Monday, November 30, 2020

The Three Levels

Do you know people who have gone through this life unscarred by disappointment, by unfairness, never having felt unseen or unheard or unknown? If so, I’d like to meet them!

 

A simple survey of any random ten strangers on the street in any neighborhood worldwide would be testimony to this simple truth—no one gets through this life or year or heck, sometimes even a day!—without feeling wounded in some way. Life’s arrows, be they intentionally aimed or randomly fired, eventually hit us all. 

 

If we accept this truth—and really, what other choice do we have?— the first question becomes how we read what happens, what stories we tell that help make sense of it all. I’ve found it helpful to look at this from three distinct perspectives, three layers of storytelling. 

 

The first is political. Analyzing what happens sometimes reveals socio-political forces that drive things to happen in predictable ways based on the logic of previous assumptions. Rather than read an incident as a personal attack, it becomes understood through the lens of these assumptions, the long line of isms that passed on beliefs and ideologies that harmed and hurt. Take your pick. In this case, we become victims of forces beyond our control, hurt simply because “that’s the way it is” regardless of how we act or treat others. In short, the people causing harm are upheld by institutions that give them permission. 

 

In child’s terms, this translates as “That’s not fair!!” In the adult world, it’s called injustice.

 

The second is psychological. Here we analyze what our part in the drama is, what we did to attract hurt or invite it. Did our resistance to our father’s authority spill over to our boss? Did our protection of our mother cause our later relationship to go awry?

 

In this paradigm, “analysis” means analyzing the emotional patterns that move things in certain directions. By becoming aware of the patterns, we can both understand and possibly avoid the behaviors that cause hurt and harm.

 

The third layer, the one often least considered and the hardest nut to crack, is mythological. All wisdom traditions agree that the light shines through the cracks in our armor, that our wounds are the entry points to our larger selves. Betrayals in the human world are often necessary to the soul’s awakening. 

 

So now comes the second essential question—which story are we in? Jacob Blake, shot seven times and paralyzed by police officers protected by our history of white supremacy, does not need to talk about his mother and father issues. Identifying the political forces behind the atrocity is necessary to stopping the violence.

 

The next time your boss puts you down, some astute psychological reflection may help you understand how you play into the dynamic. Is it his issue or mine or both and if so, how?

 

As you add up the litany of wrongs from childhood to yesterday, mythological thinking may help reveal a pattern that closed door after door so that the right one could finally open. At the human level, your “it’s not fair!” self might still whine a bit, but your deep self, your Soul is celebrating—“Okay, now we can get to work.”

 

And finally, the third question. Having considered these three stories, named the one most relevant to the situation, how do we respond? We might re-commit to our work in social justice while fine tuning our emotional intelligence and at the same time, start to consider the bigger picture. Our wounds are not just our wounds, they’re everyone’s. Yes, the particular nature of our particular wounds are important, but ultimately it’s the universal fact of woundedness that we come to grips with and the hard, hard truth that none of it is fixable. But it all can move toward healing when we accept it as our soul’s work. We learn to sing with it, dance with it, play with it, sit with it, walk side-by-side with it. If we’re lucky, we come to ultimately forgive and even thank the people who wounded us.  

 

As you can see, I’m still working this out. Hope something is of interest to someone somewhere. 

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