Growing from Past Experience

One of the thoughts recently expressed is that we may look at and name or interpret different events in our lives from different angles. We can look at our lives and the world of persons and things and happenings from different eyes. We may see the same behaviour of a child as coming from anger or from hurt. How we see affects how we act. In the case of the child, we may act with hostility or with compassion. Our attitude and action towards ourselves follow a similar pattern, and many often be abusive, judgmental, or simply blind in a way that is unhelpful.

Counsellor and writer, Wayne Muller, tells of a common situation. A young women, who was physically abused by her father in childhood, continued to ask, “Why did he hurt me? Why was I hurt.” After a time, and when he sensed it was appropriate, he asked her to let go of the “why” and just say simply a few times, “I hurt.” As she did, she began to weep as she allowed herself to feel the wound, the ache, the sadness, and the healing process began to unfold.

Muller comments that we would rather explain our hurt rather than feel it. We are drawn to think that if we can find a reason why, we can ensure that we can avoid any hurt in the future. Yet, he adds, hurt is an inevitable part of life. It blows through every life, sometimes like a gentle breeze or other times like a violent wind. It may arise from simple events, like a cut finger. Or it may be cruel and unjust, like the abuse of a child.

He comments: “Once we remove the question ‘why,’ we may see our pain face to face, accepting it for what it is . Then we can begin to truly grieve, which softens the pain. The deep hurt and anger and sadness can then lead us to letting go, to forgiveness, and to healing.” He refers to author Stephen Levin who also observes that examining what we feel, not analyzing why, can gradually open a path to our heart and to joy.

We have previously added the caution that, along with the importance of feeling and then naming our experiences, we need to do so in a safe place, whether in silence by ourselves or in the caring presence of a trusted other.

In another work, Muller stresses that we must be careful how we name ourselves, since the way we name ourselves colours the way we live. We may too readily names ourselves as a child of an dysfunctional family, as an addict and so on. These can imprison us. Regardless of the shape of the sorrow or victory or grief or ecstasy we have been given, there remains in us, he insists, an inner light that is always alive. I would call this the light of our sacred and inextinguishable worth.

Here as in other situations, the angle of vision, the eyes through which we look at ourselves, and others, and life, are crucial. Some of the ancient stories emerged in a patriarchal context. Theologian Rosemary Ruether addresses this issue by saying that while these stories are patriarchal, they also involved a wrestling with matters of life and death. We can leave aside the patriarchal wrapping and distill the insights of that wrestling. In many folk tales, for example, the hero is male and the one rescued is female. In Sleeping Beauty, for instance. It is a young woman who is awakened by the kiss of the prince. Extracted from this framework, we may draw the insight that it is who we are, not just what we do, that can evoke a true response from another. Conversely, we are most fully awakened by another who sees behind our thorny hedges to the person that we are and summons us to see and live from that awareness.

Along similar lines, spiritual writer, Sam Keen, asks how do we know whether or not in our life journey, we are following a creative and meaningful path. His response is that the path of greedy and fearful egocentricity is always the wrong direction and that the path towards compassion is always the right direction. “Whenever you are confused,” he advises, “keep heading in the direction that leads towards deepening your love and care for all living beings, including yourself, and you will never stray far from the path of fulfilment.”

As we said in the previous reflection, we cannot change the past but we can lessen its hold on our present and future. Instead of prisons that ever enclose us, we may then regard the as part of the4 resources from which we can move forward. We are more than the worst thing that has been done to us or that we ourselves have done. These certainly affect us and can push us in certain directions. As we become aware of them, they can lose their hold on us, and we can move in a different direction. As a simle example, we may view ideals differently. Instead of contrasting where we seem to be now with alleged ideals and using them as a club to beat ourselves down, we can try another route. We can start with the conviction of our sacred worth, that is not undermined by any shadows in our lives. Then we can ask, starting from where we are, what is a good direction to move towards.

One way of looking at this is that in our life journey we have been hurt by others mistakes and by our own,. We may have made some questionable choices. At the same time, in that process, we have been gradually gathering ourselves into our own hands. If we have put that self in less than ideal ways, the gathering or integration of ourselves has nonetheless occurred. We can take our progressively more gathered self and give it a new direction. We can take who we are an walk down a different path.. Outward change may not occur, but an inward transformation is occurring. There is a little poem about a person walking down a certain street and falling into a hole in the pavement. With some difficulty, they struggle to climb out. The next day, they walk down the same street with the same result. After a few days they decide to walk down a different street.

May you more and more in your life journey follow the path of your own sacred worth, with a compassion for yourself, and one that gradually radiates in wider and wider circles, as you see yourself as a unique person, a human being, an earthling, and a child of the universe.

Norman King, September 12, 2021