"Novelist Robertson Davies writes, "One always learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence." The word innocent comes from the Latin for unwounded or not harmed. The innocent one hasn't yet learned from his or her wounds, and therefore doesn't know his or her full reality yet. Human life only develops in the shadowlands, never inside of pure light or total darkness."~Father Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation
We hate the shadowlands. The shadowlands are where we are neither blissful nor so consumed by our pain that we can barely breathe. The shadowlands are where we wait, vigilant, in neither full darkness nor light. It's where we dwell when we're unsure about what happens next. When our wounds have stopped bleeding but have not yet formed a scab.
But the shadowlands are also where healing can take root if we make our hearts fertile enough. If we keep them soft, if we orient them to whatever light is in our lives, if we treat them gently. If we wrap our hearts around our pain, loving ourselves fiercely, then healing will take root. The kind of healing that moves us into a different version of ourselves. The kind of healing that remembers innocence but no longer envies it. The kind of healing that remembers the wound but isn't hardened by it. The kind of healing that we can trust.
One of my favorite poems has always been William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I studied it intensely in school, going over it and over it, knowing there was a message there for me if only I could discern what it was.
It took me a couple of years and few academic papers to fully take in what that message meant for me: My childhood innocence, interrupted by my mother's alcoholism and mental illness, hadn't kept me safe. It was my response to the wound itself that transformed me. The experience I gained from moving through that pain, from healing it alongside my mother who dedicated herself to AA meetings until she could trust herself to BE my mother, was where I realized my full self. It was in those shadowlands where healing took root.
In no way am I celebrating childhood trauma, neglect or abuse. Nobody should have to experience trauma from the people trusted to keep us safe. And none of us should have to experience betrayal from the one who promised us fidelity and devotion.
But not many of us escape this life without pain, often debilitating, agonizing, drop-to-our-knees agony. The heartbreak of those reeling from yesterday's tragedy in Orlando. The private heartbreak of countless others who've lost children, friends, partners, parents every single day. The pain of addiction, of mental health issues, of loneliness.
But I know that transformation is there for those who walk through this pain with hearts soft and fertile so healing can take root. In the shadowlands.