It’s never helpful to berate oneself for not being a better person or for behaving badly. That in itself can be an old habit where one has internalised a critical parent who becomes judge and jury…It’s often only too easy to join in the familiar critique…Anna Freud named it ‘identification with the aggressor’ as we cheerfully throw our hat in to the ring to vehemently attack ourselves.
More helpful is to somehow be able to acknowledge that things may not have gone well or that we need to grow increasingly aware of our shadow self and if that acknowledgement can happen in almost a detached way – the observing of who and how we are then so much the better…that’s mental noting.
A further mark of progress is the recognition that we cannot heal ourselves. Self-help books and remedies are always attractive but often we have to have someone alongside us whether spiritual director or psychotherapist. If that isn’t possible or we cannot find the right person then the progress can be helped by accepting that we can open ourselves up to Divine intervention. The alternative is that we live unawakened still curled up in the womb position and turned within ourselves: centred on ourselves.
John of the Cross the sixteenth century mystic speaks remarkably clearly to our contemporary age when he writes of our envy about the spiritual progress made by others and how hard it can be to hear others being praised. We might be able to heal ourselves on the surface but not at the deepest level when envy, anger and pride seem to come up from nowhere. We are too bound to ourselves to be our own liberators. As has been said nobody escapes their shadow by running faster… But even if we were free the ultimate healing lies beyond our grasp.
St John of the Cross teaches from his own experience that the real wound is our need for God and so God himself is the cure. For John the healing comes in the waiting and it comes in the ‘night’ through surrender and discovery. Francis Thompson who wrote the poem called The Hound of Heaven put it like this: ‘Where I find nothing done by me, much may have been done in me,’ in other words that the healing can happen despite ourselves.
So we are asked to worship someone we do not control and celebrate what we do not understand. ‘Of God himself,’ John writes, ‘nothing could be said that would be like him.’ And ‘outside of God, everything is narrow.’ The Christ figure that we are drawn to offers us a deeper and deeper experience and an unfathomable mine of treasure where everything remains to be understood – so unlike our knowing age where all is dissected, reduced and pinned down. It is the saints and angels, John says, who find God always new and increasingly amazing. So we wait in anticipation of something outside our mind set, something other and something infinitely loving – what’s not to like!