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A leader in the recovery movement reveals how we can all heal.
At the center of The Healer's Way is the "hoop"--a seven-step process of healing. First we need to make sure our core needs are met; without those we not only can't heal ourselves or others--we probably can't live. Then we need to get lost (step 2), get hurt (step 3), get stuck and hit the bottom of the circle (step 4). Only then can we get called (step 5), get up (step 6), and get going (step 7). Once we get going, ...
A leader in the recovery movement reveals how we can all heal.
At the center of The Healer's Way is the "hoop"--a seven-step process of healing. First we need to make sure our core needs are met; without those we not only can't heal ourselves or others--we probably can't live. Then we need to get lost (step 2), get hurt (step 3), get stuck and hit the bottom of the circle (step 4). Only then can we get called (step 5), get up (step 6), and get going (step 7). Once we get going, we move through the cycle again and again, as life presents us with new opportunities for healing ourselves and others.
The Healer's Way is the culmination of Earnie Larsen's thirty-plus years as a counselor. The seeds for the book were the questions of a young counselor: How do you keep going? What do you do when you can't make a difference? What makes a healer? The young man asked Larsen to be his mentor and some time later his stories, clues, questions, and answers came together in this book.
Larsen writes, "In the beginning, and in the end, healing is about change. The pages here are about one thing and one thing only: the spiritual alchemy involved in the amazing-grace process of personal transformation."
What am I doing up at 2:30 in the morning?!
Whenever I am emotionally at war over something, I slam awake, always about this same hour. Once awake, I might as well get up and do something because I'm sure as heck not getting back to sleep.
So what is it this time?
To tell the truth, I've been dragging my feet over starting this set of pages for weeks. Why am I hesitating? What I feel is mostly fear—fear and an overwhelming sense of incompetence. There's nothing I want more than to communicate truth to you, at least truth as I have experienced it. That was all Kurt asked of me. The trouble is that this truth—dealing with the human condition, healing the human spirit—is infinitely greater than I, or than all of us put together. We human beings are just tiny twigs sweeping by in the River of Life. The River, of course, is eternal; we are but momentary. As I sit here in my chilly little home office, surrounded by memories swirling out of the darkness, even thinking of capturing these truths in words seems a hopeless cause at best, an insult at worst. In a way, it's a crown of thorns to the heart.
Not that all of life is so painful. It is not. Your involvement with the human condition may thrust you into the depths of hell, but it will also lift you so high your wings will brush the very face of God! Perhaps you will find, as I have, that too much beauty can also bruise the heart. That's the point—the big picture is just too much for us. Our pockets are so small, the treasure so vast!
I feel like a character in one of those delightfully mysterious scenes from a Disney movie. The wrinkled old shaman pulls some magical powders from his pouch and throws it into the fire. Fantastic forms immediately arise out of the smoke, visions of what was or will be, perhaps hidden in memories no longer retrievable except through the shaman's magic. Having opened the door to the world beyond, the old shaman patiently sits there, watching the shadows dance on the walls of his cave.
I've often reflected that each of us lives in the cave of personal existence, fashioned from what we have drawn from our experiences. I envision that the cave has a door that gives access to the magic within. We need only enter to tap into the mysteries. So I urge you to open the door and wait. Be patient. Like the old shaman, throw your magic grains on the fire and then sit back and greet whatever responds to your invitation. Even if it scares you, it will be the truth, the beckoning light you must follow to find your way—wherever it leads. The path my well surprise you. However well you think you know your destination, the light will invariably lead you elsewhere, perhaps to a strange place you never knew existed. Just summon the courage to greet whatever comes through the door.
I sit here at my old typewriter on this dark, early morning and cast my herbs on the fire. The shadows are dancing. I hear murmuring all through the cave. So many faces begin to materialize! They all want to talk to you, my friend. They want your ear—and your heart and soul. They would carry you off. Not away into their world, but more deeply into your own. That is where the journey always leads—down, down, down into your own depths. You can reach out as healer only to the extent that you are willing to reach in. It's about essence, my friend, always essence before action. Actions can lie nearly as well as words, but essence speaks only the truth. So many are here, asking for you....
