The Seven Tools of Healing
How do we effect lasting authentic change?
What would you like to change about yourself or your life? Do you want to be happier? In better shape? Like your job more? Have a more loving, intimate relationship? Be in less pain? Overcome an addiction?
Most likely there is something. How do you make these changes? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you make them last, so that they are just the new you, so that you don’t have to keep putting effort into keeping the changes in place? That is where the Seven Tools of Healing come in.
If you want to eat better, there are plenty of resources that will tell you what to eat. If you want to exercise, there are plenty of resources to help you with that. If you want to do something about stress in your life, there are plenty of resources (including my Taming the Bear class) to help you. But for any of them to work, you actually have to do what the resources suggest. You have to choose and act ... you have to regulate your own behavior. And, as Dr. John A. Bargh puts it, “The ability to regulate our own behavior... depends on more than genes, temperament and social support networks. It also hinges, in no small measure, on our capacity to identify and try to overcome the automatic impulses and emotions that influence every aspect of our waking life. To make our way in the world, we need to learn to come to terms with our unconscious self.” (Emphasis mine.) Our Unconscious Mind, Scientific American, Jan, 2014. The practice of the Seven Tools of Healing gives you a simple, doable way to access and alter what is in your non-conscious mind.
Where do the Seven Tools of Healing come from? Part of the work that I do with people in my office puts them in communication with an aspect of themselves that I call their Inner Knower or Inner Guidance. We all have this part. It is the part of you that tells you that you are thirsty when your body needs water. It is the part of you that knows what is right for you and what is not. It knows who you are and what you came into this life to experience. This wise part goes by many names around the world. It is called your higher self, your soul, your Buddha nature, Christ consciousness, higher consciousness, Atman, and the like. It is the source of your intuition and creativity, the source of your body’s wisdom, of your Spiritual guidance. The important point is that you have this wise aspect and you can learn to consult with it.
For years now, I’ve been helping people contact and consult with their Inner Knower. People are able to ask the questions in their lives that have them the most puzzled, such as “what am I really supposed to be doing with my life?” or “what is this illness asking of me? How can I heal it and move forward in my life?” I then watch as people’s Inner Knower walks them through their own process of change and I see how those changes manifest in their lives. Everybody has their own issues, their own challenges to face, but I’ve noticed a remarkably similar pattern in how the Inner Knower guides a person through their own personal growth and/or healing process. I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of trust and respect for our Inner Knower.
This pattern seems to have seven major components, hence “The Seven Tools of Healing.” The Seven Tools are very simple, you won’t find anything in them you haven’t seen before, yet they are incredibly versatile: applicable to virtually any problem you face. The genius of the Seven Tools lies in how the Inner Knower combines these familiar concepts into a gentle yet powerful practice that, when done properly, consistently leads to lasting, authentic change. They are simultaneously the journey and the destination; simultaneously practical, down-to-earth skills and a process of awakening. They have all the earmarks of a Spiritual path, yet you can practice them whenever and wherever you are, each and every moment of an ordinary day. They are all-denominational and compatible with any religious practice I’ve seen so far.
So let’s run through a brief summary of the Seven Tools. These are skills and skills generally require actual practice to develop fully. You can read about hitting a golf ball or riding a surfboard or baking a cake, but to actually become adept at those activities, the reading does not take the place of actually getting out there and practicing. The same holds true for the Seven Tools. I strongly encourage you to keep practicing these tools, by yourself or in groups, until you just naturally apply them to the challenges that come your way. Please keep in mind that the Seven Tools are all part of one process. I speak of them separately and linearly because that is how our language works, but, as we go through them, and as you practice them, I think you’ll see how they start to come together into a seamless practice.
The first tool is faith. I know that faith is a loaded word nowadays, having been co-opted by one segment of society and saddled with that segment’s single definition. But the Inner Knower uses faith more like Webster does: 1. confidence or trust. 2. belief that is not based on proof. I think that the Inner Knower is also okay with faith having a religious or spiritual connotation. I see the Inner Knower using faith as a foundation. All else is built upon it. Everything we think we know as facts are, if followed back far enough, seated on a foundation of faith.
