I dreaded the evening and stretched out the dinner dishes as long as I could. I had a task to do by 9:30—after that it was too late. I thought about it. Oops, stop thinking! I picked up the phone, dialed five digits and hung up. I agonized some more. It was 9 o'clock. I had to do it soon. 9:20. 9:25. I wiped the sweat off my palm and picked up the phone. I dialed six digits. My mind went dark as I dialed the seventh. I heard it ring and hoped no one would answer. "Hello?" "Oh. Hi. This is Riven. I'm calling to remind you of your commitment tomorrow at noon." "Right, I'll be there." "Okay, thanks." Two hours of misery to make a simple phone call. As a young adult, I was crippled by fear. Now I speak in public, banter with strangers, and don't let fear stop me from leading exactly the life I want.
This book describes the process of emotional healing that allowed such a transformation. Psychology was not enough; I'd been working on my head for years before the fear started to lift. But spirituality, by itself, was not enough either. Had I lacked psychology when I put my life on a spiritual basis, I might be reciting affirmations to suppress the fear and making calls in a black-out. Instead, I reach for the phone with joy. Not only did I need both psychology and spirituality, I needed them working together in one process.
I view emotional healing as the resumption of a normal learning process that was interrupted at some time in the past. For example, a boy who gets into an ugly exchange on the playground might learn from it. He might decide to be more circumspect next time he doesn't like what others do. But suppose the exchange gets so ugly the boy is knocked senseless. When he recovers, he might turn attention away from what happened, rather than decide what strategy to use next time. Next time, he is more fearful but no more skilled at playground exchange. He aborted the learning process when he withdrew attention from the memory. Learning happens when a person pays attention; where ever attention dwells, new mental connections grow. A new experience naturally captures one's attention until it is fully integrated—fully connected—with what one already knows. That is normal learning. When the process has been aborted, one might later need to resume it, and that is healing.
Spiritually-assisted healing is the integration of the old memory with one's most inspired vision. I call this vision "spiritual" because it prizes non-material qualities all people value, such as harmony, love, truth, justice, beauty and health. This use of the word "spiritual" is in keeping with its original meaning of non-material. It does not refer, here, to celestial beings or disembodied intelligence. It just refers to intangibles that all people value.
This additional integration into inspired vision produces the most heartening outcomes. It can turn a bewildering conflict into a greater understanding and stronger bond between those involved. Instead of bringing a person's weak areas up to par with the rest of her functioning, it can bring them up to her highest vision. The reason better-than-normal outcomes are possible is that the work restores to her the humanity that has been locked away with the unresolved issue. For example, suppose the boy on the playground above is now grown and needs to improve his handling of disagreements. By reliving the childhood incident, he recovers the memory of how the others responded to his behavior, when they became violent, why he did what he did, and where his heart had been. As an adult, he can see where things went wrong and how they still tend to go wrong the same way. When he asks himself, "What would my spiritual hero have done in my place?" he might picture himself reaching out to those boys, letting them know he viewed them as friends. He isn't learning a recipe for handling conflict; he is recovering the wisdom from which he withdrew attention so long ago. Perhaps he'll reach out to those who disagree with him now, expressing the hope of friendship that went underground but is now accessible.
The difference is one of transformation. I could no more transform myself by self-propulsion than a horseshoe can pound itself into shape. All the processes I controlled were too superficial to change me fundamentally. The forces that pounded me into a new shape were bigger than I. They included much help from others, human goodness in general, and a drive within me toward wholeness. When I say drive, I mean that I didn't decide I wanted wholeness, I simply wanted it so badly I would go through hell to get it and afterward be glad I went. These are spiritual forces. By contrast, the material or individual forces I had previously relied on brought only frustration—changed thinking but not changed feeling. Recipes for more effective behavior did not tap the wisdom or creativity that is my birthright. My hope of greater happiness would not take me into the greater pain that lay between me and a happier future. Ideas that seemed like solutions when I read them seemed like dust when suffering came upon me and would not leave no matter what I thought. Insights were helpful, but not sustaining enough. In the end, it was that spiritual drive toward wholeness, the one I could neither choose nor deny, that sustained and guided the work.
My case is nothing special in this sense. Where lesser means are enough for a person to learn or heal, he usually will. We get stuck where these means fail, and at those points all the power of spirituality is needed. The usual reason for withdrawing attention from a memory is that the feelings were overwhelming. Healing requires the sufferer to fully embrace these once-overwhelming feelings. He'll feel overwhelmed, because that's part of the memory, but now he brings to it resources that help him through, including his spiritual understanding. This is surrender to a transformative process, and it isn't always calm or convenient. It often involves tears, groans, laughter (a release of fear), body movement, or some other release. Usually, it means sobbing, as opposed to a few quiet tears.
In order for the discipline of psychology to fully embrace the power of this larger healing, it needs a clear recognition of the inspired world view that holds universal human values, a recognition that does not confuse the universal with any religion nor rely on religious symbols for access. Clinical psychologists need an understanding clear enough to translate into any symbols the client cares to use.
In order for spiritual disciplines to fully embrace emotional healing, they need a clear recognition that a person following old patterns of thought, feeling and behavior is not being guided by her highest light. It is when I'm caught in patterned behavior that I betray my ethics, never realizing it until too late. No amount of stress on morals can free me from this fact. I need to reclaim the wholeness that allows me to think fresh and remember my values in each new situation. Spirituality needs to not only inform me what to do, it needs to help me dissolve the obstacles that prevent me from doing it. This is sound spiritual practice, but more, I believe it is the work we are called to do. We are called by a world that needs us to be loving, creative and potent in addressing the problems for which we have no easy answers.
In order for someone in emotional pain to fully embrace emotional healing, she needs a clear recognition that avoiding the work prolongs the pain. The only way out is through, and she does herself a favor to use her suffering for healing rather than simply endure it until it goes back underground. In fact, this is the greatest mercy one can offer oneself.
The early chapters of this book explain spiritually-assisted emotional healing. Later chapters give exercises for doing the work.
Please note that the process described here is a normal one, the healing of "hang-ups" in people Freud called "normally neurotic." It does not address chemical imbalance, or injury, disease or disorder. It is not meant as a substitute for treatment of these physiologically-based issues. Rather, it is a way to understand how emotion-packed experiences can give rise to inappropriate patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, and how that situation can be corrected so that old trauma becomes valuable experience instead. Since I model the process as the resumption of interrupted normal learning, any disorder that affects normal learning could affect healing as well.
A word to those of you who might wonder whether reading an author who lacks your education might not be a waste of time. Certainly it would be if I tried to talk about mental disorder or disease, but I don't. Nor do I offer theories on the organization of the psyche. Brains are beyond me. But I have mastered the very normal process of integrating painful experience. In particular, I have worked for 35 years in the area of emotional healing deep enough to change a person forever. As both helper and helped, I have come to understand the process as a whole and the place of various techniques within it.
As the person being healed, I have gotten some help from psychotherapists, but not at the level of transformation. That help has been given for love rather than money.
And this is the great advantage that we have, we with no license to lose. The friend who held me while I thrashed and screamed out my deepest pain was trained as a lay helper. We traded roles, not money, with each taking a turn as listener and speaker. Being peers and friends, we were free to touch and to help in whatever way worked.
We amateurs have other advantages as well. We are free to talk about spirituality with no fear of elevating one religion over another. We simply offer our own views for what they are worth. Professionals can do the same, of course, but many avoid it.
And because I work for free, I work only with highly motivated people.
The result is a deep, narrow understanding. I hope you find it as useful as I have.