So often clients have come to me unsure about how therapy- or healing- really works. They want both an overview and specific ways to find what they seek. They are asking, in effect, for a roadmap to guide them.
Two-Legged Medicine: How to be Your Own Brilliant Therapist offers such a template, full of life-enhancing healing systems, many of which you can use on your own. These techniques provide ‘the path of direct experience’, designed to engage your body, mind, and spirit. Both contemporary and ancient self-directed teachings described here will help you recognize and heal wounds from the arc of childhood through adulthood. You’ll discover which of the five stages of your own hero’s/heroine’s journey you are currently traversing. You’ll absorb insightful and practical ways to understand the power of your childhood, recover from abuse, transform codependence to inter-dependence, create vital relationships, and develop a deep friendship with your own sense of Spirit. Whether you are new to your path or a seasoned traveler, welcome to an enhanced perspective, where your psyche will relax and your soul open to the magnitude of healing. You can truly be your own brilliant therapist. Here’s to discovering how rich your journey can be.
Praise for Two-Legged Medicine:
“Robyn Bridges, a gifted body-mind-spirit therapist, offers us a comprehensive, unique, and wise insight into the human condition. This compilation of visionary philosophy and practical tools is a must read for both professional health care providers and anyone looking to live in consciousness. To read this book is to enter into a healing journey and exit transformed.“ –Dr. Holcomb Johnston, Naturopath
“Two-Legged Medicine is accessible, comprehensive and divine. What person doesn’t want to identify his or her life story? With this book in your hands and Robyn Bridges as your guide, you are headed towards transformation and also towards that elusive thing we all want—real-deal healing.” –Molly Caro May, author of The Map of Enough
“For those seeking a deeper understanding of the psyche’s role in Life’s suffering and what you can do about it, “Two-Legged Medicine” delivers on its promise to lead you to your own brilliant discoveries so that you may construct your own conscious path to wholeness.” – Pam Pride, retired University instructor, Entrepreneur
We are meant to live well, rather than muck about in constant suffering. In my 25 years as a psycho-spiritual therapist, I have learned to trust our healing capacities to lead us into that wellbeing. Clients have asked me for some time to write down the philosophies and related tools I offered to them, and now, Two-Legged Medicine: How to be Your Own Brilliant Therapist is the result. If you want to become conscious and free yourself from the past, live a vibrant life, break out of co-dependent patterns, and develop a soulful, spiritually attuned, satisfying life, then this book is for you. Each section is designed to help you identify your own life story and then find ways to transform fear and constriction into action and freedom
Whether you are a long-time student of consciousness or new to your ‘path,’ you have the privilege to keep creating, changing, remembering, forgetting, and experiencing your life through this grand earth journey. Here’s to your human self-realizing and living its divine origins while you walk as a bright two-legged, finding your medicine around every turn.
Table of Contents
PART I: EARLY DAMAGE— THE LOSS OF INNOCENCE
CHAPTER 1: INKLINGS AND SIGNPOSTS
The Vow to Remain Unconscious
Why Am I Dealing With This Now?
Understanding Your Wounding: Journey Initiation
The Importance of Your Story
CHAPTER 2: THE WAY OUT IS THROUGH
The Curse of Abandonment
Shame: The ‘Not Enough’ Syndrome
The Essential Inner Child
The Peter Pan and Cinderella Syndromes
CHAPTER 3: THE SACRED WOUND
Abuse: How to Believe It; How to Heal It
Addiction Is A Secondary Pain
The Truth About Parenting
Unlearning: From Negative Self-Talk to Positive Re-Framing
Discernment: When to Hold ’Em And When to Fold ’Em
What Your Therapist May Not Have Told You
CHAPTER 4: THE POWER TO HEAL
Why It’s OK Not to Forgive— At First
Body Wisdom: Learning to Live Inside Yourself
When to Retire Your Story
CHAPTER 5: THE ETIOLOGY AND HEALING OF TRAUMA
What Qualifies As Trauma?
