A Suffering Of The Soul

By Paul Dunion | August 16, 2016

Similar to most descriptions of human potential such as intelligence, productivity, academic potential and financial success, we place psychological wellness within a framework of the mentally ill vs. the mentally well. This hierarchal perspective tends to either keep folks trapped under the weight of pathological labels, or has us enduring the distress created by denial. An old definition of the word pathologyis “a suffering of the soul”. Being born to imperfect parents means we will experience some suffering of the soul. We will be wounded by either some measure of abuse or neglect. This wounding is not a reflection of being a deficient human being; it is simply what it means to be a human being.

An old definition of the word healing is “to make whole”. There is a tendency to reduce making whole psychologically to what it means to make whole physically. Hence, we think of psychological healing as similar to fixing a broken arm or ankle so it is whole again, functioning like new. We don’t eradicate all suffering of the soul. That would be contradictory to the very nature of life. However, we can commit to care for the soul’s suffering, and in doing so, we move toward wholeness. We don’t arrive at being whole. We arrive at being willing to devotionally care for the suffering of the soul.

Wholeness is an ineffable state of being, like being free, being compassionate, being creative and being Just. These laudable states of being elude straightforward definitions and the problems they present are not easily solved. “The greatest and most important problems in life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only out grown.” (CG Jung) In the light of Jung’s remarks, we don’t solve what it means to become whole, we remain an apprentice of wholeness in the hope of outgrowing a tendency to deny and ignore some suffering of the soul. Let’s look more closely at the relationship between a suffering of the soul and moving in the direction of wholeness. 

A Suffering of the Soul and Wholeness

There are a number of reasons why a suffering of the soul may be necessary in support of movement toward wholeness and not simply unfortunate.

Addressing the suffering soul of a family system. Every family possesses legacies of light – care, nurturance, devotion and encouragement. They are also endowed with legacies of darkness – abuse, neglect, addiction, and shame. Suffering increases as families pretend they are pain free.

Addressing a soul’s suffering points us toward the path of wholeness. Unfortunately, the ego relishes the illusion that it is immune to suffering. Typically, we treat ourselves the way we were treated in our families of origin. Interrupting self-abuse and self-neglect frees us to live collaboratively with life. We are neither invested in conquering life or being its victim. We can reclaim internal resources that support our self-worth, our ability to create meaningful relationships and live closer to our hearts’ longing.

Addressing a soul’s suffering assists us in interrupting darker legacies. Shortly after choosing a sober life style some 32 years ago, I would gaze upon a picture of me with my son and say, “It ends with me”. There is no guarantee about our efforts to interrupt a toxic legacy. There’s only the devotion to do so, in the hope that more folks than ourselves might out grow a debilitating legacy.

Addressing a suffering of the soul can undo innocence. Idyllic impressions of life tend to fade when we begin to examine our suffering. The goal is not to replace innocence with cynicism, but rather to deepen our acceptance of reality. We can also strengthen our connection to what is real by asking: “What is this situation asking of me?”

Addressing a suffering of the soul can enhance our appreciation of what it means to be human. Such appreciation bears the seeds of humility. There can be a subtle shift from “my suffering” to “My soul suffers as I participate in the human condition”. Exclamations of achievements, talents and grand plans grow dull, as does self-pity, in the presence of our common suffering.

The Medicine

The purpose of healing is to move toward wholeness reflected by living in a larger story. These larger stories possess expanding themes of increased authenticity, more discernment, more compassion, more integrity and a greater capacity to give and receive love. An old definition of the word medicine is “to embellish”. Let’s look at the kinds of medicine our soul’s suffering may need in order to remain on the path toward wholeness. We can think of embellishment as bringing something more to the suffering of the soul.

Bringing more regulation to the nervous system. When our suffering includes some level of trauma, our energetic fields become either hyperactive or hypoactive. The former condition being the psyche’s attempt to remain constantly alert and remain a moving target rather than a stationary one. The later posture is a way to shut down, avoiding the slings and arrows of life by not participating. Helpful therapeutic interventions include: Somatic Experience, EMDR, Neuro-feedback and psychodrama.

Bringing more truth and compassion to the story of the wound. Once the nervous system settles down, we can begin to bring as much truth as we can muster about what happened to us. Telling our truths depends upon our willingness to interrupt childhood loyalty extended to authority figures. We may need support in order to accept that revealing what happened is not an indictment of those who hurt us. It is not an attempt to confirm who is bad. We are not simply reporting our experience but holding the small one who was injured with as much compassion as we can access. A common misunderstanding is that the psychology of the child somehow ended when we got chronologically older. The psyche of that child remains with us, as does the psyche of our entire history.

Bringing deeper rapport to the relationship with the helper. Most of us do not have the experience of someone offering us undistracted attention and wanting to feel and hear the depth of our emotional experience. A deepening of trust, which strengthens, as we believe that the helper will tell us the truth and treat us kindly, embellishes the rapport. The trusting quality of the helping relationship renews our deservedness of such a connection. An increased sense of wholeness emerges as we begin to generalize our relationship with the helper, believing we deserve to receive honesty and compassion in all our interactions.

Bringing more acceptance and compassion to how we think of ourselves. Kabir, one of my favorite Muslim- Hindu teachers of the 15th century, speaks of the militant posture we take up against ourselves and against the God of our understanding, “but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?” Kabir encourages us to embellish our attitude toward ourselves with pacifism. Remaining on the path of wholeness depends upon a willingness to put down the gun aimed at ourselves, loaded with ridicule, shame, criticism and contempt.

Bringing more courage to our choices that result in taking more risks. Again, there is no arriving at “I am now courageous”. There is only some single step through a shroud of fear, doing what we cherish and believe in. The word courage comes from the word heart. We can say that to act courageously is to honor our hearts. The key is to avoid being seduced by heroic images when considering some risk. A simple move away from the familiar may call for the courage to take a risk. Some examples might include:

• Asking for what we want, Expression love or appreciation for someone,

• Employing a boundary by saying “No”,

• Making an appointment with a physician, therapist or teacher whose services we believe might serve us,

• and allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable and tell someone we trust how we feel.

• Bringing more forgiveness to ourselves when the risks we take yield unfavorable results.

As mentioned above, it often calls for courage to act in favor of our hearts, especially when we’re scared. It also calls for courage to forgive ourselves when our choices have discouraging results. Choices bearing undesirable consequences bang us up against our idealized self, the one we decided might be deserving of love. A commitment to forgive ourselves brings us back into a relationship with our real selves. We begin living in a larger story of exploration and growth whose genesis is germinated by self-forgiveness.

We have reduced the need for healing to the downcast, those unable to get life right. Such a position leaves our own wounds without the needed medicine. It keeps us feeling, thinking and acting from those wounds. The power of the wound subsides as we accept it as an inevitable expression of our humanity. The goal is not to strive for a sanitized psyche, but rather to bring understanding and compassion to a suffering of the soul. Compassionately accepting our own suffering is not only healing for us. It is a powerful conduit to unity consciousness where we understand our participation in the human condition in a new way. It is the great common denominator where the hefty boundaries of ethnicity, class and religious orientation begin eroding, allowing for a deeper joining in our common humanity.

(Originally published on August 15, 2016 on The Huffington Post.)

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