There are a million tools in the world. And depending on the situation at hand, you may choose to take out one or the other of these tools to use them for a period of time. They can be extremely helpful. Life changing even. And so it is natural to want to share these tools with others.
Here's the hitch though:
Once you begin to share them as prescriptions rather than tools,
you move from compassionate enthusiasm to dogmatic, colonizing mind set.
When dogmatic law comes into play, we find divisiveness, the beginning of disrespect, violence, patriarchy, imperialism, misogyny. Organized religions or movements often fail their constituents in the most urgent moments of need precisely because dogmatic law is offered as "cure" rather than compassionate tools being offered as "care."
Let me share a few examples to really clearly show you what I mean about all this.
There are two women who are not feeling well. Both are part of communities where people are exploring self development, Law of Attraction, etc.
One woman mentions her ills, and a friend replies with an offer to help her explore Louise Hay's "Heal Your Body" work to see if anything there seems to fit for the current situation. They work together looking at materials, seeing what might feel right to the woman in need, and they both come away feeling better having lived their practice of becoming more response-able.
The second woman mentions her ills, and a friend replies saying, "Oh, look at you creating drama as a way to make time to rest. You are attracting illness so you can have an excuse to take care of you!" The woman in need feels scolded, embarrassed, and is shamed into putting on the mask of "abundance" to seem "better." All sense of compassionate care has been lost to the imposition of a dictated cure. In other words, the dogma of the Law of Attraction has been used as a weapon, a judgment against the woman in need. And, in truth, no one feels better in this situation.
There are two sets of bereaved parents trying to find their way through grief after the deaths of their children. Both families are part of communities where people are exploring spiritual development, alternative therapies, creativity. Both families struggle with the cascade of loss: death of child, impact on parenting other children, financial realities of death associated costs, not being able to just go back to work as "normal" and the realization of having been thrust into being wholly changed as people.
The first family seeks support from their community network as they begin to question their sanity, how to function in the world at large, the senselessness of it all. A friend introduces them to Byron Katie's "The Work" and helps them through the questions and self-exploration. The first question is simply, "Is it true?" The bereaved mother puts forth that she is a horrible mother and cannot function any more. The friend asks, "Is this true?" The mother says, "Yes!" The friend asks again, "Is this really true?" The mother thinks a bit longer this time. The friend prompts her to talk about what's in her mind. The mother reveals a myriad of ways she is a good mother, active member of her community, and discovers -- on her own terms -- that she is not horrible after all. She is just hurting and in need of support. She redefines her current situation for herself, and down the line she will create meaning out of the senseless, be open-hearted to others, and "The Work" becomes one tool she uses often to explore the shadows of grief.
The second family seeks support from their community network, too. When the mother speaks up about not being able to function any longer, she is told, "Everything happens for a reason. You cannot know God's purpose. And you have other children who need you now." In fact, she is told that someone recently saw Byron Katie using "The Work" with another bereaved parent, and Byron told the mother and everyone watching that you have to move on and let go of these things in order to be "normal" again. In this situation, the very same tool (and some others) were used as weapons against the mother. She is embarrassed and shamed into putting on the mask of a proper believer so she can appear "normal" again. Her needs have not been met. Meaning has been imposed upon her and her family. Absolutely no one is better off in the least!
Can you see what I mean about the difference between tools vs. prescriptions; the differences between care vs. cure? Whether we are officially caregivers or just family, friends, well-meaning community members, we have a response-ability to think through the ways we uses these tools. Many fortune cookie wisdoms are actually derived from ancient systems. If you are intrigued by some current tool, seek out its history. Learn all you can before you start handing out cookie cutter sound bites and imposing meaning on others. If you have previously only dealt in platitudes, seek out the full history and truth behind that trite bit. Don't just take a line out of the Gospel and toss it around anymore. Look up the context. Read what historians feel it meant in ancient times. Look at modern interpretations. Consider what the full weight of the words might be. Consider that line through the eyes of Jewish history, Islamic history, Christian history, Buddhist history, and modern New Age lenses. Does the meaning change?
It is never entirely possible to be objective. We are subject to our own perspectives. Subject to our own experiences. That's okay, but don't let that subjective view limit you and your interactions with others. Instead, use it as another tool. Share your story of how you use various tools and what they mean to you. But then actively listen as other people tell you of their experiences. Don't impose your uses and conclusions on them. Watch, without judgement, as they pick up tools and come to their own realizations. Support them in that experience. Know that your experiences might be different. That's okay. There is plenty of room for all of us. One does not have to win out or conquer the other. BOTH experiences can exist at the very same moment, equally valid.
In this way, all those tools I listed above can be useful. Utilitarian items available to any and all of us instead of imperial weapons of colonization we use to control one another. It is possible to live in peace. This is just one of many possible things to play with as you create that peace in your reality. Be willing to just stop, breathe, and ask yourself, "Am I offering a tool or a prescription?" Just witness how your world changes when you are willing to be that response-able.
Want to learn more? See info on the Certification in Creative Grief Support program by clicking here.
[Originally published in Radical Creativity, December 5, 2008
also published at The Creative Grief Studio blog in 2011]