Modern day psychology is a recent phenomenon. It started with Freud and Jung and has evolved since then becoming what it is today. Most patients in the mental health care system are treated with a combination of talk therapy and when deemed necessary, pharmaceuticals that change the way serotonin is regulated in the brain. Unfortunately, these drugs have side effects, some of which can be disastrous. These include, but are not limited to, suicidal thoughts and attempts. For many people who suffer from mental or psychological illness, these medications are woefully insufficient. Nonetheless, contemporary mental health care seems increasingly dependent on them.
Talk therapy, too, has limits. Through therapeutic conversations, one may find better ways of identifying and dealing with stress and emotional pain. Unfortunately, this often takes great trust and much time to work out issues that have been brewing for years, and in many cases, a lifetime. At best, one can receive significant help. However, often times patients can spend large sums of money only to find they still do not know how to manage their life effectively on their own. At worst, one places trust in an incompetent and judgmental charlatan who makes the individual feel even worse than before and possibly even causes irreparable harm.
Behavior therapy, one of many psychological schools and the current craze, focuses on changing one’s behavior. In some cases, this works quickly and impressively but in many other cases, the root of the issues are overlooked. Although one’s behavior can be a red flag that there is a problem, often there is no such explicit warning. People can go off on violent tangents without any previous outbursts. Many who commit suicide have not attempted it in the past nor showed indications of such tendencies. Long before there is indicative behavior there is illogical and unhealthy thinking. If toxic thought processes are not nipped in the bud the behavior they engender might have irrevocable consequences for both the sufferer and for innocent people within his or her sphere. Modern psychology has often failed to bring the help it wishes to offer.
In the same way that we are now becoming more aware of the benefits of medical practices from other cultures – acupuncture is a prominent example – there are other ancient and venerable approaches to emotional health. The system of Native American psychology and enlightenment has been in practice for many thousands of years. This system was forced to go underground, along with most of Native culture, during the American Holocaust. Europeans practiced genocide to steal the land for their New World They forcefully separated families by putting children in boarding schools who were physically punished for speaking their native language. They were forced to cut their hair, abandon their traditions and adopt European traditions and religion. An astounding number died. Any sacred items found were burned along with hides that had recorded knowledge that was to be handed down to future generations. They did their best to assimilate the remaining Natives into the predominant White culture in order to exterminate us forever. Fortunately for all mankind, they were not successful and this knowledge has survived, albeit by a thread, to resurface today.
One might wonder why there are so many problems in the Native communities if this system had value. Unfortunately, Native American traditional knowledge is no more available to them than it is to the non-Native. So much of this culture has been lost and what does remain lies buried deeply for fear of ridicule from a white-washed society and belief that such knowledge is no longer respected. Wise people do not cast their pearls before swine. This wisdom will die with the elders if not published and passed on. If it can be of use to just one soul, in whatever small way, it is worth keeping and sharing.
So many people are suffering terribly from emotional pain, some to the point of committing suicide and even homicide. Many may want to think they are immune to such problems, but all of us, including the highly intelligent, the powerful, politicians, and authority figures are capable of feeling deep emotional pain. Every human being has felt insecurity, grief, sadness, anger, resentment, frustration, self-pity, and all the other emotions on the spectrum. You are not flawed because you have these problems. The purpose of life is to learn, grow, evolve, mature and discover enlightenment, to become more “God-like”. To do that, we must first and foremost, discover and address our inner pain.
Pain is our first teacher. Pain motivates us to seek comfort. The pain of hunger makes us cry out and so we are fed. We are wet, so again we cry and are given a clean diaper. As we mature we learn to fulfill these needs on our own. If we went to some phantom professional to change us when we soil ourselves and to another every time we are hungry we would be forever dependent on them. Our pain has prompted our growth.
As we try new things we may scrape our knee. Our loving caregivers clean the wound with antiseptic and cover it with a band-aid to protect it. They wipe our tears. They tell us they are sorry we got hurt and give us love and attention. They may even give us ice cream and a chance to watch our favorite movie to distract us from the pain.
This is how we learn to cope with our depression, anger, grief and other emotional trauma throughout our lives. We seek out attention from others. We have sex to make ourselves feel loved. We find ourselves eating chocolate and enjoying lavish meals. Some may even use substances to numb the pain to allow them to temporarily forget how distraught they are. When all those fail, we may even consider taking our own life.
Native American traditions, among many others, believe that if we do not learn the lessons we are destined to learn in our lives, we are forced to try again until we get it right. We cannot move on to the next step in our souls’ evolutionary process until we master our assignments. We cannot escape the Great Round. There are no short cuts. Just like one cannot walk before they crawl, we cannot fly before we are ready.
Living exposes us to pain. No one lives life in a safe bubble. We can be hurt because someone has lied, disappointed us, was rude to us, or was just plain cruel. It really doesn’t matter if it causes us pain. What does matter is how we react to it. To bury emotional pain will only cause it to grow and fester. It is like a bank account to which we add something each time we are hurt. This is not an account we want to accumulate. We want our balance to be zero. When an issue causes a small amount of pain or discomfort, there may not be a need to bring it to our complete and focused attention. Don’t put it in the bank! Let it go. However, if it is something that we think about at the end of the day when trying to sleep, or when we are trying to enjoy a nice time, then it is a phenomenon crying for our tender loving care.
