If People Were Stray Animals

Stray Dog

If people were stray animals, wandering alone and hungry, how long would one range before her protruding ribs and sunken eyes betrayed her as rejected, unwanted, alone? How long would she dart in and out of traffic, looking for water or rest before some kindly motorist stopped, called out, and tried to entice her to safety with some morsel of food?

If people were dogs and cats, and you were to see one eating from a trash can, or skulking into the crawl space under your house, would you feed him? Would you try? Would you?

You think you would. You say you would. Yet you pass by daily. You avert your gaze from the halt step, the shriveled limb protectively hidden, the fear in the eyes.

“My life,” you Tweet, “My life is so full. I’m so blessed.”


Stray Cat

Second Chance Animal Sanctuary

At Second Chance Animal Sanctuary, volunteers visit the animals daily. They walk the dogs. They play with the kittens and name them. They freshen the water, play tug-o’-war with the puppies. They fill index cards with descriptions that prospective adopters read:

REX is playful and outgoing. He is good with children and other animals. Best suited for a family.

CHLOE was feral but rescued along with her kittens and brought here. She needs a subdued environment. A single owner, child-free household would be best for her.

RUFUS is a mature pit bull-lab mix who enjoys a romp in the yard and a good scratch behind the ears. He’s extremely patient and even-tempered and would adapt well to households with older children, or perhaps an older couple.

If people were stray animals, we would all be worth rescuing. Groups of rescuers would band together, forming networks whose only purpose is to give care and comfort to the abandoned. We would form 501(c)(3) organizations for the rescue, feeding, and care of the lost.

ALICE was married 48 years and her husband died. She raised eight children and was Red Cross volunteer for 25 years. She enjoys reading Emily Dickinson, takes a walk every evening, and is a fan of Gunsmoke. She needs a gentle friend, preferably a single person with a wry sense of humor, who shares some of her interests and can drive.

TREVOR never knew his father. His mother’s drug habit rendered them homeless. Trevor dropped out of school and went to work to support himself and his mother’s habit. He needs a strong male friend who tolerates (and even uses) coarse language, and can teach him a trade.

TAYLOR is transgender. Her family rejected her and she hasn’t seen them in four years. Taylor is startled each morning when she has to shave her beard stubble. Lacking the means to use hormones, she makes do with what she has, but feels a sense of disconnection from herself and everyone around her. She needs hormone treatment and a group of understanding, loyal friends who will stick with her.

If Lost People were Stray Animals

If lost grownups were stray animals or abandoned children, we’d understand. We’d know right away what was needed. We would approach with all gentleness the person whose way of life and way of being had been shattered. Moved by pity, we would patiently entice the starving-hearted with choice morsels. We would keep our distance but watch daily for the slightest sign that the traumatized were able to trust again. Small victories would be worthy of celebration. “She approached me in public today,” your status update would say, “She hesitated before declining my invitation to dinner at my home. I can tell she’s starting to rely on our weekly coffees at Starbucks. Some day she’ll be able to trust me enough to accept that dinner invitation.”

How lovely, if each traumatized person were valued as much as a stray animal. How the abandoned and unwanted must long to be loved when they cannot love themselves. How they must long to have someone whose first act of love is to see, the next to listen. To be noticed is to have value; to be worthy of patient outreach and rescue is to be given hope. What if teams of volunteers sought out the shattered sufferers, removing them from their cages, taming them, showing them love?

If you could see her abandonment, his feral wildness—how they snarl at the traps that snapped them in two and have them bound—you would see that they may die from it. You would see that one person in her life would make a difference, two would be able to bear his litter to the place where angels stir the healing waters, and three would be wise men bearing healing salves and the most subtle spices to return flavor and beauty to her life.

I wish you could look past our bared teeth and growls with eyes of faith, love, and unreasoning hope, envisioning what might happen if we were fed, and gentled, and loved day by day until we could relax, even play again.  I wish you would see that every animal deserves a second chance.

Stray Pup

Letting Go

In February of 2011, I began a series on the topic of alchemy, the medieval science and philosophy used metaphorically by depth psychologists to explain the intentions of the psyche. I most recently wrote about dissolution, the corrosive process whereby what is unnecessary to the work is systematically dissolved away. The application of the effects of this alchemical stage to our own experiences in life is straightforward: Whenever we experience a significant loss or change, additional changes accompany the larger loss like ladies’ maids.


