The Healing Presence Of Who You Are
I recently read an essay in one of my psychiatric journals. Sam, a young woman who has a mental illness, wrote “…if you are not your mind, who are you?” Later in the essay, speaking of herself and others with mental illness, she continues, “You are illness….disease is not a part of you: it is you….In some at the base, fundamental sense, this (the disease) is me.”
As I read the essay, I became dismayed because it was apparent to me that no one has explained to this young woman that she is not her mind! In my spiritual practice, I understand that, while I have a mind and a body, I am more than mind and more than body. Some people call this the “Higher Self, the Source or the Light.” Some people say it is “God.” The words Soul, Spirit, and Self with a capital-S have also been used.
The mind-body connection
The modern era of psychiatry that began with Sigmund Freud’s method of psychoanalysis put the emphasis on mind. And analysis has helped some people recover from mental illness. Yet, since it does not take the body into account, it is an incomplete method. Since the mind often creates harmful energy patterns in the body, methods that focus only on the body are also doomed to failure, since the mind often will just re-create the maladaptive pattern. In order to recover, both mind and body must release the problematic beliefs and the energy pattern that results. Then it is much easier to tune into true Self.
Over 25 years of psychiatric practice, my approach with my patients was to see the illness as something that is temporarily afflicting them, something that is NOT them. With each patient, I would listen carefully. Then I would do my best to tune into the part of him or her that was healthy and look for something I could like – even admire. I often reminded myself that, inside every angry man or woman, is a scared young child. Sometimes I would ask myself, “What is it that I can learn from this person?”
Seven years ago I treated a woman for depression. Her childhood had been filled with abuse and violence, but she was a Christian. Once, as a child, she had seen Jesus looking out at her from behind the sofa, while her parents screamed and threw things. This image gave her comfort, and over the years she had coped very well, earning a good income and contributing to society. But depression plagued her, so she wanted to try medication. At her follow-up appointment, she told me she had only taken the anti-depressant for a short time. She did not want to take it and did not want to try any other medication. She also rejected my suggestion that counseling might be helpful. So I asked her, “Why are you here today?”
She smiled slyly, then looked down. “I think I came today for you.”
“Can you explain what you mean?”
“I wanted to tell you about my experience of Going to Heaven.” She then described an experience of going into pure Awareness, where she was filled with light and love, and a knowing of her own goodness. She wasn’t sure how long she had been in this state, but she had kept alive the memory of it for many years. It still gave her a feeling of serenity.
“That sounds wonderful,” I said. “Why don’t you Go to Heaven more often?” I wondered if she had done anything in particular to have this experience, and if so, had she tried relentlessly to “get there” again.
She looked at me with alarm and dismay, “Oh, NO!” she said. “You can’t go there every day. It was just a taste of what’s waiting for me after death.”
Realizing that my belief, Heaven-is-a-Place-on-Earth, would clash with her Christian beliefs, I decided to not explore that statement further. Instead, I said, “Thank you for telling me about your experience. I would be happy to see you again if you would like to discuss your concerns further.”
Awareness, thoughts and body reactions
Toward the end of my psychiatric practice, I began to teach my patients to cultivate awareness. When mindfulness is taught properly, the person becomes aware of how many thoughts are negative, harmful, and often false. He or she also begins to see how a thought leads to a tightening of the body or a holding of the breath. These physical responses slow down, or sometimes even stop the natural flow of energy in the body and lead to pain: headaches, backaches, frozen shoulders, sciatica, TMJ, and other syndromes. But the original thought or emotion that led to the muscle tightening has been long forgotten.
So awareness of thoughts and body reactions is helpful, but not sufficient. We must also become aware of who we are when we are Awareness, Consciousness itself. True healing begins as we learn how to allow ourselves to be in this state of pure Awareness, which is remarkably restful, peaceful, and very much alive. Awareness is not Body and not Mind. It simply is. True consciousness is Awareness.
This is what all wise psychiatrists, physicians, and healers from many different persuasions know: real healing does not come from medicines, psycho-therapeutic techniques, or body manipulations. It comes from our Presence, the ability to be in a state of Awareness. My mentor taught me about the healing power of Presence while I was still in my training to become a psychiatrist. When I lamented that patient Y simply wasn’t getting better, regardless of the medication I prescribed or method of psychotherapy I employed, she said, “Sometimes all we can do is hold space until the person is ready to change.”
I was reminded again when I struggled in my work more recently. “No matter what I do, some of my patients never improve,” I complained to one of my colleagues.
“All you can do is your best.”
“I do my best, but some of my patients blame me when they don’t improve.”
“If they think you are responsible for their healing,” he said, “then they are delusional. If you also think it’s your fault, then you are joining them in their delusion.”
Pure awareness and vibration
Pure Awareness is an energy state that carries a very high vibration. When someone who is in a state of pure Awareness enters a room, we sense it, feeling a calmness in their presence. We can also sense when someone is in a low energy state such as shame, fear, sadness or anger. Someone in these states may hide or lash out. But if we are in a high vibrational state and someone who is in shame appears, we will feel compassion and often try to help that person.
The mind-body will naturally entrain to the vibrations around it. So our job, as healers, is to do our best to stay at the high end of the vibrational scale. For this reason, we need to be careful of how we spend our time and who we spend time with. If we know we will be around people who are likely to be in low-vibrational states (shame, fear, anger, sadness, envy, jealousy), we should be extra vigilant on where we put our attention.
Presence, Awareness, is an essential ingredient for healing, the Presence of the healing practitioner as well as the Presence within the one undergoing healing. With Presence comes acceptance, empathy, and compassion. Carl Jung, one of the great psychiatrists of the 20th century, said it this way: “Please remember, it is what you are that heals, not what you know.”
To conclude, I would like to quote Rumi, a more ancient master of Awareness:
Out beyond ideas
of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
This 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, scholar, theologian, and mystic captures the sense that what heals us is beyond the mind, beyond its wiring for generating judgments and polar opposites.
Beyond the mind, Rumi envisions a place of wholeness and oneness where we are present to one another. In my experience, this Presence in oneself provides the conditions for healing. It is the One Self in both practitioner and client.
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