Seeing Through the Shadows.

There is such poetic power in the Torah’s secondcreation story in Genesis (2:4).  Relative to the first one that stretches over six metaphorical days, it is provocative in its bare bone’s simplicity.  In it, God is cast as an artisan, crafting a human form out of the clay of the earth.  A scientifically trained imagination could map the billions of years of evolutionary biology suggested in that pregnant image.  From a more poetic or narrative vantage point, I see Divine hands immersed in the clay of the Earth, mud dripping down Creative arms suggesting the inherent messiness of the human enterprise, with God’s fingerprints, somehow, all over it.  

The other thing that jumps out at the reader in this story is the intimacy of Divine Breath blown into the human form’s nostrils.  With this defining action, it was then, and only then, when the lifeless object becomes animated as a human being.  The implication:  there is something Divine, something Transcendent, that pulses at the core of each person like Breath inside of our breath. 

For thirty years of practice as a psychotherapist, I’ve sought to begin each of my day’s and night’s work with an awareness of the truths contained in the Torah’s second creation story.  Generally, when individuals or couples arrive in my office, they find themselves in some muddy situation.  It’s my job to join them in that messy/stuck place.  I see it as my obligation to find some way to co-create alongside them.  My intention in each and every session has been to look for that Creative Transcendent thing that pulses at the core of each and every client, each and every couple who has crossed the threshold of my office, and sat on a couch across from me.  There are times when the sessions become explicit in their spiritual content, more often they do not.  But in each and every session, I do my best to hold an awareness of the inherent, if anonymous, spirituality that is part and parcel of my client’s experience as well as the wider human experience.  I have come to see it as my job to find the characteristic flash of it in the stories that are shared with me.  In the sacred exchanges between client and counselor, I am looking to catch a creative breath for them and with them.

This Sunday, my church will contemplate a Gospel selection (Mt 13: 24-43) in which a farmer has to contend with weeds that have found their way into his wheat field.  When his laborers suggest some form of weed eradication program, the field-owner stops them.  To paraphrase the farmer’s response, “Kill the weeds, and your likely to kill a bunch of the wheat!  Leave them be for now.”  As a therapist informed by the spiritual conviction described in the above-cited second chapter of Genesis, I’d like to share with you an insight, that when it shows up for my clients, hits them like a breath of fresh air in their nostrils.

Time and again in psychotherapy, I notice how frequently something that seems as useless as a weed, shares an important root system with something quite valuable.  If you could pull up the weed-like characteristic, you would be pulling up something you would desperately miss in a person or relationship.  Here is a way a Depth Psychologist might put it.  Every bright and shining gift that comes with our unique personality has a shadow side to it.  For example, every parent says they want an assertive child until they get one.  Another example, unusual intellectual gifts frequently come at the cost of emotional or relational challenges.  Another illustration, a fastidious, organized person can annoyingly lack flexibility.  Conversely, with great flexibility often comes great indecisiveness.  You see what I’m getting at? 

It may not necessarily lead to miraculous change, but it makes a difference when a spouse can reframe a complaint about their husband or wife as the shadow side of what attracted them in the first place.  I have noticed how such a reframe frequently serves as a second wind in bearing with the full spectrum of who they married.  In the pages of SMC articles, I have described my own journey with anxiety.  Without that gut-wrenching, sleep-depriving companion causing me to reflect on the human condition, would I have enjoyed this full and rich career as a psychotherapist, and researcher?  Would I have known the poverty of spirit that has frequently sent me on a deeper spiritual journey?  

What is your complaint about yourself or someone you love?  Can you take a moment to see past the shadow to consider the bright, shiny flip-side to it?  Such an exercise may possess the potential to offer another creative breath blowing you or an important relationship of yours in a more fruitful direction.  

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