The Butterfly Wings of Evil


Just before sitting down to meditate the other morning I read a couple of sentences about the truly evil actions that ISIS is taking in Syria and Iraq. We’re talking about torturing children, and holding up severed heads while smiling. As I lay on the floor I couldn’t help but think about the disconnect between the calmness that I was seeking and the absolute terror enveloping the people in this situation.


Then the words of Dr. Arlene Feinblatt floated to front of mind. At the time that I spoke to her several years ago, I was stuck on my office floor, unable to move, after my back and leg had seized up with great force. Though I had avoided any kind of talk therapy for years, I was determined to get better, so one of the first things I did as I writhed on the floor was to ask my wife to call her office to schedule an appointment. She was able to arrange one a few days later, but when it came around I was still unable to move. When I called to cancel it she was kind enough to talk to me. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help me get over the pain I was dealing with at the moment. “Just be good to yourself,” she replied. This simple command, or piece of advice, or admonition, is one of the greatest conundrums I have ever encountered. However, on a very deep level, I also completely understood what she was saying.

For many people, like me, who struggle with what I’ll call “Sarno related issues”, the balance between being good to oneself and being a good person is like walking on a razor blade. Dr. Sarno points out that people who tend to repress their own needs in relation those around them, are more likely to suffer from the pain syndromes that he treats. He frames the problem in Freudian terms; the subconscious uses the autonomic nervous system to create a pain in order to keep the person distracted from the unthinkable thoughts that might otherwise bubble up. Other practitioners see a similar process but might frame it differently. However, it’s clear from these examples that some kind of interaction between the mind, the autonomic nervous system, and the repression of thoughts and emotions, has powerful consequences in terms of our overall health. For some people the issues manifest themselves as back pain. For others the repression affects their guts, and in others, it might appear as chronic fatigue. Reams of data are coming out that connect the stress involved with the repression of our feelings with health care issues.

As I lay on the floor three years ago I realized that because I viewed myself as being weak, I often pushed myself beyond my capacity both physically and emotionally. At that time her words helped me to realize this. Being good to oneself doesn’t isn’t an excuse to act with callous selfishness. Instead, it’s about balancing out one’s own needs with those of others around us. This is a delicate balance, which brings me back to the news.

After I thought about what Dr. Feinblatt had to say I pictured one of those maps in airline magazine that illustrates the flight paths of their planes. Their “hub” has the most lines coming from it, and I thought about the stress concentrated in Syria, and Gaza right now, because of the absolute brutality being visited upon the people there. The lines were the thoughts and worries flowing in from the rest of the world, and the stress emanating outward. The personal is political and the news makes everything personal to some degree. I kept trying to bring my attention back to my breath, but I had a hard time managing the flow. I kept hearing the screams of the children being tortured by ISIS.

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