The Long Run

The mudang are the fortune tellers, the shamanistic diagnosticians, healers and prognosticators of Korea. They are usually women, powerful, wealthy, feared, and living in taboo fringes of society. Many, many people visit the mudang, but secretly. Everyone does it now and then at major life crossroads, but no one really admits to it.

A few mudang inherit their position. But others are first brought to the mudang to be cured from a state of nervous collapse, confusion, soul-sickness, or dysfunction. The treatment, the cure for what ails them is to undergo initiation, and to become a mudang themselves.

(Drawn from an amazing, terrifying documentary film I saw many years ago: Mudang: The Reconciliation Between the Living and the Dead)

The archetype of the Wounded Healer, reminds us that there is a scent, a whiff of shamanistic tradition in psychotherapeutic treatment and practice as well.

Many clients come for quick consultations 5 to 10 sessions to negotiate a milestone or a crisis. Others come regularly for a year or two. Some stay longer than they expected, 5, 7 years speed by before they realize (although I have never asked anyone to to stay and will gladly help anyone leave who wants to go). Some of us climb the mountain, seeking relief for our most obvious symptoms and never leave.

The cure, it turns out, was to stay.

I’ve been in therapy since I was 19 perhaps. I am 48 now, with plenty of work still ahead.

Perhaps because I have many patients who are therapists themselves, about half of my caseload consists of people I have seen for 10, 12 years or more. I still see several of the first clients I ever met in my first months as a private practitioner. Still others see me as part of a chain of therapists who have partnered with them sequentially through their entire adult lives.

My closest colleagues and peers have engaged in similar process investing as much time and commitment. They have worked, and will work, as hard and long I have, through out their lives.

That’s long term.
Entire lives devoted to depth work.

There are unique and chronically resurfacing challenges and dissappointments that emerge when you take up residence on the mountain.

Several juicy well-articulated tantrums over the years, pitched by my own patients, by close friends (and me too!) occasionally prod me to organize my own answer to the immortal question:

Sixteen years and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt?

You spend years and years, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on your personal and training analysis, graduate school, post-grad training, professional development, books, supervision in all its various forms – perhaps some couples therapy and group therapy as well to round it out.

You assume most of the time, that there are things about yourself that you do not and cannot know – that you have an UN-conscious. Not a just a “pre-” or a “sub”-conscious, an unknowable, mysterious Core, filled with conditioning memories, preverbal, nonverbal and unnoticed perceptions and powerfully symbolic images. You try to constantly bear in mind that this deeper layer of yourself, is functioning with some real autonomy, under and outside of your awareness. You accept that, no matter how vigilant you are, this unconscious self will drive at least some of your actions, conscript your intentions, cause you to rationalize, minimize and blind you to over, under, mis-placed and missed reactions to events going on around you in the present.

You assume you have a shadow that you cannot see easily or completely on your own that you wish to integrate as much of as possible. What you cannot integrate, you hope, at least, to be able to take some responsibility for when someone else points it out to you. You deeply consider, when those you love and those you work with tell you some crappy, painful, or embarrassing things about yourself, whether it might just be true, a manifestation of something you might not know about yourself yet. Perhaps you will ultimately decide that it is only partially true, understandable but unfair, or a distortion caused by their history, their wounds, their unconscious. But, you try to do this in a way that preserves compassion toward yourself, and the distress you may have activated in the other.

You lay in wait, hoping to catch yourself in the act of repeating your own archaic and archetypal patterns and do something new, something inspired, rather than just replicate a gesture pulled out of your character flaws, your history, or the brittle aspects of your personality.

You are suspicious of your own bullshit. You try not to buy into it or believe it, protect it or ride its self-righteous momentum.

You also hope, that out of your daily awareness exists a larger Self, a dreaming Psyche, an intuitive Seed perhaps even a Soul of some sort. You pay attention to and write down your dreams, notice meaninful coincidences, stories and myths and symbols that speak to you – searching for clues and guidance to deepen your connections to others, to know yourself better. Sometimes its gobbledygook. Sometimes its pay-dirt.

You want to face and effectively confront what is worst in yourself and those around you, and to acknowledge what is best and most beautiful as well. To have compassion for what is most vulnerable, to appreciate strengths, gifts, and talents – and you also try to remember, that these contradictions are facets the self-same thing.

You work hard, for years and years, to grieve your losses, to sort through your inheritance, to acknowledge the past, to notice when you are possessed by impulse, raw instinct, old wounds, or archetypal energies.

You try to hold your perceptions of others lightly, to discover what is accurate about who they are, and what are your own projected hopes, and fears about who they are.

You learn to fight fairly, to work through conflict effectively, to communicate in ways that attempt to lower your own and others defenses, to help each other feel heard and mirrored.

