It’s a strangely human phenomenon; when, after we have stood at the very gates of Hell itself and survived, we somehow expect our lives to go back to ‘normal’, even though we know we have been changed beyond all recognition by our experiences and the evidence of that truth lies in the wreckage surrounding us. Having followed the war in Gaza on twitter from the comparative safety of my own home in the UK, now I bear witness to this strange and agonising expectation arising from the hearts of those who survived.
There is recognition that the harm inflicted on Gaza has affected people emotionally but it is usually framed in mental health terms, as if contemporary psychological theories and practices offer sufficient remedies for releasing the emotional impact of the experience. Personally, I have found such well-meaning interventions to be as effective as an elastoplast for such soul-threatening psychological injuries – I appreciate the thought but it’s simply not enough. So what might genuinely assist the journey back from our face-to-face encounter with Death? I don’t have answers; only my own experience to draw upon and this is written in the hope that there might be something useful for the friends I have made in Gaza over the last few weeks.
The experience of facing our own personal death affects us at every level; mind, emotions and soul. This is true whether the encounter is by chance or, as in Gaza, as a result of human hatred-in-action. When I speak of ‘soul’, I am referring to our existential self – the part that continues to exist after all else has been stripped away from who we are. My experiences of mainstream mental health suggest that most methodologies are unable to process these depths. In matters of soul – our existential selves – only the wisdom of Spirit has the power to heal such wounds. It doesn’t require religion, per se; it requires understanding and valuing the ‘essence’ inhabiting all Life, including our own.
So what happens to our soul when we are subject to the kind of lethal, hate-filled and devastating attacks upon our very existence, our homes, family, society and lives? The explanation that worked for me comes from indigenous wisdom: we experience a ‘shattering of the Soul’. Our souls are eternal, powerful and infinitely strong but… our soul is also fragile. Subject a soul to the kind of abuse seen in Gaza and it will shatter into tiny pieces. We experience this process as ‘shock’ – what was previously whole breaks with horror and grief. It is important to remember that this is a ‘normal’ process, as our essence strives to embrace the entirety of our experience – we become bigger than we were before as our soul seeks to grow into new understanding. The danger, however, is that if we are not careful, some of the parts of our soul fail to return to the new soul constellation we are seeking to create. This is known as ‘Soul Loss‘.
Soul loss is first and foremost an adaptive mechanism that usually serves by allowing us to cope, and in some situations survive a terrible experience, in which the dissociated soul parts depart, carrying the pain, the shock, the extreme emotion, or the memory of the trauma which may be simply unbearable to the sufferer at the time it occurs.
Symptoms of profound and ongoing soul loss frequently manifest as feelings of being fragmented, of not being all there; blocked memory or not being able to remember parts of one’s life; a sudden onset of apathy or listlessness, or a lack of joy in life; the inability to make decisions; the inability to feel love for others or receive love from another, often resulting in the sense of being emotionally flat-lined. The loss of these parts of the self is often expressed as despair, as suicidal tendencies, as addictions, or most often-as depression.
Without doubt, all those who experienced #GazaUnderAttack will be suffering from ‘Soul Shatter’. It has been only two days since the guns fell silent – the shattering within will be reaching it’s maximum as our essence defines the new size and shape of our soul-size within. We will know enough to understand that we are forever changed; that the person we were before no longer exists and all that is left is to pick up the pieces as we move on through the experience. This awareness promotes compassion as we learn to stop expecting any return to our previous ‘normal’ and begin the long journey towards creating a new norm. But how do we find the right path?
The wisdom of the Soul will not be found in standard mental health textbooks – those deal with mind and emotions only. The soul cannot be approached directly, as poets, artists, lovers, story-tellers and musicians have been showing us for millennia. Each individual soul is unique – what will be effective for one will prove useless to another because we each shatter differently, so we need to uncover and reveal as many different poems, songs, stories and creativity as possible to enable each to choose what is right for us. Such creations that show us that others have also stood in that place of Death and returned to tell the tale.
The ‘secret’ to beginning the return journey – which is frequently longer and more painful than the outward one – is creativity. To create is to choose Life. Our shattered aspects of Soul are drawn to that ‘Life Light’. As we create, so different aspects of our essence return to us with the wisdom of their journey. In my own experience of this process, each returning aspect seemed to be coated in the ‘darkness of destruction’ that shattered me and I needed to allow my emotions full expression – whether they be rage or, more often, grief – to rinse away this coating and reveal the tender wounded vulnerability beneath. I don’t quite understand how this deeper process functions but it seems that it is our very vulnerability that enables healing to occur. Failing to reach through the darkness may result in a more permanent form of Soul Loss because we fail to access these healing powers – in such instances, a practitioner in the skills of Soul Retrieval may prove effective.
In dissolving and rinsing away the darkness is where mental health professionals come into their own. The emotions of our destroyed selves are deep and infinitely painful. They cannot be ordered or controlled, only contained by compassion and acceptance and greeted with unconditional loving regard. The ‘darkness’ is undifferentiated when it first emerges into our awareness – it is frequently ugly, unwanted, rejected and we may attempt to abandon it; unfortunately we abandon ourselves when we do. If we appreciate that this darkness seeks acceptance and understanding, allowing the flow of accompanying emotions full expression in a creative way, we begin a relationship with our inner being that enables us to move past the blockages to soul healing and discover the new gifts hidden within. Remember, our soul is evolving, becoming greater, growing us to be able to embrace our selves in within a new creation. Each involuntary step we took to face Death and the destruction of our lives as we knew them (I have never met anyone who made that journey voluntarily!) is mirrored during our return, where each step we means we are choosing Life.
At this extremely early stage of ‘recovery’, I am reluctant to say more. The return journey is not mine this time – this is being undertaken by a whole community. The path cannot be the same. What I am trying to express, though, is that it is a journey that can be understood. There exist ‘maps’ of these soul paths that can provide, at the very least, a guide-rope through the debris of what went before.
I have great faith in the ability of the artists and creators of Gaza because you seem to know this intuitively.