Recently, a member of our community shared this reflection, “My main challenge is not getting impatient with the recovery process. It’s different for everyone and I have to learn each person’s tempo as we work together.”
Bingo! She’s getting at one of the key skills in spirit-level healing: timing.
How do we know when to do, when to do by not doing, and how to know when it’s done?
Early on in my practice, I worked with a woman with chronic pain – not the kind of pain you can easily put your finger on and diagnose, but the kind of vague and debilitating discomfort that often finds its way to the acupuncture treatment room.
Not unexpectedly, her pain improved with acupuncture; meanwhile, she discovered she had other problems. She began complaining about her fatigue and lack of zest for life. As often happens, her physical-level symptoms peeled away to reveal underlying emotional and spirit-level issues. As things became more complicated in our sessions, I began to wonder if I was on track. As a young practitioner, I wondered why she wasn’t better already.
Rallying all my nascent authority, with 3,000 years of Chinese Medicine at my back, I announced one day, “Reviewing your chart, I see we’ve made some progress with the pain but it isn’t gone yet. I feel that it’s time to discuss referrals for other forms of treatment.”
Twenty-five years later, I can still remember the look on her face when she turned to me and said, “I am getting better. In my own time. Stop rushing me!”
In recounting his healing from a life-threatening episode of Crohn’s disease, author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen writes, “No one expects a caterpillar to spin a cocoon, pop in for ten minutes, then emerge a butterfly … it would take me months or years to recover even physically from my episode of Crohn’s disease, yet not many of us are willing or able to make the time necessary to begin asking the right questions about who we are, what we love, what we fear and what we’re doing to each other, much less answering these question, and much much less living them.”
The kind of recovery Jensen is talking about is not a quick fix, a band-aid to cover or patch up a wound, or a magic wand to “make it all go away.” This kind of healing means that we don’t “get back to our old self again” (since our “old self” is what got us sick in the first place), but that we discover a new possibility, a way of being that aligns us with who we truly are and what we are meant to do in the world.
Healing that leads to this kind of change is what I have come to call “alchemical.” It entails not just an abstract idea of change but actual shifts in how we know ourselves, shifts in our consciousness, our actions and our relationship to others. It is change at the level of body process. It reaches down into matter, to what the ancient Chinese understood as the animal body, the autonomic nervous system or po soul.
What I have discovered through decades of practice as well as through my own life journey is that this kind of transformational healing takes courage and patience, and most importantly it takes time.
Jensen reminds us that we do not stand in front of a tree shouting, “Grow, damn you, grow!” Instead, he refers to the Greek word kairos – the time of destiny or moment of blossoming – to answer the question, “How long does it take to change?”
Kairos is not under our conscious control. It comes as a kind of grace. All we can do as practitioners and patients, as change-makers committed to new possibilities for our planet, is to keep creating the conditions for transformation, remain committed to process, and care deeply. The rest is mystery.
How do we create these conditions? Given the time pressures of our culture, how do we find sustainable ways to support long-term healing processes?
Here are a few suggestions from my own alchemical practice:
- Rhythm is more important than frequency. If patients don’t have the time or financial resources for weekly sessions, or no longer require weekly treatment, then come up with a set time interval between appointments. Monthly or seasonal meetings can be enough to support a long-term process.
- Keep the heat under the cauldron. Find ways to stay connected and get people engaged in practices and “homework.” I invite my patients to stay in touch with me between sessions by sending email updates, reports of dreams or significant events or changes in how they feel. While I do not always write in reply, I let people know that I read their notes and their writing helps me stay current with their progress.
- Use Flower Essences! I regard these gentle plant remedies as my trusty assistants. They keep a process unfolding and open up deeper healing in-between sessions. I tell patients that taking flower essences is like getting a treatment every day. For more on the alchemy of Flower Essences, see http://www.fesflowers.com.
- Support strengths and resources in your patients. Although it is crucial to feel the reliable presence and care of another person as we heal, it is also crucial to discover our own inner strength. My patient who told me to “stop rushing her” needed to know I was in it with her for the long haul but she also needed me to remind her of her own reliability and help her discover tools for self-care.
- Honor the resistance. Sometimes, there is great wisdom in waiting. A person may need time to dream, to vision, and to integrate the change that is underway. In alchemical terms, stuck places and resistance may be the lead where the gold is gestating.
What works and what doesn’t in your own practice or personal healing journey? What have you learned from your own life about kairos and how long it takes to change? I welcome you to comment here or join our conversation at our Facebook Alchemical Healing Global Community Group.