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Layers of Healing

You can find this article in the January 2021 Issue of 110 Magazine

A couple of years ago, I stepped out of my car and there at my foot was a twenty dollar bill. I picked it up and looked around for the person who may have dropped it. The parking lot was empty. I had the strong sense that this was a gift to pass on. I thanked the giver who may not have realized their generosity on that day. I said a prayer as I carefully folded the bill and slid it into my pocket.

As I headed toward the sandwich shop with my daughter, I caught a glimpse of a man sitting at a table outside the shop. He was disheveled, wearing tattered and torn clothing; it was obvious that he hadn’t showered in quite some time. He looked up and asked for change. I walked over and began talking to him. I found out his name was ‘Robbie’ from Oregon. He was estranged from his family. Life choices had led him here, living behind the Target shopping center. I could tell from the sores on his face and spots on his skin that he was sick. He was hungry. After talking for a while, I gave him a loving squeeze on his arm and handed him the $20 bill. He asked me if I was always this nice or was it that we had a connection. I replied that we had a connection. I looked into his tear filled eyes and saw the truth of this human being.

Temperatures dropped into the 30’s that night. I remembered that Robbie only had a thin shirt on when I’d seen him earlier. I retrieved some sleeping bags from my garage and drove them over behind the shopping center. I called for him. I looked behind the dumpsters and around corners. I wanted to give him the sleeping bags and offer to buy him a ticket back to Oregon. He wasn’t there.

The next day, I went looking again. I looked the next evening, too, and again and again. My daughter asked me how long I’d keep looking for him. I didn’t know. I never saw Robbie again.

However, I’ve seen his eyes in my mind many times. Initially, I intended to fix his situation and heal him. I quickly realized that my own healing was the only healing necessary. When I saw him through his tear filled eyes, he had healed me. In truth, we had healed each other by truly seeing one another. My initial belief that Robbie was lacking and somehow incomplete was false. In his eyes I saw him – not his circumstance, not his clothes, not his illness. I saw him as a complete and whole being.

What if true healing emerges from our ability to “see” someone else or a situation as already healed and whole? Instead of resisting it as it is, why not view from a different lens? Evaluating, judging, and separating are ways we resist.

Why do we allow some people into our hearts and shut others out? Why can we see the pain of one but not the pain of another?

Like you, I’ve watched our country divided and drowning in a sea of turmoil during recent months. I have a friend who is married to a police officer. I’ve watched the fear in her eyes as she viewed a video on Twitter of a crowd unleashing their anger on police officers. She wondered if her husband would be safe in his uniform that day. I’ve also heard the cry of another friend, angry at watching too many scenes of racial injustice.

Are we merely physical bodies destined to go through life bumping into one another? Are we not also deeper, conscious beings coming from a multitude of backgrounds? Aren’t we more than just a fleshy exterior exhibiting personality traits and opinions? These personality traits and opinions are made up of thoughts that lead to belief systems which become an identification.

I like this analogy. When you’re born you’re given a plot of land. As a child you don’t understand the plot of land yet. Parents and caretakers who raised you, as well as culture, religion, educational institutions took care of planting your garden for you, they planted seeds they were familiar with. The experience they have around their own garden is what they shared with you. One day you’re old enough to tend your own garden, yet most of the time nobody ever questions the seeds that were planted in their garden, they never ask if they actually wanted a rose garden, succulent garden, or a vegetable garden. The plot of land represents the mind, and the garden of plants, beliefs.

Our brains are constantly suggesting thoughts. That’s what brains do. When we think a thought true, we attach to it. Beliefs are just thoughts we think are true. Of course, our thinking that something is true doesn’t make it true. The issue isn’t with having thoughts. The struggle arises when we attach to them. Once we commit to a thought, and believe that it’s true, we make conceptual space for it. It remains there unless something happens to cause us to reexamine it.

When our beliefs happen to differ, we are in a state of mental conflict. When we attach to our beliefs fanatically, it’s easy for that to become a state of physical conflict. I say, “My way is the right way.” You say, “No, my way is the right way.” Now our egos are in conflict. It’s not just that our beliefs happen to differ; it’s that we identify ourselves with our beliefs. We make the mistaken assumption that we are what we believe.

We become identified according to religion, race, politics and so many other classifications. Identifications we attach to can result in conflicts from bar fights to wars. Instead of dividing, classifying, and separating, might we view one another with respect and see another beyond beliefs? How much healing would instantly occur if we dropped identifications?

I was once involved in a course on spiritual practice where I was paired with a prayer partner. Lynn and I set up our first call and I quietly sobbed as she told me that her daughter passed away two years prior. Her daughter was almost the same age as my oldest daughter. I felt Lynn’s pain and also there arose a piece of me that felt guilty that I had my daughter and she didn’t have hers. While it felt tremendously uncomfortable, this was a part of what we were doing together: feeling, expressing, healing. We shared our feelings. I don’t remember all the words we exchanged but what I do remember was the essence of her heart. I had no doubt that her pain was immense and yet, Lynn held a space of non-resistance. The course was informative and I grew exponentially in many ways, but the most profound part of that year was witnessing how Lynn moved through her healing. Every May 10th my calendar alert notifies me that it would have been Sarah’s birthday. I send a message to Lynn because her healing has become a part of me.

How do we heal from loss, from betrayal, from illness, from abuse? We don’t heal unless we first acknowledge the pain. Become aware of it. Notice what hurts.

If it’s simply a shoulder pain, I could take a pain killer for immediate relief and continue using my shoulder. If I want to permanently heal the root cause of the issue, I may need to take more time to rest, use moist heat to relax it and minimize use of my arm altogether while it heals.

What I’ve learned over the years in my practice is that healing doesn’t necessarily look the same for everyone and most often, it’s not linear. Healing is much like peeling an onion. Like Lynn, most days she awakes and greets life happily and goes to work as a nurse, a loving family to support her, some days there may be a layer of pain that becomes activated and she’ll feel it, sit with it, and identify what nurturing she can offer herself in that moment to bring herself back to wholeness.

I see healing as a spiral rather than a line segment, finally arriving from point A to point B. We’re complex beings, after all. I was once in a very severe car accident. After being life-flighted, I woke up days later broken, bruised and facing a long road of healing ahead of me. It took weeks for bones to mend, and even years later, I had to revisit that previously broken jaw. It was many months later that glass was still exiting my skin. It took years to complete some of the surgeries that were necessary. Sometimes we heal one layer and come back around later to a deeper layer. At other times, we gain the clarity we need, soak that bone in comfrey long enough, excavate the rotten foundation of our mind where we’ve been holding onto suffering and we move on, swiftly, never to return to that story.

You may have seen the meme circulating that begins with a visual of a man at the podium asking, “Who wants change?’ Everyone in the audience raises their hand. In the next frame, “Who wants to change?” Not one hand is raised. Everyone wants change but nobody wants to change.

Sometimes, change is healing. Sometimes, change is as simple as letting go. Often, letting go is as simple as detaching from our whole system of thoughts, in other words, dropping belief systems that keep us stuck. Instead, healing can be simply seeing the present moment just as it is without adding to it any judgements, opinions or beliefs pertaining to the past, the present, or elsewhere. Just be here now.

When we do that, when we look through the lenses of allowing, gentleness, patience and compassion, we become the change we want to see. Condemning, shaming or destroying the “other” is never a part of the path to true healing. We become participants in creating the space for healing ourselves, our communities, our world, and each other by recognizing our part in the healing process.

If healing is an area you'd like to explore, please reach out. I am here for you.

xo -a

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