Just thinking about the Advent season that has just begun and the Healing Service today I brought along a symbol that in many respects is a symbol of both. The Faberge Egg I made some years back and while it looks ok on the outside its real value lies on the inside that until it is opened lies in darkness. It has a very thick shell that would take a lot of breaking through, but there is a way of opening it that doesn’t have to be too difficult. It’s often said it’s the toughest nuts that have the softest centre and its precisely because they are so vulnerable that they need such a tough exterior.
Why I choose this egg as a symbol of both Healing and Advent is because the essence of both is opening up to the treasure within and the all-important means whereby that can happen is our free will. We can either choose to remain closed or we can opt to open up.
For many of us there was a time when it was quite necessary to build that shell around us. Perhaps there was so much going on at home that was too much to handle and we just built a shell of protection. Seeing parents in conflict just tears a child apart and can make them quite closed off emotionally. In school most of us came through a shame based learning system where corporal punishment was the norm. I now look back with horror to what we were subjected to as kids, being boxed in the stomach by a rugby player, being slapped on the face and beaten with either the side of a ruler or the leg of a chair and all with the underlying message that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Was it any wonder we had to close off how we felt because it was all too much and when we did all we were left with was fear. What shocks me now is how we considered that kind of brutality to be ‘normal.’
Many kids who were sent to boarding school were dreadfully homesick and got such a hard time with being bullied that they had to switch off emotionally. Later as adults they often failed to form good relationships and had to close off even further.
Is it any wonder that our western society, head has been much more prized than heart and intellect was set high above emotion. To a large extent our emotions were considered suspect to the extent that we tend to talk about everything except how we might be feeling. Yet the journey to spirit, while it may begin with the mind has to go through the heart, and so our emotions can never be by-passed. That’s why even having a heart by-pass doesn’t always work, we still have to face what we need to feel.
Last week I got a lovely text from a lady from Cork who had just met her daughter for the first time in 38 years and she was just overjoyed as I think her daughter was too. Back all those years ago she was working in Dublin and living in an inner city flat on low income. When she got pregnant the father headed for the hills and she was literally left holding the baby that she desperately wanted to keep. Her very catholic family, catholic in inverted commas, she couldn’t tell, since they had made it abundantly clear that they wouldn’t want to know her if she came home pregnant. What a reflection on our so-called Catholicism! For months she wrestled with trying to bring up the child but found that the support structures were just not adequate and between paying rent and child minders it was just not feasible.
With her heart breaking she knew she had to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to give her daughter the opportunities in life she would wish for her. The day the child was taken for adoption was by far the worst of her life and for three weeks she was in emotional meltdown and felt close to suicide. Just to survive she somehow managed to close off her feelings and incredibly for the next 38 years never once open them out again. In the words of the poet TS Eliot she put on a face to meet the faces that she met and measured out her life in coffee spoons. Her conversation became non-versation that never had any depth and she never again got involved in relationships. It was a lonely existence more than a life of just going from bed to work with little or no friendship or social interaction.
Amazingly after having built such a hard shell around herself for 38 years she took the incredible risk of opening up by making contact with the adoption agency. To her surprise the daughter responded almost immediately and agreed to meet. When she came to me weeks before she was shaking at the knees and wondering if she had done the right thing. Would she not have been better to leave things as they were and let sleeping dogs lie? Naturally I encouraged her by saying what a shame it would be to live a life without emotions and then get to the other side and discover that there the only currency of communication was emotion. Those who have passed beyond in near death experience and returned suggest that in that realm verbal communication has given way to emotional communication. In other words there we communicate at the level of our feelings so it would be nice to get some practice.
Thankfully that meeting seems to have gone really well and probably marks a turning point in her life. That girl is now married with a family so now this lady will shortly be linking in with a family she never met and meeting grandchildren she never knew she had, and its all because she ran the risk of opening up her emotions that she had tried to deny for 38 years.
I am very aware that not all such encounters have turned out so well but nevertheless it extends a challenge to any of us who for whatever reason may have compartmentalized our feelings and put a wall around ourselves. When we use a phrase such as I don’t go there or I don’t want to talk about that, it usually means that we are already there but can’t quite see it in terms of how our past is still affecting our present. In reality it’s the evasion of our past that erodes our future and deeply affects our quality of life in the present.