet understand why. The comment about “ritual” was one of the remarks that suggested this to me. I was reminded of a lecture on organizational studies during the days of B. F. Skinner when researchers were training pigeons by feeding them corn kernels. Evidently the mechanism went wrong and the pigeons started getting fed randomly. The little guys were pretty clever and remembered what they were doing just before the corn pellet fell. And they constructed an elaborate dance to keep the corn coming! The lesson was to give us insight into management rituals; I think you see the picture re our lives.

Another lesson from the behaviorists that bears on the discussion regards happiness. It’s not about the fulfillment of our needs, notwithstanding Maslow's insight into our motivations. As you too probably now know, it appears to be pretty much a function of expectations.

Anyhow, I don’t see anything in Google's intersect of you and Dan Ariely, so please do consider a show with him sometime soon.

All the best, Mike

Back to Buddhism central. Well, that's OK. Did you see then the pope went to Sri Lanka - the Catholics had been persecuted by the Buddhists over the last few decades?

I loved hearing Eve and Krista talk about cancer. I have been on that journey and could really relate to Eve's discoveries. Paradoxically, it has been a growth experience. I totally agree about not wanting to go down the "I'm going to beat this, slay this." And that language is pervasive albeit well-intentioned. Thank you!!

A few years ago, my son now 52, also remorsefully asked, "When is human civilization going to "evolve" (as your guest also pondered) beyond violence...". For me, it was asking when are we going to get to a point when we no longer need the sacrifice of Christ, which is the self-sacrifice of our one God? The audacity and impertinence of the very concept recalls to me a quote from John Stott, "...your God is too small.", and a lack of understanding of human nature paired with our God-granted freedom.

when Eve speaks of the experience with the tree outside her hospital room it reminds me of Hermann Hesses' Siddhartha. his experience at the river and his insights he shared with the ferryman Vasudeva, and the awareness shared with Govinda. there is this common thread to this enlightenment that is shared in so many ways.

I was abused as a child physically and emotionally, sexually assaulted by 2 brothers beginning at age 6 until 11 y.o.. I told no one because my mom was a violent disciplinarian. After leaving home I was raped at age 19 by my fiance's friend but my husband did not believe me and forced me to continue to interact with him. Oddly I married him and then divorced 3 yrs later. At age 51 I was diagnosed with anul cancer and treated with radiation and chemo, which felt like being violated all over again and triggered severe PTSD with flashbacks. I suffered 3rd degree burns to my groin area and lost feeling in my clitoris and had recurring diarrhea with constricted anus, the doctor who diagnosed the cancer sexually assaulted me in his office after my treatment for cancer. He said"I did it to prove a point, that you could stretch it without pain relievers! As he snickered and patted my knee. I was in shock! I was still so sick I couldn't pursue criminal charges against him and regret it to this day! I am currently seeking treat pent for vulvar hyperplasia and fear it will prove to be the original cancer and has spread. I am terrified and at my wits end with multiple other autoimmune disorders that have left me disabled. How is it that women are so disparaged and treated so horribly? Where is the justice and how can we heal and recover from this treatment? Have any other women overcome similar atrocities and traumas? I need positive energy and support! The depth of my despair isn't relieved by Eve's monologue. I was taught the only value I had was my vagina-I "know"that is not true but can't convince my body of this!

There are so many precious gems in this interview. I feel like a richer woman.

I enjoyed listening to Eve Ensler's interview quite a bit. Her reaction to cancer made me think of my mother's response to the disease. My mother passed away after being diagnosed with cancer a third time. Her relationship to her body changed with each diagnosis. Each diagnosis marked a chapter in her life.

The first diagnosis came after my mother's husband had passed away and she was still in the grip of her identity as a wife. She seemed to consider her body as only a vehicle to find another husband. My mother had a lumpectomy and continued to live life as a widow hoping to remarry and be fulfilled after the ceremony.

After her second diagnosis, my mother had a mastectomy and became a different person. She seemed to believe that no one would marry her after the surgery so she decided to embrace life fully as a single woman. My mother lived her life for about six years with gusto and enthusiasm -- perhaps for the first time ever.

With the third bout of cancer, my mother decided it was time to leave this earth. When I asked her to undergo surgery, take chemo, essentially "to fight" she said that treatment would exact too high a price from my brother, sister and me and our families. My mother said it would not be fair to upend the lives of her three children for the sake of her own. She passed three weeks after I learned of her diagnosis.

For my mother, cancer offered her the opportunity to live fully and to pass with grace. She embraced all that cancer offered.

With the joy of a family adventure in Costa Rica at the beginning of 2015 came the first shock of reality: News of my dad's death (after a slow decline) two days after our return. That was January. In February, I learned a close friend had early-stage breast cancer and would need to undergo a masectomy. A public group message on Facebook in March announced the news of another friend's death with her daughter's simple declaration, "Last night we lost Mom." The news almost knocked the breath out of me. Her cancer had been in remission for years, and she had seemed happy and healthy in December. Listening to Eve Ensler's moving story of how illness helped her accept and move past trauma comforted me. It reminded me of the calm that takes over when you stop thinking about the future and focus on the moments, when you stop doing and focus on being. In illness, Ensler was forced to stop long enough to appreciate the still presence of the tree outside her hospital window. It reminded me of the solace Ann Frank found in the chestnut tree she saw through the attic skylight in the secret annex. No matter what afflictions life brings us, nature gives us an escape beyond grief.

Thank you both for a wonderful, insightful, interview. After listening to it I immediately turned to the unedited version. Ensler's insights on turmoil (a gentle word for something that's not often gentle in the least) and dis-ease should be shared with more folks. Like others, I apologize for all the violence and atrocities that men have visited on others, it's already gone on for far too long.

I totally agree with Ms. Ensler's attitude about "battling" or "beating" cancer. As the sibling of two people who have dealt with cancer and its treatment for years literally, without end, I resent the insinuation by this language that if one somehow fights harder once can always slay the cancer beast. Does this make longterm cancer survivors who will not be cured wimps? Does this make people who die losers?

for putting words to nearly impossible,
for reminding all victims of sexual abuse
(or any violating theft)
that healing takes TIME & is by nature excruciating;
yet each breath towards healing
is essential & WORTH IT.

Body is the temple of the spirit. It's this powerful force that gives people the will to live. As a massage therapist who has done around 20,000 sessions over a 30 year career, I have helped my clients uncover where that will lives in their bodies. It matters that you know where will lives and how to stoke the fire.Massage and bodywork can help.

What a gift! This interview highlighted so many of my own reflections concerning the body, cancer, my own relationship with my sister. As a woman and an oncology nurse, I cherish the gifts that adversity provides, but Ms. Ensler really vocalizes this so perfectly. Please come to Columbus, Ohio and The James and share your gifts with my wrestling friends!