Soul healing means becoming reconciled to who you are, finding peace with yourself. And it's something we all need, in more or less obvious ways perhaps, but none of us are completed works and there are unplumbed depths in everyone waiting to be set free.
We're all big people, deep people, at least in potential. Think of all the people you know and the friendships that come alive as soon as you're with that person, all the books you've read, music you've listened to, films you've watched and places you've been to. Think of all the things you can do, your skills and abilities, there are many of them. You're incredibly complex, all of this and more is within you, but how much of that can you recall consciously at the moment; how much of all that's inside you do you use at any one time. There's a great deal to be released in all of, a tremendous capacity to love that we have only just scratched the surface of.
One way that a particular need for soul healing shows itself is through recurring memories that run through your mind reminding you of shameful, difficult or painful times. No matter how often you push these memories away they return. Where these are memories of traumatic events it can even be debilitating.
In this essay I'll explore a little bit about how our souls operate, and suggest an approach for dealing with recurring memories along with troublesome thoughts.
If you remember back across the years of your life, for any particular period in your life you'll feel a whole set of memories and emotions associated with this time. A general "pressure" of who you were and what happened. You'll also have a specific set of memories from that time and if you try recalling details of that time it will be this set of memories that you return to. Particularly for periods of your life in the more distant past these memories will almost seem to be remembered from the outside, like you're looking in. You may even see yourself in these memories rather than being in the centre of them.
This disassociation happens naturally, but is a sign of parts of you not being wholly integrated. The pain of life causes us to retreat from who we are. It's a rare person who is fully able to face all of who they are, who they've been, without flinching. That person however is free, and that's where we can all be. Disassociation doesn't just happen with painful memories, but is a consequence of the numbing of society and entertainments. All the distractions from facing life head on.
If you think of your life as a straight line from earliest memories to now you'll find there are times when the memories are jumbled up, the line gets tangled instead of being straight. Some parts of the line maybe quite faint or bleak. Where the "line of your life" has tangles, and where you're disassociated, life isn't able to move freely through you. The result can be a feeling of being "bound up" and unable to freely express who you are. Alongside this, if we're out of touch with the pain inside us (that is inside all of us) then we can't face the pain in others either. This isn't a conscious process, it's nothing to feel condemned about, it happens to everyone and is a natural consequence of life on planet earth. To the extent that our own self is hidden from us, to that same extent we're unable to really empathise and connect with other people. When we become aware of pain in other people our natural empathy will trigger the same feelings in us, and if we're running away from those feelings then we have no choice but to put up walls and keep people out.
As you face up to the pain and shame of the past, even the parts you'd rather walk quietly away from and never visit again, then you'll be able to bear that pain in other people to. And then you can help people. Seeing pain in others, but not running from it, touching it gently and showing them that you feel it too but you're not afraid. That they don't need to be afraid either. Then they can face it and can let go. It's one of the most beautiful things in the world, as you find freedom you can bring freedom to those around you. This is why the Christian says:
Let others be drawn to me Lord, and find in me your precious wounds.Why do painful memories keep recurring, why are they so hard to push away? They keep recurring because underneath those memories is part of you. A painful part it maybe, but it's you nonetheless. This is why pushing them away doesn't work, unless you lock them totally out of your mind, something that is damaging and hard (but not impossible) to undo. The memory is just the tip of the iceberg, and submerged beneath is a part of you that you are afraid of or ashamed of and are rejecting.
My own experience of this has been through regular meditation over the past few years. The meditation I do is "mindfulness of breathing", an exercise of soul to cultivate focus and mental strength. In practising focus on the breath, something that is incredibly relaxing, you learn to quieten the soul and let go of distractions. As distractions, usually thoughts, arise you let go of them and return to the breath. As I've quietened the surface thoughts, the noisy chatter of the mind, I've found deeper parts of who I am rising up. Especially painful times in my past left quite a mess behind. When I went to university I didn't want to be a Christian as it felt like a social obstacle. I wasn't as worldly wise as I perceived my peers to be and I was ashamed of my upbringing. As I rejected my past, who I was, I didn't have much else to offer and I was very bound up. The pain this caused made me retreat from myself and the problems I had. The LSD I was ingesting in large quantities made this retreat into psychosis easier.
Recovering from all of this took many years, but it's only in the last few years that I've really been dealing with it and facing up to who I was - and am. I want to experience the pain of the past, I want to throw off the numbing that I succumbed to. I want the reality of being me, because that's all I have. So as painful memories have risen up I haven't pushed them away, but I haven't held onto them either. I've let them rise, and let them go. As those times from university came into mind, times that used to run through my mind regularly like a scab I couldn't leave alone, I felt the pressure of myself and my past beneath the pain. I remembered much of the goodness and wholesomeness in it, like the love of some beautiful women when I was a child, and also realised how much I learned even through the horribly traumatic times.
