In our Modern Age, we’ve all been told that to find the real answers, we need to look “within.” It’s a message we see in magazines, hear over and over on television, and, of course, have thrust into our consciousness with the endless torrent of self-help books published every year. Even that concept–self-help–is an idea all the generations before us would have found both bizarre and blasphemous.
But culture manifests all over, even at the deli counter. I was waiting to place an order when I heard a painful whine behind me. A little girl didn’t know what she wanted for lunch. A well-meaning mother asked her in a dozen different ways what her preference was. Would she like this? Would she like that? Remember when you had it before? Do you remember what you liked about it? What you didn’t like about it? The sweet thing just didn’t know and soon she was crying. The woman knelt down near her daughter (she was quite little) and talked to her in a gentle way about finding the answer within her heart and tummy.
I thought that was simultaneously sweet, amusing, and intriguing, also impossibly patient. Of course, I think the mother was trying to teach her child a valuable skill, one well worth learning. And she probably did a lot of other things that were kind, reassuring, and nurturing for her daughter.
But that child became so frustrated and tired trying to figure it out by herself that she screamed, “I DON’T KNOW!” loud enough to wake up the cashiers in the front of the store. Poor little thing just wanted someone to tell her, “here’s your lunch, honey…” and it made me wonder if perhaps we were overdoing it a bit. Maybe within isn’t the only way to go?
Were there always answers within? Indeed, are there any there for any of us? And if there were real answers, would we really want to hear them?
I thought of all the times I tried to figure things out for myself and wound up in ditches double my reach. I can still remember at least a couple of times looking entirely to myself–the Deeper Within–with important questions, and the Deeper Within shouting the answer back up to me: “Shmuck!” The answers I’ve received that have been of enduring value have mostly come from others with greater experience, wisdom, or grace.
On the other hand, I can also remember having moments of utter certainty in the face of chaotic circumstances, times when I absolutely knew what was the right thing to do. I may have been scared or intimidated or concerned, but I somehow knew.
So, what our loving mother was doing at the deli counter was, in my mind, at least theoretically sound. It is good to teach a child how to rely on himself to some degree. But is it always right? Isn’t it also necessary to teach that child what is right and wrong, what is expectable, and how the world works so he or she can make proper choices, can function socially, can be healthy? Isn’t it necessary to have some leadership, even if it’s as simple as pointing out which mushrooms to avoid in the woods? Or which foods to pick out at the deli counter?
As usual, I mentioned it to my husband and I asked him if he thought we could find the answers within ourselves. And, also as usual, my pithy Montanan said, “‘pends what you mean by ‘answers.’”
I thought about that for days. When people are looking for answers are they actually seeking out the truth? Or are they looking for corroboration for their impulses or desires?
The need to go to oneself may be in fact the way one satisfies the need to get one’s own desires met. Often that leads us down the road to perdition, hence the old proverb–”A physician who treats himself has a fool for a doctor.”
I asked another Montanan friend, Ed Johnson, a really bright fellow who’s worked in higher education for more than 20 years, whether he thought it was possible to rely on oneself for the answers and whether looking within was all one needed.
At first he said, “I’ll have to dig deep within myself for that one…” And then he referenced a National Geographic article he recently read on the teenage brain.
“It turns out,” he smiled, “that they’re not nuts. They have a different risk-reward equation. The teenager understands consequences, but they choose the potential-perceived reward and ignore the risks.”
Because of this and other anomalies–genetic issues, early childhood difficulties–he felt that looking within could be unreliable until there was full neurologic development.
I had to agree with him but I take it one step further. Without real health and a full emotional, psychological, and physical maturity, we’re looking for complex answers from an abacus when we require far more advanced equipment. Over the years of working with individuals in crisis of one kind or another, I have found that those who relied entirely on their own “feelings” or “inner voice” wound up in pain, confused, and rudderless because they had never received (or, later on, looked for) the kind of guidance, nurturing, or education (moral or emotional) that would have given them a proper reservoir of answers instead of a headache from feedback.
Which leaves me with this understanding: Answers are not innate. In fact, we are not born knowing very much. Children (and young animals) left to their own devices are perfect examples of what happens when we do not have the benefit of what others have learned, of ancestral wisdom. Those kids (and critters) either die or become socially and morally irredeemable. The hard-wiring for relationships is simply never created.
Answers are learned; sometimes they are intuited based on both spiritual and emotional input, sometimes inspired. But we all need road maps to start with.
People with a good inner compass have almost always been taught how to find true north, where to go and then precisely what to do to and when they get there. We may be born with the capacity, but not the skill. That is an important distinction. Unless a person is given the resources fairly early in life, the only answer he or she will find when they look within is either a resounding silence or, worse, an echo.
Which brings us back to my husband’s point: Do we want answers or do we want truth? They are not always the same thing.
Ultimately this is about the search for truth. Unfortunately most people wind up in a search for what they want. Desire leads us down one road and often truth leads us down another.
74 JEMS OCTOBER 2011
It’s probably quite easy to recall an injury or sickness that occurred during your childhood,
but did you know that the first words you heard after the event played an
invaluable role in how well you would manage the situation, heal and subsequently deal
with similar events in the future?
Derived from current medical research, Verbal First Aid demonstrates how the words a caregiver chooses to say when a child is sick or in pain will cause chemical responses to travel through the child’s body and either help or hinder the healing process, as well as set the course for their physical and emotional recovery.
Techniques provided through descriptive scenarios teach the reader how to empower children to actively participate in their own healing, conquer their fears and turn seemingly tragic events into an accepted part of life.
Easy to read and compassionately presented, Verbal First Aid announces revolutionary non-pharmaceutical healing that can be used anywhere at any time. This book is perfect for healthcare providers, teachers and parents. It provides the key that can unlock a child’s inner strength in any situation, thus promoting a healthy and happy life.
JEMS—By Natalie Harris BHSc, AEMCA
For the first time in Huffington Post, you can read more about the idea behind The Next Osama! This is one of the most important things I’ve ever done and I hope I can share it with all of you. It dovetails perfectly with all the things Verbal First Aid stands for, but takes a look at it from the cultural angle rather than the personal and psychological one.
The reason I’ve done this is because of what I’ve seen in my psychotherapy practice–people who are afraid, truly afraid, and look to all sorts of products to make them feel better: breast implants (so they feel younger and aren’t so afraid of losing their luster or facing their mortality), viagra (so they feel more virile and aren’t so afraid of the normal aging process), more and more insurance (so they’re supposedly protected against everything the insurance companies can make them afraid of).
I will be releasing a host of new articles on this topic–how the culture and particularly the media perpetuate needless, pervasive and viral fear and, not only what this does to us, but what we can do about it!
As they say, stay tuned.