With fists, with words, with kindness
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I loved “At The Heart Of Healing,” the interview with Stephen Levine [Issue 167], and I’d like to add some comments.
Levine suggests that the seemingly “aggressive” visualizations that the Simontons have developed may be appropriate for some people at some times. In my experience with my bodywork clients and in my own healing process, I’ve found that disease symptoms usually represent the qualities in ourselves that we’d prefer to disown. The symptoms are symbols made manifest in our attempt to externalize what we’d like to reject about ourselves.
In this context, healing takes place in the process of integration — in the process of reclaiming and embracing the full scope of who we are. Often, this process does indeed look like our idea of “forgiveness” — extending mercy and compassion. However, when the quality that’s being rejected is aggression itself, healing may require the recognition that “being aggressive” is, sometimes, entirely appropriate.
From this point of view, crisis becomes opportunity: the disease provides a legitimate, appropriate setting for the person (at last!) to express hostility. An aggressive visualization provides a safe way to do this.
What to do with evil — whether we have the cowboys shoot it or the Seven Dwarfs dig it up — is something we all must address; it’s not just the province of philosophers. A quick duck into forgiveness as a path to healing is attractive, especially to those of us — myself included — who have preferred to avoid conflict and have been uncomfortable expressing feelings of aggression. Yet true healing does require an unbounded compassion — acceptance without any condition at all — and that includes compassion toward what may seem to be our aggressive minds.
The following is a response to a letter by Isabella Russell-Ides [Issue 166] about our interview with Michael Meade, “On Being A Man” [Issue 161].
I find it almost impossible to understand how Isabella Russell-Ides could take Michael Meade’s impassioned pleading for a world in which wild men are the equal and blessedly different mates of wild women, and construe it as a fear of women so vivid she could almost smell it, as she writes. Of course it may help that I know Michael and his work with men, since he has given two workshops in our community and shared one with Robert Bly at the Sufi Abode — from which two of our shyer men came back tall in the saddle.
As far as I can tell, the fear Isabella smelled was not primarily Michael’s but the inner terror we all experience, which stems from the wound we all carry around. As a woman who has lived intimately with a father, four brothers, four sons, and twelve “foster brothers” within our community, and as one who has been watching closely the development of young boys in our community and school, I must agree with Michael’s view of men as wounded and as needing close bonding with other men for the healing of those deep wounds to the soul that being born and growing up inevitably entail.
In our community, such bonds — men to men, women to women — are nurtured as precious beyond measure. As women, we have worked a great deal with our own woundedness, but I have found it very rare indeed for women outside of our community to consider theirs. Instead, they seem to want to place the problem at the door of men. I don’t think that works — because I don’t think men alone are to blame. When you examine closely the goddess aspect of woman, whether in your own experience or in the growing genre of goddess literature, you do not find stories about superb females who stride the face of the earth or fly about the empyrean uninjured by life. Instead, you learn about the pain of existence, the pain of learning to live within the female generative/sexual function, the pain of relationships with gods and men.
My experience tells me that women and men both are deeply, deeply wounded. I believe it is part of the human condition, as Michael suggests. I am grateful to people like him and Robert Bly for having the passion, compassion, and understanding — let alone the poetic vision — to help us widen our outlook on that condition and heal our inner wounds. But, as they say in AA, no one can heal who does not first recognize the need for healing. You have to be willing to admit to the problem and learn to accept the pain before you can even begin to find your healing.
After reading “The Man In The Mirror” [Issue 169], I thought to myself that you’ll have another jolt in about thirty years — when you’ll be forced to realize that your children are becoming middle-aged! My oldest (of four) will hit fifty next year. An artist, she still seems like a kid to me. My youngest son, who’ll soon be thirty-nine, looks more middle-aged than she does, and so does the archaeologist son who is forty-two. Maybe the beards make them look their age. Certainly the daughter who just turned forty-seven, a single mother who recently got her master’s and is working on her Ph.D., doesn’t seem middle-aged to me at all. They are “middle” in the sense of being right in the middle of everything — kids, careers, creativity.