You attempt to own your healthy aggression and use it honestly, and with precision in service of balance and respect and relatedness. When unacknowledged hostility or anger spills out passively, inappropriately, indirectly you take responsibility, make reparation, and try think about what its original source might be.

And you don’t just do this at work.

And you fail at all of these things all the time. And you accept your failures, and you breath clean sweet relief when you have momentarily found the flow.

Here is the tricky part:

No one is required to do any of this. Not even you.

And most people don’t think its at all necessary, and perhaps they are right.

A particular form of unfairness that taunts the psychological initiate involves run-ins with people mindlessly and guiltlessly enjoying bad traits one desperately is trying to overcome. It is absolutely galling to be confronted with someone freely displaying behavior one is working so hard to subdue and transcend….

Why should he grow if people around him stayed the same or got worse? Why should he become less destructive if he had to deal with those who indulged their destructiveness? ~ Michael Eigen, Toxic Nourishment

Many people never feel the need to visit the mountain in the first place.

And of those who do visit, most come once or twice, returning home with some reassurance or relief and forget about the episode entirely.

The majority of people in your family, your circle, and your neighborhoods and communities may explicitly doubt that this level of hyper-consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, impulse-control, self-examination, perception, compassion, discernment, empathy and identification with others is useful, meaningful, or or even valuable. Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo.

Try sharing some of your real thoughts and perceptions about the latent content at a school parents committee or a coop board meeting and see how well that goes over if you doubt me.

A lifetime ago you traveled to the mountain to seek healing for some utterly transforming loss, trauma, chaos, confusion, or pain that burdened you and set you apart, publicly or privately , from the “normal” others who were not (yet) traumatized, and those who passively succumbed to the trauma or who found it easer to fall in with their aggressors and perpetrate it.

So in the long long run?

Here is what it will never do:
Make you normal. Make life easier.
Make you less lonely (or more precisely, less alone).

Here is what it gets you:
Pain transformed into service.
Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.
An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.
A chance to be well-used.

That’s all there is to show for it.
Nothing more, nothing less.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

35 responses

  1. Hello: Just spending the morning feeling sorry for myself while doing research on effects of treatment for DID…a life long condition for me….and came across your website and writings by accident?
    Thank you. You put my hopelessness into perspective. I will never be normal. Therapy will never undue a single thing. Acceptance of that and then moving on to help others somehow will be the answer.
    Thank you.

  2. That is very moving to hear.
    I’m sure, that with that kind of courage, you will be able to touch and inspire many others.

    Thank you so much for you comment. It will stay in my heart today.

  3. Thank you for such a heartfelt description of the long road, that many of us have chosen and given the chance, would chose again and again. It is one of your best yet, and describes the process with compassion and clarity.

  4. Here’s another WOW! for you! This is so honestly, wisely, and beautifully expressed that I will save it to re-read many times. I would add another thing to your wonderful list of what going to the mountain gets you: gratitude for the mountain.

  5. I had to hold back tears while reading this. I never had the words to describe exactly how I have felt for the past few years, but here they are. Having you describe it so well somehow made up for the complete lack of understanding I usually encounter everywhere else in my life.

    Thank you so much for writing this – I feel like it filled an empty space in my heart. This blog is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the internet. Your words always speak to me in such a profound way.

  6. I’m really very touched, moved, and deeply grateful for all the responses posted here.

    I am absolutely sure, each time I write and post somthing, that I am writing this with the only expectation being to sort my own thoughts.
    That it will fall on deaf ears, that most people want to hear only about the seven simple steps to happiness – whatever they may be – and that I have little so say that hasnt been said before by others, and better.

    It astounds and soothes and offers a new expereince to see that it is meaningful and useful to others.

    thank you all for sharing your responses. Its a great gift for me.


  7. Martha, this post inspired me to write my post for tomorrow on a similar subject. I’ve provided a link to this site and urged my followers to come here to read your words for themselves. Here’s the link to my site. It will be published after midnight tonight.

    I share your self-doubt about every post I write too, and know how good it feels when, after years of being so isolated in so many ways, you discover that there are people in the world who really do want to hear what you have to say.

    Thank you again for your comforting and inspiring words of wisdom.


  8. Wow! This is such a powerful post! Thank you so much for sharing.

    “The majority of people in your family, your circle, and your neighborhoods and communities may explicitly doubt that this level of hyper-consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, impulse-control, self-examination, perception, compassion, discernment, empathy and identification with others is useful, meaningful, or or even valuable. Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo. ”

    I think the truth is, that the level of self awareness and consciousness you’ve written about here is absolutely necessary!

    Thanks again,

  9. Pingback: Being Well Used « Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

  10. And to personally benefit from your clients therapy, because everything you tell them is something you need to hear yourself.