The Difference Between Stress And Trauma
Adult Vs. Childhood Trauma
Detecting Your Own Adult Trauma
The Development and Healing of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PART II: THE DEVELOPMENT AND HEALING OF CODEPENDENCE
CHAPTER 6: NICE AND NEEDY
Understanding The Brilliant Way You’ve Learned to Get What You Want
Narcissism— The Too Grand or Not Grand Enough Self
The Highly Sensitive Person
The Self-Serving Server
CHAPTER 7: HOW TO HEAL CODEPENDENCE IN YOUR INNER WORLD
Self-Image: How Do I Learn to Approve of Myself?
Accepting Responsibility; Releasing Guilt
From “What Do You Want?” to “What Do I Want?”
Neediness: Filling the Void Through Radical Acceptance
How Being With Codependents Can Activate Your Own
CHAPTER 8: PRACTICING INTER—DEPENDENCE
Help From The Ancestors
Let Your “No” Mean “No” And Your “Yes” Mean “Yes”
Release And Revise Sticky Interactions
Recognize Your Own Signposts Of Personal Power
PART III: RELATIONSHIPS: BLESSING OR BOTHER?
CHAPTER 9: BUILDING THE FACE OF LOVE
With Whom Are We In Relationship?
The Necessary Risk of Loving
Lost In Love: Where Is The Me In Us?
Projection: Can I Love You Apart From Who I Think You Are?
Important Differences; Crucial Similarities
CHAPTER 10: IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR
Loving and Hating: The Dual Face of Relationship
Conflict Resolution: Works In Progress
Unhappy Alone or Unhappy Together?
Our Parents, Our Selves
The Relativity In Relatives
CHAPTER 11 RELATIONSHIPS ARE AN INSIDE JOB
The Real Affair
The Power Of Now
Developing Your Own Inner Masculine And Feminine
The Quantity And Quality Of Physical Love
CHAPTER 12: RIPENED FRUIT
From New to Mature Love: Deepenings
Soul Mates: One or Many?
Finding The Beloved
Wrestling The Blessing From The Bother
PART IV: SPIRITUAL SOURCING
CHAPTER 13: TO WHOM DO YOU BELONG?
Are You A Spiritual Being Having A Human Experience?
Abandonment And Belonging
The Man Behind The Curtain: Uncovering Your Oz
CHAPTER 14: IS YOUR PSYCHE ALIGNED WITH YOUR SPIRIT?
Ego Is Not The Enemy
The Ruse Of Religion: Breaking Free From The Grip Of Guilt
Three Roads Converging: Tolerance, Discernment, And Trust
CHAPTER15: NATURAL DIVINITY
The Function Of Magic: Paranormal Experience
Carving Out Your Spirituality: Animals, Angels, And Demons
Earth And Sky Cosmologies
Developing Your Own Vibrant Connection
The Urge to Merge
PART V: FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING
CHAPTER 16: THE HEALING ARC
Illness: Compassionate Befriending
From Grief to Acceptance: When to NOT Pathologize Yourself
Caring For Special Needs People— And Yourself
The Gifts And Limits Of Guides And Mentors
CHAPTER 17: THE GREAT SPIRAL
Changing Identity: The Purpose Of The Void
The Pursuit Of Freedom
Creativity: The Mark Of A Full Life
Soul Development, The Tender Scar, And The Aging Body
The Spiral Of The Evolving Self
Part VI: Applications: Healing Systems For Personal Use
Body-Mind-Spirit: The Transpersonal Philosophy
The Path Of Direct Experience
Movement And Dance
The Mind At Play
Transactional Analysis: Your Parent, Adult, And Child Selves
Voice Dialogue: The Unconscious Revealed
Divination Systems: Messages From Your Wise Self
Peaceways: The Art Of Forgiveness
The Medicine Wheel: Tracking The Truth Of Your Life
Imagery: The Vast Imaginal
Hypnotherapy: The Mind Heals The Body
Chakras: How to Hear Messages Through The Energy Centers
Artistic Expression: Not For Professionals Only
Body Talk: Emotions In Motion
Stages Of Birth: A Living Metaphor
Personality Types: Testing, Learning Styles, And How to Benefit From Them
Energy Balancing: Your Own Healing Hands
Nature’s Healing: Crystals And Minerals
The Solace of Nature
Epilogue: Beyond Techniques— The Mystery Of The Healing Self
Life offers us both daunting challenges and powerful joys. How we navigate those difficulties and celebrate the joys depends in part on the perceptions we hold and the choices we make. We so often don’t realize that we can choose to live richly fulfilling lives no matter our circumstances. Yet so many of us in Western culture run around full of stress and worry, depression or angst, all of which keep us from feeling fulfilled.
