Counseling is a sacred profession; like a priest to its congregation or a monk to its followers. Counselors are there to connect the Soul with the Sacred. Counselors are there to listen, empathize and reflect. It is in that holy space, transformation takes place. The religious called it transfiguration. The scientist called it metamorphosis. I called it living. Living Beautifully.
One of my favorite authors, the late Dr. Larry Crabb described it this way:
“When two people connect, when their beings intersect, something is poured out of one and into the other that has the power to heal the soul of its deepest wounds and restore it to health. The one who receives experiences the joy of being used to heal. The one who gives knows the even greater joy of being used to heal.”
Larry Crabb. Connecting: Healing ourselves and our relationships - A Radical New Vision. (1997)
This is what I have observed to be true in my counseling room. I have a blue chair. Jacqueline, my wife, called it the weeping chair. On that chair, sat many who poured out their hearts and in doing so found healing for themselves. They experience the joy of being healed. I get the greater joy of knowing that I am being used to heal.
Let me invite you into one of such encounters. In her one words, one of the person who sat in the blue chair recalled:
“How can I help? What do you need from me?” asked my counselor. Politely, I smiled back and said to myself: “I wish I knew.”
I wished I knew what I wanted. I wished I knew what help I needed. During those dark days, if someone had told me “Maybe you should smile more, talk more, go out more”, I would agree. Or if someone else said “Some rest would be good, some quiet time, more sleep, more meditation”, I would nod along too. Bandaids only cover superficial wounds.
The truth is I was lost. I was in so much pain. I knew I would not last much longer. At the same time, I could not believe a failed relationship could ruin me that much. There must be something else. Whatever it was, I had to do something to get out of that dark fog. I need something more than a bandaid.
From the outside, I functioned perfectly normally. I go to work. I talked. I laughed. I took care of my beloved daughter. “I am strong”. My friends would compliment. That was what I heard all the time. But I know myself better. I was at my wit’s end. I was tired of being strong. Everyday it took all of my willpower to get out of bed and put on the clothes and make breakfast for my daughter. When my daughter was not around, alone in my room, I lay there sobbing and feeling like it will not get any better ever.
I will forever be thankful for that moment when I gathered my courage to dial the number that led me to Michael, my counselor. Though I did not know what to expect from the counseling session, it became the tipping point of my life.
I met Michael at his home office. His wife Jacqueline greeted me and asked if I wanted anything to drink. Her presence was calming and I felt at home. With a warm cup of tea in my hand, Michael ushered me to the counseling room. Two big blue comfortable chairs and paintings nicely decorated the room. He gestured towards the chair for me. He sat, also with a warm cup of tea in his hands.
“How can I help? What do you need from me?” Michael asked. “What brought you here?”.
I was determined not to be embarrassed. I was adamant not to cry. I think Michael knew. He did not push me. He just sat there. Waiting patiently for the questions to sink into me. Then the damp opened. And there was no turning back.
The truth is, a single event like the end of a long-term relationship and the loss of a beloved one does not bring one down. It only finishes the job that started long before that. Years of hidden pain not let go, disappointments not let out, anger and hatred we all try to deny and bury in the deepest darkest corners of our souls. Helplessness and hopelessness reign in the weary heart. The baggage we carry. I should say, the baggage I carry.
Stories of long-forgotten childhood. Vivid haunting images. A little girl feeling helpless because she could not protect her mother from her abusive father. A grown-up woman feeling choked up because she did not allow herself to mourn over the loss of her grandmother, the only symbol of love and trust she ever knew. A betrayed wife feeling resentful because she had to suppress the burning desire for revenge for the sake of her child. All those wounds, unhealed and inflicting pain again and again. Always lurking around and following me into my relationships. Everyday, I move further and further away from the true versions of myself. The beautiful version. The “I” as I could be. Instead I become the I as I think I am: broken, damaged, unlovable.
Somehow through that pitch-black mist, I crawled and kicked and fought to find the way out by reaching in. I never thought the way out would be to reach into my own heart. To cry, to mourn, to fall, and then to stand, to rise, to trust, and to live beautifully. You can not rise without falling and crying and swearing first. You can not trust without despairing and being tormented first.
So cry, scream, fall, if you want to. Only by allowing those emotions to speak out, even for the first time in your life, can you realize that self-compassion is not about trying too hard to love yourself. It is about sitting down, saying hello to our old friends: emotions of good and bad, memories of joy and pain, the projected glamorous identity you want the world to see and the hidden identity of vengeance and anger.
All these are part of who I am. Like a slow motion-picture unfolding right before my eyes, it comes to my senses that there is a single thread holding these parts together. It is the childlike zest for life waiting to emerge. The desire to live life beautifully (as my counselor puts it 😊).
Through all those difficult but necessary steps, Michael as usual, sessions after sessions, with a cup of warm tea in his hands, seated calmly in his chair, listening, reflecting, nodding his head, feeling my emotions, shading tears with me and for me. That is what I needed. Now set free. Free to live beautifully.
And so let me end with this paraphrased quote by John the beloved "Free indeed. For the truth will set you free to live beautifully."