Forget About “Healing”
By Jeff Foster
you just have to forget
You have to stop trying to feel better, trying to overcome your emotional wounds, or trying to be anywhere other than where you are.
You have to embrace the day as it is.
And you have to give yourself the most sacred permission of all:
To be an ugly mess.
To lean into a place of utter humility and powerlessness in yourself.
To cry out to the heavens, “I can’t do this!”
To admit utter defeat
in the loss of the life
you had imagined.
To crumble to the ground, lonely and hopeless and profoundly ruined.
To want to die, even.
And there, in the darkest places, in the blackness of the underworld, you may begin to rediscover… life.
And learn to love the beginnings. A sacred reboot:
A single breath.
The way the sun warms your face.
The sound of a tiny bird singing in the tree over there.
The raw simplicity of a single moment of human existence.
Hell has been transmuted, through love and patience.
You have discovered the wholeness in your brokenness.
You have given up your idea of ‘healing’,
and you have uncovered something
infinitely more healing:
Your authentic self.
and utterly fucking unfixable.
Burnished not Broken: A Reflection
I’m not sure how old I was when the idea that I was broken first entered my consciousness. I had a good childhood. I felt loved. Cherished even. I had every Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake doll I could want. There was lots of space for creativity and imagination. I was a free range kid with a bike and a dream who wanted for nothing. I felt like the center of the universe. At least until I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. There was a river of pain and deceit that ran underneath the bedrock of our family, a current of sadness and anger that ran through my parents that I must have subconsciously picked up on as a kid. But it wasn’t anything I really knew or understood until I got older.
I suppose it’s how it goes though, at least in the realm of human development. We’re innocent of suffering and loss until we’re not. We’re narcissists around whom the world revolves until we’re not. We’re whole and good and pure until we’re not. At least if we’re lucky. At least if we grow up with the privilege of an abundance of love and kindness, not just from our family but from a world that is built for us.
I’m not sure how old I was when I first had the thought that I had to heal in order to feel whole again. Emotionally whole. Not physically. Was it when my mother decided to sell our house and give my dog away without telling me so we could go on an adventure of a lifetime, at least for her if not for me? Was that something I consciously thought I had to heal? Or was it when Beth LaLiberte dumped me as her best friend because her mother thought I was a bad influence on her? Is that what broke me? Or was it when I was 14 and I saw my mother crying helplessly for the first time in her life that finally did it?
Most likely, it was merely the quiet accumulation of moments both great and small, the tiny slights and major misunderstandings filtered through the haze of pre-teen hormones, that cracked the shine of my life and took away its luster. I’m not sure I’ll ever know when the idea of “healing the brokenness” meant anything other than a fracturing of bone or a stubbing of a toe but I do know it has consumed me for far too long.
Now I look at the world around me and I see the shine and bounce of perfect hair, the blinding whiteness of perfect teeth, the pristine order of the perfect home, the perfect parents with their perfect kids and car and lawn and vacation and dog. I see the “ideal Western standards” everywhere, in every commercial and in every ad on every television or every computer screen.
I see it in every movie where poor people are bad and powerless but if they work hard enough and just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they’ll be happy. And the rich people are also bad but at least powerful with their private jets and teacup shipooples and caviar but look how mean and lonely they are! You can want what they have but not who they are when they have it. And then there is always some approximation of me, the suburban middle-class person, who is so put upon but already knows how to strive and work hard and has white teeth and bouncy hair and a wife or husband who loves them and kids who love them and they’re all so happy, which means they must be doing it right because it all makes me feel so bad about myself. So bad about myself because I do not have those things and so I must be broken.
And don’t get me started on our “world at work…” Where I see every worker in America, wanting and hopefully finding the perfect job, climbing the ladder, pushing themselves, reading distracting articles on reducing distractions to increase productivity. They are busy, busy, busy— humble-bragging about how early they got up and how late they worked. They are striving, striving , striving. Hating their job. Loving their job. Thinking about their job at 3am when they can’t sleep because they have a big project that they can’t figure out or a shitty boss that they can’t figure out or an annoying co-worker who they don’t want to figure out but have to if they want to succeed.
I tried that type of career off and on for 25 years and let me tell you if there’s anything that can make someone feel broken, it’s working in an all-consuming job that you try really hard to love but know it will never love you back, a job where they can lay you off at any time without a second thought, no matter how much you love the people or the work or the mission. Because that’s just capitalism, baby. Where we dress up old plantation-style management models of efficiency, productivity, and increased output and pretend its progress.
