To speak about spiritual healing first I should clear what I mean here by spiritual and spirituality. I think everybody has at least a vague concept about what means spiritual and these ideas can be very different based on the individuals past experiences. Here I refer to that dimension of our life, which has to do with conscience, with meaning of life, ethics, values, good and bad. This dimension is different of our bodily, psychological, emotional, intellectual and social aspects, but is interrelated with all these areas. This is the specifically human dimension, the source our most fundamental decisions, orientations. Usually this is the field of our religious experiences, where our prayer and relation with God is rooted. There are very differentiated spiritual experiences during the history in diverse geographical areas, and several reflections on the lived realities. These reflections are the base of the different spiritualities.
Spiritual healing occurs when the activity in the spiritual dimension has a beneficial effect on the person and his or her relations with others, with the world. This could be a prayer followed by a physical healing, a decision based on longer process of discernment which results in a better life, or changes in the psychological, emotional status of the individual after changes in his or her thinking patterns, beliefs or visions. In the followings I would speak on the cases when with some kind of insights, techniques and prayer somebody can experience improvement in his or her psychological status and personal relations. I will speak about God in Christian terms, but I think somebody can experience these kind of spiritual healing referring on his or her own conscience. Also, I think necessary to practice some form of meditative prayer. (On meditation I mean here a form of non-conceptual prayer, not a sequence of thoughts aimed to a deeper understanding of a text as the meditatio of the lectio divina. Later I will describe some meditation methods I am familiar with.) I don’t want to deal with problems that need professional help or therapy. It requires reflection, discernment or diagnosis to decide what is necessary in a concrete situation. Of course, this does not mean that these self-help considerations could not be helpful even if somebody is receiving psychiatric therapy. I want however to underline the importance of appropriate therapy if there is a diagnose that shows it as necessary. I would like to touch the charismatic type of healing, but this is not the central theme of this writing. My work is not a complete systematic study on healing but more a summary of my personal experiences and thoughts on healing in the last twenty years. I will use as central concept of the awakening and I think the material reflects the personality who had the experiences and this gives a certain subjectivity to it. I hope the reader can find benefit in it and also discover something helpful for himself or herself.
…Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
( Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., God’s Grandeur)
There is an ancient Christian hymn which says: “Wake up you who sleeps and Christ will shine on you”. In fact, in the Scriptures sleep is a metaphor for death, and for the resurrection it uses the word that expresses getting up from the sleep. In the first letter to the Thessalonians Saint Paul writes on death and resurrection and expresses his faith: “For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him” (1Thess 5,10 and see 1Thess 4,13-15). In the story of Jairus’s daughter for example Jesus says of the girl “The child is not dead but asleep” and takes her by the hand saying “Little girl, I say to you arise!”. The Greek verb used here is egeirein (arise) is the same that expresses Jesus’ own resurrection. Regarding the double meaning of sleep it is interesting to observe the following dialog from John’s gospel: “…he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep” (Jn 11,11-12).
The scriptural language is based on a common human experience of the similarity between the unconsciousness of being asleep and death when the dying person seems definitely loosing conscious and contact with the rest of the world. The irrational and sometimes frightening world of dreams became a reference to the realm of the death. Who is sleeping is without will and can not act freely or defend himself or herself. In contrast, waking up, being awake is the real life, the world of consciousness, rational thinking and greater freedom.
I want to call the spiritual healing awakening. As the awakening person becomes free of dreams and not-knowing of the reality so the healing brings a new vision of the world, a new consciousness of self, new feelings and emotions. An awake person is aware of other people and enters in communion with them, he or she has goals and strives for meaning in life. Sickness means less or degrading life, healing means more and growing life in us. Awakening is a new day’s promise, full of hope of new life, it is a little bit of resurrection every day. In similar manner, each healing is a growing of life, a prelude of resurrection.
Awakening can happen as a cathartic experience, which happens only a few times and means a significant healing, great change in the individual’s life. Then we experience also a process of many little awakenings, a continuous growing of consciousness, awareness of self as time goes on. This happens when after a period looking back, we se that things are not the same as before, maybe some problems we had before have disappeared, we find ourselves more mature, self-confident, etc. The growing consciousness is also part of the normal development of the personality. For example, in the psychology of Jung the development of the human person is the individuation process, which means a growing consciousness of self, or knowing oneself more and more completely. This individuation lasts all the life and by this process “a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual’, that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole’” (C. G. Jung, Collected Works, Princeton University Press Vol. 9i, p.275). In the light of this insight, a person who remains oblivious of himself or herself and of the surrounding world can not be healthy, whole psychologically. Healing means a recover of the lost wholeness through a synthesis of the psyche, which requires deepening awareness, awakening. The idea of the importance of the growing awareness is not new at all. Already the ancient Greeks have formulated the principle “Know yourself” (gnoti seauton) as the source of wisdom. Interestingly this sentence was the inscription over the entrance to the sanctuary of Delphoi, which people frequented to receive healing and also divination, prediction of one’s future. As an example from the field of spiritualities, we can refer to St. Ignatius of Loyola. During the Spiritual Exercises the retreant is helped to arrive to an extending knowledge of oneself in order of being able to learn to discern and make decisions. The Ignatian spirituality requires also outside of the Exercises continuous discernment and a lifestyle based on conscious decisions. This is also an example of spirituality, which clearly fosters the psychological wholeness. Through the process of discernment a growing awareness, a continuous awakening occurs.
