The tragedy in Orlando fuels fear and anger on personal, social, and global levels – and understandably so. It causes public anguish that pierces the very soul of the world. The senseless murders of 49 people shatters our illusions of safety and unleashes an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It triggers old wounds and stimulates a deep unconscious yearning for the world go back to “the way it used to be.” Numbing the pain of these feelings often becomes the mechanism by which a sense of normalcy can be maintained. Numbing, however, is a temporary remedy hiding a deeper wound – a wound that people don’t often talk about because it doesn’t have an identified name. Opus Peace calls this wound “soul injury.” Using this term often gives people a sense of relief. “Just hearing the term ‘soul injury’ gave me hope,” one combat veteran said to me. “Soul Injury validates that something happened to me…something deeper than just the PTSD that I have.” Bringing “soul injury” out of the dark into the light is important because if something is so fearful that we can’t even talk about it, then that “something” has great power over us. It is time to give that “something” a name.
Soul injuries penetrate into the deepest part of ourselves separating us from our own personhood. This separation can have a subtly profound impact because the separation shrinks our own inner sense of goodness/beauty or even creates a haunting feeling of being inadequate or defective. For example, a bully taunts a classmate. If the classmate believes the names the bully is calling him, the classmate will start questioning his/her own self-worth, thinking “What’s wrong with me? I don’t want to be me.” A gradual eroding of self ensues – an erosion caused by losing contact with the personal vitality that makes a person glad to be alive and curious about the world. Left untended, shame frequently nails the lid on the coffin and its soulful contents are deadened until liberated. The liberation often doesn’t happen until years later when personal growth is courageously explored. Meanwhile, damage is done.
Terrorism is an act of community bullying. As dangerous as terrorism is, however, there lurks a deeper danger that subtly threatens more long-term harm – the danger of believing the bully and losing our own sense of humanity.
Finding our way back to humanity and hope means acknowledging, respecting, and accessing dimensions of soulful consciousness– a uniquely human capacity. Paradoxically, the emotional pain we are running away from may be the very thing that can free us up. Our emotional pain can be used as a passport into our larger, soulful self where we have the opportunity to discover the hero within.
We are all witnesses to the trauma in Orlando and its heartbreaking aftereffects. We have also witnessed remarkable stories of resiliency – stories of hope and healing which almost always includes a liberating journey into the wilderness of the soul. Our soul speaks a different language – a uniquely human language. The soul speaks through many facets: poetry, dance, music, dreams, mythological stories, and in the silence between breaths. But in a society that worships rationality, the soul is often de-valued, the arts removed from educational systems, and soulful processes labeled “unscientific.”
We need to not be afraid of our personal and collective “soul.” We have to stop being afraid of our personal and collective emotional pain. Rather than searching for exterior heroes to save us or our society, we can befriend soul, letting it come to our aid so it can become our ally.
The Call to Action
During this time of overwhelming pain, fear, and helplessness, resist the urge to disconnect from the part of self that carries your emotional pain by numbing or denying its presence. This includes resisting the urge to use “positive thinking” to numb painful feelings, which only causes those emotions to become stored in the body. Authentic “positive thinking” affirms hope in the human spirit and acknowledges the pain. As difficult as it may be, it’s also important to resist the urge to blame and berate those who are causing the pain. Revenge only contributes hostile energy, inflaming and enraging yourself and others.
Emotional pain is the normal, natural emotion that accompanies loss. Unmourned loss fuels soul injuries, disconnecting us from our personhood. The part of self carrying the emotional pain is banished into unconsciousness where it drains our vitality and causes a sense of meaninglessness.
We can learn how to trust the soul’s resilience; it is vast and strong – strong enough to carry our emotional pain – even in the wake of tragedies like Orlando.
The first step is to learn how to create an interior soul sanctuary. In the process, paradoxically, you will become re-vitalized with soulful energy. Here are a few examples of how to express the soul injury you may be experiencing:
• Draw your pain
• Scream your pain
• Cry your pain
• Sing your pain
• Dance your pain
• Write your pain a letter
• Have your pain write YOU a letter
Secondly, find safe sanctuaries for your pain. People who minimize or deny your pain are not safe sanctuaries because they are afraid of emotional pain. They will reinforce and reward numbing behaviors that distract you from the losses you are feeling. They will encourage you to: go shopping, see a movie, have a drink, chill out, get over it, work harder, have some fun, etc., etc., etc.
Thirdly, be a safe sanctuary for other peoples’ pain. Help them re-connect with the part of self carrying their pain. Validate their experience. Help them “lick their wounds” before they move on; otherwise, their “moving on” will be shallow and short-lived. Trust the resiliency of the human spirit with the loss that is part of the reality of the human condition.
Ultimately, we have to summon the courage to ask ourselves two important questions: How would the world be different if we were not afraid of emotional pain? How would my world be different if I was not afraid of my emotional pain? If we are honest, the multi-faceted answers would include three crucial components:
• We would have no need for numbing behaviors
• There would be safe sanctuaries where emotional pain could find rest and sustenance
• We would know how to access our soul, using its resiliency to strengthen us
Do we have the courage to release our fear of who we are and who we are not so we can re-own, re-home, and re-vitalize scattered pieces of ourselves that we’ve exiled into unconsciousness so we can live our true purpose? It’s a question each of us have to answer if we are to find peace. If we fail to live the lesson,then our suffering has, indeed, been in vain.
Deborah Grassman is the chief executive of Opus Peace, a non-profit organization with a mission of responding to “soul injury.” She is the author of “The Hero Within” and “Peace at Last.