There are Many Ways to Heal

December 31, 2020

Individual spiritual retreats are interesting phenomena. The time away is meant to be a break from everyday life to immerse ourselves into a space where we can discover and reflect on what is most important to us. The details of what happens during a retreat vary depending on you and your retreat guide (the person who organizes the experience). It’s not a vacation, though outsiders often think that it is, and scoff at any other consideration. The retreat guide offers spiritual practices, a shoulder to cry on, or a boot to the rear (called encouragement) when needed. Often, the guide provides a perspective on what may be happening in your spiritual and life experiences. Oh yes, the guide arranges for your meals and accommodations too—unless the retreat is done online which is becoming more common these days. The settings vary as well. Many people think that these retreats are in a glorious natural setting, in a cave in the mountains, or in a monastery in a bare cell (room) with a hard bed, chair, desk, and a meditation cushion. For me, my favorite retreats were in an attic in a suburban home. I had access to good food, a shower, musical instruments, books, recorded music, some nature nearby, and a great view of an urban skyline that was inspiring to me. My second favorite retreats were in a hut with access to nature but also to residential city streets where I could walk (and walk, and walk, and walk). Though universal Sufism, integrated with other approaches, is my primary spiritual path, long gone are the days of the ancient Sufi who hung upside down in a well (only during the day!) for 40 days. Thanks be to God!

I was on a 12-day individual spiritual retreat at the beginning of the 21st century. I don’t remember all of the details, except for the end. I was comfortably settled into my second favorite spot. The retreat guide was also my spiritual guide, and we had known each other for quite some time. Near the end of the retreat, I had a dream. In it, I saw the founder of the path I follow, Hazrat Inayat Khan, gazing out over a city from a balcony. I recognized the scene from an old photograph that was taken in the early 1900s. I mentioned the dream to my guide. He agreed with me about the origin, and said that the dream was a suggestion about healing. This puzzled me, and he went on to explain the context. Inayat Khan was gazing out in the direction of one of his chronically ill and deteriorating students and sending healing energy. Although it took some time, the student recovered.

I wondered what all of this had to do with me. My guide was confident that it suggested my involvement in healing. I was practicing psychiatry at the time, but we didn’t think it referenced that. In my spiritual training, I was heavily involved in healing activities. To tell the truth, I was not that interested in individual healing, at least the way I imagined it and the way it was being taught. Rather, I was becoming more engrossed in attitudes that were healing, spiritually guiding students, applying esoteric teachings and practices in life, and seeing the positive changes they helped to manifest. Given the context of the dream, I thought it might mean I should now concentrate on individual spiritual healings with people who seek help for a specific problem. More doctor-like stuff. “Ugh”, I thought. My guide said, “No”. “Then what,” I asked? He said, “There are many ways to heal.”

In the 20 years since that retreat, I’ve come to know that we are all healers in our own way. We heal, or wound, through our atmosphere. Our vibrations are frequently felt by others, as well as through physical, energetic, and other therapeutic interventions. I started to recall those people I love being around, those whose very presence in my life make me smile even if they are not with me in the moment. I also recalled those who had the opposite effect, along with times I, myself, wounded others. I’ve had my share of one-on-one healing sessions with allopathic doctors, spiritual practitioners, and integrative specialists. I’ve also had years of association with my spiritual guide who never did a healing session with me, but has been one of the most healing beings in my life.

We have a choice to heal or wound. If we are lucky, we might also be neutral for a while; but I am finding this to be less and less the case. The historian and social activist Howard Zinn wrote a great autobiography “You can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train”. I recommend that you read it sometime. Zinn was correct, but sometimes we need to take a break and tell ourselves a little white lie. Truth is, we heal or wound all of the time by being who we are, and with focus, the power and effect of our atmosphere deepens. If you doubt this truth, think of your favorite people and how you feel when you are in their presence. Go further and think of your pets, your plants, your favorite rock, the places you go to relax and renew—on a vacation and not just a retreat. All of these activities, beings, and objects are healing. Think of those who love being around you and realize they are picking up on your magnetism and positive vibes. If you can, think of the places, things, situations, and the people that you avoid. If you are brave, think of those who avoid you. You need not dwell on the latter, but it is good to remember that you can have this effect too. It keeps us grounded and off our high horse.

We all have this innate capacity to affect others. It may not reveal itself in miracles or reversing illnesses; but these are not the only ways we heal and support each other. In our present time of distress and chaos, when the old order is being dismantled to allow for something new and promising to emerge (hopefully, since there are no guarantees!), there is such a great awakening in realizing the part we each play, willingly or not. In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono asked us to “Imagine.”  Is that a pipe dream meant to be ridiculed? No, it is a possibility. If left to only a few designated healers, then real and pervasive healing cannot happen. We won’t have the necessary critical mass and the focus is too narrow. Instead, what if we really can imagine? Imagine if all of us focus on empathic understanding. If we see the best in people, even if we must look deeply or are assertively resisting harmful actions and attitudes; and—the most difficult part of all—what if we are authentic, genuine about ourselves, others, and the preciousness of our interconnections?

Take some time to daydream. Journal. Draw or sculpt. Read inspirational writings. Write a poem, compose, sing, or listen to a song. Dance. Record your thoughts on your cell phone. Fantasize aloud with your friends, imagining all sorts of new ways of living. Add some practical steps on how to at least begin to manifest these gifts in small ways, and then do them!

Nothing stops us from making this real except our pre-conception that it can’t happen, that we are impractical dreamers who will be ridiculed by those stalwart thinkers and doers who preach otherwise and know better.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t magic. It takes effort, but coming to terms with our autonomous ability to affect those around us, and choosing healing over wounding, are some of the most useful actions for healing and evolving in our world. They are gifts to ourselves and for future generations.

Who would have thought all of this could come from a dream of a photograph of an inspirational being? Oh yes, my guide did! Now, so do I.

Happy New Year from all of us at Amber Light International!