Ramblings

Healing, and not so healing

 

I shared this video a while ago on Facebook. It’s a talk given by Caroline Myss some years ago called “Why People Don’t Heal.” In case you didn’t get a chance to watch it then, or aren’t into watching it now, here it is in print format.

I think it takes a lot of courage on Caroline’s part, to talk so directly about this somewhat sensitive issue. I wanted to bring some more attention to this, as I’ve seen this dynamic in my work as well. Simply put, one important reason that people don’t heal from trauma, illness, emotional suffering, etc., is because they get stuck in their own victim-hood; often accompanied by lots of self-pity, and martyrdom patterns. We all know that avoiding dealing with your pain can cause more pain. This is the other side of the spectrum; these are the professional victims. They learn how to hold on tightly to their wounds and use them, in a rather manipulative way, even if they don’t consciously intend to do so. This has the effect of draining vital spiritual and emotional energy from themselves, and from those around them.

Any attempt to move people like this out of their pain and victim stories is seen as callous and lacking in compassion. You can offer lots of alternatives and compassionate help, but they will find ways to sabotage that help. It can be very frustrating and painful to watch someone you care about become entrenched in their own misery.

This is a telling, somewhat extreme, example from the article:

I met one woman, for instance, who stated upon our introduction that the “rules” of being a friend to her began with agreeing to “honor her wounds.” When I asked her to tell me what that meant in practical terms, she said that she was only now beginning to process all of the violations that had happened to her as a child and that in the course of healing these wounds, she would frequently have mood swings and bouts of depression. “Honoring her wounds” meant respecting these moods, not challenging them. She claimed the right to set the tone of any social event of which she was a part. If she was in a “low space,” she expected her support system not to introduce humor into the atmosphere but to adjust their mood and conversation to hers. I asked her how long she anticipated needing this intense level of support. “It may take years,” she replied, “and if it does, I expect my support system to give me that amount of time.

The reality is that wounds need to be attended to. The victim stories need to be honored; consciously, subconsciously, and all the way down to their source in childhood. But then those wounds need to be processed and healed. Forgiveness needs to be found. And the person has to let go of the victim story. Otherwise, he becomes something of an energetic vampire, constantly (even if unintentionally) pulling on the sympathy, pity, and attention from others. Spirit does not support this victim mentality, that’s why healing can’t happen for a person in this state of mind.

People don’t heal, because subconsciously they don’t intend to heal. They are often unaware of their own attachment to suffering, and the psychological payoff that suffering brings them. And when you point it out to them, as Caroline describes in the article, they become extremely defensive. I’ve encountered lots and lots of people in the last few years who love their suffering. They glorify it and they glorify the suffering of others as well. Any attempt to reduce suffering or offer alternatives in a compassionate (but direct) way is met with hostility. Not just from the sufferer, but from the enablers as well.  

I was in an online support group a few months ago, having a conversation about healing trauma. We were talking about the merits of different therapeutic approaches, and whether a person could administer the therapy himself, or whether he would need a facilitator. Out of nowhere, a woman interjected aggressively, saying that she knows trauma better than anyone, and no one can begin to know trauma like hers. And since her trauma makes her the ultimate expert and authority on this topic, she let us all know that we were wrong, and that none of what we were talking about could ever work. Her interjection quickly shut down the entire conversation. And yet, unsurprisingly, the very next day, this same woman, shared in the group that she’s experiencing suicidal depression, and she’s been in tremendous suffering for 20+ years, and no one can ever seem to help her out of her pain…

I want to say here that I’m not indifferent to suffering. Without recounting a litany of stories that will solidify my status as someone who knows about trauma, I’ll just say that I have had my fair share of pain. Pain which, thanks to my spiritual work, I’ve been acutely re-living and re-feeling and healing, step by step, for the last few years. Pain and trauma happen to be subjective – what was painful and traumatic for one person, is not necessarily so for another. That’s why comparisons of “who had it worse” are rather silly.

But the one thing I’m shown over and over again is that you have to want to heal, and you have to be your own advocate in that healing. You have to make every possible self-reliant effort to heal.

Healing isn’t something we actually have control over the way we assume. Healing comes from Grace. Healing is a gift given to us by Spirit. There is a sacred element to how it happens and when. But within the sphere of what we can control, we have to do everything we can and focus our intentions as directly as possible towards that end. Emotional wounds don’t heal on their own. It takes time and effort to move towards healing.

The people described in Caroline’s article, and those I’ve met along my path, don’t have the determination or commitment to marshal their inner resources, and to pull themselves up and out of their pain. They are deeply deeply attached to their victim stories. Sometimes you can hear a sort of helplessness that accompanies their mental state “I can’t do it on my own. I want someone to do it for me.” They sit around and wait for someone else to initiate the process, while they take the time to wallow in misery.

