Honoring our pain

Monday 25 September 2023 - 13:13 CEST

How is the forgiveness ritual of the South Afican Babemba tribe related to honoring our pain?

In this South African tribe, when a tribe member does something that hurts another individual, every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a circle around the accused person. Then each tribe member takes turns speaking to the accused, recalling the good deeds the person has done in his or her lifetime. This can go on for days if needed, where all work in the tribe is halted. At the end a celebration is held, welcoming the tribe member “back in” the tribe.

Sometimes it’s too much. The pressures, either from the demands we place on ourselves or from the perceived demands we have from others or society. Consciously or unconsciously we are running to the next thing without taking a break… And we have this feeling that something is not quite right, whether it’s with ourselves, within us, or with the world. It may be related to witnessing so much social injustice, pollution, climate change, political conflict, or the fact that, as we reach adulthood, we realize that this adult world to which we now belong and that surrounds us, the supposedly “adult” people who constitute it are not exactly what we expected them to be. We see people with little patience, excessive consumerism, we regularly witness violence and discord through the media and a lack of good news. The vocabulary that surrounds us is devoid of words such as: affection, sharing, collaboration, cooperation, solidarity, sustainable, peace, etc. There is an increase in the incidence of specific diseases, such as certain types of cancer, heart and digestive conditions, allergies and autoimmune diseases, and other psychic diseases, such as depression and anxiety.

Stress is linked to a variety of dis-eases: in the natural world our ancestors living in a safe cooperative group would only seldom be subjected to a flight or fight response that causes the release of stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol) and they would bounce back quickly to a relaxed state, once the danger or internal disagreement among group members, passed. But that is no longer happening. These reactions are now often sustained over time because the triggers are emotional. Though it is the identical bodily response, you might identify it as different situations or emotions, such as anxiety/panic/fear/aggression or defensive anger etc. Bodily symptoms include any of the following: quicker heartbeat, shortness of breath, tightening of the abdomen, sweating, abdominal discomfort, nausea, muscle tension or pain, partial or complete paralysis (inability to move). Monitor yourself whenever you feel stress: how long does it last?

Depression and anxiety have now reached pandemic proportions in many parts of the world and their incidences are increasing rapidly. They reflect a dis-ease, in other words, we are not at ease with our way of life or with our environment. This is pain, just as valid as physical pain. Psychic or emotional pain often has its seed in our childhood: when we are young, society, through the family and our caregivers, form us to conform and enter into an implicit social contract with specific ways of operating within a particular world. This conditioning, having to act and respond a certain way in order to adapt to the expectations that others have of us, generates those same expectations in ourselves, and in turn, in us of others. And this is often at the cost of expressing our true nature. She gradually buries herself deep within our psyche.

Over time, our nature finds a way to call us, and it manifests itself in a discomfort, which is reflected in either negative emotions, behaviors or physical and/or psychological ailments. This restlessness or discomfort becomes chronic and prevents us from flourishing to become our authentic self and to walk with our fundamental purpose, for which we were born. A purpose that gives us deep satisfaction, well-being, and that generates in one a sense of peace and deep appreciation that everything we are doing is satisfying and worthwhile.

If we feel discomfort, what can we do? The process is analogous to making a diagnosis. A doctor can’t properly treat what she doesn’t recognize. If you treat the symptom without treating the cause, the disease and symptom often recur and persist. The diagnosis therefore determines the treatment. The same applies to this psychic pain, and I would venture to say that it is a pain of the soul. It is no accident that the word “psyche” comes from the Greek: breath / life / soul. But modernly we have extirpated this last facet of what the psyche is, without giving it due recognition: it is much more than a mind, it is also soul. In the scientific world the existence of the soul is questioned since we cannot (for now) measure it.

It’s not about extirpating the pain. We must recognize and name the elements that cause historical and current collective pain, that of our parents and that of our communities, which are a mirror and coexist alongside our personal pain.  From that embrace, that acceptance and contemplation of pain – not necessarily an easy task – we can embark on the path towards healing, both individually and collectively. For some, that pebble in our shoe that hinders us can be more or less abundant, more or less annoying, and the strategy we use to survive despite this discomfort, is a strategy that often accompanies us since childhood, but that no longer serves us as adults, preventing us from living fully. The strategy varies from person to person, and there are a number of strategies or mechanisms. Recognizing that strategy is important to make the necessary changes and heal. It is our starting point.

Most of our time on Earth we have co-evolved with natural environments and with other sentient beings. In modern society we have largely isolated ourselves from this usual environment from which we come. Therefore, this separation also becomes one of our basic needs, along with others that we neglect over time, and that is to be in Nature. To this need is added the need to express our true individual nature that allows us to choose a life path in which we are convinced that we are fulfilling our purpose. We are often unaware that the need exists. If it has become a “symptom,” so we cleverly offer an explanation. But this is because of the “strategy” that prevents us from truly seeing. This path to our true purpose and source of restlessness requires time and patience. And yes, each of us has a specific purpose. Just look at the diversity of human nature: it clearly demonstrates how we are beings created for many possibilities. There are powerful tools to determine the source of discomfort and subsequently manage it with helpful practices that allow us to aim towards restoring balance. And Nature also offers us a way of healing. This will be the subject of another blog.