Thursday, September 30, 2010

The healing of spirituality and the spirituality of healing

Last Sunday evening, I listened to a very intelligent and instructive discussion on a program on NPR called New Dimensions . It was basically a discussion of the healing process and, as I understood it, the premise was that one should not spend time thinking about or talking about the negative experiences in one's life because it keeps us trapped in our traumas.
I suspect the truth the speaker was presenting is similar to that which I understand from the Uncle Remus story of Bre'r Rabbit and the tar baby:

Bre'r Rabbit is just toodling along the path one sunny day and suddenly, he sees a tar baby sitting in the path. Now Bre'r Rabbit doesn't seem to recognize that this thing is a tar baby; he thinks it's real, and so he sings out a friendly "howdy." When the tar baby doesn't answer Bre'r Rabbit becomes incensed and begins to demand that the tar baby answer. Eventually he punches the tar baby. Because it is a tar baby, his fist becomes stuck. He throws another punch with the same result and so on and so on until he is entirely stuck body and soul to this tar baby.

The pain and trauma life presents us can become the tar baby in our lives: we think it's real and we demand that it answer us back and give an account for itself and we begin an all-out fisticuffs with it, and indeed we just wind-up totally trapped in it and going nowhere. I think that is the point the person being interviewed was trying to get across. If so, I get it and I've been there and done that. From that perspective I totally get the current zeitgeist of "thinking and being positive."

However, I get off the "be positive" train at some point because there is another, equally compelling truth. What I know about pain and trauma and healing from it, is that it's what we don't look at that will bite us in the butt. I see it all the time. We don't want to talk about painful experiences because it is, well, just too painful. Understood. It's just that not looking at it won't work any more than getting stuck in it.

Talking about the past can become a tar baby experience. However, not talking about it can easily become running away. Sometimes one doesn't even recognize that one is running away. Trying to run away from pain and trauma is just another tar baby form. We must be able to recognize and understand the past so that we can move on. If we don't, we run the risk of not seeing the tar baby, and it takes on a life of it's own in our unconscious and crawls into the driver's seat of our lives.

The approach to healing that I like best is that presented in J. R. R. Tolkein's The Hobbit. The Hobbit, Bilbo, journeys with the dwarves to find the treasure that was stolen from them. They, along with Gandalf, the Wizard, arrive at a point in the path that goes through a deep, dark, and frightening wood, called Mirkwood. It is at this point that Gandalf, who has been shepherding them through their journey, tells them he must leave them. Because Gandalf has told them how terrible and dangerous Mirkwood is, Bilbo is distraught and begs of Gandalf, "Do we really have to go through?" "Yes, you do!...You must either go through or give up your quest." (J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbitt, or There and Back Again, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1984, copyright 1966 by J. R. R. Tolkein, p. 127).

When we are born into this world, we are without guile or fear and we see no separation between ourselves and what we see. This oneness is, perhaps, our deepest spirituality and truth of who we are. Along the journey of our human lives, however, we experience separation and we become more disconnected not only from others, but from our true nature as well. Initially the journey may seem exciting and fun. Eventually, if we're lucky, a niggling yearning emerges that will not go away and we begin a quest for this ephemeral thing with no name, which we believe to be our rightful treasure. And it is.

We begin our quest for the healing of our spiritual wounding, the loss of our sense of oneness. Lost, we go down many rabbit paths and dead ends. We may not at first recognize that our separation is a spiritual wound nor that our search for healing from our pain is itself a spiritual journey.However clumsily at times, we are all drawn into a healing process that eventually, if we're lucky, we recognize as a spiritual quest.

The spiritualist who does not want to "look at all that negative stuff" simply uses spirituality as a way to run away. The healing traveler who does not ultimately recognize the pain as a gift, risks becoming caught up with a tar baby.The dictum that we must either grow through our pain, our Mirkwood, or give up our quest is true. Whether we run away from our pain or we become stuck in it, we lose sight of the true quest and we don't find our rightful treasure.

The truth is that we must stay on our path (note to self: not that of another's!) and we must as courageously and honestly as possible face whatever comes our way and learn the lessons open to us. It is not always a positive journey in the sense of "no pain, no shame." It can be always a positive journey, however, if we don't give up and we move through it and reclaim our treasure. There is no easy way. We cannot go around, over, nor under. The only way is to go through the dark forest of Mirkwood. The spiritual wounding can be healed and the healing journey can be a profoundly spiritual experience with gifts beyond measure.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sorting it all out...