And with all this striving, with all this pushing for perfection and fulfillment and achievement…
And with all this loneliness and hopelessness and struggle and heartache and self-loathing…
And with all these moments of wanting to bury myself in the darkness and never leave it…
It has finally occurred to me to name my foe.
All this time, I thought it was me: That I was what was broken. That I just needed to beat some sense into my own head or make myself smaller so I wouldn’t bother anyone or to just shut up, to stop asking questions, and just be a good girl so my father would finally see me, want to know me, want to be with me.
But it was never me. And it’s not even my parents or their parents before them. But it’s what has truly raised us: Our culture. What’s broken is a culture that promotes and rewards rugged individualism in a world that not only craves but thrives on tenderness and meaningful connection. A culture that breeds a society of freedom, but only for a few. It breeds a society of unimaginable wealth, but only for a few. A society obsessed with vitality and health, but only for a few and most certainly for a cost.
It’s a society that promotes an impossible standard of living, one that bases its entire economic structure on the free hand of a market that’s only free for a few. A society with no public healthcare but with rampant homelessness and a growing economic and financial divide between the haves and the have nots. A society where we treat people with mental illness and substance use disorder like criminals and criminals like pariahs and those that should be pariahs like Gods.
Is it any wonder we’re so tired of healing? Why far too many of us feel so broken?
We’ve spent our whole lives ignoring our most basic needs and instincts—our need for meaning, for community, for righteous labor. Our need for listening to and honoring our bodies, for eating good food made with our own hands, for feasting and for celebration. For dancing and for resting and then for dancing again. For sitting with our toes touching the earth or the sand or the water, our faces upturned to the sun or to the rain, feeling the air kiss our skin, and hearing the bees buzzing as they pollinate the world.
Instead, we’ve been colonizing our mind with Western ideals so we can colonize our planet. Conquering and dominating and murdering and raping and pillaging and enslaving. We’ve desensitized ourselves to the absolute and utter horror of human bondage as a means to mechanize the world, a manufactured reason to manufacture a society.
We’ve spent our time being brainwashed into believing that wealth and success are available to everyone while ignoring the fact that “everyone” does not include the perpetually ignored. People who are so marginalized and so worn down as the grist in the grindstone of Capitalism that they are grateful for every small drop of water on their parched and bleeding lips or every tiny scrap in their empty and growling stomachs—fed false promises of freedom through the very system that oppresses them.
So what do we do? What do we do when we’re tired of striving? Of pushing? Of healing from what we are now learning are the consequences of our culture?
In my best imitation of the News at 11: “The answer may surprise you…”
We rest so we can remember.
Toni Morrison once said, “You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally, the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding: it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”
Our culture of rugged individualism can try and reshape us. It can build entire societies all around the world focused on the success of the few at the expense of the many but like water, our true nature has memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
No matter how much they try to carve or batter us into a new form—to shatter us into submission—our original form of love and tenderness and connection is written in our cells and we are always trying to get back to that. So while we may need time to heal from our wounding, to flood the banks when we are overwhelmed by the rains of despair and hopelessness, we are not broken.
No. We are burnished like bronze. We are tumbled like rocks. We are softened into paper like a tree so that we can write a better future upon it. But we are not broken. We simply need to rest. To take a breath—a sacred reboot—before we can begin the work of returning our banks back to their original shape, of remembering our spirits back to their original state of love.
According to Hindu creation stories, this is not our first universe. Universes are destroyed when the laws of Dharma aren’t followed and the moral and ethical values go beyond redemption. After this great cosmic dissolution, there is stillness where the Lord Vishnu, the great Hindu God known as Creator and Destroyer of all Existences, reclines over the still cosmic waters on the endless coils of the serpent Ananta Sesha, which represents Time. There, Vishnu partakes of the great Cosmic Sleep or “yoga nidra” and in this sleep, he creates a new Universe.
The old way is not serving us. It’s clear. And I hope that you, like me, can begin to feel a kind of cosmic dissolution of the old ways. But before we create our next world—before we begin to reshape ourselves back into a culture of love and care and tenderness—we must rest. Like Lord Vishnu we must rest between the dissolution of the old and the creation of something new.
In fact, if we are going to help reclaim the shape of our world—to remember ourselves back to wholeness—we cannot do it from the same energy that has led us here. We must forego the striving and the pushing and the punishing. The ignoring of our bodies and our spirits. We must learn from the Gods, from Lord Vishnu himself, and rest while we dream a new world into being.
This reflection came from a “Sermon on the Couch” delivered through the House of Belonging—a free kindness community—on April 10, 2022 by Rev. Jessica Steward. After the reflection, community members were led in a free 35-minute Yoga Nidra meditation.