Who are welcome at the gates?

Posted by Justin on 17th November 2016 in Articles

One of the things I contemplate is who is welcome, who can be included, in the circles of community that I/we draw in our lives. In particular, the spiritual circles – healing schools, my own teaching practice, healership in general.

For the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, I sometimes wonder if the circle had been drawn slightly too wide; the heavy-duty process work we did at school and the disturbance to defence mechanisms etc was perhaps not the best therapy for some of my dear classmates. One of whom suicided after graduating, another had a psychotic breakdown after the 4th year.
(I understand that in practical terms, probably all that CAN be done to filter people IS done. Still, some slip through the net.)

My partner recently went to a Quaker service for the first time, and witnessed a developmentally retarded person also attending for the first time who was given a cold shoulder and unpleasant lack of welcome, because of the amount of noise and disruption they were making.

I felt heart broken with sympathy and empathy and pity for that excluded man, but also a kind of horrified understanding with the Quaker perpetrators.
… I also would not want noise and disturbance in my quiet meditations.

(perhaps it could have been handled more generously – that he would have been treated warmly, and his presence tolerated for the time he was there, and then afterwards given a recommendation for another group he could attend that didn’t have an emphasis on silence, that would have been more appropriate for him.)

I wonder how I would handle a disruptive presence in my workshops.

I wonder about who I might (and do!) exclude because I judge them to be incompatible with me or my beliefs.

(it’s not a very flattering or comforting contemplation – one of my weaknesses is a lack of generosity of spirit, at least in certain circumstances)

A question we can maybe wonder about together, is how do we include people who are difficult to include?

Our culture has a history of institutionalising people who are a bit different, who have different needs or perhaps different developmental maturities.

Instinctively, that doesn’t feel ideal for me.

On the other hand, my friends who are mental health nurses tell me how every day they are spat at, punched, bitten, cussed, verbally abused etc by their patients.
… Those are extreme examples, but illustrate the point that some people do train to and choose to be caretakers of those who cannot easily live integrated in society.

Then again, maybe it is up to all of us to collectively hold and deal with and include the very broken.

I’m sure all of us who see clients have had the experience of clients who are abusive – whether in subtle ways or overt ways.

We often understand theoretically that there’s likely a history to that, a psychological explanation, and a therapeutic way that it’s possible to hold that –

But I think we will all agree that it’s no single person’s duty to hold it, to put themselves in harm’s way so to speak.
So we refer (or fire them).

***
For me, I draw the line at a person’s ability to restrain themselves from being cruel or abusive or violent (in all ways, not just physically).

If someone has a lot of anger and resistance and judgement and contrariness and defiance and FUCK YOU and all of that other juicy stuff that can make participation in communities difficult – that’s welcome so long as they are able to not act on it.

And, I find it very healing when there *is* a genuine permission to bring all of that, and more.

But if a person doesn’t have that ability, I don’t find myself easily able to include them.

I don’t consider it a failing on their part (they really can’t help it), but I also don’t consider it a failing on MY part either, that they can’t receive the help or welcome that’s on offer.
I do usually feel sorry for the person when that happens, although my sympathy and pity is often tinged with some coldness, some anger at them for what they did to create the situation.
Anger-pity. What an odd feeling combination.

***

We don’t always have the opportunity to see or know what troubles or difficulties a person has. I don’t mean from their history and past (although, that too) – I mean in their developmental level, emotional maturity/immaturity, their sanity (I use the word sanity as a stand in for all the things and concepts that make up a functioning and healthy adult ego).

Some people have a hair trigger for issues of that, with little or no patience to the semi-obvious or fully obvious symptoms of mental illness or developmental impairment.
I feel sorry for and angry at those people too, in a different kind of way.

But all of us have, or must find for ourselves, how thick or thin our healthy armour is, how much aggression or condemnation or embattlement we can tolerate.

It also isn’t necessarily ideal in every community for every type of person to be welcomed.

In small and big cirles of belonging: the family, in countries, in religions, in the public space, and in other circles, I think we can hope for and expect unconditional inclusion.

In other circles – circles where no one person NEEDS to be in it, but everyone in it has to be able to participate at a certain level or in a certain way, in order for the circle to function well – then maybe exclusion is part of the process.

After all, a liver cell and a heart cell are both wonderful in their own ways and are divine and sacred and have their own template and essence,

But if there are liver cells in the heart then we’re probably in trouble.

***

If you made it this far, thankyou for reading my meanderings, you honour me with your time and attention.