Life changes, and what is no longer necessary or supportive to a new way of life must be sundered. One change begets another, a process the alchemists called separation. In City of God, Saint Augustine wrote that bereavement and calamity are fuels for the fire that burns away all that is not essential. The deaths of my daughter and husband, for example, caused other losses and changes in my life. One of the most obvious immediate changes following a death are those that arise from dealing with your loved one’s things, so changes to my physical environment had to be worked through. The size and shape of my social networks changed, too. Relationships that had once been of importance were corroded by the impact of my losses, and over time came to be less important. Other relationships grew, becoming more influential.

When large changes occur in our lives, the habit patterns we’ve built around the person, place, or circumstances that have changed must, of necessity, change. Creatures of habit, we are anchored in days, weeks, and months that go by with dependability because of them. When the basis of one or more habits decays or disappears, though, we discover we don’t know who we are any more. The widow, so accustomed to her role as a wife, is left standing alone, clothed with the tattered habits that served her only when her husband was alive. The father and husband whose wife leaves with the children finds himself suddenly a bachelor again, clueless about how to handle a life in which he sees his own children only by schedule. Elderly suburban householders sell the home in which they raised their children and move to a condo or retirement community, then feel like exiles in their own lives. All these are examples of what occurs when big changes beget numerous offspring that demand to be fed and kept in order. We are as overwhelmed as new parents, for the squalling demands of this new way of life keep us up nights.

You Can’t Go Home

In his fascinating book, Surviving Survival: the Art and Science of Resilience, Laurence Gonzalez writes that

The bigger the trauma, the more dramatic the requirement for change. In many cases, the necessary adaptation is so extreme that an entirely new self emerges from the experience. In most cases, there is no easy return to the old environment. Sometimes you can’t go home at all (p. 5).

We cross ourselves and pray as we drive by a nasty accident on the freeway. We take a casserole, and write a sympathy card to the bereaved co-worker. We listen sympathetically to the friend whose husband just cheated on her and left with a younger woman. We murmur our distress when a colleague discloses that his business partner embezzled money and left him bankrupt. But most observed losses don’t have much impact for long, because the life-changing impact of loss and dissolution belongs to the person experiencing it. Until we’ve experienced first-hand what it means to be rendered psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, or physically homeless, we don’t understand. Perhaps this is why Solomon wrote that “the heart knows its own bitterness; and a stranger does not share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10).

The past two years since my husband’s death have been impossibly painful. One of my sons remarked afterward on my utter brokenness. This brokenness is what the medieval alchemist would call a dissolution, the second stage in the alchemical process. Following on the heels of dissolution is separation, a sifting and filtering of what elements remain after a great sundering. One is already broken and divided, but more cutting and separation remain to be done. We know this truth instinctively, for it’s integrated into our everyday language. After a great change, we “re-group.” When dissolved by crisis, we try to “get our acts together.” Trauma that upsets daily or even life-long routines makes us “scatter-brained.” We strive to “come to our senses” after feeling we’ve “lost our minds.”

To come to our senses and get our acts together means to recognize what belongs, and what does not. One moves to a new home, and finds that the old furniture doesn’t fit, so out it goes. Larger losses require larger realizations about what fits, and what has to be left behind. Even when we want to waste energy and time on what no longer fits, it’s impossible to continue with hands full of broken bits that can’t be fitted back together, and are of no further use. To attempt to carry what is irreparably broken is to prolong suffering that is unnecessary. Separation gently but firmly urges us to let go.

Letting Go

Others want us to get on with our lives after a great loss. To get on with our lives means to integrate our losses and the changes they require. We can’t fully integrate a loss without also separating out what rightly belonged to the way of life associated with the lost person, job, home, era, or circumstance. Put another way, we can’t keep wearing our mini-skirts into our 60s—right, ladies?

Separation allows us to let go of ideals, attitudes, and habits that no longer fit. To find peace is to find the place where nothing remains that is not essential. We are then “redeemed from the constant effort to achieve something in the wrong direction” (von Franz, 257).


Gonzalez, Laurence. (2012). Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co.

von Franz, Marie-Louise. (1980). Alchemy. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

My Alchemy Series

  1. Tending of the Flame
  2. The Affliction of the Soul
  3. From the Darkness
  4. Doing the Work
  5. The Hidden Seed
  6. Slime of the Small World
  7. Hour of Lead
  8. Things Fall Apart

Master, Mentor, Teacher, Guide

And so we have sat with the baby, calling to mind how small and helpless we were so long ago, how patterns we have had in our lives since infancy and early childhood have stuck with us, in some cases crippling or hindering us in ways we do not wish–in ways that we can’t seem to quite overcome just yet. Just days after my own birthday, I thought about my experiences in the hours, days, and weeks following my premature birth and subsequent lengthy hospitalization, and I have looked at the patterns I began to learn then, and wondered. I wonder because in our Jungian studies classes, over and over again the seasoned analysts, writers, and scholars who teach us say that even their clients in their 50s, 60s, and 70s haven’t been able to adequately compensate for the patterns stamped indelibly on their souls, patterns that give them problems their entire lives and which, in later ages, bring them to the analyst’s office.

