I wondered yesterday if the effort to heal from PTSD could itself be a vocation. That my work to heal myself is significant and meaningful. That the point is not to be healed, and then to do what would be living a good life, but the work on healing itself. Thinking about vocation leads me to get out Stephen Cope’s book “The Great Work of Your Life.”
He talks about vocation and passion. Discovering your “dharma” which is about finding your own unique gifts and living them. “Actually, you can only expect a fulfilling life if you dedicate yourself to finding out who you are. To finding the ineffable, idiosyncratic seeds of possibility already planted inside.” p23
Cope tells of the lives of both great and ordinary people. The first is Jane Goodall and he talks about how her gift was named and supported from a very early age. Her gifts were “named, celebrated, cherished, and nurtured.” p30 That brings up enormous grief for me, that my gifts were not named and supported, but ignored and trashed. Mis-represented. My enthusiasm for teaching, sharing and giving what I love to others, was called “thinking you’re so great.”
He talks about his own effort to write books, and how it was the struggle, the work itself, that was meaningful, not the finished book or its reception. I think of my blog, and how the satisfaction is in putting it out there. That helps me see that it’s the process of sharing the dances, of designing and carrying out seasonal celebrations, of decorating the building, that feeds my soul. There is no finished product, nothing that lasts.
Cope says it was the struggle that was meaningful, not what the struggle created. Reminds me of David Whyte saying that success or failure is irrelevant to the soul, what is important is that what you do be your choice, an active expression of who you are, and not someone else’s idea, or even your own idea of who you “ought” to be.
If it’s the struggle that counts, and not the result, then working on healing can be my dharma, my vocation. I can see that my commitment is not only to healing, but to the question of truth. In fact maybe it’s always been more about Truth than about me. I was always willing to believe that criticisms were true, and tried to change myself. I think of Bettie, in 1964, telling me I wasn’t interested in people because I didn’t ask them questions. I saw that I didn’t do it, assumed I was defective, tried hard to do what I should — because somehow I knew that I was interested in people. I didn’t understand why I didn’t ask questions until I rewrote the 4th July monologue and saw how I was invalidated by my mother when I tried to ask questions. When I finally got on anti-depressant medication, I discovered myself being spontaneously friendly with all sorts of people. It was because of depression, not who I was, that I didn’t want to afflict my “black cloud” on others. What I see now, is that I was willing to accept unpleasant “truths” about myself, as long as I believed they were true.
The quote from David Whyte is on one of his Cds, probably the one on self-compassion.