Recent experiences in my personal life and spiritual practice have led me into a deep contemplation of how I “prod the wound”. For those on a healing path, the metaphor of the wound is familiar: we bear scratches and cuts from relational environments that don’t allow our emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual needs to be met. And for most of us, we carry these wounds into our early, mid, late adults lives. My recent contemplation has incorporated all that – and the vehicle was an actual wound following some minor surgery. Looking back, the physical side effects following surgery were perhaps understandable, explainable; they were ones that brought me home prematurely from my solitary retreat in France – and in all of that, a cascade of emotional “responsivity” came to the surface; the metaphorical wound became inflamed. The opportunity was to look deeply at what I was doing to “prod the wound”; to move from responsivity to response-ability.
What is it to “prod the wound”, because on one level it doesn’t make sense – we are in pain anyway, why aggravate it? It brings to mind professional cyclists who would get home from having had a crash and literally scrub the road rash wound in order to promote blood flow and speed of recovery…yes, ouch! Is that what we hope will happen when we prod? From the psychoanalytic tradition of psychotherapy, we are offered the theory of “repetition-compulsion”: we stick our finger in and wiggle it around in order to try and make sense of it. From personal experience, there is definitely an element of that going on. The primary wound is also a familiar pain, one I know.
Years of therapy, years with a practice path of meditation, and now a comprehensive map of the enneagram – I know what is going on here. As I was discussing with my first years students yesterday during an introductory session on Gestalt psychotherapy, that knowing has to be more the insight and intellectual understanding. The wound has to be felt, a knowing that is sensate. Healing of the wound, in the Gestalt view, does not come from doing anything to change the wound – it is to come to know it intimately.
And recent weeks have allowed me a growing intimacy with my wound. But not just the nature of those first cuts (years of therapy enabled that), or what it feels like (years on the mediation cushion have done that); but seeing how I manoeuvre myself into the tight corners I complain about. This is my secondary gain – I get to feel the suffering of the tight corner so I don’t have to feel the primary pain.
This is how we prod the wound
…and in ways that doesn’t promote any healing, but only inflames it.
As an enneatype Six, I have a clear roadmap for this:
- Unable to sit with the open-opened, uncertainty of a situation, I locate (make!) a dilemma upon which I can ponder.
- The dilemma allows me to feel an anxiety, and Six mind goes into action – forecasting of the worst allows strategising to meet it (fellow Sixes, do you know that buzz when you feel you have successfully met a problem with an ingenious solution?)
BUT, this is merely a cycle – a short term tempering of the inflammation: the original wound lays raw.
Like many of the clients I work with, this cycle is ongoing and has been for years. Clients come to therapy often with the symptom, and not seeing in what ways the wound gets perpetuated, and certainly not how they are prodding it. Of course, having someone alongside, outside of the wound, makes these processes easier to see; and those clients I am working with that are now using the enneagram in their own life have these teachings to hold up as a mirror to themselves.
Maybe not much of what I write here is new to you all; but it does bear repeating. And yet, certainly something that I have benefitted from in this recent cycle of wound exploration is to consider the nature of the work. And I had to smile when I Googled the Rumi quote cited here – this was the only image that gave a vague sense of the ‘darker’ side of the wound; most are somewhat optimistic focusing on the light that enters. Light AND dark. With a hope to heal the wound, we might lose sight of healing as a process. Perhaps this is where the parallels with physical wounds loses traction: the suture sites on my body are diminishing and one day they will fade close to nothing. I have been applying vaseline, aloe vera, using dressings – applications designed to assist closure. Is there such a psychological, emotional equivalent?
Perhaps the Rumi quote is actually an invitation to keep the wound open, raw? In recent weeks of practice, I have needed to lean into the groundlessness of open-ended situations in my life right now; to resist Six strategising and ‘simply’ feel the fall. In that place where the light meets the dark, the air over an open wound, it is painful and yet vast. Just writing those words I feel the sting, and tears come. Sadness and gratitude. The young ones still residing in us don’t trust we can feel that immensity of emotion; but we are bigger now, more resourceful.
Essentially, the wound IS our path, the wound IS our wisdom. Jung was onto this when he emphasised the wounded healer archetype in his depth psychology; the Buddhist dharma also recognises this in the teachings on co-arising confusion and wisdom. And likewise, the map of the enneagram reveals this – so much more than a psychology or a personality typing system, it reveals our confusion (fixation) as the other side of the same coin as our wisdom (virtue). In my case, doubt co-arises with courage. Feeling my doubt takes the courage to not keep scratching at the wound. Can I sit with the itchiness, the restlessness, and let the air of awareness* bathe and soothe? This is the work.
What is your wound?
How do you prod it rather than let it lay open?
*From a Vajrayana Buddhism and alchemical transmutation view, it is the wound that allow the awareness to be known