Faith is particularly helpful with the process of change. We can have faith that our lives can indeed improve. We can have faith that we, as our true essential selves, are enough. The first step in changing long-held beliefs often requires a leap of faith in order to adopt new beliefs. A simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of faith is that it requires no facts or data to support it. While some people use this quality of faith to adopt some pretty outlandish beliefs, you can use it to believe in whatever is in your highest good, whatever helps you the most in your search for truth and growth, even if you do not have any personal proof of it yet. The proof of a belief often comes after you adopt that belief.
Coming from a background of science and conventional medicine, where I was trained to require verifiable, empirical evidence for everything, I had to do several years of soul-searching before I could start to comprehend how the Inner Knower utilized faith. Faith is an antidote to fear. You were not put on this planet to live in fear. When you have painful, scary or limiting experiences, you are often being asked to explore and, hopefully re-think, your fear-based beliefs and choices. Doubt is the test of faith. Everything you learn about yourself and how you fit in with your surroundings will be tested. If doubt wins, you didn’t really learn it, at least not well enough to continue to build upon that learning. I can’t fully explain it, but there seems to be something very powerful about knowledge that comes from faith, about having faith and sticking with it through thick and thin. Scientific knowing doesn’t seem to hold that power unless, of course, you have faith in science.
Please, don’t take my word for any of this. Explore faith in your own life. How does it work? What does it do? What do you have faith in? What happens when your faith is challenged?
Used unskillfully, faith can lead you to hold onto beliefs that have no grounding in reality. Faith needs to be tempered with reason. Faith is more powerful than reason, but the two need to consult with each other. Untempered unreasonable faith has caused and continues to cause incalculable suffering on this planet. Faith in Higher Truths is very healing. Faith in dogma and false truths is very destructive. Continually observe yourself, think about what is going on in your life, and your Inner Knower will help you know the difference.
The second tool is awareness. Awareness is the process of moving things from the non-conscious mind into the conscious. For some reason, we have an easier time working on an issue, belief or feeling if we know it is there. Practice awareness of your...
* physical feelings: what information is your body sending you now?
* emotional feelings: how are you feeling, what belief is behind it, what is a healthy response to it?
* thoughts and mental activity: are your thoughts in alignment with what you want to achieve?
* relationships: the eye (I) cannot see itself, what sides of you are being revealed in the symbolic mirror of relationship?
* surroundings: how are you affected by the people around you, by the environment?
* actions: which are often driven from your non-conscious. How you respond to situations is a great window into your non-conscious workings.
All of the tools are skills that improve with practice. The practice of awareness helps keep you grounded in the present moment and helps insure that you are getting the information that the Inner Knower wants you to have.
So now we’re aware of some aspect of ourselves — for example, about how judgmental we are toward ourselves, or how hurt we are by what someone said or did, or that a conclusion we drew when we were five no longer fits our life. What does the Inner Knower guide us to do with that information? Surrender to the truth of it, accept it.
That’s the third tool: fully accept the truth of your present moment. Release yourself into that truth. Let go. It is what it is. Fully admit the truth of your present moment, the raw, naked, unadulterated truth. You shall know your truth and the truth shall set you free. This is one of the most powerful concepts in healing. If you want to be free of a particular malady in your life, you must work with the truth of it. Denial, repression, resistance, rationalizations, spins and fantasies don’t work. Stop the war you are waging inside of yourself. Practice making the conscious choice to accept the truth of whatever you have become aware of.
From another perspective, have you ever used Mapquest? What information do you need to enter into the program in order get your route? Where you’re going, right, but also where you’re starting. Without the starting coordinates, there is no way for the computer to pick the best route from the infinite possibilities. The same goes for your own inner navigation computer that is trying to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. No matter how or what you want to change, you have to start from where you are.
We’re moving now. We’re riding on a foundation of faith in the process, we’re aware of an aspect of ourselves — an issue, belief or feeling — and we’ve accepted the truth of what we are experiencing in this moment. What does the Inner Knower recommend next? Over and over, it says things like, “Just be kinder to yourself about that.” Or, “Give yourself a hug; hold yourself in your arms.” Or, “Let yourself know that you’re all right, that you’re not alone.” This leads us to the fourth tool.
We are constantly guided by our Inner Knower to just have compassion for whatever is. I often call compassion the “the Alchemist” because it can literally take this lump of lead in your life and convert it into a lump of gold. Often the practice of compassion is all that is needed to start the process of change. It is as if once you open-heartedly accept a part of yourself, and stop pushing against it, the love steps in and finishes up what else needs to happen. We often have to start by practicing compassion for ourselves for having control issues and how difficult it is for us to get out of the driver’s seat, to stop doing and efforting, and trust that a loving, wise part will take over and steer us in the right direction.
