I have walked this path many times but never prepared with thick gloves and the right tools.
As I approach the wounded trees, I pause for a moment to witness them, the wire fencing cutting through their trunks, their continually bleeding sap, the way they have tried to grow around and over their sharp obstacles.
It hurts to witness the weeping of fluids, the irregular growth, the scarring, the struggle.
As I cut away, I think about how this land is littered with so many of these abandoned metal fences placed too close to growing trees. I think about the healing of these trees, wondering if they will eventually stop bleeding.
I think about our own healing process as humans, often so much uglier and messier than we think it should be.
The healing path is unglamorous. It may involve living long stretches in emotional or physical pain, all the while still moving forward in the dark unknown.
Here the truth of our challenge is revealed: making space for a deep longing to feel whole while also allowing an acceptance of what we are currently experiencing. At times we might catch how we self-sabotage or distract ourselves from fully arriving in our lives as they are. But when we remember to widen ourselves open, we make room for all of our experiences. Even our pain has a place. Even this belongs.
I have observed that it is particularly challenging for people who struggle with chronic pain, other unremitting illness, disability, or health challenges to find and feel relevance in a world that props up some false idea of wellness. In our culture, wellness and sickness are treated as polarizing opposites. Anyone who falls on the wrong side of this split is considered unproductive, impaired, and therefore excluded from the collective.
This unconscious idea of wellness that we perpetuate ultimately estranges us from the suffering that we all experience at times as part of being human. None of us fall outside the spectrum of trauma, pain, or heartbreak that is part of our agreement in taking this fleshy form.
Let us stop pathologizing the grief of being human.
There is sorrow everywhere. There is beauty everywhere. When we go with the symptom, the ache, the inner twisting, we find a wisdom essence in what we may try to quickly pass over or ignore. There is gold here, not in the healed wound but in the weeping.
We have hearts big enough for this. We have hearts that can hold the nuance, the seeming contradiction. We are inherently whole but broken too. We can live a life of purpose despite adversity. Let us dismantle and radically unlearn our cultural paradigms of wellness. Let us reimagine what it means to be a human healing.
Perhaps there is less to fix about ourselves than we originally thought. Let us abandon the idea that we are self-improvement projects with an endpoint. All of this perfecting is an exhausting mirage to orient ourselves toward.
Healing does not insist that anything about us needs to be changed, prettified, cleaned up, or fixed. We are all mercifully, imperfectly unfixed.
Healing does not mean covering our hurts.
Healing means opening.
Healing means expansion and taking up more space.
Let us refuse to close down. There is too much god damn movement that wants to happen, within us, through us, around us. Like serpentine rivers, ancient forests, and endless galaxies, we are governed by a natural intelligence, a wild force that is always headed toward healing when given the opportunity. We know how to move, grow, flow, even without knowing how we know.
It is only by opening that we metabolize our unwanted experiences and traumas. We do not work these things through our systems by freezing, numbing, or locking experiences into our somatic memory. It is by expanding ourselves, by coaxing, loving, nurturing the closed down places in us, that care can flow in rivulets, conduits of aliveness.
But this opening must be held in a safe container, lovingly tempered. There is some alchemical middle to be found here, where we are not totally flooded and overwhelmed but also not always repressing what feels unpleasant or unwelcome within.
If you have tried to mobilize to change, fix, or alter yourself in a certain way and it has not worked before—then stop.
Relax into yourself just as you are now—allow this to simply be. Invite a sense of curiosity and receptivity as you continue your journey. Honestly invite in the coping mechanisms and the unhealthy habits you have relied on in the past.
How has this behavior served you until now?
How were you doing your best?
I did my best for the trees, but the truth is that after cutting away the broken, tangled fencing, there was no turning away from the damage. Too much time had gone by, and the harm had been done.
No predictable happy ending. Nothing that tidy. Perhaps, in the end, this cutting away was more for me than for them.
And yet, they still live. These trees are injured, all the while continuing to grow. There exists no cure, only integration. They will resiliently persist, whole and a little broken too.
Published on Elephant Journal 1-28-21.