Perhaps it is not another who has caused our pain but ourselves by our own activities. There is an old Cherokee prayer in which one asks God for the strength to fight our greatest enemy – ourselves. It is by learning how to address this pain that we learn how to handle the pain caused by others. If we do not learn this lesson first, we will not be able to effectively understand the pain we allow ourselves to feel from others. We choose to allow others’ actions and words to have an impact on us. Even though we may doubt it, we are capable of reducing the emotional effect people and events have on us.
We can not change the beliefs or behaviors of others, just as no one can force us to behave in a certain fashion. What we can do, is to spread ideas with the use of words. Ideas are like seeds in the wind. They can be carried to fertile minds where they may one day grow, flower and spread their own seeds. Some ideas may take years to root in some minds. Some may never find fertile soil there. Still, other ideas may find minds to grow and flourish in quickly. We can not change others with force, only with ideas.
We should not compare ourselves to others as that can cause useless pain. We may feel we are weaker or stronger than our sister or brother but we do not know what they have lived through. Our lives are more unique than snowflakes. We should not compare our apples to their oranges. Since we can not compare, we can not judge. There are simply too many unknown variables to make an educated guess as to how a person “should” behave. Our concern needs to be nearsighted. Our own lives are certainly complicated enough to deserve our undivided attention. Unless we have something nice to say, we should remain silent. There is not enough silence in the world anyway. If we can get out in nature and listen to our own heartbeat, we will find great comfort. Some are so afraid to be alone that this may be the hardest thing they have ever done.
No one has ever told us what to do with our hurt feelings. We do not know if we are crazy for feeling them, or if we should act on how we feel. So we try to ignore our feelings only to find that they become so loud and obnoxious that we must address them. By that time we are so overwhelmed with emotion that we don’t know ourselves anymore. We don’t know how we got to this point or how to go about fixing things. Yet we want to with all our being!
The main reason we are responsible for our own emotional strength is that no one can read our mind. We are the only ones who know what we have gone through in life and how these experiences have shaped us into the persons we are today. No one else has been in our skin to feel the injustices and cruelties we have experienced. To explain it all to someone else would be unfeasible if not impossible. Unless others have gone through all that life has offered with someone else they have no way of knowing what has happened to shape that person into who they are today. How can another understand when an experience that leaves one person hopeless might be inspirational to someone else? What is a helpful suggestion to one could be a slap in the face to another.
Naturally, there are times when we need the help of others. Some loads are just too heavy for one person to bear alone. The people we choose to help us must be worthy and not the kind to tell us to “just get over it”. They have to understand such talk can often be like telling someone with a broken leg to “walk it off”. We must be very careful when allowing someone to have an unchecked line to our psyche when we are vulnerable as that is often when our judgment is most compromised. If the person we have chosen is not clear-thinking and emotionally strong they can do more harm than good, despite any initials they may or may not have after their name.
How can we comfort our bruised egos when a band-aid and antiseptic won’t work as it did for our skinned knee? How do we kill the germs or weed out the bad thoughts? How do we avoid letting them sink in and have control over how we chose to live our lives? How do we shield ourselves in the future from further harm? As Frank Langella so deftly stated at the Tony Awards in 2016 following the mass shooting in the Orlando nightclub, “When something happens, we can let it define us, let it break us, or let it strengthen us.”
Fear can paralyze or motivate. It is our choice. When we have sat with our fear so long that it becomes uncomfortable, we may decide to let it motivate us to a better way. Our own pain, our own angst, our own powerlessness, can propel us closer to the source of higher knowledge. That higher knowledge resides inside ourselves. That pathway is always available to us, even if we do not always see it. If we do not use it to understand ourselves, we will never fully comprehend why we do the things we do. By extension, we will have no hope of understanding our fellow human beings. If we do not understand, we can not properly communicate. If there is no communication, then there are no healthy relationships and we find ourselves in a world full of violence, anger and frustration. It all starts from within.
Strengthening our emotional stability is not instantaneous. In our contemporary world we are always looking for a way to get things done faster and easier. We become frustrated if we can not take a pill and expect to feel better in an hour. Achieving emotional strength is hard work. Just like it requires hours, weeks, months and even years to strengthen our muscles, strengthening our psyches will take dedication and repeated practice before it becomes routine and we feel strong. It is not something that can be done while multitasking. It takes time, concentration and a willingness to allow ourselves to feel. We can not get through our depression, fears, phobias, addictions and the like by ignoring them, going around them or by simply “getting over” them. We must actually go through them. No one is saying it is easy, but not only is it worth it, but it is the only way to free ourselves from being the pawns of others and at the effect of our environment. This freedom requires constant vigilance. We are never fully “healed” (mainly because we were never “sick”, pain is the normal reaction to an insane world) but must continuously work to maintain a harmonious balance. We use exercises to strengthen the body. The mind is no different.
No one can tell us how to feel. We make those decisions for ourselves. It does not matter that we think we should feel a different way, we can not change how we feel just by logic. Our emotions are not always logical. It takes work to make our feeling understand logic. This is because our emotions are like a little boy and little girl inside of us that must be reasoned with.
There is a medicine story called The Flowering Tree that illustrates this quite nicely and helps us better comprehend how the psyche works.