I have been contemplating how to introduce my play that I will be performing at the Douglas Hospital on Friday. I am noticeably nervous. This distantly familiar feeling led me to re-read (and this time finish) “Smile at Fear” by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – an outrageous, yet highly practical well spring of wisdom.
It really brought me closer to the fear that underlies my laziness and avoidance, my facades, my false selves, my masks which tell the world I’ve got it all under control, I could care less. I realized today that underneath it all, I am deeply, profoundly sensitive, and though one of the masks I wear is “healer”, I am still viscerally and palpably wounded.
Of course, the whole basis of my research for my MA has been on the concept of the wounded healer, but in my months of exploration, I have found that what makes one worthy of the title of wounded healer is: knowing the tricks the mind plays, yet also knowing intimately what sanity and wisdom feels like, so that when one is thrown from the horse, one knows how to at least try to climb back on. It is worth it to persevere. And I now know health as well as I have known chaos and despair. But this subtle and unexpected disconnect I experience still sneaks up on me when I least expect it. I often slip the veil over my own eyes without even realizing it, so that I don’t know I have even fallen from the horse. Somehow when I wasn’t looking, I have put on a padded suit so that I wouldn’t notice when I hit the ground, when I fell from the experience of grace that so far I have only so briefly touched. But that grace has always been there. Always. When I laid awake at night, choking on my tears throughout adolescent turmoil, while I filled my diaries with shame and self-loathing, that grace was always there. I guess I had just learned to talk – loudly – over the simple, profundity of my own heartbeat. I had come to defend against vulnerability.
It is true that the negative symptoms of emotional numbing I experienced during my psychosis have contributed to some of the changes that have occurred internally within my mind during the last 7 years. I usually don’t feel as intensely, to be sure. But then there is also a sense of having habitually covered up the sound of that little persistent pulse of mine that is still trying to break through the layers of meaningless words filling the space around me. That heartbeat IS the grace I just mentioned. It is a constant that as long as I am alive, will politely keep thumping and waiting for the moments when I slow down enough that it can be heard. This heartbeat is my humanity. It is my vulnerability. It is beauty, and fragility, and tenderness, and wonderment. And for some bizarre reasoning based on a lifetime of habitual patterns, I am ashamed of it.
I am afraid that I will not be able to handle really being seen, that I will crack open and fall apart, and like humpty dumpty, I will be screwed. And since I have now established the wiring behind the switch, it is as easy as the flip of a finger to turn off my sensitivity, to block out my genuineness, to numb out. It is automatic, it is all encompassing, and I am tired of it. I am sooo soooo ready to stop letting fear run the show. Yet ironically, I am terrified of leaning into this, of making the changes in my life-style that will allow for me to stop hiding. Butt in so doing, I know that I will feel more, of everything.
My play I have worked on as part of my research is a story about fear and fearlessness, although in a wimpy, gradual, stubborn, “I have to start living or die” sort of way. We do have to move through the flames in order to cauterize our wounds. There is no other way. And they could once again reopen. But there is no other way. Guides are helpful on this journey, but I have found it best not to reach for a savior in either religion, or in doctors, or in science, for it cannot be found there. We must ultimately go it alone. We must face ourselves, our habitual patterns of shame and self-denigration, our tendencies to seek external validation, and learn to answer for ourselves some of the most meaningful questions life can present to a human being – spiritual questions that can only be answered by painstaking honesty and a search that goes down, not up, as Pema Chodron would say, to the center of our hearts.
Where am I on this search? Well, alarmingly, curiously, I am not afraid to say I HAVE HAD a mental illness, or that I HAVE BEEN vulnerable. But I AM afraid to reveal my vulnerability in the present tense, to open my tender, fluttering heart to the world. In fact, I don’t relate particularly well with fear, to be brutally honest. (Since honesty is, above all else, my point). I often do hide, curled up under covers, wearing a mask so that even if I accidentally stumble in front of a mirror, I cannot see my own reflection. And when I have temporarily squashed my tender awakening, I cover up the wound with layers of colorful clothing and pretend, with an Oscar-worthy performance, that the wound is not indeed still there. I am healed, “Hallelujah!” I might as well proclaim. But this is a repugnant lie. Why should I care? Why is this navel-gazing so important? Well, the point is not to be hard on myself, but to get to the root, so that I can learn to work with this, to help others learn to work with this. When I cover up my vulnerability with apparent flawlessness, I am then separating myself from others. And no one likes a phony. More importantly, no one was ever helped or inspired by a phony. A true healer must lift this veil of alleged flawlessness if they are to speak to those who are suffering and actually be heard. Words are just words, and no amount of technique can substitute putting one’s own heart on the line, and opening the window and demonstrating that we can survive the cold air, that it is even refreshing, if you learn how to really let it in. We don’t need another generation of healers trying to keep everyone safe. Safe, in my experience, is dull, ultimately stifling and suffocating, painful, and boxed in. And even though safety holds the advantage of never letting in unwanted guests, it also blocks out potential friends, insights, life lessons. It keeps out life. It keeps out love. First and foremost, it keeps you from loving yourself, so you clutter up your little boxed in life in order to pretend that it is everything you ever wanted. But in my case, as in many, I suspect, I have decided to work toward finding the combination out of this safe place. I think that in order to begin, all you need is to recognize it: I WANT OUT!
And then practice authenticity. Practice remembering, viscerally, intellectually, in every way: remember what open-hearted vulnerability feels like. Remember that brief moment you felt grounded, when you realized your truth beneath the bullshit. You can’t pay for experiences like that. They are unquantifiable. They are beyond powerful. This type of experience is the untold story of the meaning of life, and the process of coming home to it, forgetting it, and remembering it, over… and over, again.