“Given how difficult it is to change,” I ask, “do people really change? And if so, how?”

I direct this to Dr. Hollis, whose presence and generous contributions of self I so appreciate, who replies that yes, people do change sometimes, but change is difficult if it occurs, and it cannot occur unless a person has a mentor of sorts, a conscious, wise, and mature counselor to whom one is accountable. This someone is there to ask after the what and wherefore of one’s actions, to gently point out the pattern and how it lames a person or hinders her, and to listen. This mentor is one who sees and hears you, and tries to understand. Without this person in your life, you are flying blind and without adequate training to make it through.

Another analyst who is also a priest taught us that he was taught that one in a hundred people are actually analyzable. What does this mean? It means that most people don’t consider unconscious motivations, don’t believe they have patterns that drive them to repeat and revisit their wounds over and over again, and will not cooperate with any kind of analysis of the evidence of their unconscious. They don’t want to see and therefore there is nothing to be seen, no matter how in-your-face the obvious is to the observer. We are being slapped in the face with the other person’s unconscious patterns, but they’re oblivious. It’s painful to experience, and out of necessity one has to move outside the range of the flailing if one hopes to escape harm.

A person who changes lifelong patterns does it through consistent, wise, reliable accountability to another, and also by having the structure that supports the pattern systematically dismantled. This dismantling is easiest to observe in addiction recovery, where the first thing that happens is an addict is removed from his usual environment and put into a treatment facility. There, his old friends and haunts and substances are not available. He has no familiar tools or routines, nor access to the destructive treatment program he’s designed for himself. We remove the structure supporting the addiction and then we look at what remains. What remains is what we’re after. An addiction functions very much like a complex, or what Buddhists call a knot, in that it has a cold, calculating, and single-minded obsession with serving itself. It seems to have a life of its own, which is why it’s called a disease. The addiction, like the neurosis, complex, or mental illness is very much like a wicked witch who has cast a spell over a person and holds him in her thrall. We are helpless in the face of its power unless someone comes to our aid, some elixir is found, some rescue attempted.

A prince goes by and hears Rapunzel singing; the prince kisses the Sleeping Beauty–something happens with a force of “Otherness” to it that on an archetypal level is about an imprisoned, poisoned, sleeping part of ourselves that needs rescuing by the awake, alive, and virile part. This is one reason why we love a good romance, long for the knight in shining armor to come over the hill on his white horse bearing his coat of arms. We sense that the power of rescue is within us, but we can’t do it alone. We need help. We need a force stronger than ourselves to get us out of the clutches of our own destructive process.

And so the addict goes to treatment. There he eats new food, does not use harmful substances but is given new substances, new tools, even a new language for conceptualizing life and communicating with others. He is given a new peer group and, yes, a sponsor. In every single system of recovery, recovery and consciousness begin with a mentor and a big change that puts the old habit pattern on its ear. But even this isn’t enough; we hear all too often about addicts relapsing, because the power of the old pattern is so much stronger than the loose and frightening feeling of being uncontained after being released from treatment. Therapy, group work, or analysis may provide enough of a constant context of care to counterbalance a person’s lifelong patterns; but more often than not, people regress or fall back into the hole again. Anyone who has tried to stop smoking, to diet, or to change any habit or reoccurring pattern of relating or reacting knows how hard-won any change is.

Though I use addictions as an example, what I mean to say is that change is difficult for anyone. We really can’t do it without an accountability partner and mentor. We also need a friend or friends with whom we can partner, if possible. But we need a teacher. We need the Zen master, priest, rabbi, mentor, counselor, crone, analyst, therapist to whom we are accountable over time–over a long period of time. The pattern that your mother and father set going in you from infancy onward is not going to be modified, corrected, improved, much less eradicated if we are lone wolves, loping off into the dark night on our own. We are likely to remain predators or even become prey, doing things that way.


fledgling by you.

