My Wounded Part Needs to be Held, not Healed

This is from the Richard Rohr daily meditation for May 3, 2021. The writer is a Vietnam Vet.

I suffer from a disturbed sleep pattern that has been a part of my life since a nighttime attack in Vietnam in 1967. Since that time, I haven’t slept for more than two consecutive hours in any one night. . . . My sleeplessness became the central symbol of my not-all-rightness, of my deepest fears that I would never be all right. . . .

Part of the reason I had difficulty sleeping was because of my night terrors: the sounds of artillery (that isn’t there) firing in the distance, of helicopters on assault, that special look of everything illuminated by artificial light, the sounds of small arms fire, of the wounded screaming for a medic. For me, this is what rises up out of the silence that is special to night. I hated the sun going down. I fought and struggled with my inability to sleep, and the more I fought, the more difficult the nights became. So I turned to alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal) for relief, but my suffering just got worse. . . .

Some years after getting sober, I was standing at the kitchen sink in my cottage in Concord, washing dishes. Above the sink was a window through which I could see a row of fifty-foot-tall pine trees that lined the driveway. That day as I did the dishes, I was watching a squirrel busy doing whatever it is that squirrels do, when I had a powerful experience. A voice inside me, the voice of awareness, said to me, “You can’t sleep, so now what?” I began to laugh. It was a moment of complete acceptance. I finally understood that I just was how I was. To resist, to fight, to attempt to alter the essential nature of my life, was in fact making matters worse, and now I understood that I simply needed to learn how to live with the reality of who I was. In this moment I discovered that it was here, in the midst of suffering and confusion, that healing and transformation can take place, if I can stop trying to escape.

But I’m not special, you know. You can do this, too. You can face your own sorrow, your own wounds. You can stop wanting some other life, some other past, some other reality. You can stop fighting against the truth of yourself and, breathing in and breathing out, open to your own experience. You can just feel whatever is there, exploring it, until you also discover the liberation that comes with stopping the struggle and becoming fully present in your own life. This is the real path to peace and freedom. You could do this for yourself; you could do this for your family. Our whole world will benefit.

Claude AnShin Thomas, At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace (Shambhala: 2004), 152–153, 154.

When I first read this, back in May, I couldn’t imagine ever accepting that “this is just how I am.” I did a blog post about it.

From my journal for November 1

What’s really strange is that even this recent difficult time has not broken my connection to the wider, more inclusive, participatory, sacred cosmos.  I can still feel it there, under everything, like the floor that caught my pieces after starting S.E., like the “goodness beyond goodness.”  I thought that if I got to this stage I would be happy all the time, but there’s still a slightly scary unfamiliarity.  I think it’s because I’m breaking all those old family rules — Thou shalt not think thyself so great, Thou shalt constantly push thyself to prove thee deserves to live, Thou shalt do everything right, etc.

The “recent difficult time” was because we had to go back to just picking up our meals, couldn’t eat meals at a table with other people.  It’s generally a trigger for me.

From my journal for November 3

Want to write.  My brain feels blunt and sleepy, betwixt and between.  Hoping I could “write my way down to a truth.” What is sticking in my mind is Matt’s thought that the wounded parts of us need to be held not healed.  I also had a flash of knowing that just as I am, wounded, I am myself, not some distorted version of myself.  I’m not being able to find the words to express this.  The wound is not all of who I am.  The wound did not prevent me from being my true self.  It perhaps prevented me from doing as much in the world as I might have done.  But what if the inner work I’ve done to heal myself has been just as valuable to the planet as any further outer work I might have done — any expansion of Neskaya, or book I might have published, or work I might have done teaching the ideas in the Web of Meaning.

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