An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, & truth.”
The boy pondered it for awhile, and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
I have noticed a pattern that is playing out in my life. Life seems to send me a quote or proverb, twice, just so I get the message. I wrote about this in a previous post, and it has happened again.
I read this beautiful tale on Pinterest, and then in a Louise Penny book that I just finished reading. I love the symbolism of the wolf – a powerful animal, and a spiritual animal, for some.
I sat and pondered this tale for a few days, struck by the simple wisdom of the advice passed down from an elder to his grandson.
I wondered, “which wolf do I feed?”
I can see how easy it is to get caught up in negative thinking, anxious thoughts, and a sense of meaningless in Life. I know how easy it is to keep feeding this “wolf”.
The battle between the two can be fierce.
Both fighting for attention; both needing to be fed.
By feeding one, the other is starved.
This tale reminds me that we have a choice; that we can choose to focus on goodness, kindness, healing and growth, even when the other “wolf” is howling for attention.
A difficult process, yes, but still a choice.
The wisdom of our aboriginal fathers still ripples through time. I am grateful for their wisdom.
There are many issues that psychotherapists deal with, but not many therapies are specifically developed to deal with issues of the Soul.
Some believe that this is best left to religion to sort out, but not everyone follows a religious path, and many are starting to identify as SBNR, or Spiritually Independent. I have noticed that it is this group of people who are turning to psychotherapy to deal with such issues.
And, why not?
The word psychotherapy derives from the ancient Greek words psyche meaning soul and therapeia meaning healing. Healing the soul is what we are meant to be doing, as well as healing the mind and heart.
Each client brings their own perspective on soul issues, but I have noticed a common theme – a feeling of emptiness deep inside. Some believe that a lack of purpose in Life is the cause of this empty feeling; some say that they feel so caught up in the “rat race” that they have no time to experience the deeper aspects of their lives. They say that organized religion is not the right “container” for their souls to flourish, but they struggle to find anything in life that fulfils this need. I know this place. I have struggled with that empty feeling and it can be a difficult path to navigate through.
So, how can psychotherapy help the Soul?
First, we can provide the space for our clients to explore these deeper issues, rather than analyzing them away, or finding a way to make them issues of the mind. This is a reductionist view on Soul issues. If you are seeking help with this, try to find a therapist who is holistic in their approach and will incorporate the Soul into their practice.
In my own therapy, I was able to explore some of the things that brought meaning to my life, such as being in Nature. I have also taken up writing as a way of trying to express my deeper self. In my private practice, I try to encourage my clients to find their own path to self /soul actualization. Rather than depending on the world to create it for them, I ask them to explore what they can do to fulfill their own needs.
Self-responsibility is a key to this journey! With time and work, they have found a way to express their soul-purposes in life through meaningful work, creativity, being in nature, helping others, and intimate relationships, to name a few.
This “soul therapy” can lead to a different way of being in Life.
I noticed that, when I started to live from this place, I saw things differently. I let go of people who were only interested in drama and I started to feel connected to people, place and things that brought meaning into my life.
When I feel disconnected, I notice that I start to feel depressed and empty again. This is a sign that change is needed, or that I got caught up in something that pulled me away from my purpose.
The important thing is this: find what is meaningful for you in your own life and live your life from that place. It may be difficult at first, but ask for support. There are people out there on their own paths, either going through, or have been through, these struggles. That “hole in your soul” could be filled with all of the things that make your life more meaningful – and joyful, too.
There is a “call” from Nature that is deeply rooted in many Canadians, especially during the summer. Beckoned out of our winter hangover, which lasts for 6 months, we are called to the lakes, trees, mountains and forests. Last weekend, I spent time at my cottage (or for non-Canadians – my cabin) just outside Barry’s Bay, Ontario. Set on a small island, on a beautiful fresh water lake, we found this little place 5 years ago on a visit to my relatives, who have a cottage on the other side of the island. The cottage was abandoned, in disrepair, and needed a lot of TLC! The process has been mythological at times – the call, the journey, and the transformation of the cottage into a place that is integrated with its surroundings. It is a continual work in progress, but there is a deep satisfaction in being part of the change that has taken place. It has been difficult, but rewarding to say the least.
