The Art of Healing Ourselves

Photo by Jennifer Schmennifer.

The Art of Healing Ourselves

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 03, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice
June 3, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Silver Spring, Maryland, community online on Thursday evening
June 4, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all online on Friday evening

Dear Still Water Friends,

When I was eight or so, my mom and dad divorced in large part because my dad—the son of a part-time Southern Baptist pastor who believed deeply in all the evangelical dogma the phrase “Southern Baptist pastor” probably conjures up for you—decided to be honest about being attracted to other men. After a year of living across town in Richmond, Virginia, he moved across the continent, to Seattle. On top of all this, Dad was also ill his whole life, and he visited death’s doorstep frequently throughout his entire adult life.

Throughout my life, my dad leaned on me (and my siblings) in ways that a parent should not lean on a child. He didn’t have the coping skills, support systems, or role models necessary to move through some very difficult realities in a healthy way, so he turned to us for the emotional and psychological care he needed. This made parts of my upbringing confusing, scary, and exhausting. It traumatized me.

I didn’t think too much about this stuff for most of my life. Really, I think I started blocking it out when I was a kid; I have very little memory of grieving events that I now look back on as devastating. But the truth is that it’s been a heavy weight to carry, and in recent years I’ve done my best to set it down. Doing so has included a lot of opening up and cleaning out old wounds.

I’m doing well these days. I’ve learned a lot about how to care for what hurts, sometimes by walking and sitting and breathing with it, and sometimes by finding healthier outlets for its energy. I know things are different I often meet old situations with new reactions.

Lately, I keep coming back to this question: what do we mean when we say that something has healed? What is healing?

I’ve found myself wanting a clear definition. With emotional healing, is there an equivalent to the moments when it’s safe to say someone has kicked the flu or that an athlete can return to play after an injury sidelined them?

I understand that a lot about being hurt and getting better isn’t black and white, and that injuries and wounds often change us forever. But when do we go from “bed-ridden and incapacitated” to “functional?” And more importantly, how?

Part of this is grasping: looking for an unchanging answer or destination in the face of the impermanence of reality. On the other hand, I’ve found that having a vision of what I want to be can make it easier to embody it.

I turned to two Dharma talks from Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay): one from 2013, titled “Healing is Possible in Every Step,” and another from 1996, called “The Art of Healing Ourselves.” I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but he doesn’t offer a clear definition of “healing” in either.

Here’s an excerpt from the former, with Thay talking about how he’ll welcome attendees at a retreat:

Thay is going to tell them in the first retreat day, that healing is possible right in the retreat. Not after the retreat but right during the retreat. Because if they follow the instructions to breathe, to sit and to walk, and healing is possible with every step, healing is possible with every breath. And this is the truth. There is no way to healing, healing is the way.

Here’s the latter:

Our body may still carry a lot of wounds inside, and our consciousness also, it may carry a lot of wounds inside. They need healing. The basic condition for all healing is to be able to rest, but we don’t have the capacity to rest. We have the habit of running, of doing things. That is why to meditate is first of all to learn how to rest, to give your body and your mind a chance to rest and to heal themselves. It seems to be a very simple thing, but we need training to be able to do that. …

Our consciousness knows and has the capacity of healing itself—only if we allow it the chance, that is, to allow it to rest, to authorize it to rest. … The sutra on mindful breathing, for instance, is more than enough for you to heal yourself.What I hear Thay saying is that the tools of the practice can allow us to slow down and allow the body and mind to do what they know how to do in terms of becoming whole. (He doesn’t make a distinction between emotional and physical wounds, and I imagine that’s intentional, as they’re often one and the same.)

This is challenging for me given that, by and large, I think our society teaches us to view problems as pathogens: find the root and eliminate it and all will be well. But as the practice also teaches us, if there was no suffering—those things that wound us—there would also be no joy.

“Healing,” I think Thay is saying, is the ability to be present to pain and suffering and hurt rather than to be overcome by it, or to make an effort—conscious or not—to avoid it or cover it up. The more I can do this, the more I am healed.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, we’ll talk about what the practice has to teach us about healing. Please consider these questions to spur our discussion:

  • How do you define “healing?”
  • What aspects of the practices have been healing for you in your journey?
  • Are there wounds that you believe you have fully healed from? Wounds that you are continuing to heal from?

You are invited to join us this Thursday and Friday evenings.

An additional excerpt from “The Art of Healing Ourselves” Dharma talk is below.

Be well,

Jonathan Neeley

Special Still Water announcements:

Upcoming In-person Still Water events:

  • Saturday, July 10, Lotuses, Food, & Mindful Friends, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 9 am – 11:30.
  • Friday, October 8 – Sunday, October 10, Still Water Fall Practice Retreat, Charter Hall Retreat Center, Perryville, Maryland.

Mark your calendars. More information soon.

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“Resting and Restoring”
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from the 1996 Dharma Talk, The Art of Healing Ourselves

You have had the experience of utmost suffering—something happened to you and you did not believe that you could survive that. How could you survive such bad news, pain? And yet, you have survived. You have gone through that period and you’ve proved to be able to survive that kind of suffering. It means your consciousness knows the way to survive. You say, “Time heals.” But time alone cannot heal your suffering. It is not because you are acquainted with the suffering that you are healed. No. It is because of the fact that your consciousness knows the way to heal itself. You have to trust it because in your consciousness there is the Buddha, there is a seat of love, of understanding. If you allow them to manifest, then your consciousness will be able to heal itself.

Talking to a therapist, talking to a teacher, talking to Dharma brothers and sisters, allows these wholesome energies to be touched, to give them a chance to become more apparent. They will take care of the healing. Sometimes we speak about a “talking cure,” but the talking cannot cure. The talking—the most it can do—is to allow yourself to have confidence in your own ability to heal yourself. So it’s very important that during that time we spend with a Sangha, a Dharma teacher, we have to learn the techniques of allowing our body and our soul to rest. The heart of the Buddhist practice is to stop—to stop running, to stop preventing our body and our soul from resting.

Many people believe that they need to go for holidays. They struggle, they do everything in order to have these holidays. But during these holidays do they really rest? They are much more tired after the holidays. So everyone has to learn the art of resting, of restoring.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 03, 2021


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