The human mind is powerful and subtle. It is also twisted and self-deceptive. Many journeys towards peace, joy and healing are sabotaged by hidden undertows of fear, guilt and blame.
One hears, for example, of people who suffer from chronic ill-health or depression, who appear to be sincerely trying everything to get out of it, but nothing seems to work. A place we would never think of looking for a solution is whether there is any hidden benefit for the person in holding on to this suffering.
Twisted as it sounds, often there is. Through sickness one can get sympathy, attention, pity-love, control, no responsibilities and moral superiority. And the heaviest anchor holding a sickness against the winds of healing may be a subconscious desire to punish someone and hold them guilty. The way this game works, my mentor GD explained to me, is that with your sick body, you tell these others: ‘Look what YOU did to me!’ While there is tremendous suffering, there is seemingly greater value in that righteous moral superiority. While there is danger, it is overridden by a belief in a more grievous threat to one’s self-image and ‘reality’ without this defense. GD reminded me of a quote from A Course In Miracles: ‘Damaged bodies are accusers’.
This game can play out across decades and its outward expression need not be only through sickness – its expression can be through loneliness, depression, poverty or chronic failure. It can play out between son and father, between husband and wife, between employee and boss, even between a disciple and teacher. In each case, the baleful glance of the sufferer says, ‘What is happening to me is your fault. And my suffering is proof that you are evil, and I am noble.’ In each case, the suffering is a cold finger pointing accusingly at the imagined perpetrator.
A few years ago, when I had quit my full time job, I had gotten into a panic over finances. With a seemingly mountainous home loan and monthly expenses of the family which were princely, I felt crushed by an unfair and overwhelming burden. To right the situation, I began living a Spartan life. My extreme self-denial became a silent way to make my family feel guilty about their spending. I stayed unhappy, contracted and secretly resentful without realizing what was happening. While the reality was that finances were taken care of – and unexpected monies beyond my expectations were coming in – the mind refused to let go of being the poor victim for a long time. In fact, until last night.
Last night, my therapist-wife Aditi reminded me how ironic it was that today I had more money than ever before and yet I was feeling poorer than I had as a teenager. One of the questions she asked to help me understand the reason behind it was: ‘Imagine yourself happy, abundant and expansive – now, what’s wrong with this picture?’ I saw that I would lose control over the family – if I went for a holiday to France, I wouldn’t be able to tell them not to. I would have to ‘forgive’ them for their past misdeeds of burdening me with earning money. Holding on to my chronic internal lack and self-denial (which I had given a spiritual lacquer to) actually felt safer than letting it go. Because this device’s power lies in the dark conviction that the problem is external and not-my-choice, simply bringing it into the sunlight is enough. Seeing this device clearly, without self-judgment, was incredibly freeing. Laughter, expansiveness and love resurfaced.
So if you have a chronic issue that resists healing — and if you would like to end the suffering — ask yourself what is the hidden benefit in holding onto it and whom do you hold responsible for it? Ask yourself if it was completely solved, what would go ‘wrong’? And most of all, ask yourself: If blaming anyone was not an option, how would you deal with this situation?
You may just find that true healing has begun in that instant.