Yet I know I must be careful. All these dear people who would speak to you are my most prized possessions. I feel like a goofy grandparent (and I am one) who at the drop of a hat produces dozens of pictures of his grandkids with no explanation other than "I love them." I could fill a thousand pages with stories—great stories that deserve to be told—but I don't want to do that. I'd rather stitch just some of the stories into a pattern. No matter how pointedly storytellers tell their tales, however, I realize that listeners always take away what they will.
But I am on a mission, and I want to lead you in a specific direction. As best I can, I want these stories to serve as reference points, as examples of the pattern I will explain. That is what Kurt asked for—on your behalf, for all I know—and that is what I will do my best to give you.
Once you hear what I have to say, we will meet and talk. At that time you may well say, "I heard you, but I do not agree. It is not as I have experienced it." Great! Then we will get up on the table and dance! What truth has the healing way revealed to you? When you tell me, we will both be richer. But for the time being, please listen with your heart as well as your ears. Try on what I—and my friends—share with you, as you would a warm coat on a winter evening. Wear it. Merge it with your experiences as you walk more deeply into our world. Try it out first. Then we will talk.
A last word about goofy grandparents. I thought this was funny. A friend of mine once said, "You think your grandkids poop ice cream." Probably true. In much the same way, I believe that the people you will meet in these stories poop ice cream. Each one of these people and their stories is precious to me. (Doesn't every one of us need a few people around who think we poop ice cream?)
It's best if you read these pages deliberately, for this isn't a novel or trainer's manual. The people I'm presenting to you are willing to share their secrets because they seek a relationship with you, and as with all relationships, it takes time—time and respect—for the parties to get to know one another. I have no idea what they will tell you. That is between you and the keeper of your soul. Whatever their message, you may not hear it until you visit them a second or third time. So often we hurry right past unrecognized diamonds! But if you make a friend of silence and grow accustomed to waiting before your open door, rest assured that you will learn to listen to your own messengers, who will surround you in dizzying abundance. As you listen and learn, what they say will become who you are. Then, one marvelous day, it will be your turn. You will recognize your soul in the fresh face of another who will ask you, as Kurt asked me, to walk side by side through the shadows. It is a good thing to go in company, for the healing way, though grounded in beauty, is difficult and dangerous.
So on we go.
* * *
Here are snapshots of two different times, two different places.
A. I found this in a journal from 1969: "I can't heal you, I can't heal myself. My own weakness is thundering so loudly, I can't hear you at all. I'm lost. I don't know what to do."
I don't recall what that was about, but it sounds like hard times, doesn't it? The first four words were right enough—I can't heal anyone else. Even the thought of assuming that kind of responsibility is enough to make the strongest would-be healer run for the hills. God save us from those who assume responsibility for others' outcomes!
B. This one is from June 4, 1994:
I might be lost, God, but you aren't. It is sufficient.
Getting from A to B took me only twenty-five years. And even now I don't stay put in B very well.
* * *
Have you heard this story? A man was drowning. A counselor rowed out to him. The man said, "Oh, good, you are here to save me!" The counselor replied, "No, I'm not. I'm here to teach you to swim." Pretty good, huh?
* * *
What seems like a thousand years ago, when I was just starting out, I met a wonderful man I called Uncle Lee. To me he was magic. I don't know how he did it, but he had the ability to go right to a person's core. He simply addressed a deeper level in others than most people do. Uncle Lee was not a professional, but he was a healer. Although then I didn't really know all that word implied, he also was an alcoholic.
One afternoon a bunch of us young seminarians were hanging around whining. What about? About the futility of trying to help people who didn't want to be helped, about caring more for others than they cared for themselves, about how much the system stunk. We talked long and loudly about what we would do to change it. After all, we had been on the street maybe three weeks—we knew the score. Looking back, I think we were mostly scared stiff. We were in over our heads and had no idea what to do. So, like lots of scared boys, we whistled loudly as we walked through the graveyard.
