The Peaceful Path to Healing
I’m borrowing this title ‘Bearing Witness’ from the book written by Zen master Bernie Glassman, both to honor his healing work at Auschwitz (and beyond), and to underline what I believe is our key to healing.
There are many different modalities and tools used to help someone along their healing journey. Some of these tools are material, visible, and tangible – while others are invisible, hard to measure, and felt by the heart rather than the hands. No matter what the practice – massage, herbs, acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, (or a combination of them), there are some intangible tools that are needed by anyone working in the realm of healing. The most important I believe, is the compassionate act of bearing witness.
Since I am a teacher by nature, I’m most interested in the path of supporting people in discovering their own healer within, empowering themselves to be their own greatest source of medicine and wisdom, and arriving to a deep trust of themselves and their own body. Helping them into peaceful witnessing of themselves and what is transforming within. Plants, shamanism, and bodywork are my main physical healing practices, but the truest tools of my healing practice are those invisible (but easily held) tools of compassion, gentleness, loving-kindness, non-judgment, openness, and a peaceful bearing witness. It happens that my main teachers of these intangibles, besides so many people who have given these things to me, are the plants and the natural world itself. These intangible gifts are aspects of one’s self that all people in a healing practice need to cultivate in order to truly heal themselves, or help another along the path. The tangible tools you use in addition can then be any number of things, be it plants, hands, nourishing food… etc. All vitally important.
Bearing witness I believe is the most important loving action in helping someone on a peaceful healing journey. Finding peace involves a surrendering to the unknown, and in the process of surrendering, we learn to bear witness to all the present moment holds. It is a letting go, and allowing transformation both of the body, the self, and the life we once knew. My role as I see it, is to help someone in their process of surrendering, awakening, unfolding, receiving, and bearing loving witness to themselves.
Healing is a journey that can be filled with fear, trepidation, and often a strong desire to control change as it greets us. Often we approach the healing journey as a fight to control the body, mind, heart, and self. Healing practices can become a war on the lives we lead, on our past, and on one of our greatest teachers, disease. We look angrily at the body or self that is not functioning properly in our perspective; we want to fight parts of ourselves, our environment, and war with the disease that greets us. When this teacher and friend knocks on our door we usually run screaming, feeling violent, angry, and ready to fight.
Greeting all disease as a friend, we allow ourselves to more gently and peacefully approach the visitor that has entered our lives, without being swallowed by fear. Somewhere within we know this great teacher wants to help transform us. Greeting a disease as a welcome teacher and friend, we no longer push ourselves away, or a beautiful opportunity arriving in our lives for deep healing. We welcome the body’s voice, greet it with tenderness, open to all that it communicates… ready to listen. We greet this as an opportunity to meet ourselves and the present moment with loving-kindness. We learn to hold ourselves in the joyful embrace of gratitude, no matter what we are experiencing.
In greeting a disease as a friend, we become curious to see what transformation and gifts it will bring into our lives. All disease, just as any teacher or healer, has the potential to change us in beautiful ways. Whether or not we choose to learn from a teacher that has entered our lives is up to us. The first part is in knowing that is who has arrived.
Each moment we step into the unknown, a wise fool, curious about what this new moment will bring. Emptying the past, knowing this moment has never occurred with the same ingredients as any moments before, or any that will come. A beginner in this moment in time, in this continually changing body, on this continually changing earth. We are left to witness with curiosity, experience an unfolding mystery, and awaken to what is greeting us. Knowing that all forms are constantly changing, and we are here to midwife ourselves, and each other, from one form to the next.
The path of healing can be one of peaceful exploring and witnessing. Each moment the body new and different than it was in the past, each moment an invitation to explore the mystery that is unfolding before us. Inviting us in to deep connection with all that is surrounding and supporting us. The path of healing is a wonderful opportunity to go deeper into surrender, receiving from all directions, and along a path self-discovery.
There is a path of healing that allows us to greet each sensation and experience in the body as a friend. In greeting the sensations of the body, we open to an unfolding self that is transformed and awakened by what is arising within. A peaceful path of healing is one in which we are gentle with each moment of sensation, journeying with this teacher, and allowing it to change forms, as all teachers do, when it is time. Surrendering control of how we wish things to be, or how we want an outcome to unfold. Learning to receive and trust a benevolent universe.
We compassionately listen to what is needed each moment, acting out of love and kindness rather than out of a desire to control the moment, or ‘fix’ what is unfolding. I listen to my upset stomach and I go make it a cup of tea, with friendly thoughts on what I am experiencing…. Releasing desire to control or silence the voice of my body or the teacher of discomfort… Asking lovingly what is needed, making my tea as an act of giving to myself – the kind act of relieving suffering. Then resting peacefully with all that is occurring in my body, curious about what I am experiencing.
As Bernie Glassman writes in “Bearing Witness”, he discovered after bringing meditation groups to Auschwitz, that places of great suffering are also places of great healing. These moments of arriving with a great teacher of suffering and disease invite us to awaken and surrender to the mystery that is unfolding before us. Letting go control and greeting the body and disease peacefully. Asking, who are you friend? Who are you that is part of me? I will sit with you and listen gently and without judgment. Thank you for coming teacher. I will listen now.
The healing journey is an opportunity to surrender to the delightful surprise of what can unfold before us in life, knowing that anything that comes can be a gift. All forms of suffering become opportunities for us to continue to feel deep gratitude for each moment we have, and all that we are continuously given.