  11. Thank you!! After five years of weekly therapy during which I was aware that none of my family or friends ‘needed’ what I obviously did, nor did anyone understand why I seemed to, the therapeutic relationship ended on a bad note. I felt that the therapist failed me. So I carry guilt not only about my strangeness but also about the unhappy ending to what had for so long been so good.
    Your blog helped immensely. I am not the only one to find years of therapy useful! I honestly did not know that. And my therapist may be allowed to be human and have faults. 😉 I don’t know if I will ever be at peace with what happened…but you surely helped me today.

  12. Naive question: Does your writings would also apply to behaviourist therapists? Do they (especially male ones) wonder about the things you think about? About transference etc…? I have the impression that they don’t dig in the past, in deeper meanings etc.

  13. I don’t know much about how behaviorists experience themselves in the process – there are some interesting studies – which look across modalities: behaviorists, CBT practicioners, analysts, etc – and determined that in session all seem to offer roughly the same about of listening, support, dirrective advice, and interpretation – although the clinicians all think that they are practicing in ways that bear no resemblence to each other – maybe someone remembers that citation? I dont recall the exact study…

  14. What a great description! As a caregiver survivor of a rare condition, the quest is to find “someone” who has had the same experience as you. It is the feeling of being human. We are social animals and we look for similarities. While it is hard to find someone with the same experiences, I have found a lot of great inspiration and first-hand stories from others. It has helped to cope and limp back to normalcy. Thanks for sharing and thanks for caring by writing. I admire the honesty.

  15. This is one of the most painful parts of recovery…when we get healthier and those we love stay the same. It is the bitter/sweet of recovery. It was one of the most painful parts of my own recovery and I warn my clients about this as well.

    Thank you for this blog post. I can’t wait to read more from you!

    Deena Harbaugh, MS, LPC

  16. I’m glad that it resonates with your experience. Caretaking is some part of the therapeutic function – especially supporting clients through chronic medical illness. Having been a care taker in my personal life of an elderly family member I can appreciate the task in front of you. Best wishes and take good care of yourself.

  17. I love and appreciate that you wrote this. So many times I have wondered why do I work so much on myself, when others don’t seem to have to, and especially when I fail so much despite trying so hard. Thank you for helping me to readjust my expectations of the entire process.

  18. I came back to read this again today. I actually couldn’t comment the first time I read it because of how deeply it affected me. I will never achieve it, but what you are describing is what I aspire to be. And the timing was incredible. I am stepping out in ways I have never been able to before due to the healing I have been able to do, and what i am finding is that not much has changed.:) As I try new things, more of my history is getting kicked up and has to be faced and worked through. But reading this has helped me to have more understanding and compassion for this path I have been on for so long. I started therapy at the age of25 and am 51 now and still going (and along the way there was both group therapy and couples’ therapy). It is seriously good to know I am not alone in feeling this drive/compulsion to keep doing this. But I was the most grateful for reading this when I hit the list of what this gets you, because if I can achieve that, I will consider all my effort well worth it. Your writing and insight are a real gift and having a deep impact on my life. Thank you.


  19. Wow, I have tears in my eyes and a heart filled with warm gratitude. I feel less alone. Your heartfelt truth resonated. I am taking your last words and placing them in a special place in my heart to continually savor and remember. They are building blocks I needed in my life – “pain transformed into service – an opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.”

    “So in the long long run?
    Here is what it will never do:
    Make you normal. Make life easier.
    Make you less lonely (or more precisely, less alone).
    Here is what it gets you:
    Pain transformed into service.
    Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.
    An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.
    A chance to be well-used.
    That’s all there is to show for it.
    Nothing more, nothing less.”

    I am wrapping your words in red silk and placing them in my heart! Thank you Martha! I look forward to hearing more from you. Thanks to Jeanie Raffa for referring me to you and this post.

  20. that was wonderful. thank you! i was touched by the stanzas.

    do you really think therapy does not make life easier? i think that might apply to people who do not have severe symptoms, but it can make life easier for those who are debilitated by depression or anxiety, to the point of being non-functional. by ‘easier’ i mean more functional, and perhaps also less prone to total despair.

    when i complained to my previous therapist that after some years of therapy i am still troubled, anxious, and the suffering continues, he replied ‘and the suffering will always continue’. he was very head-on about not wishing for it all to be taken away.

    i also like this quote shared by cheryl fuller on her blog jung at heart, a few weeks ago:

    “Psychological work, instead of providing liberation from the cause of serious discomfort, increases it, teaching the patient to become adult and, for the first time in his life, actively face the feeling of being alone with his pain and abandoned by the world.” – The Difficult Art, Aldo Carotenuto

  21. I think therapy can reduce symptoms, and create more peace within oneself – but it doesn’t undo losses, or protect us from further injury or failure. And it creates new dilemmas as well.

    Life is good and life is hard. We can get stronger for a period. Until we become more vulnerable again.

    I love Cheryl’s blog – and that is a lovely quote.

    Thanks for reading.


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