Are we looking for help in the wrong direction?

Here’s a radical new idea, related to my recent post on seeking wholeness. When in crisis I, and perhaps you, tend to try and quiet down, go somewhere to sit and meditate, or grit my teeth, closing my ears to any internal cries, and do whatever needs to be done. Anything to get away from the emotional hot-seat!

Yes, that can be helpful up to a point, but sometimes the level of anxiety or anger or grief is too much to hold within. In such a case, perhaps we would be wiser to embrace the inner storm, the angry or anxious one inside us, the bewildered child, or the deep sorrow we can’t put into words. What I’m suggesting is that we may need to enter into conversation with what’s shaking us up, rather than attempt to close the door on it.

How to begin? First of all, it’s important to remind myself that I contain other inner aspects that may not see things the way I do with my conscious mind. In order to know more about what’s going on, I could inquire of the sufferer quite simply, “Why are you crying?” (or fuming or feeling desperate) or, “Who isn’t getting the attention she needs from me?” Sometimes it’s also worth asking, “How can I help?” Then I need to listen attentively, because the reply may come in a different language than the one I’m used to communicating in. And sometimes my physical reactions can tell me what other parts of me are trying to say.

Jim Hollis, in his book Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path, suggests that our salvation from whatever present crisis we are in may lie in the parts of ourselves we haven’t looked at and never call upon. He goes on to point out how times of crisis are solved in fairytales: a “sinister force” may enter a “moribund kingdom,” probably ruled by an elderly king and queen. Remember how kissing the frog (ugh!) frees an enchanted prince? Perhaps you recall stories from childhood in which the prince or princess (aka, the hope for the future) is mute, kidnapped or otherwise unavailable. Help is needed, but not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can save the kingdom. Rather, help comes through the “’little people, the dwarfs, the Dummling, the rejected soldier, the trickster, the marginalized child.”

If the forces at play in fairytales remind us of our own situation, they are worth studying further. Our favorite myths, aspects of the particular fairytales we loved from childhood, or even our suffering bodies may have more to teach us than the wisest of advice books, or any teeth-clenching efforts to “move on.”

Here are a few experiments you could try:

  1. One good way to seek inner help is to practice listening. Believe it or not, you may never have learned how. I was shocked by the fact that each time I asked my own inner tyrant why he was so nasty and vituperative, he replied, “You never listen!” In other words, he had to shout and be nasty to get my attention because he had something to tell me about myself that I was totally unaware of and perhaps didn’t want to hear. So you might try listening just a little longer than usual to any voice that pops into your head. Usually we pay no attention to these voices, or immediately discard them as stupid, or bad.
  1. Once you’ve practiced listening, experiment with inviting an exchange. If the voice comes as a self-attack, for example, ask it what it is really trying to communicate aside from just being negative. If there’s anger or complaint, take a moment to learn more before you turn away. And a snide sotto voce comment about someone else is always worth investigating further. What in you reacts to that trait in him or her? I guarantee you from my own experience that a dialogue with any part of yourself will educate you a little more about who you are.
  1. If no voices pop up, you might try painting your problem, your reaction, your anger or your anguish. Just sit down in front of blank paper with a bunch of magic markers at your side and see what happens. I once tried to paint the ugliest, nastiest person I could imagine and my angry efforts produced a quite beautiful Indian mask in bright colors.
  1. Poetry and music can also help to free the mysterious other side of ourselves, especially those inner fragments we have tamped down since childhood because we were told they were bad. In fact, it’s high time to reexamine our ideas of what we call wrong and bad. This is what Jungians call our Shadow side. Yes, some aspects of our nature were placed under conscious control for good reason, in order that we grow up as decent, civilized adults. But there may be treasures in us that we have refused to admit into our life.
  1. Further assistance can be found in many psychology books. One that opened up a whole world of surprises was Whenever I Say No I Feel Guilty. I can enthusiastically recommend my favorite Jungian authors — James Hollis, Marion Woodman (Addiction to Perfection) Robert Johnson (Living Your Unlived Life) and Donald Kalsched (Trauma and the Soul). As for poetry, if you are a self-accuser or a harsh critic of others, you might turn to Rumi, who invites you:  Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

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