We all want and need healing. Healing from physical disease, from emotional wounding, from clinging to the conceptual, healing from the disconnection with the sacred in our lives, we each in our own way are striving to find a greater sense of wholeness. Even if we addictively cling to our old, destructive patters of behavior, we yearn for the wholeness that we hope lies at the end of the healing path. Yet what is this path to healing? So many books, tapes, workshops, therapies, groups, even religions, offer the promise of healing. How can we distinguish genuine, legitimate healing modalities from the useless, the opportunistic, and the dangerous? Are there fundamental components that each true path to healing must include, healing in a larger sense of the word that occurs when we deeply contact presence or living spirit, healing that may or may not lead to a physical cure. In my experience the qualities of invocation, awareness, compassion and empowerment are essential landmarks on the path to wholeness. To the extent that any of these four qualities are ignored or shortchanged by a healing modality, the depth of healing available will be limited. Christianity, Buddhism and psychotherapy, each with their own vocabulary and emphasis, utilize these components of healing.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step said a Chinese Taoist sage. The healing journey is no different. But the first step on the healing path is often the most difficult, because we are confronted with the part of ourselves that needs healing, a part that is out of control, frightened, angry, avoided, addictive, hopeless–the place that until the very moment of taking the first step on this demanding and surprising journey has been unbearable to embrace, even to touch. Eventually having some part of ourselves untouched itself becomes unbearable and we are compelled to begin the journey back to wholeness. We have as yet been unable to take that first step so we reach out for help. With a whisper or a wail or a silent movement, we invoke that which lies beyond and within our suffering, that which we know is true and real and can be trusted. Thomas Merton says “Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone.” Whenever our heart feels like a hard stone, there we must begin this journey, again and again.
All true healing traditions offer an initial inspiration, some core teaching that we can trust when we feel lost, helpless, and profoundly wounded, alone. Invoking this we begin the journey leading to wholeness. Whether we are dealing with a bottomless, out of control addiction, a life-threatening illness or “merely” being totally lost in a passing emotion, invocation offers a life preserver in the stormy ocean. Calling out with tender love or with profound desperation, we trust that there is something larger than our present mind can know, something that will eventually lead to healing, healing that may come in a form that is unexpected, more penetrating and transformative even than we had hoped.
What do we actually invoke? In Buddhism we take refuge and continue to take refuge in the Three Jewels: the actual existence of enlightenment which is the possibility of total healing from all suffering as personified by the Buddha, he path of wisdom and compassion to this freedom and the community of people who have walked and are walking this path. Usually taking refuge is done in rather a formal way, simply repeating three times that we take refuge in the fact of the awakened nature of all beings, in the way to this freedom from suffering and in all those who have been on this path. How acutely we feel our status as a refugee from the realm of wholeness determines to what extent taking refuge actually awakens sufficient trust to take these first, difficult steps. We are no longer on familiar ground, but then familiar ground was becoming intolerable. To the depth that our suffering has inspired our invocation to be alive and real, relief and courage will arise from taking refuge
Christians invoke the spirit of Christ. Christ who forgives all. Christ who said “All that you ask the Father in my name, He will give it;” who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” When we are lost in suffering, seemingly large or small, we are separated from the Beloved whose very nature is freedom and brings us to freedom. When we love and can’t feel our Beloved, we call out louder and louder or softer and softer until He/She hears. Of course, we are always heard. The point of invocation is not to get God’s attention but to get our attention, to use our faith, no matter how wavering, to begin the process of purifying attention that brings us at last to healing. Before we can follow any of the other injunctions to compassion and faith, we must first seek the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we pray, we invoke God’s name. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God”. The power of our prayer is equal to the depth of our yearning, how large, how real for us is the God to which we pray.
We don’t usually think of invocation in relation to the psychotherapeutic process, but what is it that brings us for the first time through the office door into relationship with the psychotherapist? The healing work of therapy is difficult, often painful, and we intuitively know this even before we begin. But we also intuitively know that bringing material that previously has been unconscious, below the light or awareness, often from early childhood, to the conscious mind and then investigating this material will ultimately lead to healing. We trust that uncovering the truth of our situation is a far more healing motivation than clinging to comfort or security or romance. Without this trust, it will be difficult, if not impossible to be vulnerable and open and present and thus embark upon this journey.