If we understand the importance of awareness in life we will desire to learn how to wake up and remain awake. This learning process can last the whole life and in itself is exciting and attracting, as we are discovering ourselves, our world and God in always-new perspectives. We will see new landscapes, enter depths and highs, and life will turn into a sacred history, an adventure of salvation. Meanwhile we know more and more profoundly we will become a friend for ourselves and for everything that exist. Life will challenge us and sometimes we will pass through sufferings, hard and special times, but we will understand that everything is part of our unique life, everything is precious part of our history that only us can live and live in that manner, nobody else. So even the strange and painful events get meaning and we grow in humanity, love and wisdom as we try to answer on life’s questioning to us in the different situations. Each day is a new beginning, which surely will bring challenges and new things, there is no time when we can not hope any more. God’s promise through the prophet remains valid for all times, we can hear it as said to us: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now springs it forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Is 43, 18-19). Now, today is the time to catch that new thing that is will never again return, today is the day to discover a new part of our way through life.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is merciful,
if there is any excellence and
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think of these things...
Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Phil 4, 6-9)
Mindfasting is a term that I get from Ft. Tyrrell’s Christotherapy. This concept of healing is based on the observation that our thoughts have a great influence on our emotional state, and “fasting” from the destructive kind of thoughts helps to a general well being of the person. The term is from Christotherapy, and it made a great impression on me maybe because in 1985 I had a very similar experience. That time I was struggling with depressing feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness. My thoughts returned over my life that I saw as a burden, a punishment inflicted on me that I should only bring on in time. I analyzed in particulars how my family is horrible, a situation that I am unable to change, and that I am basically alone, not understood, I have nothing to do in life. It was as a constriction to think about these things, as with thinking over and over I could find a solution. In reality as a consequence I felt myself always more horribly. A change happened when I had a sudden insight that I will not loose anything if I not re-think the same patterns. As a mathematical thesis, when it is proofed that the statement is false it is no more use to do again the argument. With this new conviction I could stop the chain of misleading thoughts when they begin to appear in my mind. It is interesting, that to do this required faith a courage that nothing horrible will happen if I let these thoughts to drop. Almost in the same time I was able the feel thankfulness for life and see many good little things. It was as an awakening from an ugly dream.
The crucial point of this technique is the moment when I first time break out of the vitious circle of tormenting thoughts. It is very difficult to do this, if a strong emotion accompanies the occurrence of the thought. For example, happens a disappointing event, and it triggers a feeling hopelessness, which can be very strong as it recalls all the past memories, with similar thoughts to this: “It is always so, there is no change in life, we can not wait nothing better, different”. The emotions can be so strong that are blocking our will and really we can not let go the sad thoughts. In this case maybe useful to give us time, repeatedly, patiently and gently remind ourselves that we want to be free from this feeling and thought. Practicing the centering prayer surely will help, as the inner motion during this kind of prayer takes away our attention from the thoughts to the presence of God. Letting God in is a re-creating event that transforms our manner of thinking. I think it is not by chance that my own experience of awakening from my false thoughts that I described before happened in the year when I knew about centering prayer and two months after I began to practice it. An other thing I found helpful is to do some simple work as taking care of plants, making up the room, or also a nice walk can help. I experienced relief of sad feelings in going to see stores, not for necessity of shopping, only for the enjoyment of watching things and people. All these can help to direct our attention away from our “misery”, so taking distance from the torturing “problem” which so looses importance and later we can let it go easier. Talking with a friend sometimes can be good, but there are situations when we could prefer to be alone. These is a point that everybody should try, experiment and so choose the best way of help.
As the time passes, in different situations slowly we learn more and more about our “weak points”, the typical things that disturb us mostly. Some of these will disappear in time and things that were very horrible for us will not make any effect on us. Other situations will remain for all our life critical or will reappear and disappear again. It is sure however, that more conscious we are of what is happening in our mind and heart, more awaken we are, the more we will be able enjoy living and being a good and peaceful presence for others. I think it is also to take in consideration other people when we seek healing.
The process of mindfasting needs to be complemented by filling our minds with constuctive, consoling and compassionate thoughts, which in turn will reach also our affectivity and fill our hearts with gratitude and peace and love. This positive complement of mindfasting is called spirit-feasting in Christotherapy. The concept is simple: if we are occupied with goodness there will be no place for destructive thoughts.
In this process we are not alone as we can call the Holy Spirit dwelling in the depths of our spirit and ask his (her?) assistence in inspiring our intellect and protect our psyche. Of course, this feast of the spirit has many sources to draw from, in great diversity according to our personal sensibility. Nature, art, music, company of friends, books, poetry might be the place where we encounter consolation.
