How does healing arise? How do we know when we are healed? What must we do to encourage healing? When we are healed, do we always know it?
Healing is freedom—freedom from whatever ailed you. Sometimes the ailment is a disease. Sometimes it is a person. Sometimes it is a toxic environment. Sometimes it is a toxic idea you carry. But always, illness is slavery. It is compulsion. It is helplessness in the face of a desire to do or be otherwise.
Often we know we’re ill when we’re envious, when we covet what others have, when we’re angry beyond reason, when our “buttons are pushed.” We know we’re in a state of dis-ease whenever our stomachs lurch, our necks tense, we pace, we clench our fists, we can’t relax our hold on something. Such reactions say, “Pay attention: here is an opportunity for growth,” and “Listen up! Danger ahead!” Our reactions, physical or emotional or otherwise, are like yellow traffic lights, admonishing us to slow down, to pay attention.
There’s a lot of anguish when our hearts ail us. We feel heavy in the chest, slow of foot. When asked, “Where do you feel this problem?” most people can put their hand on the place or places where it hurts. We carry psychic pain in our physical bodies. If you watch Oprah or read pop psychology, you know this. We all know this, but we forget it, and when we forget it, we continue to carry the pain.
“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick”
As the post-pop psychology generation, we know that our pain arises from unmet human needs, such as the need for adequate food and shelter, for sex, for safety, for love and belonging, for confidence and esteem or respect (for ourselves and from others), for gainful and meaningful work, for morality, creativity, openness to others, and the love of physical and spiritual truth. Solomon, the Biblical sage, knew this when he wrote, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”
Psychologist Clayton Alderfer theorized that if higher, self-actualization needs are not met, people will redouble their efforts at lower developmental levels, perhaps gathering more friends or a larger social network around them, or by returning to the survival needs levels proposed by Maslow and amassing property and belongings.
I think it’s a mistake to assume that poor people cannot become self-actualized, but many westerners favor that idea. One of my favorite movies, City of Joy, is about a westerner who, though possessed of every modern advantage in life, is more impoverished than the people he lives among in Calcutta, India. As Jesus taught, a person’s life does not consist of his possessions. Because westerners take pride in their intellectual possessions and the extent of their self-approbation, we might consider that our educational attainments and favorable opinions of ourselves and our own ideas are to us what physical property is to others with less time to read and think. We may well be as impoverished as Patrick Swayze’s character in City of Joy, but be blind to it.
From my experience as a psychologist, our greatest poverty as Americans is our spiritual poverty. As individuals, we consistently fall short of self-actualization and stay stuck at other levels of need and development. Although researchers and theorists do not agree on whether the nature of our development is linear or not, they do agree on the need for self-actualization. Self-actualization is the robustly developed Self that includes morality, spirituality, creativity, tolerance and acceptance—in short, all the qualities that are taught by the world’s religions. It is the vertical relationship between the creature and the Creator or the Divine. Most Americans and most inhabitants of post-industrialized nations seem to lack this element, for they attack those who do have it. And, because many a folk confuse religion with true spirituality, on the other end of the political spectrum we have religious zealots and fundamentalists who, like their secular counterparts, believe and act out a philosophy of “my way or the highway” every single day. Theirs is a pagan intolerance that seeks to wound and even destroy the enemy.
People’s wounds, I’ve found, occur on all of these developmental need levels when they’ve been raised in diseased or toxic environments. To whatever extent the healthy, generous meeting of these needs is denied or hindered, the Self is similarly impoverished. We all know, probably, that it can take a lifetime to deal with whatever hand our parents dealt us. The main business of Third Eve is, and has always been, to explore what it means to move into a spiritual mindset that assumes equality with the Divine, because the spiritual law of the Judeo-Christian ethic is that two shall not be “unequally yoked.” Put another way, as Buddha taught and as I’ve recently noted in my sidebar widgets, “Travel only with thy equals or better; if there are none, travel alone.” To do less is to be dragged down by our own fallibility to a lower developmental level. Our task as growing human beings is to continue to grow, and to invite others to come along with us.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs