*Angela Marie Henriette. 'The white dove'. Flickr
Written on third day of silent retreat at Raven's Rest hermitage, in the Great Smoky Mountains, outside Hot Springs, North Carolina.
Getting up this morning at Raven's Rest, I sit outside the hermitage beside a huge mountain among the long line of such making up the Great Smokey Mountains. I sip coffee as I look into the ascending wood before me, I turn and see the peak to my left. I pick up a little Scripture, one of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, in the King James Version, one my late father used to give away, for he was a Gideon ~ a group of lay evangelical Christian men, non-ordained, who spoke in churches to raise funds for Christian Bibles to be given away.
I open to one passage I have been reading recently, for it speaks to my heart and does not have the violent language much of the Psalms have ~ Psalm 116. I read it slowly, silently, not trying to gain any insight, only being passively, pliably receptive to what might be given from it.
The words, in italics below, speak to my heart, ones that before had not...
O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.
* * *
In Silence, isolated and alone, one can easily see the "bonds." They can arise to haunt, and escape becomes impossible. In our everyday life, we can submerge the shadow in our busyness, even our spiritual busyness. And one escape is our spirituality, including our doing good for others. Likewise, abuse of drugs, sex, or alcohol, and submersion in entertainment, are much-used and ready avenues to seek to deaden our awareness of pain within and, so, deny the opportunity for healing. So, the shadow elements are hidden, yet remain, waiting for a time to come up slowly like a small underground stream or erupt like a volcano.
The bonds are anything that binds us, constricting the openness of our heart. This may not be pervasive, only situational. The bonds may be anything from repression of moral error to resistance to something positive. Years ago, I was surprised how I had repressed joy. Joy was a shadow quality, something very good to integrate into life. How could I share joy, if I did not open my own heart to let joy arise from within? Before, I had only seen negatives as shadow. Yet, we can be bound by resistance to something wholesome, as much so as something unwholesome. In fact, if we would allow more of the wholesome in our lives, it would itself melt much of the unwholesome.
* * *
Key in the reading from the Psalm for me is the realization I cannot untie the bonds. I cannot heal myself. I cannot free myself. The Psalmist wrote, "thou hast loosed my bonds" (emphasis mine). The Light can expose the hidden constriction deep within, and only the Grace of the Light can, then, melt that bond in Love. The Light Itself is Grace.
The late Zen Buddhist teacher Robert Aitken, in Zen Master Raven, posits this in a dialogue between Badger and Roshi Raven.
During one of the early gatherings at Tallspruce, Badger asked Raven, “How can I get rid of my ego?”
Raven said, “It’s not strong enough.”
“But I’m greedy,” Badger said insistently. “I’m self-centered and I tend to push other folks around.”
Raven said, “Like I said.”
Here, as elsewhere, Buddhists, who are generally nontheists, recognize the ego, or I, cannot free itself. They recognize a need for Grace, though they do not define this as some groups do. Why this inability to heal the self by the self? Because the I is bad? Evil? Does not want to enjoy freedom? No. No. No. As Roshi Raven knows, the I cannot untie the bonds the I is the source of. That in need of healing is not of our primordial self, but of the I-self, that added onto our essence. So, likewise, the Psalmist would never have thought to say, "I have loosened my bonds." This is why often, if not almost always, the arising of freedom regarding an aspect of the shadow comes as a surprise. We may, for example, have been struggling with something for years or months and suddenly peace about it arises, and we can feel in the body the melting, or release. We may have felt unloved and unlovable for as long as we can remember, and suddenly we are filled with love for ourselves and feel absolutely lovable. We may have been trying to forgive someone and never found it possible, then, forgiveness arises just when we had felt it would never happen. Sometimes, a person has sensed a divine calling to engage a work for others, and he or she has tried to run in the opposite direction. After the futility of the attempted escape, a release occurs, and one may feel a pleasant joyfulness when the calling is welcomed, finally.