Consider, if you will, your own current life satisfaction level. Has it changed over time? If you are not as happy or peaceful as you’d like to be, what keeps you from it? Are your circumstances preventing you in some way from being more centered, peaceful, or content? Or are you currently quite enjoying life but sense you could be even freer?
Whether you are experiencing the joy of wellbeing or the drought of difficulty, circumstances are always changing. Life vibrates back and forth between wellness and suffering. During challenging times, learning how to artfully navigate the sense of being dropped into an unwelcomed underworld can guide you through and out of the depths of incredibly dense human experience. By making suffering conscious and facing it squarely, you will participate in the dignity of the human spirit. You will become, as is popular in contemporary Buddhist thought, mindful. Mindfulness (or, as I sometimes call it, consciousness) builds a foundation for moving through life with authenticity and real power. When overcome with your worst pain, even in the midst of confusion and desperation, you can learn to activate and benefit from your wisest self.
So how do you proceed? Before embarking on your journey, you may have been wandering around, unconsciously looking for answers. However, J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “All who wander are not lost.” If you are wandering, it most likely has a purpose: to explore in order to gather experience that will ultimately lead you to your best sense of home. Even if solutions to problems you face do not arise immediately, poet Rainer Maria Rilke admonishes you to “love the unanswered questions.” Loving the unanswered questions teaches you to be present with the truth of your issue, whatever it is, while trusting that there is already an answer embedded in each question.
First, however, like the Grail King of old, you must ask, “What truly ails me?” The honesty of this question will take you on an unprecedented adventure. Whether you have already traveled this road once or a hundred times, whether you have traversed your own trials and tribulations consciously or unconsciously, you seek the jewel: to intimately know and tend to your own wounding. Through tenacity and fortitude, even through seeming failures, you will discover what healing really means. You will morph from having been a victim, to surviving, to thriving. You will also learn to recognize and do your best to right any wrongs along the way for which you realize you might have been at least partially responsible.
How do you find the ‘cure’ for what ails you? Through this book, you will find a host of psychologically sound and spiritually activating healing techniques, from Voice Dialogue to Walking the Medicine Wheel. You will also be introduced to, or reminded of, the awareness that many visible and invisible beings have your highest interest at heart. In the visible realm, you will find mentors, teachers, and healthy friendships. In the unseen realm, you can invoke inspiration that brings welcome encounters with the divine. With your focused attention, answers may breeze in through nature itself, through wild animals, trees, rivers, on angel wings, through the fairy realms, the voices of the ancestors, or through synchronicities. Whether you worship the essence of a God or Goddess, Buddha or Christ, God within or God without, you can have direct experience of the sacred to remind you that you are loved, not alone, and so much more than your mind and physical body. In this text, I often used the terms ‘God,’ ‘Goddess,’ ‘Creator,’ ‘Divine,’ ‘Spirit,’ ‘The All That Is,’ and ‘Great Mystery’ to refer to a power higher than us yet of which we are a part. Your sense of God is a personal matter. However, spirituality—the living understanding of the Divine Life Force in everything— is universal. Spirituality is the experiential comet trail of the ‘Great Mystery,’ and it is waiting for you. Through it you will find a companionship with the world at large, even in the midst of your own suffering. You can have amazing encounters with the unseen world that can restore inner vision to your expectant heart. If you’ve been on your spiritual path a long time, you can rediscover which sentient beings are waiting for you to help restore and revitalize your life.