The more I work with compassion, the more in awe I stand before it. Currently I believe that compassion is our true authentic self and the practice of compassion is the bringing forth and expressing of our true authentic self (which, by definition, is also healing). The practice of compassion naturally invokes your deepest wisdom to call forth and create for you the best possible solution to your problem. You do not need to use your cognitive mind to create this solution. Having faith in the power of compassion and applying your will toward its practice is the surest path I know to your inner peace, happiness and fulfillment...to your health.
The first four tools are the workhorses for the process of lasting, authentic, supportive change. They are skills that improve with practice. On a foundation of faith that the Universe does really say “Yes,” practice awareness, acceptance and compassion for what is, then become aware of the next thought, feeling or issue, accept the truth of it, put it in your heart and so the spiral goes … deeper and deeper into the understanding of who you are and how you work. The practice of the first four tools is an excellent way to generate the thoughts, beliefs and feelings that free you from the bondage of any limiting beliefs and conclusions you may have formed so far in your life. I use an affirmation to help me with this practice: From a place of compassionate acceptance, I fully experience what is. The last three tools follow naturally from this practice.
The fifth tool is forgiveness. When you bring enough compassion to a situation, forgiveness just naturally happens. Each situation seems to have its own amount of compassion needed to trigger the forgiveness. But once it is triggered, it is a genuine letting go: whatever the issue or experience, it is no longer a “button,” there is no emotional rise or charge. You do not have to effort to repress, deny or ignore painful, angry or unsupportive thoughts and feelings. Just keep practicing compassionate accepting awareness of what is. That these thoughts and feelings naturally cease is a clue that real forgiveness has happened. Real forgiveness has the power to actually change your physiology. I feel these changes all the time while doing bodywork on people when they reach that moment of forgiveness.
There is much confusion in our society about forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that you condone what was done; it does not mean that you forget what was done. Forgiveness is for you, for your own growth. How else do we get around the tar pits of anger and resentment? Many people practice forgiveness as part of their religion and that is because forgiveness is essential for moving forward, for the healing of life’s inevitable hurts and injustices. But forced forgiveness does not have the same power to change as forgiveness arrived at through the practice of compassion. Just as the Inner Knower encourages you to practice compassion for all of creation (including yourself), it also says to practice forgiveness for all of creation (including yourself). Another way of viewing forgiveness struck me one day: forgiveness is finally relinquishing all hope that the past will ever be any different.
Once enough forgiveness happens, the sixth tool shows itself as a growing sense of gratitude. I’ve had hundreds of people come into the office and say things like, “I wouldn’t choose to go through that again, but I’m glad for all that I’ve learned and gained from healing from this difficulty.” People have said that about car accidents, cancer, being raped or having any number of serious illnesses. This world really is an incredible place, and Spirit works through amazing ways and the Human Spirit is so beautiful and resilient…this gratitude is a recognition of all these things. Again, we can practice gratitude directly or let it grow from a practice of compassion. The latter leads to gratitude that has deep knowing and conviction behind it, not just a façade supported by efforting.
We do live in a world that requires that we get up off the couch and do things once in awhile. This brings us back to one of the original questions -- how do we know that our actions will bring about the desired results? Such action is called right action in many world traditions. Right action is based upon right understanding. I’ve witnessed that the practice of the first six tools leads to a right understanding and the person then just knows how to act, what to do, what to say -- in the moment. Our doing comes from being. As we uncover and bring forth more of our true essential selves, our actions stem from that. They just naturally become an expression of who we are and attract to us the experiences we are “supposed” to have.
You don’t have to try to be yourself. You already are yourself. There is just a lot of learned “stuff” in the way. The changes that you make that represent your real self coming forth in your life require no effort on your part to maintain. That is why we say that real change is effortless. You may have to work hard to recognize your limiting beliefs, but once those beliefs change, you come more into your own, your “real self” expresses itself that much more in your life and no one can take that away from you. The Seven Tools of Healing are the skills that allow you to effectively work the process of uncovering and changing limiting beliefs, attitudes and perceptions.