The landscape of healing

This week I want to introduce to my next Inspiration Shout-Out — Healing through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan. The book’s message is one of hope and wholeness, for the individual as well as for the wider world. It focuses on the alchemy that is possible when we embrace our emotions in all their diversity and all their fullness.

“Dark emotions don’t go away. They simply come to us in whatever form we can bear.”
p. 27

In 2007, I was very afraid. After a number of inconclusive tests, I was due to have surgery. No one could tell me what the surgery would entail, but one possible outcome was that cancer would be discovered and I’d require extensive surgery and a long recovery period, likely to be followed by some sort of additional treatment. Luckily, no cancer was found and the operation was very positive in physical terms.

The emotional landscape had been changed, however. While both grief and despair surfaced, it was the fear that remained most acute. Not having cancer was indeed a relief, and yet I wasn’t relieved of the fear that I was not really in control. From the fear that my body would betray me (again), blossomed a fear of failure and incompetence. Being unable to think my way out of my medical issues scared me into believing that I might also be unable to think my way out of other challenging life situations.

“You don’t surrender by moving away from what hurts. You surrender by moving into what hurts, with awareness as your protection. This is not ‘detachment’ in the conventional sense; it’s a connected detachment: staying connected to emotional energy mindfully. The detachment comes from being mindful, not from disconnecting.”
p. 78

To heal I had to come to grips with a new understanding of the world, namely that sometimes the only “rational” explanation is that there is no explanation. There is no thought process or logic that can save you. Even coming as it did after years of managing chronic health issues, years of needing to ask for and gratefully accept help, this was and remains a hard lesson to integrate.

As with feelings so with other aspects of our inner lives: we need to surrender to their existence, we need to make them personal without taking them personally. The fear, the pain, the suffering were mine, yes, but seeing them as an affront or as an attack on me personally would have moved me away from, rather than toward, greater awareness and connection. When we can stop attempting to “handle” our dark emotions and instead try to listen to them with an open heart, when we can embrace them as a message about our health and wholeness, we have new energy to channel into becoming our true selves.

 


Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The landscape of healing

Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us

Who am I? At first blush identity seems straightforward. There is some set of characteristics, both inherent and learned, both chosen and given, which defines my identity. Identity seems to come from within. To understand identity, however, we also need to look out, to the environment.

When I lived in Alabama, I was a Northerner. Now that I live in Germany, I am an English speaker. Previous to living in these two contexts, these aspects of my identity were not particularly salient because it was normative to be a Northerner or an English speaker. Moving to these new environments prompted me to reconsider my identity.

Mariann Märtsin has put forward the notion that when we undergo a life transition such as moving to a new place, we are driven to make sense of it and this includes adapting our sense of self to incorporate our new relationship to those around us. To understand identity, then, we need to appreciate that although it feels constant – I am me, I was me and I will continue to be me – identity is something we are creating and recreating all the time. Aspects of ourselves may always have been with us, like my Northern-ness, and yet it can sometimes take something outside of us to trigger our awareness of them.

That identity is constructed and that such efforts at construction take place as the result of life events, should influence how we do our diversity and inclusion work. For example, in my case, this has involved an awakening to my privilege in the US as a Northerner and in the world as a native speaker of English. As such my advocacy can seem suspect, inauthentic, patronizing or self-serving. My presence alone can stimulate feelings of being one down. I need to be conscious of how who I am can stand in the way of my being a catalyst for people forming more empowering personal narratives and claiming the full richness of their identities. This mindfulness around identity being constructed and relational is the diversity dividend.

 

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong

In 2012 I moved to Germany seeking a complete change of scene through immersion in a new language and culture. What it took me a while to grasp was that due to one aspect of my identity – my physical appearance – I was being treated differently from your average newly arrived immigrant.

Sure, it helped that my accent isn’t particularly strong and that I am good at filling the blanks in conversation from a previous career working with individuals with language disabilities. But the bottom line is that because I look right, I’m allowed to get things wrong. People here don’t typically pause to wonder if I might be a competent speaker of German. Instead, if they think about it at all, they may wonder why someone with such looks, I have German heritage on both sides of my family, doesn’t express herself more fluently and doesn’t always appear to understand what’s being said to her.

Something I had no part in, the genetic mixing that created my appearance, means I can pretty much take it for granted that people will speak German with me. Furthermore, I can usually expect patience and understanding if I stumble and stutter and the native speakers I encounter are mostly willing to persevere in conversing with me in spite of the challenges.

Why is this a story about diversity? Because diversity encompasses privilege and this is a story about privilege. My fitting the mold physically means that on sight and without any action on my part, my status is assumed to be that of “German speaker.” This presumption means that I don’t have to battle to be recognized as having the ability, or the right, to speak. Indeed, it requires very little from me to maintain this first impression of competence.

Because I didn’t anticipate enjoying a privileged status, I have had to learn not to take it personally when I am treated differently from other non-native speakers with the same or greater command of German, as this frequently says more about the beliefs of my conversational partners than it does about me. Thus, although I can feel proud of managing an entire interaction without using English, I must always be aware that the opportunity to do so may in large part be due to the positive bias my looks engender in those with whom I come into contact.

This heightened awareness of my privilege, and its connection to an aspect of my identity outside of my control (i.e., something unearned), has triggered reflection upon and discomfort with how qualities such as skin, hair or eye color, gender or clothing style can be crucial to how we judge worthiness. When possession of certain attributes makes it a certainty that we get a place at the starting line and exhibiting others means we never get to compete at all, we all lose. Some highly adept individuals get overlooked and can never contribute. Meanwhile, those who are selected miss the chance to test their abilities to the utmost on a level playing field. To change our approach to one where we go beyond surface characteristics such as someone “looking the part” and base decisions upon genuine appraisals of competence based on talents allows us to reap the diversity dividend.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong