First of all, I am interested in healing. Why else would I rant on and on about psychotherapy and its ineffectiveness as a model? I mean, outside of the fact that I’m a writer, and I object to famous psychotherapists co-opting the human search for meaning.
The truth: we are all, perhaps, interested in the search for meaning. Or if we’re not, we certainly get interested at 40 or 50, as death becomes more and more a fact, as in: this will happen to me. The interest in healing, though…well, that increases exponentially in direct proportion to how badly you’ve been hurt in your life.
I’ve been hurt. Enough to want to change, enough to try, to search, to think, to reach out. Enough to go to f*&^ing psychotherapy. Enough to travel, to read, to try out Buddhism, mindfulness, enough to want to fly, to expand, to fill my body and spirit with light.
Truth: I am of this culture. The culture of here, just take this pill. The culture of feel better, look good, this anti-aging cream, this outfit, this car, this lifestyle, this income, this anything outside yourself that will make you feel better. The culture of all better. America offers this dream–anything is possible. You can do anything you want. You can better yourself, change your life, be as rich as, be as successful as, and if and when you are those things, you will be happy and your life will have meaning.
I am of this culture. I have wanted to be rich and famous. I have searched for all better. I have dyed my hair and I still use anti-aging face cream. But since 2006, and, well, even before, in glimpses, I started to think about, to wonder…what is good enough? Not all better. Just a daily life.
I have had two very close friends with major mental illness diagnoses–one with clinical depression, the other manic depressive. I listened to their struggles to find the right medications and the right doses, their fears of another major episode, their commitment to life, their worries about having children, about passing on a legacy of depression. They were my teachers about living with an incontrovertible, rather than seeking an all better. Their illness required lifelong attention, a commitment to stay out of denial and on their meds.
Here’s the thing: I believe in healing and second order change because I have experienced them. But I don’t believe in all better. I don’t believe that anyone can do anything. I think limits exist, and the refusal to recognize this will make you miserable. It made me miserable, for a very long time. Sometimes, it still does.
This morning my partner is at her ongoing training in Internal Family Systems. She has already had an experience of starting to meet outside the training with some of the therapists. At this informal meeting, one of the therapists kicked her out because she wanted a therapist-only group (and the other therapists let her, at least at first)–they did this right in front of my partner, the only gay person, the only non-therapist, and, incidentally, the only person fully trained as a peer counselor in IFS (the rest of them have no training in the model). Before this, my partner was starting to talk about getting an MSW and I was talking about shooting myself (the idea of being married to a therapist does this to me). But now my partner is talking about making therapy obsolete, about training people to do peer counseling. Which makes me cheer.
In my long search for both meaning and healing, I have learned that there truly is something wrong with the Western medical and psychological establishments. Both are affected by insurance corporations if not fully corrupted by them. Western medicine is great for catastrophic illness and injury, but doesn’t work for wellness and the support of the immune system the way alternative medicine does. And psychotherapy–psychotherapy is about diagnoses and fixes, including and especially psychotropic meds, because meds are cheaper for the insurance companies and get people functioning so they can, guess what? Get back to doing their jobs and feeding our consumer society. And talk therapy–well, beyond the fact that statistics show that talk therapy makes people feel better, but doesn’t necessarily change them–my experience has been that the therapist wants to keep you at it, focused on what’s wrong, rooting it out. That is, at the very least, the danger. The constant need to fix yourself, to work hard at it…which implies you’re never okay as you are. And certainly, for everyone, there are always ways to improve.
But what alternatives are there? If you want to heal, if you want to have meaning, purpose, if you want to change yourself, or the world. You go to the mat, to the meeting, to the demonstration, to the church, to the couch, to the ashram, to nature. You go in search of.
Truth. I know this, very simply: it is impossible to heal alone. You must love and be loved. You must be a part of something bigger than yourself…a community, ideally. Hurt, wounding, violence, trauma…all these things must be brought back to the human connection, must be spoken, seen, witnessed, heard, must be accepted in the starkness of truth…and then there must be comfort, love, welcome. I know this because I have been comforted, loved and welcomed…and more, I have had people fight for me, advocate for me as an artist and a human being, and this has anchored me to goodness and hope in a way nothing else ever could.
I also know that both healing and the inner life require that I sit with myself, in silence. That I learn what is inside me, all the storms and neuroses, all the courage and faith, all the humor and suffering, and that in this silence I grow bigger than these things, and I hold them. And from that holding, I offer to the world that peace, that silence, and whatever wisdom I can gain, and certainly the compassion that comes from suffering.
Finally, there is grief. It is the challenge of life to grow bigger than your own grief, especially when the loss is close, when it cuts deep. This is the second time in my life when the waves of grief have kept knocking me off my feet every time I seemed to be able to stand, and now, now that it’s easing, I can see that the standing up, over and over again, has created something new. A tearing away of the wall around my heart, perhaps. This couldn’t happen while I was working on the play production–it could only happen when I let it, when I stopped moving, and allowed the struggle and the storm to have their way, when I surrendered to what was already true–this storm, this sadness, this never again.
So if I know these things, what then?
I am beginning to fantasize about working with my partner to teach communities to do their own healing. In Buddhist psychology, the institution of practices to cope with life and our own reactions replaces endless digging into painful experiences looking for an all better. It’s not that you don’t look, and it’s not that you don’t heal so some of those experiences no longer hold power. It’s that you approach life knowing that hurtful experiences will come, sometimes. And you have a way of being in the world that allows them to come, and a practice for holding onto your own spiritual center when they do.
I want to help people tell their own stories, because I am still an acting and writing teacher. My partner wants to help them investigate their hidden selves with each other. We both want to offer a way to ground down into peace, the peace that Buddhism teaches, and that no one can take away.
I am an artist, so I am allowed to fantasize all I want. And in my pseudo-Buddhism, I then go meditate to slow down my all-too-American compulsion to start working on it yesterday.
But I’m intrigued. By the truth. By silence. By my partner, whose kindness and craziness have recently moved me so much (and again, as so many times before, in the endless ebb and flow she teaches me). (Which is good, since we are now 1 week from our 25th anniversary, and being moved, and remembering we used to be a lot crazier than we are can only be a good thing.)
Metta for everyone who seeks meaning, and truth, and beauty. Which would be all of us, I think. May I be a part of helping it to grow, in whatever way opens, slowly.