heal (verb) : Old English hælan “cure; save; make whole, sound and well,” from Proto-Germanic hailjan, literally “to make whole”
In 2005 I had an odd experience which crystallised my reasons for doing the work that I do.
It’s taken me several years to unpack that experience and I’m still figuring out the implications.
I attended a Spirituality and Therapy workshop with Bill O’Hanlon, three days’ exploration of how we might understand and use spirituality in therapeutic work.
On the last afternoon he invited members of the group to stand up and say a few words about what was important to us about what we had learned and what we would do with the understandings we’d gained.
One by one participants stood up and answered telling the rest of us what they had learned and what they wanted to do next.
In a brief pause between speakers and without any conscious thought, I found myself standing up (a large part of my mind was wondering why I was standing up and what I was going to say) and saying “I don’t really know what this means but I want to heal and be healed for the common good”. I had no idea where that thought came from and was as surprised as anyone else that I’d said it.
I think it is a concise expression of what I do and what I want to achieve. It’s only recently that I’ve been giving systematic thought to what “to heal and be healed” means in practice.
What is the purpose of this work and what am I aiming for when I am doing it?
It has not come as a surprise to me (and probably not to you) to find that what I do, or want, as a therapist and trainer coincides with what I did, or wanted, for myself. Like many ‘healers’ my interests were guided by my own concerns and difficulties in my efforts to be healed.
What follows is my view of the problems that many of us face and the solutions that I work towards for myself and for my clients.
Naturally this is a personal list, you only need to open a newspaper to see that there are lots of other problems in the world, but these are the ones that I tend to focus on.
The Problems: What needs to be healed
We run most of our adult lives based on the lessons learned in our childhood whether they are helpful or not. These lessons are so familiar to us that we barely question them, this is ‘just the way things are’.
We often feel fragmented and in conflict with ourselves. Within our one body and mind there seem to be lots of competing and conflicting parts of ourselves, each with their own contradictory agendas struggling to have their say. Trying to manage what feels like an inner civil war can be very stressful and tiring.
We are self-critical and feel ashamed. As children many of us learned to feel bad about who we were and what we said and did. Many of us have internalised those messages and now we can feel bad about who we are and what we’ve done whether we deserve it or not.
We unconsciously limit ourselves and stop ourselves from doing what we want to do or being who we want to be. We have accumulated a lot of limiting beliefs and behaviour patterns that prevent us from doing and being the best we can. It’s as if we’ve been hypnotised into being inadequate or incapable.
We don’t accept, or feel much compassion, for ourselves. Another result of our early life programming is that we have trouble accepting ourselves as we are, we think we are faulty human beings and being harsh and judgemental with ourselves is the only way to fix those defects. Sadly the only result of being harsh and judgemental on ourselves is to feel criticised and judged.
We seldom live in the present moment. We spend a lot of our time avoiding our present moment experience. Being present in the moment is good for you, there is abundant evidence that being mindful (attending to the present moment) is good for us. Yet we struggle to do this, spending a lot of time reliving our (unhappy) past, disasters or mistakes, or anticipating our (probably unpleasant) future.
These are some of the ways we have learned that keep us from having a much happier life.
The Solution: What it would be like to be healed
We would live our lives from a clear minded present. Although we would be informed by our experiences in the past we would not be controlled by them.
We would become whole again, knitting back together all the contradictory and conflicting fragments of ourselves that were split off in earlier years into a resourceful and integrated self. We would be of one mind, free from inner conflicts.
We would be free to do what we want or need to do. Making the best decisions for us based on a full appreciation of our situation and having access to all the resources of our being.
We would be able to compassionately accept ourselves and to bring forth the best in ourselves and others without resorting to harsh criticism or judgement.
We would be able to live in the moment. We would be fully present in the here and now making the best of the only moment that is available to us. We wouldn’t waste time ruminating on our failures and anticipating all the ways we would fail in the future.
We would be free to be our best selves.
There may be a few people who are fully ‘healed’ but I think most people are works in progress, I know I am, and I find the prospect of being a whole, compassionate, accepting and free human being very appealing.
It’s what I want for myself and it’s what I wish for my clients and trainees.
This is my current understanding of what “to heal and be healed for the common good” means and why it is a perfect fit for what is important to me even if I had no idea what I meant when I stood up in that training room in 2005 to answer what I thought was a simple question.