Like all good antidotes, however, whatever relief you discover must be taken in proper doses. Sought out appropriately, you can find inspiration filtering into your necessarily grounded and earthly life. But with too much spiritual encounter and not enough practical human activity, you may float into the ethers, becoming no earthly good to anyone. With too little spirituality, you might become mired in earth’s gravity. Depression and addictive reactions can follow. The proper balance of this antidote between human and spiritual help provides an infusion that heals and enlivens a spirit-filled earth walk. In Two-Legged Medicine: How to Be Your Own Brilliant Therapist, you will find reminders sprinkled about of the Creator within and without to help you balance the necessary and arduous tasks of authentic healing and participatory living.
I have been a psychotherapist for over 25 years, helping clients navigate life transitions and live better lives. Many of my clients deal with issues shared by most of us. I have chosen to address these in a specific arc from early childhood to adult needs. From my own work with fine healers, workshops I have facilitated, and private clients I have counseled, I have gathered confidence in the amazing intelligence of the psyche. I refer to the psyche as the organizing principle of the mind, ego, and personality. When the psyche is healed of wounding, it becomes a marvelous host for a solid and integrated spirituality. To capture this experience, I have written Two-Legged Medicine to encourage readers to heal through activating the body-mind-spirit connection with the path of direct, personal experience. When you feel it in your body, know it in your mind, and sense it in your spirit, it becomes yours. No one can take that from you. You will not forget it. And it will continue to benefit you for the rest of your life.
If you want to become conscious and free yourself from the past, live a vibrant life, break out of codependent patterns, and develop a soulful, spiritually attuned, satisfying life, then this book is for you. Each section is designed to help you identify your own life story and then find ways to transform fear and constriction into action and freedom. Part I, Early Damage— The Loss of Innocence, helps you authenticate and recognize your environmental and familial wounding. It then points the way for developing safe and supportive living situations in your adult life. Part II, The Development and Healing of Codependence, defines habits and patterns that keep us stuck and unhappy, and includes ways of seeking higher guidance to adjust thought and behavior for healthier outcomes. Part III, Relationships: Boon, Blessing, or Bother?, helps identify what you are really seeking from other people. It assists you in filling the empty places inside yourself before asking another to do it for you. It also describes the pathway to true intimacy. Part IV, Spiritual Sourcing, offers direct ways for you to develop your own vibrant relationship with the Divine, to hone your life purpose, and to open daily to the miraculous world around you. Part V, From Surviving to Thriving, winds you through the valleys of loss, response-ability, and grief to the heights of living from a soulful vantage point. It reveals ways to make choices that serve the best outcomes for all concerned. The final section of the book, Part VI, Applications: Healing Systems for Personal Use, details effective healing techniques I’ve synthesized from many fine teachers and healers. I incorporate these systems into both my private practice and my own personal healing work. You can use most of these techniques on your own, though having a trusted friend or therapist with you may be most beneficial. You can walk yourself through the exercises in this book and find which work best for you. You may also choose to creatively adjust them to suit your own needs and purposes.
The title for this book, Two-Legged Medicine, is gratefully borrowed from North American indigenous societies who have for eons referred to ‘two-leggeds’ as humans, and who refer to ‘medicine’ as any helpful and divinely inspired cure for what ails us. Naming humans as two-legged implies that there are other creatures with more, or fewer, legs that have equal places in the scheme of things. No one species is meant to be superior to another; in fact, all species can learn from one another, and they must, in order to survive. This wisdom, so forgotten in contemporary society, is being revived today, hopefully in time for humans to rebalance before destroying the earth forever. From my honorary membership in the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation, interaction with various indigenous people, and my own healing encounters, I have come to appreciate that we two-leggeds have much ‘medicine’ to receive from all life forms. My previous book, Moose Medicine: Healing Wisdom from The Natural World, chronicled the power of personal experience in nature to help heal our human malaise and contradictions. Now, Two-Legged Medicine focuses in greater detail on the human causes and human cures for many of our ailments.