A personal transformation also takes place as I cross the lake. All that “city thinking” dissipates in the wind a and a feeling of natural bliss takes over. I can feel it happening. One moment I am on the shoreline feeling damp and miserable because mosquitoes are buzzing in my ears and biting me. The next minute, I am on our motor boat midway through the lake and joy takes over. The lake is quiet. Nature makes its presence known through the wind and the waves hitting the boat. Like entering another realm of existence, a new state of being emerges. We have no electricity (except our neighbour lets us plug in our electric cooler for food), and no running water (we collect lake water in big jugs for washing up). We have to rely on “primitive” ways to live here – fire, a Coleman stove, and an outhouse. I love it!
I thought deeply about this experience this past weekend and I tried to figure out the difference between my city existence and my cottage existence. The only conclusion I came to was that Nature dominates in cottage country. There is a natural flow that is easy to follow when there are no schedules, or time limits, to adhere to. My body goes with this flow. Having no electricity for lighting helps me with the process of winding down for the evening. The morning sun tells me it is time to wake up; the heat tells me when it is time to swim. There is no concrete, no buildings, and no people in our view line – only lake, sky and thousands of trees. This life in Nature makes me become aware of how tired I feel from my busy-ness. My city brain has shut off and I am free just to be. This is also a place for my Soul – simple, quiet, and peaceful. I am grateful that this experience is possible for me. I am someone who needs to stare up at the sky, or look out on the lake for a long time. It is my form of mediation.
The city also has a place in my life and it, too, calls me back. I have to admit that there is a sadness I feel as I watch the cottage and beach disappear as we take the boat back to the mainland, but my Soul is rejuvenated and I carry this feeling back home knowing that I will return.
As we go through our journey in life, most of us have periods of suffering. This suffering comes to us in many shapes and forms, from an event that may be out of our control, to the acute pain of tragedy and loss. In my private practice, Suffering has walked through the door nearly every time. Like an old friend, I try to greet it with compassion no matter what form it shows up in. Sometimes, I fail. I had a client who came to a session very upset because her “friends” on Facebook were “unfollowing” her. On the surface this seemed like a first world problem, and I felt irritated by her upset. As we started to peel back the layers, her deepest pain was a fear of abandonment, and I was humbled once again. Suffering always has a lesson to teach me!
My view on suffering changed when I read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1959) as a student psychotherapist. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned by the Nazis and sent to various concentration camps from 1942-1945. During this time, when the prisoners had been stripped of everything in their lives, Frankl noticed that certain inmates were able to bear their situation better than others. They chose how they wanted to be,and act, despite their losses. For example, some were able to find meaning through caring for other prisoners. Others would give away their portions of food to those who were struggling in this bleak environment. These people did not let their circumstances dictate their own personal attitudes and actions. After the war was over, Frankl went on to write about his experiences in the death camps and developed a theory on finding meaning in life. He observed:
…we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take to unavoidable suffering. (pg. 133)
This last point gave me insight into my own suffering. Rather than wanting to escape from any pain I was facing, or faced in the past, I chose to find meaning. Rather than wanting a quick-fix, I chose to go through the pain and see what I could learn from these experiences. It was really difficult, but I found a deeper compassion for myself, and for others, which I try to reflect in my psychotherapy practice. I have seen suffering on many different levels, with unique meaning for each client. The client, which I mentioned before, started to understand what true friendship meant for her. She realized that she had been neglecting her 2 closest friends, whom she had known since childhood, in favour of “friends” on social media sites. She was able to see that she had become the abandoner, and this led her to reconnect with the people who truly loved and cared for her. She found meaning, and her suffering led her to a place of gratitude for the people in her life.
I am sure that Suffering will come knocking on my door at some point in the future. I will try to meet it with the same fortitude that Viktor Frankl describes in his book. It will be painful, but not meaningless.