By Luke Higgins
“Wherever there is a ruin, there is hope for treasure—why do you not seek the treasure of God in the wasted heart?” – Rumi
Our culture tends to provide ample opportunities for reflecting on those gifts and talents that distinguish us from other people. Less available are opportunities to reflect on those particular wounds and special vulnerabilities, often with us from an early age, that shape so many of the basic contours of our being. If we do attend to the latter, they are often viewed as obstacles in our path – handicaps we are to mitigate the effects of, or ideally, overcome entirely. More often, however, these wounds and vulnerabilities are experienced as something to hide from others and/or ourselves. But what if a familiarity – perhaps even an intimacy – with our “core wound(s)” is one of the most basic prerequisites for a spiritually mature sense of calling in this world? What if we cannot truly understand the nature of our gifts, our best and most true offerings, without being in touch with our deepest and most personal sources of pain and fear?
Ecospiritual innovator Bill Plotkin writes about the transformative potential we can unlock when we cultivate a productive form of contact with the core wound that each of us carries within. While these wounds often stem from particular childhood traumas, they can also emerge from a broader pattern of hurtful events or a disturbing dynamic or theme in one or more of our significant relationships. Plotkin argues that these core wounds are not necessarily accidents (although accidents can trigger their emergence) and, over time, might not even need to be viewed as unfortunate. In his own words, “Perhaps the soul sees to it, to catalyze a special type of personal development that requires a trauma for its genesis. Think of the birth of a pearl: the tiny grit of sand within the oyster creates an irritation the oyster seeks to eliminate by coating the grain with successive layers of lustrous deposits, ultimately producing the jewel.”
It is no simple or easy task to delve into our darkest shadows. Indeed, to avoid merely re-traumatizing ourselves, this kind of “sacred wound work,” as Plotkin calls it, should only be attempted when one has enough (temporary) stability and social/therapeutic support to allow this process to bear fruit. But if one can find a way to productively commune with this wound, a kind of treasure trove within might be uncovered – treasure that can be transmuted into the most personal and profound gifts we have to offer those around us. While our core wound might not ever be fully “healed,” it can, by way of this process, be rendered sacred. As the Christic passion narrative reveals, our ability to love in the most inclusive, unconditional way possible hinges on our ability to be hurt. My hope for all of you reading this is that – even if you are not currently in a place where you are able to delve into your deepest shadows – you might find some wisdom and assurance in the insight that your particular ways of being vulnerable and wounded are integrally linked to the most unique and valuable treasures you have to offer. So be well! But most of all, be you, not just in your light, but also in your shadow, a shadow that calls from the depths to be sanctified.
Luke B. Higgins received his M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion and his Ph.D. in Theological and Philosophical Studies from Drew University’s Graduate Division of Religion. He currently lives in Savannah, Georgia where he teaches philosophy at Georgia Southern University and is active at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah.