This is the first of a two-part feature on wisdom recovery prepared by a newly created group of individuals with decades of experience in the world of healing and recovery.
The focus of The Wisdom Recovery Group is “to bring true balance back into the center of recovery and healing work,” says Lee McCormick, founder of The Ranch in Tennessee. McCormick, an author and spirit guide, now directs the Integrative Life Center, an outpatient program in Nashville. He is joined in the Wisdom Recovery Group by Mary Faulkner, MA, coauthor of Spirit Recovery Medicine Bag; Joan Borysenko, PhD, recognized as one of the world’s leaders in mind-body-spirit healing; Will Taegel, PhD, Dean of Wisdom School of Graduate Studies; Gordon Dveirin, PhD, consultant in organizational and human development; and Holly Cook, LPC, executive director of the Integrative Life Center.
The group has plans to develop a Wisdom Recovery School, in addition to a series of workshops, journeys, and trainings.
“By focusing on our individual authenticity, our connection to spirit and source, the Wheel of Life as represented in the medicine wheel of the ancient traditions, and coming together in community for clarity and balance, Wisdom Recovery is a return to the heart of healing and the realization of ‘happy, joyous, and free.’ This is the reality of our pursuits,” says McCormick.
Religion vs. Spirituality
Most counselors recognize the powerful relationship between spirituality and healing that lies at the heart and soul of Twelve Step recovery. Since an estimated 90 percent of treatment programs employ the Twelve Step model, it might be good to talk about spirituality beginning with questions like “What is it?” “What does it have to do with healing?” and “Where do I get some?”
First, let’s untangle religion and spirituality. Religion is a more formal way for people to express what is important to them. Spirituality is less formal and more intuitive. Rather than having a fixed definition, it’s often described as an encounter with the sacred, usually experienced through emotions and feelings. It’s the awe we feel when nature shows us a particularly spectacular sunset or when the baby looks us right in the eye and smiles. In fact, there are as many experiences of spirituality as there are people to have them—that’s the beauty of it. We each carry a piece of the puzzle. At the same time, spirituality is our common thread; it’s what connects us one to another and to the rest of creation. While we tend to think of spirituality as warm and fuzzy, it involves the dark places as well as the light ones. It provides strength to endure and to eventually transcend our difficulties.
Of the many ways of describing spirituality, we’re going to talk about it as “embodied.” This spirituality is about relationship, connection, and wholeness. It recognizes and honors the sacred presence in every created thing. It is expressed in the Lakota prayer “Aho Mitakuye Oyasin,” meaning “all my relations,” which acknowledges the interconnected sacred web of life.
Embodied spirituality is a vital engagement with our own process. It’s an ongoing inner conversation in which we become aware of our values and our value. Rather than living by rote, this conversation is a study in applied principles, questioning ourselves as we go. Who am I? What is my truth? Do my actions reflect my truth? These questions aren’t about should or ought or morality; they’re about consciousness, integrity, responsibility, and calling us home to ourselves. Lee McCormick, author and originator of Spirit Recovery Journeys, talks about this process as “authenticity”—discovering the dream that is written on our heart and choosing to live it rather than living the legacy we were born into when it doesn’t resonate with our soul—a spiritual choice for which he strongly advocates.
Embodied spirituality works from the inside out. Its intuitive guidance requires physical presence where we feel the effect of our choices on us, on others, and on creation itself as a seamlessly integrated whole. It invites us to be in our body and in touch with our inner workings; that is where we meet a higher power. This profound sense of connection carries a radical awareness of belonging that restores trust and guides our choices.
Feeling the Spirit
Organic spirituality bridges the chasm so many of us experience in the quest for self-love. It infuses us with awareness of our spiritual worth and even self-worth, which then flows into all our endeavors. Blame and condemnation fall away in the realization that we are expression of the spirit of a higher power. What’s to criticize? The emphasis we place on striving to be good downshifts to being as we realize the truth that we are goodness itself. No hoops, no place else to go—we are here now.
Imagine the kind of relationships that could flow out of this organic, embodied spirituality. How might it affect our work with clients if we carried the very real belief that they already are what they hope to become? How would it affect your relationship with yourself?
Our cultural institutions have been formed in a compartmentalized worldview. We are taught that the sacred is in someplace other than the here and now, and certainly not in our body! We’ve been taught to believe we are not worthy; that we’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do before we meet our maker. We have no models to show us what it’s like to understand that we already are what we long for; that we are love itself. We’re dancing as fast as we can, trying to hitch a ride to Glory Land and toting a lot of pain and misery. We are afraid to slow down and simply be for fear of discovering that we are nothing—empty and alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. The journey is to hack our way through the misperceptions and find ourselves—an archeology of the soul.
Searching for a unified mind-body-spirit model took us outside of our culture and six thousand years back in time. We discovered an organic map installed by the creator that guides us on our spiritual journey as human beings—at last, the missing instruction book! We applied a Twelve Step perspective from this day and age, and some basic healing techniques and discovered that it works.
Wisdom Recovery: Toward A Mind/Body Healing Aesthetic
Counseling is an art. It is intuitive and creative and when done with consciousness, it is as insightful for the therapist as it is for the client. We not only encounter our clients shadow, we encounter our own as well. Dr. Will Teagel, of the Wisdom School of Graduate Studies at Ubiquity University, describes it as “the gift of bottoming out.” Wisdom is the integration of lessons learned through experience. “Beneath the rubble and chaos we discover our authentic self—if we dig deep enough,” he says. Having engaged in your own personal archeological and/or spiritual dig—that is, walked your talk—gives your work a wisdom perspective that can make the difference between a ho-hum therapeutic moment and a blockbuster one. The client’s inner healer and yours recognize each other and do business together. You’re not merely coming from a textbook, but from insight gained through living—and the client senses it. This makes the difference between therapy and transformation.