The subtitle for this book, How to be Your Own Brilliant Therapist, came as a compliment from a client I was able to help in a way he’d been seeking all his life. He called me “brilliant.” After an ego-rush followed by a humbling self-reminder of my all-too-human failings, I responded, “Thank you, AND, we can all be brilliant. You are recognizing that piece in me because you have it in yourself, too.” As he began to accept this, he stepped into his growing psychological and spiritual power. It is my hope and intention that in reading Two-Legged Medicine: How to be Your Own Brilliant Therapist, you will find yourself more empowered, deepened, wiser, stronger, and, ultimately, happier. The text and exercises are designed to activate your conscious self: the wise part of you that knows exactly what you are about and wants to help you live in even greater freedom than you are right now. Whether you are quite experienced in this kind of awareness or more of a newcomer, the principles are the same: applying love, understanding, and compassion will heal what ails you. Some of you will just benefit from a reminder; others will be cultivating a whole new landscape of relating to self and other.
A vital element of being your own brilliant therapist is also to be able to discern when to go it alone and when to seek out help from bona-fide healers, trusted friends, or loving family. Sometimes we need other sentient human beings to mirror love and help us become more fully human. As we receive medicine learned by those who have traversed their own passageways, we develop knowledge, experience love, and find the courage to continue on our own path of consciousness. Once we’ve made significant headway, we are then able to assist others, either directly through healing work or simply by the attractive quality with which we live our lives. We become true travelers on the path of consciousness, with a fine appreciation for the miracle of life. We learn to accompany ourselves, to breathe deep, and to persevere through it all. And we remember to continually immerse ourselves in the vast world of nature to heal, rebalance, and renew us in body, mind, and spirit. Here’s to the development of your own brilliance, and the good medicine of a soulful journey.
Abandonment and Belonging
We all intrinsically seek and want to belong—to a family, a group, a situation. When we cannot find enough belonging to satisfy us, we may feel abandoned, lost, or hopeless. In Section I, Early Damage, the causes and results of abandonment were discussed. Abuse of any kind, no matter how minimal, invites the mistaken conclusion that we have been left to the wolves.
Though human abandonment is severe in itself, I believe the hardest part is that it magnifies our sense of spiritual abandonment. Even before we were born, our trip from Paradise to the human realm must have been incredibly dense and difficult. Though that memory seems to be wiped clean when we are born, many people who are becoming more aware have recovered a sense of original home in the heavens, and of a heavenly mother and father. I sometimes think that all human angst at its core is really homesickness for our divine origins.
To feel lost and rejected is a truly distressing condition. Beyond pathology (as in Borderline Personality Disorder, where the person lives in a constant state of abandonment and lack of a personal ego), we all have this experience from time to time. Any time we are in a transition, from relationship or job loss or change, even a change of belief system, we enter into the ego’s feared danger zone of “no-thing.” No longer do we feel protected by a world we constructed that felt familiar, if not also safe. In this time of transition, we may also enter into the Great Void, a dark and eerily silent inner place where everything is unfamiliar. In fact, there is nothing at all to cling to. In the void, the psyche has no structure to arrange itself within, and the spirit is adrift, not able to help the human need or even sense the Divine.
This psychological and spiritual darkness, especially when it comes in great doses, can be daunting. Sages have written about it, and intact indigenous cultures have stories to teach about it. Nevertheless, knowledge alone will not protect you from the raw experience itself. It prepares but does not allow you to sidestep the visceral truth when it comes calling at your door.
