I am so grateful for thoughtful blog responses that challenge me to think more deeply about something I have posted.
Jaqueline’s comment on my post “Feelings I,” particularly the “Attachment to Negative Feelings” section has caused me to continue to think about this issue. Of course, anything I say comes only from my personal experience, reflects my experience, and can never be mandated as the necessary pattern for any other person’s personal experience.
I was raised in an environment where the only “legitimate” response to negative feelings was to “suck it back; get over it; and get on with life.” I am deeply familiar with denial. I understand that neither denial nor repression is a healthy response to legitimate pain. I have had to work hard to learn not to sublimate anger into depression, reduce hurt to shame, turn pain into resentment, or twist sorrow into guilt. These equations kill the human spirit; they are never a healthy way of trying to deal with unresolved feelings.
There is no question that we only begin to deal with our pain when we allow it to be what it is, holding it with compassion. Pain must be acknowledged, named, owned, and permitted to speak. The part of me that is hurt must be given voice; but the voice of my pain does not tell the whole story.
Certain things in the world, in my personal relationships, and in my own inner life are simply broken. There are some relationships and past events that, so far in my journey, have not been resolved, and realistically may never be tidily laid to rest. To acknowledge the continuing brokenness of life and to refuse to allow that reality to paralyze my psyche is not the same as denial, or rejection of those feelings.
My goal is to acknowledge the difficult realities of my past with absolute honesty but without needing them to be different than they are. There are certain things that have happened to me that are simply wrong. There are things I have done that I wish deeply I had not done. I may never understand these parts of my history, may never be able to make sense of them, or to see how they fit into some grand and beautiful design. I cannot fix these things; but I can stop carrying them around.
I can stop seeing myself as “the person who has been wronged,” or “the person who has done terrible things.” I can do as Isaiah says God does, who has “cast all my sins behind your back.” (Isaiah 38:17b) If my sins have been cast behind God’s back, I do not need to keep looking at them. If the sins of those who may have wronged me have been flung behind God’s back, I no longer need to see them.
The past is past. I may keep my painful past alive in the stories I tell myself about my past; but, at some point, these stories become an obstacle to my growth rather than a source for my healing. As I surrender the grieved stories of my painful history, the power of those stories begins to dissipate. The knots of my body begin to loosen. I no longer need to allow the psychic force of negative feelings from the past to afflict my being in the present.
The freedom that comes from genuine letting go is not the pseudo-freedom of denial or avoidance. It is the real freedom of seeing things for what they are – just things that happened. The wrong things I have done or that have been done to me, do not define me. I am a child of God, filled with the light, strength and blessing of God’s presence. I do not need to cling to the illusion of a safe world. The pain of my past is a tool that has the capacity to open the hard shell of the protective walls I constructed around my being when I lost touch with the vibrant strength of God’s presence in my life.
I am created “in the image of God.” The invincible radiance of God’s Spirit dwells at the heart of my being. I need no other protection. I need no other person to tell me I am good, or I am worthy, or to make me feel safe. God alone is my strength and my salvation. Getting to the place where an awareness of true inner strength rises naturally and spontaneously within me and heals the pain of my past is a process. No one can proscribe for any other person how quickly that person must arrive at this place. But we all long to find within ourselves the awareness that dwelling at the heart of our being is a peace “that passes all understanding,” a peace no force on earth can ever undo.
There is that within me which is greater, stronger, and more real than anything that has ever been done to me, or that will ever be done to me. My only desire is to know that true strength that is the presence of God in my life. God is the safe place at the centre of my being. In God I know truly that I cannot be hurt and there is nothing anyone can take from me that I cannot freely surrender because no one and nothing can deprive me of God.
Meister Eckhart says, “There where clinging to things ends, is where God begins.” No one can decide for anyone else what is clinging and what is denial. We must each search our own hearts and ask ourselves, “Is this something I have looked at honestly and fully and can now put down by the side of the road in order to continue my journey unencumbered by this past hurt that I no longer allow to have power in my life? Or, must I continue to carry this broken part of my life so that it can teach me lessons I need to learn to help me on the rest of my journey?”