When you suffer, how do you get through it to the other side?
Cultural anthropologists, religious studies scholars, and psychologists have long been describing ways individuals and societies have attempted to create a road map, a restorative guide, that makes meaning out of our suffering. James Hillman calls these Healing Fictions, stories that heal the soul.
A few healing fictions that may be familiar to you:
Catholics see this journey expressed in the stations of the cross or “The Way,” in which the outcome is ultimately the resurrection. For Buddhists, it’s the 8-fold path.
The Jungians and Depth psychologists point to three stages of Alchemy (the process for creating what is known as the philosopher’s stone) that consists of these distinct psychological thresholds: confrontation with the shadow (nigredo), integration with the shadow (albeto), discovery or collusion with the shadow (rebudo).
Bill W. created the 12 Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous, a system of healing which has resulted in the most successful and largest community of practice around the globe.
Popularized in the 1980s is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, the archetypical (universal) expression of this road map where he describes the stages of Separation, Initiation, and Return.
How can using a healing system help you?
It encourages you to take the attitude that you are not the victim of a mean-spirited random act from a hostile universe.
Instead, you recognize that you are on a quest for wholeness – the integration of conscious and unconscious aspects of your psyche – and that every perceived loss (real or imagined) is an opportunity to dig deep and come back with even more of yourself.
Suffering is the voice of the unconscious that requires organizing systems where the contents of the unconscious can be revealed, held, and integrated into your larger awareness.
Healing systems act as third space where the transformation of old ways of thinking and being can be replaced by new attitudes, understandings, and energies to create a “more whole self.”
Each of these systems suggests that emotional suffering has a purpose, and if captured and revealed, its healing intention can be amplified.
You come to understand that your symptoms (suffering) are messages from the unconscious, and then transform into a Hero or Heroine who knows that something greater than you is coming into being.
Instead of turning away from these symptoms by drinking too much, distracting yourself with busyness, or getting lost to another sexual conquest, you turn towards them with conscious curiosity and elicit the help of a guide in the form of a trusted friend, spiritual mentor, personal coach, psychologist, or support group to help you interpret the messages.
Each stage of a healing system is a move to organize, reflect, and digest what was once unknown to you (the unconscious) into your understanding of yourself and your world.
Do as I have: explore, discover, and experiment with what system of healing might be useful to you now or in the future. I’ve participated in all of the systems that I mentioned here and many others. I’ve found what works for me – you will too.
Yours in psyche and spirit,
P.S. Two time Grammy-winning Native American artist Robert Mirabal and I will be offering our 10-day e-course in March, Origins: A 10 Day Journey to the Lost Sacred Within You. Registration for the course begins March 9, and the dates for the program are March 23 – April 3.