All disease is a voice of the body and soul, expressing its journey in this moment. It is a map showing us the path we are to take, and where to go next. Disease invites us to transform our lives, and listen to the deep places within us in need of nourishment, healing, and awakening. These teachers stay as long as we need them, as all teachers do, though their forms may change. They are magicians in our lives, inviting us to enter into the beautiful unfolding that is the healing journey.
Healing does not mean a return to perfect functioning of the body and mind. There is no state of perfect functioning, since at all moments we contain within us death and life, disease and health, as all things do in the natural world. Death is needed in order for new life to grow, and this continual cycle is at work within us at all times, just as in the natural world. Healing can be occurring on levels we cannot see with our eyes… unfolding in the hidden places of the heart and soul. Healing can be occurring as someone dies, continues to be handicapped, ill, or lives with an unfolding disease. Healing can be occurring, or not occurring, as someone’s body is functioning ‘well’.
All life is a continual transformation of forms, a letting go and dying of the old self, being born into each new moment. Life itself is the path of healing, and there is no end in which someone is ‘healed’ forever. There are many moments in which we are fully ‘healed’ and whole, and then a new moment arises, and we greet the journey of healing again – nourishing ourselves body and soul, finding wholeness, and arriving again… separating and joining back together, breaking apart and reforming continually. Healing is as I define it, is about receiving deep nourishment, discovering wholeness, connected to self and source, transforming continually, and held in the presence of peace.
The path of healing is one we will walk our whole lives, every one of us. All of our healing is connected, each a part of the whole. My healing becomes yours, and yours becomes mine. Just as my healing is dependent on the healing of the earth and all living beings, it is also dependent on your healing. From this knowing, compassionate action arises as we help each other to discover our own wholeness and peace. With compassion and understanding we allow each other to be just as we are, this moment in time. We compassionately listen to our own needs, and the needs of others as we open to loving them.
We greet each moment or person as something that does not need to be fixed, but as a perfect unfolding of themselves. We greet suffering with compassion, acceptance, and peace. We give what we can to help, out of compassion and love for another precious life. We do not assume that we can see all of who they are, or what lies within them body and soul. This journey of healing can be filled with joy, gratitude, gentleness, surrender, an ever expanding ability to love, and a continuing unfolding of peace.
There are many gifts of having chronic Lyme disease, one of them being that my body has become more sensitive to its own needs. If I create stressful thoughts and allow them to travel through my nerves, my body will hurt the next day – a fire through my spine, shoulders, and down my legs. Each joint invites me to go more deeply within to the friend who is there to teach me. Through these teachers, my mind becomes more diligent on what thoughts I create and sustain. The pain I have learned to greet with gentleness and friendliness. A welcome voice navigating me along a path of transformation. Each moment the sensations of my body are visitors along the path of healing, awakening a great amount of joy and gratitude in my heart. I am in this temple that is my body with such wise teachers that have come to visit for a time. In the midst of a painful Lyme experience, I have also never felt so healed and whole… as I surrender, find continual joy, a more deeply unfolding peace, with very wise teachers at my feet.
All disease is surrounded in mystery, it is not ever something completely understood, and all doctors and healers are conscious that they do not know what is happening in the body at all times, or what will unfold. They do not know how a certain medicine will work, if it will work, or why it did on one person over another. We can use our best judgment around how we can help someone, with the motivation to help arising from compassion and kindness rather than a desire to control or a need to know. We can hold surprised curiosity and gentle witness, peaceful with whatever comes to pass, knowing it is not ours to control.
The best we can do is greet each moment, person, and disease as a friend we will learn from until your time together ends, giving what we can to help along the journey. With peace and friendliness we can let go, let things die, and be reborn. We can see the healing that can occur even through continued ‘disease’ or death, rather than view the person or ourselves as a failure. We can hold compassionate witness for another, knowing they are not failing at the journey that is their healing, they are just in one beautiful unfolding phase of their transformation.
The path of healing is one not to rush to the end of… as a new one will only greet us, each unfolding into the next, the journey of transformation never having a beginning or end point. Every moment along the journey rich with treasure. With gentleness we continue on our way, resting as we need, nourishing ourselves as deeply as we can along the journey, receiving and giving help to each other. Drinking from the ever-present love that surrounds us each moment, awakening to the peace that awaits us as we surrender and open to the unfolding present.
“We start from the unknown, we bear witness, and healing arises. Then we let go of what we’ve seen and learned and begin the cycle all over again. It’s a continual practice. The next moment is never going to be the same. The ingredients will be different. What worked once won’t necessarily work the next time. What caused transformation in the past won’t necessarily cause it again. We must return to the unknown and look again at our ingredients, for they will have changed. And therefore today’s meal will be different from yesterdays and also different from tomorrows.
This sounds logical, but it’s actually hard to accept. We like to think that finally there is an end. We like to think that somewhere in the world there is a magic trick that will work every time. In fact, the better something works one time, the harder it is to let go of it. This become particularly dangerous when we have succeeded. Once we have a deep and wonderful experience of healing, accompanied by sensations of peace and joy, it’s very hard to drop it and start all over again. But if we don’t, it will condition us to act in ways that are not appropriate for the next day, for the next healing process.”
- From ‘Bearing Witness’ by Bernie Glassman