We’d had heavy thunderstorms for several days, but the temperature had not dropped. When I took the dogs out first thing that morning, the air felt heavy, warm, and wet. Low-lying clouds hung over the woods in the distance, teats full of rain. Another storm was coming.

As I waited on the dogs, a small movement caught my eye to the left. With surprise, I noticed a fledgling bird on our back porch, peering up at me and seeming as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “Why, hello there,” I said, bending down to get a better look. “What are you doing here?”

The little bird looked at me soberly, craning his neck. Not the least bit afraid, he stared me full in the face as if to say, “What do you think I’m doing here? I’m lost!”

He didn’t appear to be wounded or hurt in any way, but was so still he looked carved of wood. Only his eyes blinked. As I ushered the oblivious dogs back into our house, I speculated about how he might have become lost. I knew of no nests near that part of the house, but scanned the trees for them anyway.

I went back inside and watched the little bird through the window, mulling over what to do. I could capture the bird, cage him, and feed him until he was old enough to fly and care for himself. Our youngest girls would be thrilled. I could leave him alone and see if he worked out his destiny on his own. I could wait and see whether his mother might find him. Surely by now she had noticed him missing.

“What are you looking at?” my daughter Juniper asked as she entered the room. “This fledgling,” I pointed. He’s fallen from his nest somewhere and is lost on our porch.” Juniper observed the little fellow with interest. “What are you gonna do about him?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I was just wondering about that,” I said as I fixed my second cup of tea for the day.

After a few minutes, Juniper exclaimed, “Mom! Look! I think his mother’s out there!”

Sure enough, a larger bird with his same coloring and markings was perched on the plant hook above the little fellow, chirping. “Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” she’d say, and “Peep! Peep! Peep!” he’d reply. Once a hearty litany of chirping and peeping had been established, the mother began to move a foot away from her baby with each series of chirps. The fledgling followed, flapping his stubby little wings with excited salutes and standing tall on tippy-toes as if to say, “I’m with you, Mum! Aye-aye, Mum!”

Attracted by all the chirping and peeping, three or four birds of other varieties joined in the chorus and began to flutter around the mother-child pair with some excitement, one settling in our Redbud tree, another perching on the edge of a flower pot, one hopping between the roof and the top of a deck chair.

The mother and baby appeared to be Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, our state bird. With tails four times longer than their bodies, they can do air stunts and acrobatics like nobody’s business. But the fledgling had still the stubby wings and short tail of a child; without his mother’s help he was unlikely to find his way to safety.

I followed the pair past our pool house and to the mature pear tree near the fence dividing our yard from our pasture. In spite of the other bird calls surrounding him, the fledgling steadfastly followed his mother’s voice. The mother appeared to be leading her baby toward our barn. I worried about his ability to survive in the open as he crossed the field, and about what would happen when he couldn’t be returned to the nest due to his inability to fly. Still, his mother continued to chirp with confidence, insisting, “Follow me! Come this way!”

The last time I observed the pair, he had taken shelter under a lawnmower and she was perched on a branch above him, urging him forward. My husband had driven past us with a load of lumber and it was as if the mother had called, “Hide under that thing, junior, until Danger has passed!” Once my husband drove away, their journey commenced. Though a part of me fretted about what prey this baby might become in the open field, I had confidence in the mother’s ability to direct her offspring. She had gotten him this far; what she did with her baby was her business. She had not, after all, ever tried to interfere with my childrearing.

ico1 by you.

As I went about my morning chores, I thought about the small drama I’d witnessed over the past 45 minutes and a parable of Jesus came to mind. St. John the Apostle records that after Jesus healed the man who had been blind from birth, the religious leaders of the day confronted the healed man, accusing him of being a blasphemer and follower of Jesus rather than a true Jew and follower of Moses. Jesus had healed the blind man on the Sabbath, an act prohibited by law according to the religious leaders, who began to bicker over whether Jesus could truly be from God and be a Sabbath-breaker at the same time.

In response to all the bickering, Jesus told his followers,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

Jesus therefore said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:1-18)

“A stranger they simply will not follow.” Like the fledgling who knew his mother’s voice and followed it, beloved children hear the voice of the Good Mother, the Good Father, the Good Shepherd, and follow. It is the simplest thing in the world to follow the good shepherd of our souls when we know his voice, when we know from long experience that this voice can be trusted.

ico1 by you.