Three of my eight grandchildren are young adults, one already past her first marriage and divorce. This is another jolt.
But I have been trying hard to remember — when did I go through the transition that you describe so eloquently? When did I realize that I was no longer young, that I had tipped over onto the down-slope? Was it when I stopped dyeing my hair red and let the gray begin to creep? When we decided to take “early retirement” (not that I stayed retired) and left Manhattan for the redwood country? When I passed menopause? Or was it when I discovered that my husband could no longer crawl under the house to fix the furnace, and spading the garden was physically too onerous for me? Was it when I decided, the hell with it, I’ll always be short and fat, and devoted myself to walking miles or dancing to MTV but quit dieting? Was it when I realized that I could be “just friends” with men and nobody was hitting on anybody anymore? Perhaps all of those factors, little by little. I can’t remember any abrupt slap in the face such as you experienced with the baldness issue. (My husband is bald, and I think bald men are very sexy.)
In my late forties I had just remarried, and my man and I were going through a second teenager phase that was as delightful as it was ridiculous — fellow travelers with my hippie sons, Beatles freaks, peace marchers, and so on. I celebrated my fiftieth birthday by winning my Purple Heart — getting knocked down by a cop at the Rusk Riot. Another memorable day was the time in Riverside Park when my husband and I were mistakenly identified as the parents of my granddaughter!
Now, at seventy-two, with my first poetry chapbook just out and my weekly column appearing in the local paper, I am really trying to face this aging business.
First a word of cheer: as long as a person stays healthy, comfortable, active, I find this to be the happiest stage of life. Freedom! Minimal responsibilities! Age an excuse for anything you don’t want to do! Since my mother died and my kids are on their own, I am no longer the designated burden-bearer, as so many middle-aged folks are when both children and parents need their help.
However, I hear that countdown. The best one can hope for is the status quo, the delightful right now. The future does not bear looking at too closely. How much time have I got? Time comes out of the closet and leers at you in the dark hours.
There is the dread of illness or mental deterioration — for yourself or your mate. I volunteer twice a week at the local nursing home, forcing myself to face what can happen. I have always believed that a positive mind-set helps create a positive reality. I still believe it. It’s worked for me so far. But to what extent is it true, and to what extent is it a fancy masquerade for denial?
Aging is, after all, my “material,” given to me free, whether I want it or not; I use it quite a bit in columns and poems. But I have a hunch that somebody deep down inside me still isn’t convinced that it’s real.
I have to struggle with this. Your fine essay gives me an assist, and I thank you.
There is a part of each of us, I truly feel, that is afraid to die. This part (call it survival instinct, or primitive mind, or ego, or whatever else) is intrinsic to being human. I have come to an acceptance of the fact that I am never going to completely outgrow or transcend this fear, as long as I am alive in human form; so I wear it, much as I wear my face every day. We probably have about as much chance of ever being able to overcome this fear as we do of overcoming our faces. It seems rather silly to exert effort to eliminate something as fundamental to life as trepidation concerning its inevitable conclusion.
No matter how depressing any phase of life may become for us, we can take great comfort in the fact that it isn’t going to last.
What we really are never was born and never will die. The beauty of this is that it cannot be proven or disproven. If it could, would it be even remotely possible for life to have the same intensity and richness? I think not. Besides, everything I have ever experienced in other realms screams to me that this is true. And if it should somehow not be true, would I be any worse off for having gone through a lifetime believing that it was?
A friend gave me a subscription to The Sun for Christmas, and I’ve also perused a few of his back issues. Nice work; you’ve created a unique magazine. But as for “The Man In The Mirror” — really now, five pages on your thinning hair? I’m about your age with my own decreasingly bushy mane, so it’s a subject I have more than a passing interest in. But five pages seemed like self-indulgent overkill. I think you could have said it better in one page and left four pages for other contributors. How about exerting some of that draconian editor’s discipline and cutting your own verbiage, when warranted, down to an appropriate length?