This is adapted from a talk originally given for a Twelve Step recovery event in 2012
I am going to begin with a story that may make us a little uncomfortable but it rushes to the heart of our theme tonight.
Imagine me as a little kid, ten years old. I don’t think I had much hair then either – it was short like this but no beard. So little ten year old, Cam goes to the movies. I don’t remember the movie but it was one of those old ornate theaters left-over in dilapidated downtown’s all over the mid-west.
Why I was by myself, I do not know. Why my parent’s let me go by myself, I do not know.
I remember sitting there in the dark, the movie already begun, when a stranger sits down next to me. He doesn’t speak. I place imaginary blinders over my peripheral vision not knowing why I feel uncomfortable. First the man’s leg touches mine. Then, very slowly, very gradually, his hand migrates to my thigh.
I am too young to quickly process what is wrong with this picture. I can feel my discomfort but I don’t know exactly what it is.
Instinctively I get up, and having been taught to be polite, I say, “Excuse me” as I move in front of him to get to the aisle. “You are coming back, aren’t you,” the stranger asked.
Don’t lie. Don’t be impolite. Respect adults. Always tell the truth. Don’t hurt other people’s feelings. These are the rules I’ve been taught.
You know that conflict, especially on a little kid’s black and white, categorical level. I told the stranger I was going for popcorn. Then, because I told him that, I had to go get popcorn. So I did. Then I faced another dilemma. I said I would return and, therefore, by the dictate of all that I had been taught, I “should” go back.
This was decades before we taught our children about strangers and good-touch/bad-touch.
My gut told me not to go back, that there was something very wrong there. Another part of me, the voices of authority in my life, told me all the reasons I should go back: honesty, respect, politeness, duty…
You can see the irony of a child’s twisted logic when the good and positive values can become the weapons of bad choices and people who would do us harm.
I did not return to my seat. In fact, I went up in the balcony to get as far away as I could. I did not know why, but I did listen to the wordless promptings of my own experience. I gave authority to my own experience as young and slim as it was at the time.
I tell that story because it is such a clear and obvious example, on a child-like and innocent level, of the dilemma we face throughout our adult lives: who to trust, and whose voice to trust.
Those who have descended into the abyss of substance abuse; and those who have been the victim of all manner of abuse, whether at the hands of addicts or any kind of perpetrator, have a special problem with trusting their own experience because that experience includes choices that have been horrendously self-destructive, as well as destructive of others. How can we trust the authority of our own experience when it includes the painful memories with which we must live?
That is where spiritual healing comes in.
We know about sobriety, and we know about recovery, but there is another dimension of the maturation process that all people have the opportunity and need to enter into: spiritual healing.
Spiritual healing includes the discovery of a place inside, a place deep within ourselves where we can visit and sit at the feet of a wonderful teacher – a master of wisdom. That’s right. A veritable guru resides at your center and mine.
It is the voice of your experience husked and cleansed of all the crap we collect from other voices and other authorities and other special interests that do not have our interest and the wisdom of our own lives in mind. It is a voice and a teacher not to be mistaken with our ego, although the Ego is frequently confused with it.
When the ego speaks it speaks with a loud and certain voice, one to which we often snap to attention.
The ego is not only authoritative in an attractive and seductive way, we know it is also a bit of bully when we try to ignore it.
When the ego speaks, even when we want to dance with it or on some level go where it wants us to go, there are always second thoughts hanging around.
When the ego is speaking to us, even when it is clearly dominant, there are whispers in the dark nervously wringing hands about the outcome.
When the ego is leading us, and when the Ego is the loudest voice in the room, we never feel truly at peace.
We know, on some basic gut level from our own experiences, that the ego by itself is not the element of the Self that we want to have leading us. There is no peace in the presence of the ego. But when we have discovered that place of spiritual healing, we will also have discovered a chamber of utter peace. That is how we know the voices and decision that emerge from that place are trustworthy.
Our lives can be in total chaos with crisis swirling all around us, but when we take a difficult decision to that place of spiritual healing, the answers we seek will be confirmed by the sensation of peace. I have no doubt that you know what I am talking about.
Somewhere along the line you have had a difficult decision to make. You agonized about it, and struggled with it. It was one of those decisions that had no easy answer and no perfect outcome. Whatever you decided, and whatever course of action you were to take, someone would be hurt or something would be lost.
Then, somehow, you found that place deep inside, and one of the choices distinguished itself with the sensation of peace.
In spite of repercussions you knew would await, and even though it may not have been the choice you wanted it to be, it was the choice surrounded by peace. Spiritual healing is marked by that kind of deep and abiding peace.
It is not magic.
Hurt and pain and grief do not suddenly disappear and “happily ever after” never arrives. But it is a place of stellar reality where truth can be held, and even so, in the midst of crisis, peace can be found. When we can find a place of peace inside, and bring to it a wound or struggle or decision, and we are able to hold it in peace, then we can trust it.
Deep in your own heart of hearts lies a place of peace, a sanctuary with sagely wisdom that is yours and only yours. It is the well from which to draw both love and wisdom.
Sobriety and recovery deepen yet further when they move into the realm of spiritual healing. If you have yet to discover that place within yourself or you are unsure of it – feeling that perhaps you knew it once but lost your way – it may be time to seek it again.
But allow me to caution us: there are no numbered steps to getting there. There is no “how-to” forming a yellow-brick road that anyone and everyone can follow. There is no straight path, and the way you go today may not be the way you get there tomorrow. Spirituality and the ways of God do not follow any book or any human plan or confirm to any doctrine. They are not once and for all and predictable.
But there are things we can do to open ourselves to the capricious spirit and God’s rascally ways. There are people and places and things we can incorporate into our practice that lead us to healing – if not by the hand, then by our experience.
- Being rooted in a spiritual community,
- having a spiritual director or mentor,
- practicing an intentional process of meditation, study and prayer,
- working to develop deep compassion
and allowing it to lead us places
we might not otherwise go
- exploring and exercising our creativity…
One way does not fit all and no practice is composed of only one element. Whatever way we go, whichever direction we want to seek, discovering that place of spiritual healing begins with taking at least one step toward it.