The truth is: if you don’t do it for yourself, no one can ever do it for you. No doctor, no pill, no famous shaman. Which is, of course, not to say that you shouldn’t seek help and support when you need it. You should. Traditional therapies or spiritual or holistic approaches, it doesn’t matter. There are lots of resources available for healing these days. But you have to really really want to heal. The process isn’t easy. You have to be willing to confront the pain and the darkness, and take responsibility for a lot of unpleasant stuff. It requires that you be the one who is most committed to your own freedom from suffering. You have to want it for yourself, and you have to want it more than wanting someone else to come and rescue you out of your pain.

It’s the only way it will ever happen.

____________________

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Acceptance (Part II)

 

I introduced the basic approach to acceptance (and a short example of how to do it) in my previous post. I want to stress here that this practice isn’t easy. You’re attempting to retrain your mind out of default patterns of thinking, which it’s been carrying out automatically for years. Think of it as well-trodden roads or pathways in the mind. Acceptance practice is actually creating new roads, new mental pathways, and it takes a little time to adjust.

 

This practice can be applied in every day modern life to enhance peacefulness and calm, and cultivate emotional intelligence and maturity. And it’s also part of a rigorous spiritual discipline designed to bring your entire ego into conscious awareness. (In the latter case, it’s seen more as a temporary tool that gets you to a particular level of spiritual development rather than as a permanent mode of being.). It’s only a question of how far you take it.

 

And so one of the major critiques of acceptance (as it’s come into the West via the mindfulness movement) is that it will turn all of us into sheep. I heard this critique a lot in the corporate arena when mindfulness programs were suggested as part of employee enrichment. If you teach people about acceptance, you are encouraging passivity and conformity; you could be condoning and perpetuating abusive dynamics.

 

We are a culture of doers, fighters, changers, and carried out to its logical end, this practice would mean that you just accept everything, allow everything, never complain, never set limits, never hold people accountable, and never take any corrective action.

 

If you just accept everything, you would basically become totally apathetic to the world around you. You would allow all kinds of bad things to happen and you wouldn’t do anything about them. Something that doesn’t really jive with our “I’m gonna change the world. I’m gonna make a difference” mentality.

 

This is a valid concern. I worried about this too in the beginning.

 

It would seem this way – if you just allow everything, then you’d never do anything about anything. You’d lose all motivation to change anything or work towards anything. If you just allowed everything to be what it is, worked internally to come to peace and contentment, then nothing would ever get done. You would be complacent and unmoved. You would allow evil and injustice to reign. You would end up homeless, penniless, on the street with a shopping cart. Your life, and the world at large, would go quickly down the drain…

 

But, in practice, the result is actually quite shockingly different.

 

Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness. -Eckhart Tolle

 

I’ve taken this practice to the extreme over the last few years as part of my spiritual discipline. And what happens over time is that you come to a place of emotional equanimity about everything. You don’t have many emotional responses to things the way you did before. You are, in essence, undoing the source of your emotional triggers. And what you reach is a sort of peaceful, consistent state of contentment without any effort. (You’re not repressing or denying any emotional responses – you actually don’t have them.). What grows within you though is courage, emotional fortitude, and a sense of your own integrity and self-respect.

 

Emotional reactivity, whether it’s expressed or suppressed, wastes both physical and spiritual energy. It’s the reason that all spiritual traditions ask you to work on maintaining emotional equilibrium and stability. Different traditions go about this in different ways. In my view, you can’t maintain emotional stability by force or control. You have to go to the roots of where the reaction comes from – the subconscious belief system. In effect, if you undo the source of the trigger, if you address/heal that particular piece of your psyche, then the next time you are confronted with that particular stimulus, you won’t have a reaction. You’ll observe what’s happening, but you won’t feel an emotional response in the body. (This is huge when it first happens for people – they can’t believe the difference!). And as you have less and less reactions, you are actually conserving physical and spiritual energy. You are becoming stronger and more fortified.

 

Someone might say something disrespectful, and you may not like it or appreciate being spoken to that way, but your emotional body doesn’t respond. There is no racing heart, no fight or flight, no boiling blood, just a calm clarity that allows you to say “hey, I don’t like being spoken to that way, please stop it.” Which is an interpersonal skill most people are too uncomfortable to cultivate these day.

 

Acceptance doesn’t turn you into a sheep; quite the opposite. It actually helps strengthen you sense of self, while your emotional body remains at rest most of the time. You will still like and dislike things. You will set boundaries with people (lots of them, more so than ever perhaps). You will still go to work, and pay your bills, and shop for groceries, you’ll just do all of it calmly and peacefully, without the emotional roller-coasters all the time.

 

The difference here is that when you do set limits or hold people accountable for stuff, you don’t do it in a frenzy of emotional reactivity. As Rudolf Steiner explains you do it with the same emotional tone as if you were advocating for someone else who has been hurt or offended, rationally and dispassionately.

 

You discuss your feelings with complete calm. It’s not a passionate dramatic fight, where you say all kinds of things that you later regret. You aren’t abusive or hurtful to the other person. You don’t escalate the conflict. You don’t lash out. There is no angry retort or sense of vengeance – you don’t want to “get him back” for what he said. Because you aren’t really affected by what this person has said.