When in the void, you may initially feel a deep sense of abandonment in the experience of nothingness. Yet ironically, when you stop fighting the experience, your perception usually changes to neutrality or curiosity. If you allow it, it will teach you that you belong even to the void; you belong to your life and to every experience for which you are willing to show up. You can apply consciousness to recognize the warning signs that you have not come through the void well; these are attitudes of bitterness, dejectedness, and defeat. However, you can come through the void better if you ask for and receive a wisdom that will extract a great price to possess, requiring you to release the structure of your old thought patterns about life (more on the Great Void in Part V: From Surviving to Thriving).
During this time, you have to let go of the ladder before you find another to take its place. Some healers call this “hanging in the dangle.” It is of an unspecified time frame. Your time is done when it is done, though it is possible that you may shorten it by surrendering, by saying, “So be it,” and living day-to-day with acceptance. True surrender is done out of choice to accept whatever will be. It does not harbor a secret hope that “If I do this, then….” There is no bargaining with the void. You will come out of it eventually. How you come out of it is largely a measure of how you decide to experience going through it. And this will determine whether you still sense an on-going abandonment or you feel a healing into the belongingness of your own life.
Irish minister John O’Donahue writes lyrically about this sense of belonging, as does a friend and colleague of his, visionary poet and workshop leader David Whyte. They both write about the hard edge of living while still being able to find a sober beauty, sometimes even in the void experience itself. They both caution against “therapising” the experience, of trying to make it too helpful, or necessary, or noble. After I get over a bit of defensiveness about that (since I am a therapist), I, too, agree that politically correct therapy is not helpful here. Only being real is. At our core, at birth and death, and in the void, which is a little of both, that is what we are: unvarnished, unprotected beings seeking to find our way through, and having to simply hang in the dangle in between.
We belong to every experience we’ve had. How can abandonment defeat us when we learn to belong to it?
The Man Behind the Curtain: Uncovering Your Oz
It is so easy to give our power away. We blame parents, our society, our base human natures, and even ourselves for our apparent lack of knowing what we need and how to provide it for ourselves. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we must pull back the curtain so we can encounter that powerful voice outside of us that we think holds the key to granting our wishes. In doing so, we are aghast as we realize that the man behind the curtain is really a fake. He cannot really help us because he cannot help himself. He preys upon our insecurity by manipulating us to think he’s powerful. It’s all whistles and mirrors.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that once we find the wizard to be a fake, we also realize his genius. He is only in the position he’s in because he has realized something we have not: that we just need permission to find what it was we thought we were incapable of finding. Once we know that, we do not need to answer any longer to the wizard without. The way home is to activate the wizard within. Your inner guide will direct you in the magic ways of finding what you truly need. He will help you turn the dross to gold, your unused talents into active gifts.
In this way, the Wizard of Oz is really about spiritual discovery and empowerment. We are not the weak, incapable creatures we imagine. In fact, as with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, the very things we think we lack are often strengths we have, albeit in their hidden states. These hidden strengths need to feel the call to adventure and answer the quest of discovery. Then they can embark upon their own empowering journeys to become all they are in us. It is a form of finding the god or goddess within.
So who is the person behind your curtain? What is his or her name? Is it a parent or disbelieving teacher? Is it someone you expected to rescue you in the past? What does (or did) his/her face look like? Maybe it is a negative compilation of many people from whom you expected but did not get help. On the positive side, you might recognize the wizard as one who knows positive qualities you have not been claiming, and is giving you a chance to claim them once again. Did that person in your outer life know you had the answer within? Spiritual maturity requires that we pull the curtain back on the mommy/daddy/god/goddess outside of ourselves who we expected to make it all better, and to embark on our own fearsome journey, where every bit of our courage will be required.
Often we will only set out on our journey in earnest when we have wholly lost our way. We have no other resources. We are desperate. That is the time to pull back the curtain and enter into the hero’s or heroine’s journey. We find frightening winged monkeys and dark witches, and we have to face our worst fears. But along the way we also find the power of good. Ultimately, we find our own way home. And the little man behind the curtain will seldom fool us again.