In my day job which pays my bills, I work with the severely mentally ill. Recently I called my boss for some supervision on a particularly difficult situation that had me somewhat off center. I respect my boss for his clinical skills: he's experienced, well trained, and he's no drama queen. It's a good combination.
He's new to the job, so he is just getting to know our clients and their stories. Thus I had to do some "catch up" for him about this particular case, and he very quickly realized how complicated it is. I shared with him all the relevant points of my thinking and concerns and I could tell that he was really listening. Finally, he said to me, "I'm hearing all your reasoning, but what does your heart tell you?" My answer was, "My heart doesn't tell me anything!"
He was surprised and I needed to explain. I gave him a shortened explanation. Here is the long one:
In all my years of living, I have never encountered anyone, anything, nor any situation that was simple - not for the heart nor for the mind. This experience has only become more true over time. To be quite truthful, I have never, never understood the "split" between the heart and the mind. And that was what he was asking me to do, to give him that non-existent split.
Did he want me to tell him that I could see (my mind at work) the improvement in the child's life in foster care? Did he want me to tell him that (my heart pumping) I begrudged this child's new found advantages or that I (my heart pumping) do not share the child's mother's heartbreak
I don't understand the so-called split between heart and mind because my mind does not concern itself ever with anything that the heart does not care about and the heart, not an entirely blind spot, does make calls and recognizes the sometimes wrenching complexities with which we humans must deal. A heart without a mind as companion births a fool as does a mind without a heart.
I suppose for some the idea of a "Data" (familiar to Star Trek fans) - an entirely rational entity - is an ideal toward which we all should strive. I do not share this wish. For if life is meant to be entirely rational, then what is the role of human passion which so consumes us and presses us forward toward the impossible? And if we have no emotions, then what, indeed, is the purpose of being human?
Do I have answers for these questions? No, absolutely not. I just know in my Soul of souls, that our being so human, so flawed, and yes sometimes so irrational, is not an accident. There is a purpose. I don't "get it." I'm still trying to "get it" in my own life, never mind trying to help others get it in theirs (which I'm supposedly paid to do). Should I try to compartmentalize myself into "heart" and "mind?" I don't think so, for indeed, what would be the point?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sick of Summer

I've been irritable lately and not feeling very well. Someone commented recently that I didn't look like I felt very well and I replied, "No, I haven't been feeling well...maybe I'm just sick of summer!" She laughed. However, this time every year I'm truly fed up with the oppressive heat. I am so hot natured that whenever I'm in a group and someone asks me whether I think it's too cold, my response is always, "I'm the wrong person to ask." If it's too cold for me, then it is likely that everyone else in the group has died from hypothermia.
I can get down on myself when I'm so bitchy and I wish I weren't. However, the reality is, at least at present, that I'm a good deal away from perfect or serene or whatever the illusive state of being is that I seek, and I am all too frequently confronted with the reality of me. During my life I have often watched, with some wonder, people who seem to be so utterly sure of themselves and their own reality. I so constantly question my own assumptions about myself and my perceptions of the world that the older I grow the dumber I feel.
My only comfort is that in terms of spiritual growth, which is utimately what is meant by personal growth, that knowing ourselves is the greatest confrontation and task. Even as a young child I remember asking my mother how one knows when God is commanding one to do something. I had been told the story of Abraham being instructed to kill his son and, I reasonably asked, "What if God tells me to kill someone?" A very legitimate question. My mother, who I know now was but a youth in her own right, was disconcerted and admonished me that God would never tell me to do such a thing.
I was not then assuaged and I am not now. Even a cursory following of the news rapidly reveals how many of us humans in the name of our respective religions vow that we are only doing God's will. I've never been certain about how I can separate my own human egoistic aspirations from that of the purity of God's will. I'm not that trusting of my ego. I am even sometimes jealous of others' seeming certitude.
Yet I must join The Mother in her jest of such human frailty when she shared a joke about the same subject:
"You know the story of the irritable elephant, his mahout and the man who would not make way for the elephant. Standing in the middle of the road, the man said to the mahout, "The divine Will is in me and the divine Will wants me not to move." The driver, a man of some wit, answered, "But the divine Will in the elephant wants you to move!" (March 14, 1951, The Mother, Questions and Answers 1950-1951, Volume 4, page 208)
I'm continuing to try to get out of the way of the Divine Will and life goes on.