 

You know that whatever they’re doing is their own stuff. You don’t take it personally – meaning you don’t interpret the words or actions of others as a reflection of your self-worth. You accept that this is what is being said to you in this moment, over which you have no control (try as you might, you really can’t control other people), and you have a peaceful, firm, yet compassionate response to the offending person. You can choose to respond, how to respond, or not to respond at all.

 

With emotional equanimity comes actual freedom of choice, and self-control.

 

But what about the passionate action for change? What about making the world a better place? What about standing up to injustice?

 

Well, what I’ve been shown over the last few months is that those things don’t go away. You don’t become apathetic to the world. This kind of emotional equanimity allows you to move through life, and do lots and lots of things, without being depleted by the toxic nature of other people or the situations around you. It allows you to retain an internal stillness, that keeps you from wasting physical and spiritual energy in emotional reactivity. It allows you to take lots and lots of inspired action (for good), time and time again, without fear of risk or failure. It allows you to make peace, the right way. And it allows you to stand up to people (who are behaving badly) without fear. It gives you to courage to do whatever is in your integrity to do.

 

(Another important inquiry to do first though, is to look at what within you is motivating you to change the world. An honest look inward will surprise you. You will find that a lot of that is your own unhealed material projected outward. My facebook friend Lila Haris explains this beautifully here).

 

This doesn’t mean you never get angry or upset. There are certainly situations where you have an appropriate response, but it’s a lot less often, a lot less dramatic, and it lasts for a much shorter time. You may feel sad, or hurt, or upset if a situation calls for it, but with acceptance you’ve cut short a lot of the unnecessary suffering. And you’re one step closer to forgiveness. If you choose to use anger – it isn’t abusive. It’s not meant to hurt the other person. And you are not swept up in the emotions; you use it carefully, with control, like you would a fine instrument. The anger doesn’t control you, you control it.

 

It is true that anger and passion have fueled lots of beneficial social movements. It is undeniable that lots of rights and liberties have been fought for, and secured, through the emotional force of people who have been wronged. And their anger, and pain, and rage is then catalyzed into social action. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need all of that unruly passion to make a difference. (I would argue that that’s a dangerous way to go about seeking social justice).

 

All of our greatest leaders taught us that, and you can see it now, in action, with the wise leadership at Standing Rock. To sustain the fight against injustice you need emotional resilience. You need calm cool resolve that doesn’t deplete you, physically or spiritually. Far from turning you into a sheep or a doormat, acceptance gives you the emotional resilience of a marathoner, rather than a sprinter, to fight the good fight (whatever that means for you).

 

Acceptance doesn’t lead to apathy, as the criticism suggests. You are still motivated to do things (often very motivated), but you do them with a different kind of energy. You stand up for what’s right, and you take action against injustice, but you do it with internal peace. A peace that doesn’t deplete you, so you have more energy to continue standing up and to continue taking action.

____________________

Mailing List:
I hate it when I sign up for a site’s email list and then get bombarded with tons and tons of junky emails, verifications, etc. So I’m going a different old-school sort of route. If you’d like to be on my mailing list, please just send me an email to angela@fromheretolove.com. I’ll add you to the list, and will only use your email to send you new blog posts when they are published. Promise! 🙂 

 

Acceptance (Part I)

 

One of the basic universal teachings in almost all spiritual and esoteric traditions is learning the practice of acceptance. Acceptance is the allowing (and even celebrating) a person or situation precisely as it is, without trying to change it in any way. It’s quite a challenging practice when you actually begin applying it to people and situations that you find unacceptable. But that’s precisely the point. It’s easy to accept good things. It’s not so easy to accept the stuff we don’t like.

 

Through the practice of acceptance, you are able to see all the places that you are not in acceptance. You try to be in acceptance, and you begin to notice that in lots and lots of situations, you’re not. You just can’t. (This is where the gold is!) In the contrast, in those places you cannot accept, you are able to see just how much you try to control or affect your surroundings and why. (Hint: it’s always fear).

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Narcissism and Compassion

In recent years, narcissism has become a super hot topic of public debate, especially where millennials and social media are concerned. From innocuous vanity and self-promotion, all the way to the pathological personality disorder, narcissism can take many different forms, along a wide spectrum. But somehow it feels like the more pathological aspects are suddenly everywhere; like some kind of social epidemic. In spiritual circles, a vicious narcissist is part of nearly everyone’s story of pain and awakening. There are tons and tons of articles, books, podcasts, and abuse recovery programs popping up all over the place. (In the event you’re not up on all the details, this is a great article on all the different aspects of the condition. And this is a painfully accurate description of what happens to children who grow up with narcissistic parents/caretakers.).

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Your feelings are messages from your soul

Your soul communicates with you through your feelings. It’s not the emotions you create with your mind (consciously or subconsciously). It’s not something that comes from your thinking, your rational calculations, or your critical reasoning. It’s not who you “should be,” and it’s not what you “should feel.”

It’s something much deeper than that. It’s a call from within. It’s something you already know to be true, because it plays in the background of your thoughts. It’s something we are taught to push past; something we are taught to ignore. It’s not something we’ve ever been taught to pay attention to, but rather a thing to overcome in our endless pursuits of more.

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