Transformation is a raw unstoried experience; a right brain happening. Interpretation comes later in our logical mind and language follows. In conduction ceremonies, McCormick advises, “It’s challenging to not rush to create a story about the experience, define it, capture it in time, and hold onto it, but that stops the process of awakening. When we move too fast we end up back in the old story.” The right side of the brain is dominant in ritual and in healing. It keeps making connections long after the ceremonial fire has gone out. When we wait long enough, a new story emerges. We might not even notice it until we catch ourselves having a different emotional response to an old trigger. This is transformation.
Challenging Our Assumptions
How can we facilitate the move from being a darn good therapist to becoming an outstanding one? Is there a recognizable aesthetic that guides transformation—ours as well as clients? We suggest that the best starting place is in challenging our models of reality—even our favorites—or, perhaps beginning with those we hold most sacred.
I began writing professionally in the mid-1980s on the staff of a new publication in the Bay area called Recovering Magazine. My editor, a seasoned newspaper man, told me the most dangerous threat to a good piece of writing is to fall in love with a particular word or phrase. He said that it would overtake the whole piece, distorting everything to support the thesis. “Always challenge your favorite assumptions,” he warned, “and this usually means get rid of them.”
This has proven to be excellent advice for writing and it applies to healing as well. If we are holding on too tightly to a belief about the work we are doing with a client, the client’s potential or almost anything else, we will defend our belief. We will subconsciously distort, delete, and select information to build our case. We stand in the way of deeper insight and the true spiritual breakthrough that can happen when ego is set aside and we become open to a radical encounter with truth. Such a moment is often marked by genuine surprise to you as well as your client.
Possibly the most valuable warning signal telling us that our professional radar is off is when we aren’t running into our cherished beliefs on a regular basis. We might need to tune up our level of personal awareness. Professional training is an absolute must to our development as therapists. Like art, however, therapeutic breakthrough occurs most often by breaking the rules—when the heart guides the process of discernment as to which rules and when.
Self-reflection is good, but ongoing reflection with a spiritual advisor—someone who knows how to ask the right questions and encourages you without pushing—is better. Credits for continuing education are required in most professions, but are overwhelmingly based on skill acquisition. Again, that’s a good thing, but we are talking more about a spiritual tune-up. Until the value is recognized, therapists will have to commit a certain amount of personal time to the process of continuing personal growth. This goes double for those at the top of the pyramid. Right now there are no mandatory refresher courses for executives and no feedback loop between those whose at the top and therapists. New models will include feedback systems.
Transforming Culture: Life on Life’s Terms
Throughout our fifty thousand years or more journey here on the earth, we have made considerable breakthroughs—even quantum leaps. We discovered fire, which greatly improved winters in the cave. We tracked the heavens, giving us a sense of connection and making nighttime a lot less scary. We grew crops, domesticated livestock, and oh yes, there’s that very handy gadget called the wheel! It made moving rocks so much easier. Pushing ahead, we built ships, trains, and automobiles, wrote prose and poetry and made movies. Cities grew and our ideas of how to treat illness evolved, too. Major breakthroughs in mental health in our very recent history improved conditions for patients and certainly improved our work as healers.
Seventy-five years ago our understanding of addiction took a giant step forward as Twelve Step recovery burst onto the scene, radically transforming our perception of the disease and the possibility of rehabilitation. Yet, the recovery rate has not kept pace with our hope. Much is still to be discovered. In the words of cofounder Bill Wilson, “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us” (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001).
More Will Be Revealed
Spinning off the Narcotics Anonymous observation, “Each day more will be revealed,” let’s imagine what society might look like in the circular model rather than the hierarchal one. Or, perhaps what society might look like in a spiral, moving us forward in ever widening concentric circles and signaling progress with each turn of the wheel. What can we expect a new organization might look like?
Social scientists predict that the new model will recapture some of what we have lost along the way, hopefully bringing us more balance with all our relationships: self to self, self to other, self to work, and self to nature. Rugged individualism, for example, has had both positive and negative results; while it made a star out of John Wayne, it has not strengthened the bonds of community. The new model might be more neighborly without surrendering our love of individuality. Work can be structured in a more people-centered way—it isn’t always efficient or effective for everyone to report for work at the same time each day. This becomes painfully obvious when sitting in morning traffic. Many projects can be better accomplished from home, particularly when a child is sick and needing attention. Work can be organized around people and projects to get the most benefits from individual talents.
There’s a noticeable crack in the top down organizational structure. It has become less efficient as workers throughout the organization are well educated and excel at finding creative and efficient solutions—when they are given the opportunity to design and implement ideas. If you have noticed that the higher ups in your organization are out of touch with what goes on below, you are probably right. The new model will be more collegial than hierarchal. Work can be distributed according to the individual talents of the workforce and the job at hand. Good administrators, managers, and people who are proficient at specific tasks sitting around the table together designing and assigning make for a well-oiled organization and happy campers.
It’s good to remember that chaos precedes transformation and we are hardwired for finding solutions. While waiting for the one hundredth monkey to show up, holding positive thoughts boosts creativity and the immune system, too. A friend of mine defines faith as believing things can be different even when the evidence does not bear that out. In a typical spiritual paradox, this also defines insanity! Nevertheless, a positive heart is a choice that makes the wait-time for a dream come true pass faster.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed.) (pp. 59, 60). New York, NY: Author.