Our psyches are designed to work in tandem with our spirits. Our psyches are the organizing principle of our minds, egos, and personalities. I am defining “spirit” here as the divine dwelling within you. I could say that the psyche is the hiker and spirit is the mountain trail. The psyche is meant to enjoy, rest within, be guided by, and be refreshed by the natural world of spirit. In order to do this, we must free ourselves of some misconceptions that keep us from maximizing a vibrant connection between our personal selves and the Great Self of God within.
In this chapter, you will find clues to self-assess how your psyche and spirit are (or are not) cooperating with each other. You will perhaps remember your young sense of God before religion tried to teach you too much. You’ll find that the seemingly human values of tolerance, discernment, and trust are really divine attributes. And you’ll be able to see what living archetype has been dwelling in you.
Ego Is Not the Enemy
Certain branches of New Age and even Buddhist philosophy teach that our egos (housed in the psyche) are our inadequate, small selves which keep us imprisoned and in pain. They state or imply that all desire leads to stress and to more unmet desire on the repetitive suffering wheel of samsara. We’ve all seen or been in situations where this happens, like the discouraged lover who becomes bitter, or the constant over-spender who lives in financial distress. Implicit or explicit in “overcome or ignore the ego” philosophies is the belief that ego is the enemy, the troublesome foe that keeps us from the gates of heaven.
I prefer to view the ego not as an enemy but as a complex facet of the psyche, that, like a computer, needs lots of protection updates and scans. The ego is exposed to a lot of garbage; it can pick up thought viruses and not work well as a result. It takes on erroneous ideas of who we are. But what I have learned from my years working with the psyche is that we are actually hard-wired to clear out the rubble. Because of this, the ego does not have to be ignored, or overcome, or killed; it can instead be creatively harnessed to serve us. We are designed to recognize the ego as a valuable ally and support.
As a result of my work in Jungian, Transpersonal, and depth psychology, I’ve identified ego as the part of our psyche that helps us know ourselves as distinct from others. It has desires and goals that want to be fulfilled throughout our lives. The ego that is only hooked up to our small selves, however, will eventually run rampant; it will spin out of control with a cacophony of needs and schemes. It will never be satisfied for long. This happens particularly when we are young and still gathering a sense of who we are. As we mature, the idea is to offer our ego in service of the divine. This is what the 6th chakra energy center in our etheric fields does; it intuits Spirit and asks ego to carry our divine mission into the world of our personal and work lives. When ego understands it has a higher purpose, it seeks to embody the divine. The ego in tune with Spirit is both vital and at rest. It is vital because it knows it has a higher purpose to fulfill. It is at rest because it is not trying to pull from its own constant desires; rather, it is governed by Spirit, the place of peace and understanding.
In very high, spiritual endeavors, I often see people bypassing their humanity altogether in favor of being “spiritually realized.” Usually they are circumventing their opportunity to be a true human by trying hard to ignore their humanity! They make ego the enemy and, as a result, merely drive the truth of what is underground, where it wreaks havoc in their lives. They may then become ‘bliss bunnies,’ valuing only the things of spirit, meditation, and quietness. They refuse to recognize the human angst or need for action in the world. They fail to see their part in a conflict, giving it all over to Spirit instead of settling in and rolling up their sleeves. Often they become no earthly good to anyone. They refuse the realities of true responsibility, sorrow, loss, and grief.
This is not love; it is ignorance, and a refusal to be present in the here and now. Real love blossoms through the grit of living, thorns and all. Earth and Sky energies must be integrated. Earth energy demands attention to earthly needs of paying the bills and attending to detail. Sky energy reminds us that we are not only random beings taking care of necessary tasks; we are spiritual beings. Jack Kornfeld reminds us, through his Buddhist retreat center and book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, that the ego helps us attend to the necessary tasks of daily living. It is simply happier when it knows it is living in service to something greater than itself. This is accomplished by integrating psychological and spiritual truths, a kind of ping-pong, until both know they are a part of the same playing field.
