Wounds into Wisdom – Leading with Reality and Hope
…SEE HOW THE FLESH GROWS BACK. ACROSS A WOUND, WITH A GREAT VEHEMENCE, STRONGER THAN THE SIMPLE, UNTESTED SURFACE BEFORE. THERE’S A NAME FOR IT ON HORSES WHEN IT COMES BACK DARKER AND RAISED: PROUD FLESH. AS ALL FLESH IS PROUD OF ITS WOUNDS, WEARS THEM AS HONORS GIVEN OUT AFTER A BATTLE, SMALL TRIUMPHS PINNED TO THE CHEST…
JANE HIRSHFIELD IN FOR WHAT BINDS US
By the early 40’s and especially the 50’s and 60’s, the emotional and mental wounds of our lives are magnified. As life becomes more complex, the sludge of our past is cooked and can take us toward bitterness or wisdom. Becoming whole as we mature means turning these wounds into wisdom. We don’t forget, but we forgive and learn. I do not say this glibly. The deepest traumas are like a spiral and, when you think you have addressed them, they show up in a purer form. I am sure that on my death bed I will shout “Oh, that’s the meaning of that lesson!”, will jump up, and promptly give a lecture on the insight before keeling over.
I grew up in an upper lower income household. For much of my youth, I was blind to our deprivations because Mom was nurturing; Dad was responsible and fun; and I had the necessary fights with my sister. However, in my junior high school years, Dad’s sludge began showing up. He covered his deep wounds from childhood–abuse, abandonment, violence—with alcohol. He didn’t have the insight or skills to heal.
My wounds were also ones of feeling abandoned by males so I achieved in order to take control of my life. After many years of reflection, I know this. And yet when the pressure cooker heats us, I notice my old fears: “I have to do it myself. If you want it done right, do it yourself.”
I have had to learn trust and that the universe is friendly, as Einstein said. Even with years of evidence that those around me are trustworthy, when I am stressed, my five-year-old mind takes over and makes my 60-year-old mind forget. Once again, I need to notice my fears, treat them with tenderness, and say “There, there. I see you are here again. You are very important and I want to take care of you.” As you treat your wounds with tenderness, they can be healed.
When wounds go unrecognized and unhealed, leadership suffers. You may be over- controlling so that situations that rip at your wounds can be avoided. Perhaps you are too accommodating, not wanting to cause conflict that, in your experience, is destructive. You may project fears onto others—bosses, peers, and subordinates. You likely have had the experience of not trusting someone for no particular reason: they remind you of people from the past who were not trustworthy. In this situation, your judgment suffers and you likely overlook the talent of those you lead.
We often mask our wounds with busy-ness. When you take the time for yourself to be still, to notice what erupts and when, and to treat yourself with tenderness, you will have the ingredients for growth and wisdom. The first stages of noticing can be painful, but, in circles of support and encouragement, you can cross the bridge from swamp to clear lake.
Where can you let your guard down and not be perfect?
Who supports you unconditionally?
What time do you make for yourself for reflection?
Meditation. Either alone or in Quaker Meeting, my core community for reflection, spiritual growth, and support.
Two women’s meetings a month. In one we examine the issues of aging. Body, mind, and relationship changes. In this way we stay updated with ourselves—what we have learned and how we want to respond using our wisdom. Another is my Dream Group. Five of us gather to examine our nighttime dreams for guidance, remembering that our unconscious is always ahead of our conscious mind in terms of wisdom.
Traveling and teaching with my daughter, Lindsay.
A yearly spiritual retreat.
Four vacations a year.
A wide circle of friends.
Spending quality time with my husband. Mike.
Be thoughtful about what heals and renews you so that as you age, you can tell the truth with compassion, and lead with a recognition of reality and hope.