Put on your strength, O Zion,
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city,
For there shall no more come into you
The uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust, arise,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion (Is 52,1-2)
We all have and suffer from wounds on our psyche received during our life from early childhood till this day. These are more or less painful and harmful, depending on the gravity of the situation when we got them. Most of the time when we feel hurt or ourselves hurt somebody else there are our old wounds in action. We have less freedom, so we don’t act but more react on the situation which recalls somehow old painful records. Healing of these wounds gives us more freedom, a capacity to enjoy more living, makes us better toward other people.
I like very much Henri Nouwen’s concept of “wounded healer” expressing that once we receive healing from our wounds we ourselves can become source of healing for others. A wounded healer knows by experience suffering and has greater empathy, understanding and patience toward others. The healing one has experienced makes him or her also testimony and sign of hope for the neighbor. On the other side, it seems true that the best way to maintain our gift of healing and to grow in wholeness is to share it with somebody else.
The wounded healer by excellence is Jesus Christ, to whom the first letter of Peter refers the words of Isaiah of the suffering servant of God: “By his wounds you have been healed” (1Pt 2,24; see Is 53). It is significant that the risen Christ appears with the wounds and the disciples recognize him just by these. Here we are at the mystery of salvation.
We grow a hard surface, a defense mechanism around our innermost wounds to protect ourselves so that these points could not be touched. On the other part, our vision of ourselves and the rest of the world is influenced by the wounds, which means many times distorted or falsified image of self and of the realty. Sometimes it is possible to heal these wounds and have a healthier self- and world - image. There are however lesions that remain for all life. Also, there are defense mechanisms that cannot be removed because the record is too painful for the psyche to bear it. If we know these and accept the fact that we have these distortions we can learn to live with them a better life, and also the wounds will integrate somehow in the great story of our life, which is always story of salvation. For a long time I suffered from a depressing feeling of the reality as meaningless, gray, oppressing, boredom. I had fear of the future, not being capable to direct my life, which was anyway not worth to live. I felt myself not loved and not loving, as if I would be very bad in the depths and every kind thing I tried to do was suspicious as showing false face to the world. Now I think about this as manifestations of the same central wound I had when little child. As my parents divorced practically when I was born, then my father left the country for political reasons and I was grown by my grandparents, I felt myself as non wanted, non loved. This feeling influenced my self-image and vision of the world, even if now I know that I was loved and wanted by my familiars. Many times, I think little children interpret the reality, the actions and words of the adults differently from the intention of them and can become hurt even in the most loving, accepting, and “normal” family. The first great change and step toward a healing for me was to awaken for the existence of God.
“…all things are good and fair,
because all is truth” (Dostojevskij, Brothers Karamazov, p. 270)
This happened in the year when I finished the university and began to work. Finishing the studies confronted me more harshly with the question of meaning of my life. During the studies there are always new and new challenges with the exams, and you are waiting to finish this year and then will be a next, new semester to affront. At least for me this continuous effort and changing challenges covered the problem of a general meaning of life and I felt satisfied to pass from year to year. In the last year however when already was thinking about what job to get, suddenly I faced the question of what is the sense of the rest of my years. I realized that I am facing forty or sixty or who knows how many years, which seemed to be empty, maybe because of the lack of concrete projects for the next future. This period of anxiety then became a prelude for a great change.
It was in May when doing my job I walked in the downtown. It was a warm day. It was so warm that when arrived nearby the cathedral I decided to enter, remembering that in big churches should be cool. I sat there two or three hours experiencing great comfort and peace, which was unusually good. During the next months of summer it became my habit to enter churches which were open to sit there for a while. It was already October when sitting there as usual, in a moment it became clear that God is there, and he loves me as nobody else. I felt this presence and overwhelming love, and answered with joy and relief. For some reason this words came in my mind: “Everything is true!” I think that meant the acceptance of the faith and the Church in which I was raised as child. Interestingly many years later I have found the quote from Dostojevskij giving a deeper meaning to this words…
With this great awakening moment began my adventure with God, and a long series of different awakenings followed this first one. Each of this moments meant more life, more healing and more peace – even if none was as fundamental as the first. Many things changed and I went on ways in different directions but that first awakening remained the decisive in my life, the beginning of everything else after. I still hope to receive the gift of many awakenings, as still am needy of healing and becoming more understanding and more loving.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against
me round about. (Ps 3,5-6)
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
In the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
Because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be moved.
It is important to sleep not only for the physical rest but for the health of the mind and spirit, too. The rest of sleep gives us new energy and strength to wake up fresh next day. As in the normal sleep we detach from the world and our mind can reorganize itself so it is important to detach ourselves periodically for the same reason. This detachment can be our daily prayertime or retreat where we get a distance also physically from the place where we live. A good retreat is a real vacation in God where we are able to rest physically, emotionally and spiritually, too. As after a good sleep we wake up renewed and after a vacation we feel new strength and enthusiasm for living so after our silent meditation or retreat we are more awake spiritually and psychologically too. When we are sleeping our mind remains at work, mostly the unconscious part which expresses itself in the language of dreams and without the resistance of consciousness we are more open for the work of the Spirit in us. I think that it is good before falling asleep invoke the Holy Spirit to come in us and heal us during our sleep. We can make our own the words of the Song of Songs: “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (cfr. Song 5,2).
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