Many themes have emerged in the last few weeks, and some of these might be given further reflection: wounds and healing; authenticity and belonging; the residue and continuing impact of previous painful experiences; the awareness and experience of our deepest and layered feelings; the difference between acknowledging and naming our feelings within ourselves, and inflicting them on others; the importance of finding a safe place in our own heart, or the heart of a trusted other for our dawning awareness; and beneath and encompassing all these dimensions, the ever-challenged conviction of the enduring sacredness of each of us and of all that is. Related themes that are worth exploring are those of fear and forgiveness, which may be approached in new ways.
In speaking of addiction, Gabor Mate writes: “At the core of every addiction is an emptiness based on abject fear.” He elaborates that this fear involves a dread of the present moment and an attempt to run from the burden of the past and the fear of the future. This predicament can result from a lack of tangibly felt caring in childhood or beyond. I have previously spoken of forgiveness as freeing someone–perhaps especially ourselves–from the burden of the past and the dread of the future, so that we may live fully and creatively in the present.
Many years ago I came across similar words from Jena Vanier in an early writing of his, says that a person who has never known a close true relationship with another “cannot live in harmony with others, looking peacefully at the universe, loving generosity and an ideal and all that is beautiful.” He will be anguished and frustrated, because “the core of his or her being has not been structured by the presence of someone who said, ‘You are precious to me. You are mysterious to me. I love you.’”
Yet all these authors maintain that this painful situation is not necessarily a permanent prison. Our deepest tendency and longing for authenticity, caring, and hope, flowing from a sense of worth, always remain and can emerge at any time in a person’s life. In the word of Mate, “compassionate self-inquiry,” a kindness towards ourselves, in solitude and through the genuine caring of others, can provide a foundation for healing and growth.
One author who speaks profoundly of solitude and love is Rainer Maria Rilke, whom we have often quoted. He speaks of living our questions over a longer period of time rather than settling for instant answers that do not really satisfy. Perhaps we can also speak of discovering or uncovering our deepest longing, which may sometimes be obscured by settling for a “quick fix.”
One path to this uncovering is solitude, which can at first seem daunting but gradually becomes a persistent need. Rilke advises us to go into that deep place within from which our life flows. A few further thoughts of Rilke may be valuable here. He says that we are made of longing, and that to be with our our more painful experiences may accomplish considerable growth in us. He calls us to “trust the great and indelible solitude” at work in us. “ Love your solitude,” he writes, “and bear the pain of it without self-pity, … [and] be glad that you are growing,” This solitude is also inseparable from compassion for others and for meaningful relationships. “Love life in the form that is not your own, and be kind to all the people who are afraid of their aloneness.” “More authentic love [is] the love which consists of two solitudes which border, protect, and greet each other.” Elsewhere he adds: “Friends can be compared to dance and music. … Friends must be the ends and not the means.”
In other words, solitude (understood as being quietly open to our inner depths), compassion for ourselves and extending to others, and authentic love relationships are inseparable. But this is a slowly growing, always incomplete, process, with many setbacks, disappointments, and even regrets. These call for gentle patience with ourselves. Our sacred worth is a gift that can never be lost, that goes with our very existence, and is not dependent on any “success.”
What so many authors seem to stress is the need to allow ourselves to be in touch with and feel all our feelings, both those that are joyful and those that are sorrowful. The challenge then is to acknowledge them rather than wrestle with them, to notice them but let then be. It is important too to be able to name then, to find images and words that tell truthfully what they are. Here we may be helped by exposure to story, film, painting, and other works of art that give true voice to what is within us. Then we may decide whether or not to express them, and how to do so; whether to do so to ourselves alone, to entrust them to a friend, or to give some them some more public form, as do people like Rilke and Nouwen. Such expression, I believe, should always be done with awareness and consideration. It should never be just an unconscious unleashing, that may readily hurt ourselves and others. In Mate’s words, they flow best from compassionate self-inquiry.
May you always experience your worth and your hope as deeper than and encompassing of all your sorrows. And may you find others who can share in some way in your own journey towards healing and wholeness.
Norman King, July 04, 2021