I got into this line of work… i.e. helping people heal … because I wanted to make things better.
I saw a lot of suffering in my family and community during my early years here on the planet. And I wanted to alleviate that suffering.
And I still want that. And still think it’s possible. But I’ve learned over the years that not everything CAN be changed. And if that’s the case, what does it really mean to heal?
I used to equate healing with ONLY achieving a particular outcome.
I would have a strong desire to make something different in order for my life to be what I wanted it to be. And would put a lot of effort and energy into making that different thing happen.
Some of the things that I longed to change were certain attitudes and beliefs about myself.
For example, I grew up in a culture that devalued women’s intelligence. I received many messages growing up about how I wasn’t very smart and that my ideas and opinions didn’t matter because I was a woman.
I struggled against that one for a very long time. I went to graduate school and got a masters degree over 20 years ago and while there were many reasons why I put myself through THAT particular torture, proving to myself that I actually WAS pretty brainy was definitely in the mix.
I was able to successfully change that belief and pattern to the point where I can now claim myself as a writer and a thinker who has worthwhile things to say. And my life is WAY better because I made that shift. I no longer suffer a sense of inadequacy around my intellectual capabilities.
But some things in my life have proven to not be so amenable to change.
For example, I have pretty poopy brain chemistry. I have struggled a lot throughout my life with anxiety and depression. It’s one of the reasons I got into my own personal therapy and eventually became a psychotherapist.
And while therapy was incredibly helpful in waking me up to psychological patterns that I could eventually transform, it didn’t really affect the mood states much because they were primarily hormonal and bio-chemical. Unfortunately, I can’t take any western medication to help mitigate some of those states because my body won’t tolerate those substances.
So I have turned to alternative methods of healing, that have actually been quite effective. But not completely so. I still struggle with anxiety and depression at times and have simply learned to manage it better when it shows up.
And a large part of that management is simply not taking it so seriously and learning to let other people give me comfort and support when I’m having a hard time.
But I’m still suffering. And still frustrated by the suffering. I realized at a certain point that the anxiety and depression were not only painful in and of themselves, but they were also a source of shame. They were aspects of my human experience that were less than optimal and led me to feel like there was something wrong with me. And the fact that I COULDN’T fix it made me feel even more like somehow I was damaged and broken.
I have a number of fabulous teachers who are part of my spiritual lineage and one of my favorites is the Buddhist death and dying teacher Stephen Levine. And one beautiful concept I learned from him is the difference between healing and curing.
He worked with people to help bring more consciousness and compassion to them as they lay dying. And one of the attitudes that he found brought them the most suffering was the idea that they had somehow failed because they WERE dying.
They blamed themselves for dying. And believed that they were somehow responsible. If only they had done something different… eaten more organic veggies, gone to the gym more regularly, been nicer to their relatives … they wouldn’t be on their deathbed now.
And even worse, they associated the quality of their spiritual life with their bodily health. If they were sick they felt guilty and inadequate around their spiritual realization… Or lack thereof. Again, blaming themselves for not being enlightened enough, or serene enough or trusting enough in spirit.
SO they would interpret any fluctuations in their health as signs that they were either on the right track spiritually or failing at being spiritual. The belief was that if they could find the perfect formula of meditation and positive thinking and wheat grass they would be fully cured and their bodies returned to full health.
But Stephen Levine told story after story about people he had worked with who were able to heal their hearts. Or their relationships with their families. Or have the experience being deeply and personally loved by the divine. And still end up dying.
They were able to broaden their definition of healing and recognize that there were some things that they just couldn’t change. And that not being able to change those things didn’t mean they had done something wrong or were a failure. That healing of the soul can happen even when the body is ailing.
This capacity to find peace when we don’t have control over something we fervently wish to be different is not an easy thing to achieve. We usually get to that point only when we’ve exhausted all other possibilities. Despair and giving up are often precursors to that level of acceptance.
But once you stop looking for solutions to those things you can’t change it actually frees you up in ways that are hard to imagine when you’re on that desperate quest for a cure.
Those painful and uncomfortable experiences remind me that I’m human and therefore vulnerable. Like all other humans. And part of something way bigger than me. That no matter what happens I am always deserving of love. That it’s OK to need and ASK for help and encouragement and support. That no one can do this life journey alone.
And that we’re not here on this planet to achieve a state of unwavering perfection and positivity. But to be willing to open our hearts to the gorgeous complexity of who we REALLY are. To claim the light AND the dark. The joy AND the grief. The strength AND the weakness. The struggle AND the ease. The confidence AND the doubt.
And that embracing the wholeness of our messy, wondrous, painful, confusing, brilliant, wild and tender human selves is what it truly means to be spiritually awake and alive.