So wherever we are, whatever our situation, no matter how deep or messy the wound, no matter how much blood we have lost in the battle, we can invoke the Spirit of Truth, or Christ, or the path to the realization of the truth. When we invoke timidly as a formalism, with only our mind, unwilling to admit the depth of our despair, confusion, loss, then the healing that grows from this seed will be commensurably limited. When we invoke the Spirit of Truth, the Beloved, touching the awesomeness and benevolence of the Invoked, then we have begun again the sacred journey home to wholeness. To paraphrase the poet Kabir, “When the Guest, the Spirit of Truth, is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing that does all of the work. Look at me and you will see slave of that intensity.”
Now we have taken the first step by awakening trust. To the depth we trust we are willing to bring awareness to what is asking for healing. What is going on right now, in our mind, in our senses, in our body? Not merely superficial, obvious experience, but because we trust, we can begin to touch the woundedness itself. Mostly we are preoccupied by our reactions to the wound, lost in old patterns of distraction, intellectualization, anxiety, irritation, impatience. Invocation has temporarily brought all this to rest, resting in the ever-changing present and has awakened the courage to embark upon the healing quest. Before healing can happen, the purifying light of awareness must shine on what is out of balance, where we are diseased.
Christ enjoined us to love God and have compassion for our neighbor. What blocks this opening into love? What hides the Beloved from view? Of this we must become aware in order to move toward healing union with the Divine One.
Awareness is the purifying force in Buddhism, the force that purifies the mind and the heart. Many Buddhist meditation practices are designed to cultivate awareness–bringing awareness to the movement of the mind, of the body, especially of the breath. These meditations aren’t really about the object of awareness, but about cultivating a deepening awareness that will eventually lead to clear seeing of all that asks for healing, not just what is on the surface of the mind.
Much of psychotherapy is directly concerned with bringing to conscious awareness material that previously has been beneath the level of conscious awareness. We learn to be curious about the truth of the moment rather than compulsively avoiding the painful, compulsively grasping at notions of happiness.
We have a wound. We hide it. We hide from it, not really knowing the shape or even the exact location of the wound. We do know that something definitely hurts. Alone we have been unable to locate the wound specifically enough to begin the healing process. So we call out; we invoke the intercession of Christ, of the Holy Mother; we invoke the Triple Jewel, invoke the Spirit of Nature as we spend solitary hours in the natural world away from society, invoke the soul of great music. We pour ourselves out to something that we trust is larger than our woundedness. With this trust we begin to relax enough to see with clear awareness the nature of the wound. This wound may be deep, festering close to our core, requiring long and patient movement towards healing, the work of a lifetime or it may be superficial–a passing mood or judgment for instance.
As we cultivate and practice awareness, we come in contact with actions, thoughts, feelings, sensations in us or in relation to the suffering of others that we haven’t seen before or that we have seen only incompletely and sporadically, places that we haven’t trusted that we could truly touch. Awareness brings to light the painful and without a soft heart we will resist the seemingly unbearable nature of all of the suffering we see in others and experience in ourselves. Compassion, keeping a loving heart while touching suffering, is essential at this point if we are to proceed along the healing path. Compassion makes bearable the touching of the places that need healing, the places that block healing. “Grief is the garden of compassion,” says the Sufi poet Rumi. When we become aware of the grief that has been compartmentalized away from our sight, from our touch, then compassion blossoms.
If the suffering that the compassionate heart opens to is deep enough, personal enough, vivid enough, the heart becomes overwhelmed. Compassion then is withdrawn unless this compassion is supported by power, by strength. We live in a society that doesn’t deal with power very well. Mostly the power we encounter is rigid, opposed to vulnerability, driven by need, the false power of the ego. True power, essential power, is selfless, arises from humility, is in total harmony with the power of the Divine. Unsupported by essential power, compassion is a lovely feeling that doesn’t manifest as effective compassionate action. Clearly, healing is impossible until we cultivate and purify our relationship with power. It is tragic that the right use of essential power is a topic rarely addressed in popular culture, in religious and spiritual organizations or in most systems of healing.
