Accept that this is the Reality of Who I am?

I first heard about Claude Anshin Thomas in one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations. He’s a Vietnam Vet who suffered from flashbacks that keep him from sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time.  He talks about realizing that this was who he was.  I write “I wonder if I could do what he has? Just accept that this is the reality of who I am? Right now, it looks totally impossible.”

I bought his book, At Hell’s Gate, and read it twice, trying to find a way to accept my suffering instead of continuing to struggle to heal it.  Lately, because of the social distancing, I feel like I have slid backwards, and been angry and upset about it. Some quotes from the book were very powerful for me.

When he first meets Thich Nhat Hanh, who is Vietnamese, he sees him as “the enemy.” Eventually he gets to Plum Village, in France, and stays there for long periods more than once. 

Thich Nhat Hanh tells him “You have begun the process of transformation, there is no telling how long it will take, but you must continue to water the seeds of sorrow and the seeds of suffering with mindfulness.”    p143

If we blame others for our pain “… we become trapped …  until we stop it by taking responsibility for our pain — by finding the courage to feel it, to enter into it, and not just to pass it on.”   p147

For me the experience was different.  I thought I was defective from the very beginning, and it’s still the default place I fall into when I’ve lost the older and wiser parts of me. It wasn’t until I was 42 that I heard about alcoholic parents, and the damage they do to their children that I understood that I wasn’t defective, I had learned dysfunctional behavior from a pair of alcoholics.  I had already been in therapy since my twenties, but now I went at therapy from a different direction.  No longer trying to “fix myself,” but working to unlearn behaviors that didn’t work. At that point I didn’t blame my parents, I saw that it was my responsibility to work on myself. Finding the courage to feel my pain, to enter into it, has been long difficult process and I have needed the help of therapists, and been lucky to find very good ones.

“… the transformative experiences I’ve had that enabled me to learn to live in a more integrated way with my suffering…”     p152

“To live in a more integrated way with my suffering.” What would that be like for me? Not being angry with myself when I can’t do something practical, or only get to it many days later? To accept myself just as I am? Why is that so hard? But today, for totally mysterious reasons, I am OK with myself.

“Hiding or avoiding does not eliminate suffering, it just drives it more deeply underground.”   p139

Claude Anshin’s acceptance of his own suffering, and his hard work to stop seeing “enemies” as enemies, convince me that the pain of being the abuser is just as bad as the pain of being a victim. That in turn convinces me that human beings are basically good.

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