Uncle Lee heard us and thundered out, "There's not a damn one of you that is any good at all! There's not a sweet man among you. You guys ought to quit before you hurt someone." With that he more or less wobbled away in a huff of offended, whiskey-scented dignity. No matter how drunk Uncle Lee was, somehow he always managed to wrap himself in a cloak of righteous indignation!
After our shock at being scolded, most of us just shrugged off his comments. After all, he was a drunk. What did he know?
He might have had the disease, but he knew plenty. A few years later I came to believe that he was absolutely right. It isn't brains or big ideas that make the difference. Healing does not have to do with degrees and titles. When healing is at issue, it always comes down to a question of sweetness. Sometimes the hammer of change is wrapped in velvet, but the velvet must always be there. Maybe you've heard the old saying, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." That's never more true than in the Dance of Healing. Never more true. Tell me how much sweetness you bring to the Dance, my friend, and I'll tell you how much difference you will make.
As you become more familiar with the Secret, you will know why this is true. When all is said and done, there is only love and love denied. That's it. Sweetness puts you in touch with the heart of the matter. So here's the message from Uncle Lee to you: strive to be a sweet man (or woman).
It was so cold today that my face hurt when I went outside. My cheeks felt like frozen glass that could be shattered into a million pieces by an impact. The grandkids were staying with us, enjoying the frosted-over windows. Was it ever so when you were a child? Today we had a grand time tracing happy faces in the frost. The kids think Grandpa is very clever. I'd press my fingertip to the frost, and of course a small amount of it would melt, sending tiny rivers down the windowpane. Pretty cool! When I showed them I could do it with my nose, they thought I was right up there with the wizards!
We so tend to measure life by the big events. But it is the million and one everyday miracles that create the stuff of our existence. When we get too busy or tired or angry or hurt to hear the music of these miracles, it is time to back off until we can. When we can no longer hear the music, we are no longer healers. Or at least what we are doing at the moment is no longer about healing. It is necessary—no, essential—to connect mindfully with the beauty in the world. For me it was those beautiful faces saying in amazement, "Oh, Grandpa, that's cool." If you would be a sweet man, the beauty you find in humanity is your protection. In fact, it's the instrument that awaits your artistry. So find your angels, my friend, and hold them tight. They are your guides.
Remember Kurt asking me if there was "a secret?" He was looking for some kind of special knowledge or secret wisdom that, like the shaman's spell, made all things possible. Or, if not possible, at least clear.
The answer, my friend, is yes and no. Yes, there is the Secret: you need new eyes to clearly reveal what it is you are looking at. But no, there is no secret in the sense that there's a shortcut to healing, a quick fix by magic words that softens hearts and transforms attitudes. I know of no such magic. But I can't tell you how many times—how many times—I've fantasized about having a magic stick I could use to touch people who were in terrible pain to effect a healing transformation. Oh, for a "grace stick" that, once touched to heart and mind, would release a resentment, enlighten a pool of darkness, and turn the vision from destruction to creative action!
But that's all fantasy. All any of us can do is throw a stone of goodness in the pool, set the ripples on their journey, and get out of the way. The Secret is to recognize what's right before you. Always, always, if the quest is for healing, what you are looking at reveals the realm of the heart. As I said before, at root, that's all there is when it comes to human well- being—love and love denied. When love is denied, there is a wound, and if that wound is not healed, the bleeding will continue across the pages of every one of our days in an amazing variety of ways. Regardless of the masks of pain and dysfunction, when you look beneath muscle and tissue, you will always find the same process in action. What we are all about—and all that we are about—is hoisting our little sails and praying for a homing wind.
I can't tell you the Truth. You must find your own truth. You must earn your soul on a daily basis by the decisions you make based on the truth you take to heart. All I can tell you is what has proven to be true for me: we, all of us, are hungry for love. Such is the nature of our kind.