Children who have not been loved, but who have been abused and neglected and grown up unprotected do not know the voice of the good shepherd. Having been trained by parents who act like thieves, hirelings, and robbers, they became habituated to the voices of thieves, hirelings, and robbers. Their childhoods were lived in emotional war zones rather than sunny, verdant pastures fit for lambs. Never knowing from which direction danger might come, they lost the ability to hear the good voice and became accustomed to the survival mentality necessary for those raised in war zones. They cannot live in true community, do not understand or manifest loyalty, and deeply mistrust everyone, including themselves. Without a spiritual rebirth, they are doomed; this is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.”

Where is the hope for the lost lamb, the lamb who has been raised by hirelings, thieves and robbers, by shepherds who flee when danger approaches and teach their sheep that they’re on their own? It is in being born again, in somehow being taken to a place where they are once again protected in womb-like safety, nurtured and protected until the time comes when they are ready to come out of the womb (the tomb) and live.

Post Game

Though it’s taken a good two months to do it, I’m finished with Patricia’s case study; this post may be considered a sort of post-game wrap-up, a terminal staffing of Patricia’s case. Although Patricia is a composite, she is a reliable composite of real clients. I never worked with a birth mother who surrendered her child who wasn’t devastated afterward, who didn’t drawing03 by you.regret it, and who didn’t long for her lost baby every day thereafter. Though some turned to addictions to numb their pain and thus mask it, the pain was always there. Though Patricia runs, she can never run far enough away from what she has done.

I had several clients like Patricia, clients who would never have given their children up for adoption had they been healthy people, for when they gave up their babies they sealed themselves in a special kind of purgatory reserved for birth mothers. They made sure that they would be punished for the rest of their lives for being who they were, for the choices they had made.

By this, I don’t mean to say that no mother should ever outsource her parenting to another couple or that a birth mother’s pain must be eternal and unending. I am all in favor of adoption when parents won’t get their acts together. Babies and small children get one childhood, and that childhood is short. If they don’t have healthy parents, children will be psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally maimed. All of us will pay the price. This is why, I think, the Old Testament states that the father’s sins are revisited by the third and fourth generations. In family therapy, when we do a genogram, we can see how patterns are, in fact, continued through three or four generations. Absent a healing, wounds are transmitted as surely as DNA. And I know for certain that every person alive is able to receive healing, able to be saved, eminently redeemable. I don’t mean to say that adoption is bad, that it causes an incurable wound.

What I do mean to say is that adoption and having one’s children removed to foster care occur as the result of a terrible fracture in the bones of a family. Breaks in relationship are symptoms. What caused the adoption or state intervention cannot possibly be a good thing. After having children themselves, even adult adoptees raised by the best possible adoptive parents will say that they can’t imagine giving their own child away. They say they would do whatever it takes to keep their children, and they do.

it’s not about adoption

But Patricia’s story is not merely about adoption. It would be easy to dismiss her study because adoption isn’t part of our lives. We’re not so wounded that we’ve cast away our own drawing05 by you.flesh and blood, we’ll say. We’re better off than that.

I think we should not be so hasty to pat ourselves on the back, because to whatever extent you or I were wounded, complexed, tied up in knots (as  Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh would put it), to that extent we too need healing and we too have passed on our wounds to our children. You will always see it when your children grow up, find partners, marry, have children and careers. You’ll see it in their friendships or lack of them, their mishaps, the conflicts they have with others, in what they do with their success.

One of the best examples of applied case history I’ve written was in “Talisman,” where I showed how Amanda’s wound, “Trailer Trash,” manifested itself in her life despite her extensive efforts to do other than what her parents had done. In middle age, she is very much like her parents were. The addictions have been cleaned up and are socially acceptable, and the chaos she creates in her life is chaos in the name of Good (work, helping others, etc.), but the effects are the same. There is no peace, no place of security or safety in her household, no order, very little nurture, no time to slow down, no insight or wisdom, no true spirituality.

I could give you a hundred examples, for I’ve seen it in every life of every walking wounded I know, including in my own life. We do it until we’re free, as I wrote in “Talisman.” It can be as obvious as the adult child of the alcoholic marrying an alcoholic. It can be as subtle as the survivor of sexual abuse growing up and appearing to be the picture of mental health, yet choosing to raise her own children in a neighborhood where the highest number of registered sex offenders live within a square mile of her home. It can be as subtle as the social worker who rationalizes her inhuman work schedule by saying she’s doing necessary work, helping the needy, while ignoring the fact that her own children see her no more often than she saw her own parents, and are no more known by her as a mother than she was by her own largely emotionally (if not physically) absent mother.

the good enough family

Sometimes people whose families looked good enough from the outside, and who had average or above-average opportunities but impoverished relationships fare the worst. Stan and Anita grew up in such families. Each had a high-functioning addict or personality-disordered parent; each parent divorced and remarried one or more times, using all the energy that drawing04 by you.should have been given to the children for the new romance. Each went to summer camp, lived in nice homes. They attended private schools and good universities, were members of fraternal societies and religious clubs. They were the pictures of success and ripe potential until they married. Then, though each continued to exhibit outward success–good careers, nice home, good cars–they and their marriage fell apart.

Like many upwardly mobile, intelligent young people, they sought good help and received it, spending thousands of hours and dollars on therapy. They improved and became better. But as soon as they decided to have children, they each compulsively began to re-create the very picture of disonnectedness and relational poverty with which they were raised. Like the sexual abuse survivor who moved to the nice town house in the midst of an area rife with sex offenders, they moved to a neighborhood surrounded by ghetto. In their one square mile radius were three halfway houses for addicts, nine bars, and numerous prostitutes and drug dealers. Their historic neighborhood was beautiful, but it was surrounded by a virtual war zone. They had chosen for their children a picture that was, in effect, exactly what had been given them by their own parents: the appearance of plenty surrounded by constant threats, impoverishment, and disconnectedness from intimate, supportive, and nurturing family relationships. They scorned the typical suburban neighborhoods their peers and family members chose because “normal” and “typical” had no appeal for their deepest, still impoverished selves. That part of themselves had not yet been called from the tomb; its stink was inevitable.

unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies

This is what we do. We get enough health to feel better, look better, and function better. But we do not heal the wound, because the wound is never healed until we die. We can die metaphorically, as Jesus and Buddha said we must, or we can die physically after living an entire lifetime unhealed and unwhole. But die we must. We know we’re not dead when we fight for our lives over things, when we cannot yield, when we just know we’re right and the other person is wrong, when we must have our own way.

drawing02 by you.I don’t believe in trying to stop people who are in the throes of a compulsion. Just as Liz tried to help Patricia become conscious to what she was doing to herself, and to how she was re-creating patterns, we can warn people. In fact, I believe that when we see others endangering themselves we’re spiritually obliged to try to warn them off. This is not easy to do in friendships or family relationships, and it’s not easy to do even when you’re a healer being paid to help others heal. But warn we must, with fear and trembling, looking to ourselves first lest we throw our own garbage onto our neighbor’s lawn. We must stop short of complusion in our insistence.

“If the unbelieving one wants to leave, let him leave,” Saint Paul wrote. If others must give in to their compulsions, then we must let them do it wholeheartedly until they are finished living their wounds. This is what Patricia did, and it’s what nearly every client does, at first. They do it at major milestones in the most reliable ways. Only a fortunate and stubborn few come back for more healing and eventually make it through to wholeness. This may be what Jesus meant when He said that the road to life was narrow, and few, very few, are those who are on it. The way to destruction is broad, and very, very many are on it. That’s what He said. He said we are statistically unlikely to avoid the wrong road.

love yields

I believe that one reason why Christians–and indeed all who live in religious communities–are taught to live in community and to avoid schisms is because it’s impossible to avoid schisms without dying to oneself. We all want our own way. We must have it. We cannot yield when under compulsion, when controlled by forces bigger to us than God. Even God yields. So it was that Saint Paul said, “All things are lawful to me, but I will not be controlled by anything.” When we see our children, our friends, ourselves compulsively enter marriages that others warn against, compulsively move away, compulsively insist that they will do this, do that, buy this, take that risk, and have their way, this is when we know that it is no longer love at work, but law. Love yields, suffers long, is patient and kind. Love can give the other person his turn first. There is no substitute for real love. Once you know it, you can never be fooled by a forgery.

The problem is that all too many people have never seen real love. They don’t know it, so they are fooled by forgeries. I’ve heard that when law enforcement agents are taught how to lautrec2 by you.recognize counterfeit bills, they are given real bills to handle and smell first. Sadly, though, to the person who was raised with counterfeits, the counterfeit always feels right. Counterfeits feel more comfortable after you’ve lived with them for over 20 years. If even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, we can be pretty sure that lesser compulsions will disguise themselves in pretty packages, too. They may seem and feel right; we may be able to get others to agree with us that what’s wrong is, in fact, right.

Before going ahead, though, we should ask what our healers, our shamans, our priests and confessors advise. Are peace and joy leading us forth, as the Prophet Isaiah said they would?  Or are we like Patricia, determined to do what we must?

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