by Chris Sloane
Stephen and Ondrea Levine speak of “the healing that we took birth for”. Their message is that on some level we are all here to do our healing work. Through varying experiences, life wounds all of us. No one gets through the journey of life unscathed. Whether they be spiritual, emotional, psychological or physical wounds. These challenges then, for better or for worse, go on to shape who we are as people, our personalities, the decisions we make, and ultimately the path we choose to take in this lifetime.
Living “a life unexamined” suggests that we lock these challenging experiences away in hopes that they will disappear rather than to encounter and examine them in the clear light of day. The danger of suppressing them lies in the denying of our interior wounding and the resulting facade which develops in order for us to go out into the world in our daily lives. We are then living a split reality, suffering below the surface in our deeper, emotional interior world but presenting our sunshiny, false-self to the world. The interior wounding however, does not go away. Our wounding demands that it be listened to. So in order to grab our attention, it will then manifest itself as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and myriad other illnesses, all the while pulling us down for a look below the surface.
Individually, we are not to blame for having developed this dual existence as all of the socialization we experience in our current culture propels us in this direction. The only “socially acceptable” presentation is one of saccharine unending happiness. This presentation does not acknowledge or honor the wounding which has invariably happened to us. It can be unnerving and frightening to go against the grain of our socialization in order to examine the darker aspects of our interior world, which is precisely where the wounds gravitate. Our culture has left us wholly unprepared for the journey within.
Only through compassionate self- inquiry can the process begin and be allowed to organically unfold. Alice Miller, the child psychologist, refers to the “enlightened witness”, as one who can attest to the pain, validate the experiences without judgment, and hold space with compassion and empathy for the process of unfoldment. With the enlightened witness, an individual can examine and assess the impact of the wounding, and be allowed the opportunity to transform and transmute the pain. Then congruence between the inner and outer experiences of life can be achieved.
The pain therefore, serves as a catalyst for the transformational path as there is often no impetus to begin this work otherwise. Internal suffering is a powerful guide and teacher, who takes no prisoners, and leads us unerringly to the precise area which most needs our attention. In this context, grief, sorrow, anxiety, substance abuse and depression are the signposts on the path which are calling out for our attention
More often than not, the enlightened witness/helper has walked their own healing journey, which offers them a unique perspective on the process and prepares them to sit and behold another’s pain and suffering. The helpers’ personal journey through trauma, pain and ultimately transformation is what qualifies them to be the enlightened witness for another as they learn to integrate their shadow material into the wholeness of their being.