Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Do you know how to trap a monkey? If you want to catch a monkey, take a gourd and cut a small hole in it just big enough for the monkey to fit their hand through. Inside the gourd put some fruit. When a monkey comes by he will want the fruit and put his hand through the hole, grab a fistful, and then try to pull his hand back out. But they can’t. The hole is big enough. It is small enough to put their empty hand through, but not big enough for a hand clinging to a fistful of fruit. He is trapped!
You would think the monkey would realize he was trapped and drop the fruit. But no, he thinks he needs that fruit; he couldn’t survive without it. By refusing to drop the fruit, the hunter comes up behind and catches him. If he would just surrender!
Aren’t we all like that monkey? We hold on to past trauma, past hurts, and we are trapped. What are you holding onto that’s keeping you from being free? What is it that you need to just surrender in order to be free?
It’s not easy I know. We hold on to things for so long, they become part of us. They are like old friends. We invite them out from time to time and have a pity party. The truth is, surrendering is like a street fight. Sometimes it’s a blood bath. It’s hard work.
The story goes that one day St. Francis was riding through the valley below Assisi, when he came upon a leper, as there was leprosarium near by. He abhorred lepers mind you. He found the very sight of them repulsive. Whenever he saw one he would go the other way. But this day was different. He was moved to dismount his horse and embrace the leper with a kiss. And it happened, "What had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”
Sometimes our lepers are those who have hurt us, our enemy, those who are different from us. But sometimes, our leper is within, those things about ourselves we do not like. Our addictions, grudges, resentments, the dark secrets we hold hidden within, these too, are our lepers. Too be free, to heal, to find peace, the first move is to embrace your leper! Don’t run from the pain. Take a good look, acknowledge it, look it in the eye, then let it go. If you cling to it you’ll be trapped.
This is the shadow work we all must do. We have to look at those traumas in our life, as ugly as they may seem, and as strange as it may sound, we have to embrace the darkness in order to come to the light.
It ain’t always pretty, I know. But there is great healing in looking at that trauma, facing it, seeing it for what it is. We don’t have to forget it. We don’t have to be ashamed of it. You can name it and let it be a part of you.
I think this is what St. Paul is talking about when he mentioned the thorn in his flesh. We don’t really know what exactly it was, but he prays that it leave him. But God tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then says, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”
Paul was able to take this pain, either physical, spiritual, or emotional, and use it. The thorn becomes something that teaches us. It has the power to make you stronger. It reminds us. It is what makes you who you are. It can make you a more loving compassionate person. You know other’s trauma because you have suffered too. You become a wounded healer.
You will see yourself in others. You see that the craving for love that you have, is in everyone. The suffering you have, is in everyone. Your longing for forgiveness, is in everyone. When you see someone acting out, you see yourself . When someone hurts others, you see that you have the capacity to hurt others too. One of my favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor said, "You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people's sufferings and not your own."
There is something about suffering that is transformative yet we run from it. I’m not saying we should go looking for suffering, but when it comes we can look at it and recognize, “Yes there is suffering here. I am experiencing suffering, but that suffering is not me. I am not my suffering.” You can sit with it, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. In this way, we can make our wounds sacred.
In mythology the would-be hero is always wounded. Being innocent (from the Latin innocens meaning not wounded yet) is not a compliment. The opposite is the puer who is a young boy who refuses to be wounded, or more exactly, refuses to recognize and suffer the wounds that are already there. He wants to remain nice and “normal” so everyone will accept him. He refuses to be wounded, much less allow the humiliating wound to become sanctifying. Sometimes this is call the Peter Pan Syndrome. It’s an archetype for someone who refuses to grow up and face life head on. He is always waiting for someone else to solve his problems.
But, the message of the Gospels is that the only way to know something deeply is by allowing our always unjust wounds to become sacred wounds. This is the unique Christian name for salvation. We move into the mystery of things at the loss of our innocence.
When we can trust the pain and not get rid of it until we learn its lesson, then the suffering can be seen as a part of the Great Pattern of how God is transforming things. Throughout the Judeo-Christian Scriptures God is the one who turns death into life. When we can trust that God is in the suffering, our wounds become sacred wounds and ordinary life becomes the godly journey, trusting God to be in all things.
You know I believe this to be true, that we are saved not so much by doing it right, but by the suffering of having done it wrong. It’s in the struggle itself that the answers come. In it comes the light of awareness and compassion for the world. Shadow boxing isn’t for some kind of vengeance on the self. It’s for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit. It’s a gift to ourselves, but it is also a gift for others.
Part of our work is to try to make it easier for others to love us. People who are transparent and admitting of their flaws are much easier to love, don’t you think? None of us need or expect perfect people around us. What we want are people who can be honest and up front.
Look at the parable of the Prodigal Son, or the publican and the Pharisee. The one who did wrong ends up being right simply because he is honest about it. The ego wants to think well of itself and deny any shadows. The soul knows that we grow in the shadowlands. We are blinded by either total light or total darkness, but “the light shines in the darkness, and darkness cannot overcome it.” In darkness we find and long for more light.
You know Christ has been called the light of the world, but Jesus uses the same phrase to describe us. “You are the light of the world,” he says, every bit of you, the good the bad and the ugly. The light shines within in you. We aren’t told that and we need to remind ourselves and each other that the light of the eternal Christ shines in us all.
So, back to our monkey. What is it that you are holding on to? What has you trapped? What is it that you need to surrender in order to be free? I encourage you to embrace the leper within. You see Francis embraced the leper, and then he let him go. He recognized his weakness, took a look at it, then let it go. If you do, I guarantee, “What was once bitter will be turned into sweetness of soul and body.” This is how our wounds become sacred wounds. This is how we can begin to heal ourselves and the world.