In my last newsletter I talked about the map of healing from food compulsions and how you’re not carrying your healing, rather, your healing is carrying you. Many of you wrote to tell me how this newsletter spoke to you.
It seems so many of us have been trying to ‘move ourselves up the mountain’ – if only we can just ‘figure out’ what we need to do to heal, and then work really, really hard, we can create ‘healed selves.’
Certainly, having a map of healing – and understanding some basic principles of relational neuroscience and trauma – is important. Maps spark insight and awareness. They help us make sense of our experiences. And they orient us, giving us a sense of ‘where we are’ and ‘where we’re headed.
But knowing the map of healing is not the same thing as healing itself.
Navigating the anxiety of feeling ‘incomplete’
One of the inherent challenges – and opportunities – of healing is navigating the anxiety we feel about ‘being incomplete,’ ‘broken,’ or behind. We can feel so much anxiety about the gap: that place between where we are and where we want to – or where we think we should – be.
Healing is a spiral and full of mystery. And it’s also a developmental process – where we walk through one doorway, and then another, and then another. Some things build upon one another, like stair steps.
As Dr. Neufeld says, “It’s never too late. Healing is possible, but we have to start at the beginning.”
Beginnings are vulnerable: places where we feel our smallness and poverty, our not knowing and incompetence, and our fundamental innocence. We are not always comfortable with this innocence, with those places in us that are ignorant and young.
Feeling the vulnerability of ‘incompleteness’
Because of the developmental process’s sequential nature, and the vulnerability that accompanies our littleness, it’s understandable that we may want – and try – to hurry up the process and ‘become complete’ more quickly.
Often what lies underneath this drive is shame, anxiety and frustration: it’s not easy to be vulnerable, to feel that place of ‘incompleteness’ within us and to rest within it.
I remember when I tore a ligament in my hamstring in yoga class because I really wanted to be ‘someone who can do the splits’ before my body was ready.
Underneath this desire to do something really cool – like the splits – was a feeling of unworthiness, of ugliness: I saw beauty and wonder in the splits when I didn’t see these qualities within myself. And so I had to ‘have’ the splits, at all costs.
I imagine you have places in your life when you can see a similar wanting and feeling of deficiency. Sometimes this wanting arises as frustration, blame and self attack – ways we feel like we should be different.
If we get really quiet, and sift through the layers, we often find tender places underneath: those places in us that feel unlovable, unworthy, not enough and vulnerable to criticism from others.
I feel an achy tenderness in my chest when I think of that young mother and her desire to do the splits: all the ways she felt ashamed of her anxiety and compulsive overeating, and all the ways she was worried and trying so hard to be a good mom to several children. I feel this tender ache for all the places in us that feel ugly and unworthy of care.
Embracing our poverty, our innocence
Through each stage of healing, we’re given the opportunity to come alongside and collect these young places inside, to acknowledge our not knowing and to see it with different eyes. In our hurry to get to the next stage, we can miss these recollections.
Stephen Jenkinson, my elder in human making, wisely advises us to embrace our poverty as a gift of kindness: that it’s only through our poverty that growth and change can occur.
Acknowledging our poverty softens us, turns us moist and fertile. Moist and fertile soil, like the earth itself, is soil that can be planted and hold the budding seeds.
You can try this for yourself. If you’ve felt a lot of inner pressure to be different or to be ‘healed,’ see how it feels in your body to offer it, “You don’t have to know. You can be right where you’re at.”
How does it feel to lie back, to rest where you are – and to receive the particular support that’s meeting you in this particular spot, tailor made for this stage?
In truth, there is no other place that we can be. Trying to be somewhere that we’re not leaves us on shaky, not solid, ground. It is a false haven; sky, not soil.
The medicine we need at each stage is attuned to that particular stage, to that particular need. When we’re trying to be somewhere else, the medicine is ‘off.’ Or we hurt ourselves, like I did when I forced my body to do the splits.
Wherever you find yourself, it is holy ground. As Rumi says, “it’s where the light enters you.”
From the viewpoint of wholeness, one stage is not better or more worthy than the other. Healing is a circle that contains all, not a line where the endpoint, or goal, is the only place of worth.
And the entire healing journey is here, right now, within us in the same way that the acorn holds the future oak tree. With this perspective, we can relax and trust the healing process and allow it to unfold with more ease and trust.
We can lie back and allow the healing to hold us, to accompany those places inside us that need help, each step of the way, and to ask for help, again and again.
The poets intuitively understand this. So I’ll close with a favorite poem, First Lesson, from Philip Booth.
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
– Philip Booth