The Gift of Healing

One Woman's Experience By Julia Corbett

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: ''Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas .... Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain, and you can share your insight with others." In this spirit, I offer this reflection on how my Buddhist practice-in addition to a caring counselor and keeping a journal-has contributed to my healing from childhood sexual abuse.

My daily practice includes three basic elements: ritual, reading something spiritually-enriching, and meditation. For me, doing these things in the early morning quiet works best. I begin the day focused, my priorities in line.

Ritual can be beneficial in content, and comforting in its constancy. When everything else seems to be coming loose, the ritual remains a touchstone. Taking Refuge and using some of the Plum Village Chanting Book material link me to the larger community of the Order of Interbeing, and to people throughout history who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Two recitations from my daily practice deserve special mention. One is an affirmation of intention, by Thay: "I vow to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion, and practice joy and equanimity. I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon." This verse reminds me of the qualities I seek in my own life, and encourages me to reach out to other beings, to see past my own problems to the greater good. The other is a nontheistic revision of the serenity prayer: "I vow to cultivate the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." It is important not to let the energy we need for transformation be drained by a fruitless quest to change the past. We cannot change the fact of our abuse, but we can change its effect on us. It is meaningful to remind myself of this every day.

Several books by Buddhist authors have given me great hope and encouragement. Books that can be read a chapter a day have been most helpful. Often, I fmd insight or encouragement to take me through the day. Books I've found particularly encouraging include When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Hard Times, by Pema Chadron, Open Heart, Clear Mind, by Thubten Chadron, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and Old Path, White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and A Heart as Wide as the World, by Sharon Salzberg.

Meditation has been the most helpful practice for me. No aspect of our lives remains unchanged by recognizing that we were abused as children, and healing from it. Recovering memories that lay unrecognized in our unconscious is a central aspect of healing. It can also be difficult. For me, meditation, particularly walking meditation, facilitated remembering. I practice walking meditation on a treadmill-walking vigorously, synchronizing breathing and steps. Ten minutes into my hour's walk, a deeply meditative state comes about quite naturally. During the phase of healing in which recovering memories was central, walking meditation was especially useful. It provided an open emotional and mental space into which memories could come, and a safe container for even the hardest memory. During walking meditation, the most difficult memories-recollections of the most violent abuse-arose, along with feelings that had lain dormant nearly half a century. Because I was centered and grounded, I could be fully present with what was happening, and let the memories and feelings come as they would. I felt safe and open, even at the worst of times. Walking meditation was also helpful when I was simply too agitated to sit still. Meditating with my Sangha has often lifted my spirits. Even if you aren't comfortable sharing your journey, the energy developed in group meditation can be positive and healing. Never underestimate the healing power of simple friendship.

During all phases of healing, our emotions whirl like a stream racing over rocks. The daily practice of simply following your breath and letting the emotions come and go-neither fearing nor rejecting what comes-is fundamental. We need to balance many difficult emotions-pain, grief over a lost childhood, anger and rage at the perpetrator or perpetrators, and the shame and guilt that are the inevitable legacy of abuse. We need to experience those emotions fully, but not be engulfed by them. Meditation is an excellent way to achieve this balance.

In all phases of healing, it is important to water our seeds of joy and peace. Mindfulness encourages me to be aware of those seeds, nourish and celebrate them, and look for ways to pass them along to other people. Sometimes, it's easy to be overwhelmed by negative emotions and memories. Meditation helps me touch the positive in life as well. And, when my awareness from formal meditation extends into daily life, I am better able to work with the effects of the abuse.

Our pain, fears, anger, and shame are all part of us. If we don't handle them with kindness, we do violence to ourselves, thus perpetuating the violence that was done to us as children. Thay suggests that we look on whatever comes up as guests in our living room. Granted, we are dealing with some pretty unpleasant guests here, but we invite them all in, treat them with respect, and learn from them.

After working with the guided meditations in The Blooming of a Lotus, I developed the following meditation, focused on the particular negative emotions experienced by people healing from sexual or other abuse, and on the positive seeds we seek to cultivate. I encourage others to examine the feelings particular to their experience and use them with this meditation.

Aware of the feeling of shame in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of shame in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of guilt in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of regret in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of regret in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of sadness in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of grief in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of grief in meI breathe in. Releasing the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of anger in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of anger in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of joy in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of joy in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of contentment in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of peace in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of peace in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of calm in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of calm in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of compassion in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out. 

Aware of the feeling of healing in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of healing in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Julia Corbett welcomes contact from others exploring these issues. 10072 West County Road 300 South, Parker City, IN 47368; (765)468-6019; JuICorbet@aol.com.

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