Self cutters are not the only self harmers. Their hearts are hurting and they are only looking for relief. People who have experienced deep trauma are not the only ones who experience harm. Moreover, some scars are hidden, perhaps in shame. Some burdens are borne quietly. While many of us experience isolation in this horrific pandemic, others remain on the front lines, like soldiers braving a barrage from a terrifying enemy. We are all looking for relief.
Many of us self harm without being aware of it. We don’t care for ourselves as well as we should. We may shirk, shrink, pull away or deny. Fear may come to define us, as if we were a character from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When we don’t understand something we often fear it, for our own protection. Or we may recklessly deny what is happening, in service to our beliefs or pride. In some cases this translates to blame, anger or aggression. We might gain a false sense of strength attacking others to bolster ourself. Fear can be useful as a signal to take care and use reality based caution and assessment of threats as we move toward solution or mere survival.
Using pride and anger as a response to what we fear pushes out compassion and kindness, the very qualities we need now. Self harm or harming others may stem from frayed connections or cause frayed connections. Low expectations, unhealthy dependencies and attachments encourage harmful thoughts and behaviors. We sometimes to do this in the name of self protection or even self promotion without understanding what fear is doing, although some use fear as a form of manipulation.
In the middle of this emergency we see more of the fissures and fault lines exposed in our personal lives, in our communities, and in our institutions and various social, economic, health, education and political systems. They are laid bare naked to the eyes. It is another version of Bonfire of the Vanities. But in this uncovering we should work toward a deeper understanding of what we value and what truly matters We need to heal the wound without exacerbating the wound, cleaning and clearing it out.
Learned helplessness and blindspots are stumbling blocks toward healing. So much of the time we are muddling through at both the personal and systematic level. Change comes incrementally, until it does not, and we are going off the cliff. But too often the signs were there all along, and we don’t notice the rumbling beneath our feet. Our beliefs and ideology come out out constructed concepts that we rarely examine. We tell ourselves we act rationally with choices, but upon what premises are we acting on, or more likely reacting to.
Much of the time we want to numb ourselves to pain, and most of the time we simply become habituated, to our thoughts, to others, to our environment, to the way things are. Our powers of observation become blurred and we may no longer notice what is true, within ourselves or what is in the world around us. We develop amnesia about what our inner essence is, our spiritual self. This pandemic is certainly only the latest warning of our carelessness with nature, and arrogance about our relationship to nature. To put it more plainly, we have done damage through our indifference, violence, greed and selfishness. (As I write this I learn that indigenous people in South America are in dire peril from the epidemic.)
Clearly we have shown that we are capable of more than being slaves of economic systems (whatever on the spectrum). We have shown sublime and profound thoughts and activities in art, science, social connections and attention to the spirit, and care and compassion toward other people, creatures, and life on earth. We are capable of joy, play, creation of beauty and appreciation even through tears. Healing can be a time off rebirth and renewal (for us, for the earth). We can do this through faith, practiced through religion and practices, through deep learning and reflection. We do this because we need hope. We pray, but actions are important too. Hope is essential to healing, but we need to be mindful of what others are asking for, begging for. A hungry person needs more than just words, but needs food, as the scripture explains. Services and supplies need to have both meaning and purpose, idealism is at its most true when it is practical and pragmatic. The current outpouring of words and music by both celebrities and unknown people through social media is heartening.
We are going through the beginning of a collective grieving process and this will take time, and will not be easy. Many people, such as my clients, were already living pressured and fragile lives. The health and economic systems are straining under this burden. This feels discouraging, but already there is movement of empowerment, including among front line medical workers. We are witnessing the upending of lives, and a rearranging of priorities.
Healing means to make whole, to be wholesome, to uplift what is holy. Corruption is washed out of our bodies, minds, and spirit, and in turn through our communities and systems. If laws could make this happen it would, but much of the time new policy and laws become decayed in their use, and twisted in the hands of those who seek power.
From isolation we gain a new appreciation for our connections and our shared humanity. I am particularly sensitive to it because I have been moving through a grieving process since the loss of my husband in August 2018. Recently, I have been physically alone, working remotely, although I should not say alone, my dogs are my companions. My family is helping me with supplies (quick drop offs), and I stay happily connected to them and friends. But it can feel oppressive. Not long before this hit, in February I had ventured out with a friend to an art showing and thought I might be ready to get out there.
My heart is breaking, our hearts are breaking. I pray for relief, I pray for healing. May we cultivate a sense of renewal and compassion. In memory of my good husband.