Empowerment, the awakening of true power, not ego’s false power, can arise only after compassion has purified our fearful clinging to our notions of inadequacy, of a self that is separate from God. Empowerment is our connection to the Ground of Being, the Divine, and it brings the Transcendental Source of all power into relationship with self and with other.
Christ says the doer of true action is “not me but the Father in me.” Also “not my will but thine be done,” and “who ever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
We are asked to create a space, a space that is slowly and painstakingly carved out the solidity of our separateness with the non-violent force of compassion. In this space God can enter in and the healing power of God can manifest. As long as we think we are doing it, that we are the healer, there is no room for God to work through us, for the force of compassion to fully manifest.
In psychotherapy we begin by bringing to awareness the feelings and habitual patterns that “I” have and then learn to have compassion for this “I”. As compassion softens our reactivity to this “I”, we now are able to explore directly the nature of this wounded “I”. Rather than attempt to safeguard and defend self and its system of thought, we dislodge the ego from its central position. All in our defensive structure that has been tightly blocking the expression of power is dissolved in selflessness. Empty of self, we connect with the One Source from which true power arises.
The historical development of the main schools of Buddhism reflects this path to healing. First, Hinayana, the original teachings of the Buddha, emphasizes awareness. Next, as Buddhism spread west to China, Japan and other nearby countries, Mahayana developed the teaching that emphasizes the cultivation of compassion after a base of awareness has been developed. Then, Vajrayana, the Buddhism of Tibet, adds the practice of empowerment. The heart purified by awareness and compassion is empowered to relate directly, passionately, selflessly with the Sacred. The qualities of the Divine are awakened within us through our empowered relationships with the deity. As we become selfless, sacred spaciousness is created for the deity to act through us.
Invocation unlocks the courage and the trust needed to begin the healing quest. Awareness, the antidote to denial, allows us to directly contact that which we have been avoiding, that which is asking to be healed. Compassion, the antidote to fear, softens the heart, brings humility and shows us that the present situation is workable. Then empowerment, the antidote to inadequacy, the connection to egoless power, unlocks the ability to act selflessly. We are present for the content of our experience with awareness, for the process of our experience with compassion, for the space in which experience arises with empowerment. Finally, healing is available to us. No longer in denial, no longer motivated by fear, by selfishness, by a sense of inadequacy, we are now able to contact the Sacred and it is through contact with the Sacred that healing occurs. Rather than attempting to fix what felt broken, we move passionately toward life, surrendered in devotion to Divine Will. Any healing that can happen will happen. The paths of Buddhism, Christianity and psychotherapy converge in healing.
We all need healing though not everyone wants to do the work that leads to healing. Addiction to our woundedness for secondary gains is common. Through the initiations of invocation, awareness, compassion and empowerment, our resistances to and motivations for healing are purified. The process is not nearly as linear as the above discussion might suggest. In practice the work of healing is much more of an art form than a scientific discipline. We certainly don’t always need to start at the beginning of the process as it has been described. Sometimes, for example, when we notice that we are lost in suffering, we can directly feel compassion for the situation or directly drop down into the spacious belly of empowerment without having to deepen our trust through invocation. The healing process: invocation–awareness–compassion–empowerment–healing is best thought of as a circle or even a spiral that we keep going around at deeper and deeper or higher and higher levels (depending on how the particular situation at hand suggests an image to us) until all of our resistance to total devotional surrender to Divine Will, to the Spirit of Truth, has been lovingly and passionately purified. If the issue at hand to be healed is a core issue, deeply embedded, of long standing, we then may have to spiral around this healing path more times than we can count. If this issue is a momentary resistance to the unimpeded flow of life, then one clear moment of empowered compassion will heal. These ideas are merely tools. Sometimes knowing we have a toolkit with something in it is a big help.
– Dale Borglum