Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pondering the Past

I’ve never climbed the Himalayas.  I’ve only ever hiked the foothills of the Alps a bit the summer I was 19.  But the metaphor of “climbing” Mount Everest has been with me a long time and several times, while pushing through to a very arduous task, I’ve described myself as “climbing” in the thin air of the Himalayas.

By the time I began to learn psychotherapy I had already developed some sense of how to manage relationships and what human development, in the sense of spiritual development, was.  I can’t say “what it was all about” but I can say I had some experience of it and I’d read a great deal, across boundaries of different religious traditions.  I viewed “therapy” as like the guru-disciple relationship.  And I saw it as an expansive journey, a journey into the unknown.  Two souls seeking.  One with some experience of such journeys, of its perils and its joys, but not trying to influence, so much as to encourage and to be a catalyst for the inner life of someone whose inner life had gotten stuck.  The other, the person stuck, trying to trust when perhaps trust itself might have been broken or betrayed, whether trust in oneself or trust in reaching out to a hand feared judgmental.

I had earlier been fortunate to spend nearly 8 years teaching young children - not far from a Benedictine Monastery (Mount Savior) which had a small bookstore/gift shop.  A small contemplative community, supporting itself as a dairy farm, raising corn and cows, making hay and praying seven times a day.  They had, before my time, held a conference for various important spiritual leaders of different traditions (I’m sorry I missed the proceedings and the spiritual guides present).  But there remained a vestige of that spiritual expanse in the books, carefully curated, in the bookstore.  I took full advantage of that!  
I read.  I meditated.  I pondered.  In my spare time.  While teaching, trying to reach certain children, trying educational experiments - to see what worked what didn’t.  While raising a young son, baking bread, making granola, growing sprouts and chopping vegetables for stir-fry dinners.  While my husband was attending graduate school.  While teaching myself to play the recorder.  Two actually, one a soprano, one alto, I think.  And classical guitar.  It had a beautiful sound.  It was better at “sounding” than I was at playing.  But the discipline!  And the joy of hearing it - resonating so beautifully.

Work paid the bills.  I thought a lot about education.  Child development.  I’d earlier read Piaget extensively.  And so I thought about how my students “thought” - trying to place myself in their position, understand where they were coming from.  How to help them move from their “thought places” to the places the curriculum expected.  Also, how to help them learn to learn, to get them to think, to ponder.  As I was doing.

During that time I think I discovered two things, which gave me a basis for learning psychotherapy.  One was that to help a child learn, you needed to connect with that child.  If the children felt respected and connected, you could reach them, you could help them learn.  And for me that learning included social skills and how to think through right and wrong, not just the curriculum I was expected to teach.  The second thing was that various religious traditions had developed ways to assist people in learning something deeper, something hard to put into words - that enabled people to question where they were at and to let go of rigid ways of thinking.  In order to find the courage to take some sort of “leap” into the unknown, using methods and guides developed over centuries and centuries.

I’m no expert on any of this.  Though I’ve traversed paths.  And climbed in the “thin air” of some of it.  I’ve ascended mountains.  And descended them.  Metaphorically speaking.  It’s been exhilarating and frustrating and scary at times.   I’ve had some enlightening experiences, you could say.  But you’re never done!  And after a while you stop trying to arrive.  Because the journey becomes the destination becomes:  “Here” am I.  Or just:  So, “I am.” And maybe “nowhere, nobody.”  “Now.”  Here.

I can’t say that I’ve arrived.   Only that I’ve traveled.  I’ve pondered.  

“And that has made all the difference.”


Blue Eyed Ennis said...

Delighted to see you back writing here. Blessings !

TheraP said...

Wonderful to hear from you, Phil!

I am so busy these days, I forget to check the email connected to this account!