Healing, part 2

To get to healing – to the transcendence of suffering -- requires moving beyond blaming. The impulse to blame can be a powerful one. It comes from the old self, trying to hold onto itself, like a caterpillar trying to stay a caterpillar. If blame can be fixed, I don’t have to change.

When social change is afoot, there’s anxiety, which may produce a witch-hunt to find someone or something to blame. In the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there’s a scene of a literal witch-hunt. A mob wants to burn some poor woman that they accuse of being a witch. We don’t literally burn people anymore. When we did, it was a community’s dysfunctional way of coping with its anxiety that somehow their lives weren’t going as they thought they should. In the movie, the mob comes before the local knight.

“We have found a witch. May we burn her?”
The knight asks, “What makes you think she’s a witch?”
One member of the crowd says, “Well, she turned me into a newt.”
The knight stares at the man, incredulous. “A newt?”
The man shuffles sheepishly and says, “I got better.”

In the midst of change, it probably doesn’t feel like you’re becoming a beautiful, glorious butterfly. Maybe it feels like you’ve somehow been made into a newt – into something unpleasant. Actually, a sleek, perhaps colorful amphibian might be a better bet than an insect butterfly – but the point, of course, is that it’s a metaphor for something you don’t want to be. You want to “get better” – get back to normal, back to the story of your life that you have been accustomed to telling yourself – a story that cannot be maintained in the face of being this newt-ish thing it feels like you’ve become.

You might have some anger in the process – and want to burn whatever witch it was that made this happen to you. If we can blame someone, we get to hold on to our old story of ourselves a little longer.

If we can blame China for the coronavirus, we can delay coming to terms with what this really means. If this is all the fault of Asians, we don’t have to wear masks, or social distance – just punish anyone who happens to be Asian. More broadly, we don’t have to change the way we live. We don’t have to stop degrading the environment, or take any note of the connection between the planet’s loss of species diversity, is directly connected to pandemic outbreaks.

Last October, a UNESCO report established the links between biodiversity loss and the increase in pandemic risk factors.
“The report warns that future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases, from reaction to prevention....We must transform the way we live on Earth together with other species of the living world, and establish a new pact.”
Healing is about transformation – not getting back to what you were, but becoming something new. t’s not about solving a problem, but becoming new in response to a new reality.

As Pema Chodron writes:
“We think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Earlier we heard Kim, Lisa, Georgiana, and Terri beautifully sing Cynthia Gray’s adaptation of a sonnet by Amy Lowell, titled “Listening” – published in 1912.
“’T is you that are the music, not your song.
The song is but a door which, opening wide,
Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,
Your spirit’s harmony, which clear and strong
Sing but of you. Throughout your whole life long
Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide
This perfect beauty; waves within a tide,
Or single notes amid a glorious throng.
The song of earth has many different chords;
Ocean has many moods and many tones
Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods
The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones
Autumn alone can ripen. So is this
One music with a thousand cadences.”
You are the music. You may have been thinking it was your song – your thoughts, your doings – that was the music. Nope. It's you yourself: the being behind the doing.

And then one day you get sick, or seriously injured – or your life in any of a thousand ways becomes broken: loss of a partner, loss of a job, loss of a home. It always appears first as loss. That old song just won’t sing any more.

It would be flippant of me say, “sing a new one.” It’s not that easy. Even if you know and believe everything I’ve been saying today – even if you understand that your task at such a time is to learn a new song – it’s going to take a while, and it’s not going to be fun. Perhaps it will be your swan song – as you enter into the last loss, the loss of your own life.

If it seems easy, it isn’t genuine – isn’t real transformation. There’s no transcendence of suffering without the suffering. Amy Lowell titled her poem “Listening” – because we don’t so much write our new song as listen – listen for the song that finds itself emerging.

Healing is no picnic, dear friends, but it is worth it. May it be so. Amen.

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