The following post is part of a talk I am giving on Friday, May 29, 2015 at the South Florida Spiritual Care Network lunch, an association of clinicians, counselors, clergy, law enforcement, elected officials, and other helping professionals.
Trauma is anything less than nurturing.
--Commonly heard definition for trauma in the clinical counseling community
If this definition is right, then we all have been traumatized on some level, and we all have some healing work to do. I often tell my clients when complaining about their lot in life, "Welcome to Planet Earth." While it may sound cheeky, it does help them to wake up to the idea that life on this planet does not exempt us from problems. In fact, being born on this planet ensures it. Mother Nature can be hostile. So can our own families and loved ones. So can our friends and enemies. So can we ourselves.
How do we bounce back from less-than-nurturing experiences?
Often, those of us in the healing professions are the last to personally apply our own work. We somehow delude ourselves into thinking that as we help others heal, we too are being healed.
And while it's a spiritual truth that in giving, we receive (the Prayer of St. Francis), this truth can't be activated in our lives until we practice another truth: we can only impart that which we have already received.
In short, we have to have it before we can give it to another.
But this begs to ask the question: where do helpers go for help? Where do we receive the strength, knowledge, healing, insight, and awareness to light the paths of those who come to us seeking to come out of their own personal darkness? How do we walk in the light and bring others into it as well?
I've found head knowledge is not enough. Intellectually knowing a healing technique or principle is very different than experiencing it. All of the education in the world might produce a lot of useful information but still in the end be very insufficient to transform the heart.
I suppose it's that aspiration for personal transformation that drives us forward. I know it does me. I find great fulfillment in seeing others transform their lives.
You see, those who work with me--especially those who know me well--understand that most everything I do in life, I do with intensity.
I work hard.
I play hard.
I relate hard.
I strive hard.
I sleep hard.
I weep hard.
I laugh hard.
I give with everything in my being. Rarely do I hold back.
I do so because this creates for a more nuanced and meaningful existence--at least for me.
I do so because I'm convinced that if I'm giving my all then I've done my best and hopefully made a difference in my world.
This last weekend I was walking home from a restaurant and I had an Aha! moment.
It went something like this: I can do anything I want to do. I don't have to do everything I want.
Sometimes it's as if for me the law of scarcity takes over. I have to make up for lost time. I have to do and experience everything because there might not be another chance. We aren't promised a tomorrow. All we have is today. So carpe diem, baby!
But my Aha! moment woke me up again to the idea that I can choose to not do the things I really like to do. I can rest in the place of being. In fact, just being is a phenomenal choice to connect me to myself and those around me. In that moment of my Aha! moment, scarcity vanished, and grace appeared.
I don't know how it appeared, but it did. This feeling of wellbeing came over me. I slowed down my harried and hurried pace. I noticed more the warmth of the sun on my face. I was more aware of the people passing me on the sidewalk. I felt more centered, more grounded, more connected, more calm, more alive. As my dad sometimes says, it was like I was being saved all over again. Saved from the bondage of self. Saved to live again. Renewed, resurrected, reborn, born again, all at once. In a moment, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, grace appeared.
Now how does one define grace? I was rhetorically asking my friend Richard this, just this morning. He was on his way to take care of something that we--his wife, Lisa, other close friends, and I--had been praying and hoping for, for a while.
I suddenly blurted, "I'm not sure we can define grace, we can only experience it."
Grace is something to be experienced.
We experience grace when we journey with others.
We experience grace when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we aren't quite as afraid as we used to be.
We experience grace when we embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives and come to understand that everything belongs.
We experience grace when we realize that we are finite and infinitely powerful all at the same time.
We experience grace when we come to our wit's end and discover that the way out was there all along.
We experience grace when we survive hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and natural disasters--both literal and metaphorical--and come out on the other side grateful for the deeper life lessons we have learned.
We experience grace in the dark night of the soul, when the angry angst of human isolation, abandonment, and shame seek to snuff out our inner light, and we then suddenly realize that when forsaken and alone, we find ourselves in the best company ever.
We experience grace when the inner demons rant and rave and rage and have less power over us than they did before.
We experience grace when we face the inevitable mortality of those close to us and that of ourselves.
We experience grace when we risk vulnerability and share our stories with others and they with us.
We experience grace when we think our story is over and discover it's only just begun.
Grace is a uniquely human experience. Grace is all around. Grace is within you, within me, within all of us. Grace is already there. Grace comes when we ask. Grace even comes when we don't ask.
That's the beauty of grace.
I work hard, and grace appears.
I play hard, and grace appears.
I relate hard, and grace appears.
I strive hard, and grace appears.
I sleep hard, and grace appears.
I weep hard, and grace appears.
I laugh hard, and grace appears.
I give with everything in my being, and grace appears.
I live life fully, and grace appears.
I slow down and breathe, and grace appears.
I do nothing, and yes, grace appears.
So I return to my original questions:
How do we bounce back from less-than-nurturing experiences? Where do helpers go for help? Where do we receive the strength, knowledge, healing, insight, and awareness to light the paths of those who come to us seeking to come out of their own personal darkness? How do we walk in the light and bring others into it as well?
I don't have easy answers to these questions but I do think grace has a lot to do with it. I today choose to surround myself with gracious people. I choose gracious, compassionate and kinds thoughts toward myself and others. I endeavor to live a more gracious way of life.
I offer others the strength and favor I have received which I've done nothing to garner, earn, or gain.
I give freely even as I have received.
For it's in grace I live, move, and have my being.