Note: It has been such an honor to participate in the creation of Dr. Jill Strom’s book, CURA: The Convergence of Science & Spirit. She invited me to contribute the Epilogue, which follows. For more information on the launch of her book, stay tuned to http://www.curaintegrative.com
The true path is the one from which you cannot deviate.
The stream was compelled by its destiny to reach the ocean. But the sand resisted, complaining that it was too far. The water called the clouds to help them. The wind and rain said they would do their part, too. Still, the sand was inconsolable. “If you go, we will change,” cried the sand. “Whether I go or stay, I will change,” the water replied. “As stream or rain or fog or snow, I will still be the water that must go to the ocean. And you will keep shifting to the end of time.”
– A Sufi Legend
In endless cycles, all changes bring endings that contain the next beginning. The constancy of change is nothing new, but don’t we struggle nevertheless with this most basic tenet of life?
Much of healing our bodies and our minds is a process of discovering the ways in which we have resisted change; how the people and things that have reached their end and need release continue to impact our equilibrium when we cannot let them go. As author David Foster Wallace put it, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”
To not let go is to deny the true path. Holding on when it’s time to release dams the energy that is ready to transform according to the scientific and spiritual imperatives to grow: evolution. Or, as Winston Churchill put it, “Change is the cost of survival.”
While letting go is part of the natural order, the inclination to hold fast is surely rooted in our instinct for survival. Surely we can be given a little grace for holding on to what is known, to what is comfortable and predictable. It seems preordained by homeostasis itself. But homeostasis—like balance in walking—is both altered and maintained by its process. Walking is easy until our feet outgrow our shoes. Then walking becomes painful. If we don’t get bigger shoes, the pain can increase until, eventually, the toes and feet go numb as the constricted nerves start to die.
Here is truth: whether feet or feat, our physical and/or spiritual growth strains and ultimately breaks whatever is damming (damning) it.
In the process, the resulting tension threatens the ease of body and mind. Tension insists on change; tension imposes dis-ease when imbalance goes unaddressed. The body and mind suffer increasingly until, eventually, coping mechanisms are adopted to numb our feelings, or until we decide to engage in the hard work of healing.
Tension has an important role in the laws of nature, and, ironically, our homeostatic balance is subject to it. As we grow physically and evolve spiritually, tension’s imbalancing act compels us to regain balance—a new state of homeostasis that is reflective of the variables that influenced it. It’s like doing reps to build muscle where the reps are experiences and the muscle is the wisdom gained. Yes, it can hurt to tear and damage muscle tissue, but that is how the body produces stronger, thicker muscle fiber–it is formed in the healing.
This is growth . . . this is evolution.
In the Divinely-ordered energetic, physiological, and spiritual convergence, tension works like fascia holding the variables of each dimension together. As a creative force, it is both/and: destructive/constructive. It produces earthquakes, floods, combustion, musical notes, and babies, among other things. In homeostasis, it triggers and is triggered by the growth of our bodies and minds.
Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. – Viktor Frankl
Without tension, we are rarely motivated to engage in the hard work of healing. The question is how much tension do we need before we decide to release . . . to let go? To surrender to the process that makes us uncomfortable or, well, tense?
Life answers by tightening the screws until we’re left with only one exit: death or growth, which is, paradoxically, a both/and trajectory.
In growth, we leave behind what will no longer serve us in the next cycle of becoming, even if that is the person we knew ourselves to be. Leaving behind our identity is very much a kind of death. Dying to ourselves is, at the very least, confusing. It feels utterly contraindicated. The process can cause people to end their lives literally because they didn’t know they could survive by letting go of what needed to die metaphorically. This is a profoundly, even traumatically painful process not unlike childbirth. In the natural order of things, childbirth—however excruciating and risky—is actually about a beginning.
The wisdom of that most ubiquitous of experiences in which every single human being has a stake—giving birth/birthing—is surely to teach us the worth of suffering. Suffering itself teaches us how to survive another universal experience: Suffering.
Learning how to suffer makes us more conscious of our own being and less focused on having a problem with what everyone else is doing. Things like egocentricity, jealousy, revenge, and cruelty drop their masks and reveal the vulnerable, insecure, and fearful faces we don’t want to own nor let anyone else see. Suffering burns off the dross and reveals the true nature of our humanity. Whatever we are not seeing about our authentic self will be lost in such a fire or somewhere else along the path that leads us through the Valley of the Shadow.
Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. – Etty Hillesum
There is no skipping these steps, but don’t we all grab for something to keep us from the downward spiral? Into the noche oscura—the dark night of the soul—as St. John of the Cross termed it, we claw at whatever comforts, distracts, or lessens the pain of dying to ourselves. When we are not the perfect mother, not the perfect father, not the model of honor and integrity, not the person everyone looks up to in this moment, not the guy who achieved the goals he set for himself, not the girl who would never (fill in the blank), it’s easier to cling to the story we tell ourselves than the truth we don’t want to face.
Here is truth: You may be the person who screwed it all up; you may be the person who failed at the most important thing you ever tried to do; you might be the person who is ashamed of your choices, but you are still Divinely You—messy and messed up . . . imperfect but perfectly made for your life’s purpose. Every failure is working the muscle of spiritual endurance if we allow it to alchemize into wisdom. Every ridiculous and regrettable thing you have done will cycle back into your line-up of options for the chance at a better outcome. It will. Try to recognize that when it shows up in the garb of another chance–an opportunity to give the best and highest you’ve got on that day.
Then trust the process. It will heal you medically, methodically, mysteriously, and/or miraculously with the kind of healing that is recognized as the Divine Unfolding of your life. However that looks and feels, bear in mind that it may be unrecognizable except in hindsight.
For You who strive to heal, there is no valley that doesn’t rise back up the mountain. If you are still down in a valley, try cohabitating with suffering instead of fighting it. This is a form of surrender that opens the fist you’ve been clenching. It opens to the way back up.
This is the enantiodromia—the way down that is also the way up. This is the journey that changes you while never deviating from the true path. You are the journey and the path and the destination.
So take up your bed and start walking.
© Leeanne Seaver 2016