WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?
The question "What does it mean to be human?" was one I began asking many years before I explored it as a psychotherapist. As a troubled teenager I haunted my local library, studying everything they had by Freud and Jung, both of whom fascinated me, as did Oscar Wilde. I had eclectic tastes. Then I stumbled upon R.D. Laing's ‘The Divided Self’ in a bookshop in Blackheath, where I was undergoing the torture of secondary school. It was a ground-breaking book at the time, making madness comprehensible, and explained personal alienation in a way that struck a deep chord of recognition. It was both awesome and reassuring to find that I was not alone. It offered reasons for my perennial states of isolation, disconnection and despair and gave me hope that I was, after all, human, and my own adolescent desolation was relatively normal.
LIFE AS A MEANINGFUL ADVENTURE
For as far back as I can remember I experienced life as a meaningful adventure, and adversity a springboard for growth and change. It seemed an optimistic conclusion to draw given life’s numerous ordeals, and was a prevalent attitude in my family, where songs like ‘Look for the silver lining’ were popular. Suffering provided opportunities to discover strengths as well as darkest depths. I understood myself, long before I turned that to good use by understanding others as a therapist. From an early age I began transmuting my observations into the written word in the form of stories. It was one of the ways I preserved my sanity. As time progressed, my capacity to read my own emotions, motivations and hang-ups improved. Having been earlier encouraged to value the intellect above all else, I embraced my ultimate ignorance and opened to the spiritual dimension, partly as a response to the challenges thrown by life. It was still a long time before I tuned in to the wisdom of the body. I don’t think I properly arrived in my body until I was in my forties, and then it was with a bit of a crash landing. It was like waking up in a strange country and realising I didn’t have a map – startling as well as liberating.
WHEN THE PUPIL IS READY, THE TEACHER COMES
A series of life changing events in my late thirties had brought me to Oxford with my son and daughter, then aged sixteen and fourteen. Life took a very different turn for us all. Nietzsche’s claim that the things which do not kill us make us stronger is helpful in retrospect but not so much at the time. It did mark the beginning of a much needed period of healing for me, however. A couple of years later my acupuncturist said to me one day: "You are very perceptive. Have you considered using that insight to help others?" I had wanted for a while to find some purposeful way of engaging with the world, but had no clear idea of what it might involve. I knew by then that writing wasn’t enough, but felt inadequate and unskilled in offering much more. She recommended a book called ‘How can I help?’ by Ram Dass. I discovered with a sense of deep recognition, that he, along with Alan Watts, Stephen Levine, Jack Kornfield and Thomas Moore, were all writers who all spoke directly to my heart, and became - among numerous others in the following years - my cherished teachers. It is so true that when the pupil is ready the teacher comes.
FROM THE MOMENT I MADE THAT COMMITMENT
From the moment I made that commitment to change tracks, everything fell into place to enable it to happen. A series of swift synchronicities meant that almost as soon as I asked the question: "What do I need to do to become a psychotherapist?" the means to make it possible unfolded. Within two weeks I had found out about a training course, offering exactly what I had hoped. By then I had been a Samaritan for some time, finding that in our loneliness we need more than just a sympathetic ear, and had already started to evolve my own theories about what real relationship is about. I had become aware how important it is to really listen - and how rarely we actually do it. In our society we are encouraged to develop our ego - without realising how that can be at the expense of the self. Knowing how and when to listen is vital – as is choosing what we pay attention to.
EMBARKING ON A VOYAGE OF PERSONAL DISCOVERY
Initially I had begun having acupuncture with curiosity and scepticism, as part of my agenda for making sure I was healthy before a trip to India. To my surprise I was soon aware of a profound alteration - curiosity had shifted into awe, and scepticism had been replaced by trust based on experience. My subsequent voyage of personal discovery in India was one of several quests I embarked on over following years.
THE BEGINNING OF MY REAL JOURNEY OUTWARD
When I returned to England from India, in January 1989, I completed a course known as 'The Forum' – an offshoot of 'est Training', pioneered by Werner Erhard as part of the human potential movement in the 1970’s. It contained elements of Eastern spiritual teaching, western psychology, and NLP motivation techniques. Although my scepticism reared its disparaging head again and I retained doubts about its methods, it affirmed my commitment to my own development and purpose. Because I’d been a published writer from the age of 17 - always examining the deepest heart of the human condition - by default I’d already done much inner work. But this was the beginning of my real journey outward.
THE PATH TOWARDS SELF-HEALING
My Psychotherapy training required me to be in personal therapy for over four years and took me to places I never could or would have gone alone. My further training proceeded well beyond that, and eventually I came to recognise that there was no one theoretical model or discipline that had all the answers. Exploring shamanism took me travelling in the soul journey realm of visualisation and myth as I continued my own inward search for truth, and I realised the importance of the transpersonal perspective, which allows us to see the concept of 'individual' within its relationship to a much larger whole.
BECOMING FREE BY LETTING GO
Long before going to India, I was interested in Eastern religions and philosophy. It was my generation that first beat the hippie trail to enlightenment, after all. Over many years, I sought and found my own gurus, who arose and fell like mirages as I followed my individual path. That path took me to some deep places, increasingly drawing me towards Buddhism – a philosophy which continued to hold me as I learned to ask the right questions. During these later years it has felt safe to find my own answers to the meaning of life and death. This journey continues wherever it leads. What becomes clearer is that the process is one of becoming free by letting go.
There is no formula for what is required to be true to the self, to reach the self. We discover as if anew, each time, what it means to be in relationship, to be a human being. Life is a marvellous adventure, whether we are flying or falling – and we do a fair amount of both. My journey continues to open up new experiences as I explore the territory of ageing and all the challenges it brings. Life has taught me how much we all need one another – as well as the space to discover our deepest self and expand our creativity. Honouring that, I am still learning ways to free my mind to write the ever-changing truth of this miraculous self.
Copyright © 2015 Lesley Hayes. All rights reserved.