Slowly, if you pay attention and keep working at it, this idea will become your basic assumption, the pillar of your philosophy. Healing is always a love story. You will see evidence of it everywhere.
When I was a boy, my father was a plasterer. Those were the days before sheetrock, when plastering walls took great skill. Every house or building we ever went into, my dad would sidle over to a wall, tap it a few times, eye it up to see if it was "straight." For the life of me, I could never see exactly what he was looking for. I never understood what a "straight" wall was. They all looked the same to me. Not to him. He knew what to look for. He'd say, "Not bad," or "The man who did this was an artist." (He considered plastering an art practiced by fellow craftsmen, such as Michelangelo, who worked with wet plaster, too.) Sometimes he'd look and just shake his head. That meant that someone unworthy to call himself a plasterer had worked this wall.
He knew what he was looking at.
A month ago I was with my son-in-law, a professional golfer and a marvelous young man. We were visiting a golf course that was in the process of being created. All I saw was farmland. Not him. As we stood on this little knoll, he looked out and asked, "Can you see it? Right there is the fairway, over here is the tee box, the greens would line up right there, and over there...." Like a total dolt, I could only mumble, "If you say so." All I saw was a place for cows to eat lunch.
He, too, knew what he was looking for.
So must you. It will come to you as naturally as breathing if you allow the vision to sink into your soul. Behind wildly different, unrelated events, your inner eye will come to see the same process unfolding. And recognizing what you are looking at will give you sure knowledge of how to react. What to do—or not to do—will come to you. Certainly, you may not always be right, but you will never be lost.
Even if others don't see what is happening in and around them, you will. Amidst all the noise you will hear a voice. At the heart of all the chaos, you will experience calm and stillness. Behind all the misguided fury, you will be able to touch that tender cord of truth: we all are just trying to get back home. If healing is the issue, then through the distracting noise of misguided efforts, the stumbling around in the dark, you will hear all the various gods speak of God. When the Secret becomes yours, like the carver, no matter how rough the exterior, your artist's eyes will clearly see the flow of the grain at the heart of the wood.
The Secret is recognizing what's right in front of your face. Healers understand that the Dance of Healing is, at its core, always the same. We are born for love, we lose our way, and then we struggle to get back home.
Ballplayers call the Big Leagues "the Show." Police officers call what they do "the Job." I hope it is not too glib to call the job of healers "the Dance." In many ways it is much like a dance.
What I mean by this is that people's lives intersect, rub up against each other, pass over, around, and under each other in such incomprehensible, random ways that no human mind could ever orchestrate. That's the Dance.
Yesterday I was asked to speak at our church. Once at the podium, the first thing I did was play a song by Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia has been gone for more than forty years now. When she laid down that song so long ago, she couldn't have known that a church full of strangers would use it to help them find their spiritual path. Our own deeds are the same. How do you know? How could you ever know? Each day we send out ripples for ill or good. Once the ripples are in motion, we have no idea what other ripples they will cross, what meaning they will carry, what invitations to a deeper level they will offer.
Last week I conducted one of our regular seminars. Only a handful of people showed up. How disappointed I felt! But see, that attitude is a failure to live up to the Dance. One woman who did show up (I'd never seen her before) got to talking about all the abuse going on in her life. Sad story. I told her that she obviously needed a strong, positive support system. She had no idea, none, that there ever was or could be such a thing as a support system. She had no money for professional help and could not imagine a life where people helped people.
Excerpted from the Healer's Way by EARNIE LARSEN, CAROL LARSEN HEGARTY. Copyright © 2007 Earnie Larsen and Carol Larsen Hegarty. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Introduction: The Healer's Way
Chapter 1: The Secret
Chapter 2: As the Tree Is Bent ...
Chapter 3: The Hoop
Chapter 4: Spirituality ... I Would Know of God
Chapter 5: Doing Socrates
Chapter 6: You First
Chapter 7: So Strong Is Love