Ego is not the enemy; ignorance is. I like to remind groups I work with that to give yourself away to Spirit, you have to have a YOU to give away! You have to stay with the grit and difficulties of building ego. Too many spiritual seekers want to try to give ego away before they’ve developed it. This is like trying to give a gift to someone you love when you haven’t finished creating it. You can’t give away what you don’t have. Develop your ego first. Make it beautiful. Know it, and yourself. Become well versed in your strengths and weaknesses. Give your desires time and space to know themselves. When we stop fighting the marvelous way we were constructed, we will see that ego can serve us well. It helps us know who we are so we can give our unique talents and skills to the world. It also allows us the great pleasure of personal satisfaction. Ego is only a problem when it has no higher purpose, no sense of higher headquarters. What we each need to do is hook our egos up to a higher source by intention, to be present, self-correcting without judgment, and stay tuned for the inspiring results. Then we have an awesome gift to give- to God, to ourselves, and to others.
The Ruse of Religion: Breaking Free from the Grip of Guilt
Religion has existed since the dawn of man in some form or other, and will undoubtedly continue to do so throughout time. As mentioned earlier, religion at its best provides a structure of theology and a platform for expression of consensual worship. At its worst, however, it is guilty of corruption, crime, and misuse of power. It can also be guilty of perpetuating guilt as a means to control and contain member action. Focusing on guilt may have been necessary at one point in human evolution; however, guilt has done immeasurable damage, as well, as any therapist can tell you. When a person sincerely seeks solace in her/his religion but instead finds judgment, the only recourse is to respond by feeling guilt. The Catholic Church (among other denominations and religions) has attempted to help the psyche resolve its sense of guilt, however. It performs absolution—forgiveness of sins through an intercessory priest, the agreed-upon conduit to God. And it works for millions of people. Perhaps as many million, however, become disenfranchised, finding that they labor under the load of guilt more than they are freed from it. Guilt builds fear and a sense of powerlessness, and when those in power abuse their position, the guilty crumble. The guilt-ridden intuitively know, though, that there is a better way to live. If our religion cannot provide it for us, or if it provides in word but not deed, we imperfect mortals fall out in search of a true redemption.
This is how many seekers end up on the New Age doorstep. The irony of New Age philosophy, however, is that guilt can still be present. “You caused your own cancer by ‘wrong thinking’” is as damaging now as when the Pilgrims fled persecution from the Church of England only to turn around and impose it upon the very native peoples who sought to assist them. What we don’t heal directly merely goes underground, where it can become stronger in its shadow version than when it was in plain daylight.
So how do we break free from the grip of guilt? We first recognize what is valid about a particular guilt and what is not valid. We then allow it to inform and direct us as to any action necessary. Through sometimes long and vigorous healing processes, we release and forgive ourselves and make sure that we place ourselves in environments that do not keep us in a guilty, non-redemptive state. We pay attention to heal whatever caused us to take (or not take) helpful action. Any organization that highlights guilt as a major feature (as in a fundamental view of a Christ-type figure) is still focused on the problem. However, Christian groups that emphasize the love of Christ more than the need for atonement can be healing. And the true adherence to atonement itself means “coming into a Oneness with God,” which can be truly restorative.
I go into greater detail about the problem of guilt in my book Moose Medicine, Healing Wisdom From the Natural World, but suffice it to say here that what we focus on tends to guide who we become. This is not to deny the shadow side of our nature. But the unmistakable irony is that if guilt becomes a major pole around which we revolve, we will embed it in our psyches. Rumi traveled around a pole out of deep sorrow for the loss of his soul friend Shams until his grief circled him back to the Divine. Has circling around the pole of your guilt brought you closer to a god you wish to know?
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