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.

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