Joel 2:25Gradually the tangle of the line of my life is reducing. Jumbles of memories are becoming more ordered and I'm finding in me goodness I'd forgotten or never known was there. I'm more full of life, life is able to move more freely through me, and I'm able to drop the barriers to other people that I used to put up. There's plenty more to come too.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten
This is the best news. We may have pain, we may have difficulties, but these are our opportunity to find life. How much worse would it be if this was all there was? We're not stuck, we can change, we have challenges to overcome and beyond them lies freedom.
Traumatic times and memories shape us, but they needn't define us. Finding healing is not a process of forgetting. The memories don't go, but the sting goes from them. As you find healing you'll be able to remember those times, feel those parts of you, without recoiling or flinching. The memories remain but you're not submerged beneath them and they hold no power over you.
Far too many of us are afraid of what's inside us. We keep a lid on things, holding ourselves together, keeping things under control. True freedom only comes from overthrowing, however gradually, the lid we keep on things. I implore you not to be afraid of yourself, not to be scared of what's inside you. It only has any power when it's kept in the dark, bring in the light and the power evaporates. Let your soul rage and howl, that whirlwind you fear is you. And when the lid is fully off, all its power is yours!
So how do we deal with the pain of the past? The answer is to be able to experience those memories without flinching and to let who we are rise up from beyond them, but this can be easier said than done - both in making it happen and in facing the pain when it does.
If you attempt this then only do what you can cope with. For particularly traumatic memories professional help, a counsellor who will take you through them in a gentle and controlled manner, is the wisest course of action. This is why therapy and counselling works, it provides a safe environment for us to face what's inside.
I suggest finding a quiet space, sitting or lying, and quieten your mind. Any distracting thoughts and worries let them go. Don't worry, they're not urgent, anything important will come back. (Please let there be an end to souls scattered on countless pieces of paper! But that's a matter for another essay.) Let your mind wander back to some of your memories. Only attempt as much of this as you can face, don't force it or traumatise yourself again. It takes time for a soul to unwind. Let the memory rise. Hold it gently, don't grasp it or force it but let your awareness rest on the edges. As the feelings and emotions rise with the memory don't flinch or turn away. Let as much of it as you can bear rise up, but don't hold onto it, as much as you're able let the feelings rise and subside. Don't be carried off by thoughts or regrets. Recognise that it's gone, it's the past and it holds no real power any more. Feel for the memories, observe them, and let them go. Beyond the events you recall feel (gently) for who you were, for what's below. Don't judge or hate yourself, and if that's in you then let it go too. You were who you were and as much as you can now accept yourself is how much you're able to accept others. You may have been a fool (I certainly was), but you of all people understand the pressures and circumstances.
Over time it gets easier, but you'll find there's an awful lot to do. We're deep and complex creatures, and life leaves its muddy footprints over the best of us - no matter how regimented or buried we try to keep them. As the pain and sting of memories goes it gets easier to talk about them and talking helps as well.
What about troublesome thoughts? Many of my friends suffer from condemning thoughts, telling them they're no good or ugly or they won't make it. These thoughts cause distress and trying to push them away seems to do no good.
If you're a Christian it's easy to write off thoughts like these as "an attack" (from spiritual forces outside ourself), but we need a deeper understanding. Conscious thoughts, like memories, are just the tip of an iceberg. For thoughts the submerged part of the iceberg is also part of you, a difficult and negative part that needs dealing with but rejecting it (pushing it away) is not dealing with it. Being dragged along by the thoughts, believing them, and wallowing in the negative emotions isn't dealing with them either.
Dealing with the thoughts starts with accepting that no matter what it feels like sometimes you are an amazing person, you have great depths and complexity, a whole world of experience unique to you. You have particular qualities that no-one else has. What you need is freedom. You need to see the thoughts not as something that's real, but a symptom of something that needs healing. Treat them as a problem you can work on. This is a useful approach because it encourages you to see the thoughts from the outside, they're not "you" - it isn't you consciously thinking these thoughts, they're just a part of your soul rising up. The real you is much deeper, much more, than just these thoughts.
When one of these thoughts comes try to recall this, it isn't you it's just a part of you, it's an opportunity to understand yourself and to make a step towards freedom. Don't push the thought away, don't believe it or follow along, observe it. Note the thought to yourself and then try to feel what's below. Feel the emotions that come with it, this is what your soul is really trying to show you, it's trying to open up locked parts of you. Feel for those emotions, but again don't get lost in them, try to feel where they come from, what they're connected to. Every time you can do this it's an opportunity to learn more about yourself, and if digging in, observing the thought and feeling for where it comes from, triggers difficult memories then you can follow the approach above.
I don't underestimate the difficulty involved in this, particularly for some of my friends. Believing the negativity and following along with thoughts becomes a habit that's hard to break. But it is possible, and as hard as it is to believe these challenges really are the path that can lead you to wholeness and wholesomeness, to freedom and life.
"But the greatest people are those who refuse to be treated like squalling children, who insist on facing reality in every form, and tear off ruthlessly the bandages from their own wounds." -- King Lamus