* * *
So, how does all this happen? First, we need to remain quietly, patiently in the healing Fire arising. As Grace meets the wound, this can feel like a burning. We may wish to jump out of the very Fire that is present for healing. We may feel this as religious conviction and actually sense physical distress, and some have developed physical symptoms of illness. We wait patiently for freedom to arise. For complete freedom, we may have to engage some action, like asking forgiveness from someone, when the bond is related to a relationship. Or, complete healing may arise only from forgiving ourselves. ~ There are other ingredients that can be part of this process, too, and sometimes needed ~ see last paragraph.
* * *
What is generally unwise is to rush to resolve the matter ourselves. The ego-sense can present a quick route to get out of the Fire. The ego-sense may say, "See, you now know what to do, do it now." In the distress we may seek to hurry to the unloosening. At times, however, we are not prepared to act, only wait. Our waiting patiently, quietly, with the coming and going of the sense of conviction or distress ~ for the sense of the heat of conviction or distress usually does not stay present incessantly ~, can be a vital time of cultivation of preparedness for the release. Again, in some situations an outer action may ensue, but this may not be the case. Sometimes, for example, one may discern it wise to forgive another, but not engage the person; this is especially true in regard to past abusive relationships. Another option in such cases, is to do so through writing, so not facing the person. This can be bathed in prayer, and one can seek wise guidance from within and from spiritual companions.
* * *
Above, I observed how the bond, or shadow aspect, can take on a physical sense, and I share a testimony of a Quaker who experienced a physical response when she experienced freedom from what had held her captive.
After a second divorce and the death of some relatives, Linda Caldwell Lee felt the strong need to face unresolved inner wounding. Her inner bonds manifested in dreams of a house falling, toppled trees, and shattered stones. She began attending a Quaker meeting, meditating, and engaging forgiveness. She describes, in Mystics, Me, and Moby, her experience of sudden healing that arose.
Several nights in a row I dreamed about forgiving others and others forgiving me. It was maybe the fifth day that I wandered in the garden at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and sat on a stone bench to rest. I gazed at the roses. There was a sharp sound and a sudden pain in my heart, "My heart has cracked open," I thought. Tears wet my cheeks. I was amazed and frightened. I looked toward the top of a pine tree feeling that something profound had just happened. A voice that did not seem to be mine said, "Jesus could be your guide." I was amazed. I sat with the feeling of the voice for a while.
As is recorded in the Christian Scriptures, as the Christ speaks through Jesus, "Be ready, for the Son of Man will return when you least expect him," and, elsewhere, "Be watchful, therefore, for you do not know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man comes."
* * *
So, this is a purpose of meditation, or silent prayerfulness. We are in waiting for the coming, not an endtime coming, but a coming that signals healing in our lives now. Being quiet, turning within, away from the outer world, we are practicing getting ready and being ready, we are being watchful, inviting Grace to melt bonds we ourselves cannot melt. As says Anam Thubten, on meditation, in his No Self, No Problem.
Therefore, sometimes the best thing that we can do is simply just rest and relax. Ego may tell us, “That’s too simple. Spirituality cannot be simply relaxing. There must be something more than that.” But actually, ultimately it’s all about relaxing.
* * *
So, if you feel the heat of the awareness of a bond, as the Graceful Fire meets the wound, a general guideline is to relax in the Quiet, prayerfully. Relax not lazily, but wakefully. And, if you need spiritual guidance or counseling, that is okay. Some of our shadow elements can be powerful, and often it is wise not to go it alone but seek companionship. Last, one should not feel, either, that he or she is less spiritual or less human for needing medication. Often, even if not long-term or life-time, a medication can assist to stabilize emotion so one can be more receptive and cooperative with inner healing. I say these things, for just relaxing may be accompanied, as wise, with other aspects in an overall approach to inner healing.
*Angela Marie Heniretta. 'In Resonanz'. Flickr
*(C)Brian K. Wilcox, 2019
Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered from major booksellers online, including the publisher 1stBooks.