Monday, June 9, 2014

Journal of a Soul 57

Dealing with the Past

Irish flag at full mast in ALSAA recently
Dealing with the past is always a hard task both for an individual and for a nation.  In fact, in many cases dealing with events from the past will be most traumatic for both.  On the extreme level one might mention how Germany and its people have endeavoured to tackle their felt collective grief and shame after the horrors inflicted on many sectors of humankind by the Nazi murder machine.  The same must be a case for all other nations involved in genocidal activities, a list of which you may access here if you wish to depress yourself with the horrific statistics: Genocides. Scratch the surface on any nation's sense of identity and one may encounter anger, guilt, depression, grief, hysteria and so on.  Doubtless every nation needs to engage with its guilt over its sins of commission and omission from the past.  Now, this is no easy task, needless to say.  

These reflections here will deal with the problem of dealing with the past on (i) a personal level and (ii) a national level.

Healing one's Personal Past

Evening scene on the Ionian Sea, Calabria, December 2013
The word "healing" is very important in the above heading as it is hard to move on unless one acknowledges the hurt one has caused to others, hopefully having attempted to repair the situation in as far as possible by our admission of guilt, the asking for forgiveness from those hurt and the re-establishment of some kind of mutual respect.  Often many of us need to access help from our friends, from significant others, from trained counsellors and psychotherapists, and perhaps from our spiritual and religious guides in achieving this reconciliation.  Having travelled far through life, I readily acknowledge all the helps I have received in my own personal life story on many of those listed fronts.  Of course, it is also hard to move on when we are the ones who are hurt.  In that situation we may never receive any apology or act of sorrow on the part of those who have hurt us in whatever minor or even major way.  I'm thinking in this latter case, especially, of the poor victims of sex abuse as children and those who have had the most appalling crimes like rape and physical abuse committed against them.  There are, of course, other forms of abuse like mental or psychological abuse, bullying and so on. 

However, one thing's sure, each of us must engage in healing our past memories, especially the more serious ones.  Such will involve exercises in awareness in line with the good old Freudian/Jungian definition of all therapy, namely "making the unconscious conscious." * Unacknowledged hurts from the past will inevitably surface in our dreams as we age.  Indeed, they will often send a growing minority of us to take refuge in drink and drugs and, indeed, to often in engage in hurting others in the same way that we ourselves have been hurt.  

A partial answer (please note the adjective here "partial") to problems in these above mentioned areas may be summarised in one word, "awareness."  Dr Rollo May underscores this fact in many of his books where he insightfully states that awareness is a major part of the battle to conquering anxiety, anger, bitterness, regret, spite, jealousy, egocentricity, envy and so on.** Let us put this in more colloquial terms and state in a pithy fashion that "awareness is half of the battle."  It is only when the alcoholic, or drug addict, or whoever with whatever ill or problem, acknowledges that they have the problem, that is, when they authentically face the truth of their particular ill that they can begin to do anything to change their situation for the better and start out on the journey to healing and recovery.

(ii) Healing our Collective Past as a Nation 

At the excavations at Locri, south of Siderno, December 2014
These reflections were inspired, or more correctly provoked, by the recent highlighting of the mistreating of unmarried women and their babies here in Ireland since the foundation of the state. In the last twenty to thirty years, much concealed abuse has come to light in Ireland: child clerical abuse, the plight of unmarried mothers,  Magdalene Laundries, the abuse in Industrial schools, the burial of dead young children in grounds of Mother and Child homes since foundation of the State.  To add to the mixed repressed memories and emotions, some of those homes were badly renovated Poor Houses from Famine times.  In other words, excavations or archaeological digs on these graveyards in question would be quite intricate given the presence also of Famine graves on site.

I've heard historians, sociologists, psychologists and others suggest that as a nation we Irish suffer from repressed guilt as we are the survivors of the millions who starved in their hovels and on the roadsides and in the Poor Houses during the years 1845-1848.  Our high rates of alcoholism and mental breakdown may also be attributed to this repression.  How much festers in our personal and Collective Unconscious is undoubtedly there to be discovered in our cultural expression of our identity in history, plays, novels and art (from the past, the present and the future) of all types as well as in sessions on the couch.  Art in all its richness is surely one means of expiating our repressed demons.  This, therefore, is one area where the Arts outshine the contribution of the Sciences to our well-being.  As human beings we have to be helped to flourish as individuals in the mutuality of community.  Sciences help by improving our lifestyles and standards of living, but the Arts contribute to healing our souls.

There is much we can do in helping to heal ourselves in these issues.  I shall attempt a brainstorm of possibilities here, obviously in no specific order:

  • Encourage radical questioning in all areas of life.
  • Listen more to what people say.
  • Defend the rights of minorities.
  • Radically question all power structures.
  • Ask ourselves what lies we sell to one another and why.
  • Sharpen our moral and ethical questions.
  • Learn to be suspicious of easy answers to difficult questions.
  • Join in helping one cause or another.
  • Read more widely and more critically.
  • Question our public representatives and politicians.
  • Stand up for our principles.
  • Don't take the easy way out.
  • Get involved in as much as possible.
  • Join the debate.
  • Make our voices heard.
  • Don't blame others.
  • Encourage debate and other opinions besides our own.
  • Try to see things from another point of view.
  • Why not? as a question is as good to ask as Why?   

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